A film that made its United States nationwide release in 1999 went on to win numerous awards, including Oscars for best picture, best actress, best supporting actress, best writing, and best directing, among others used a useful dramatic strategy to convey the story.
The film was “Shakespeare in Love” and starred Joseph Fiennes as the bard and Gwyneth Paltrow as Viola De Lesseps, the love interest and muse for Shakespeare for the film.
For those who haven’t seen the film, there be some spoilers that follow.
The film’s opening uses two short bits to establish the time and place of the story, which is in the Elizabethan age of theater in England. The second bit provides comedy and starts the action of the film. Philip Henslowe, played magnificently by Geoffrey Rush, is a theater owner who has not paid his bills and is being tortured by Hugh Fennyman, (Tom Wilkinson) a producer and businessman.
The first scene after these bits introduces Shakespeare. Henslowe requests Will (Shakespeare) write a new play for his theater company. However, a problem is introduced in this scene as we, the audience, discover that Shakespeare has lost his gift of writing, a sort of “writer’s block.” This sets the action in motion. Will must come up with a new play to perform or it will be curtains for Henslowe’s company.
A bit that follows reveals Viola De Lesseps. She has a strong love for the theater. This is important to the story because this movie parallels the play Romeo and Juliet. She is also set to marry Lord Wessex (Colin Firth) in a few weeks. In her desire to be on the stage, she dresses as a man, Thomas Kent, (since women were not allowed to perform on stage at that time). Will becomes infatuated with Viola after a chance meeting and thus begins the love affair that would become the tragedy we have come to know.
I would say the major dramatic strategy used in this film is parallelism. Almost every scene and bit parallels the play “Romeo and Juliet,” since that is the play in which Shakespeare is trying to write, which is better than the original title “Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter.” The film cleverly and strategically places the story of the film in the context of writing the play, which becomes more and more of the tragic story of Romeo and Juliet as William and Viola’s romance begins to grow.
The film also does a nice job to let the viewing audience in on the film audience (groundlings and upper class), costuming, props and stagecraft of the Rose Theater during this time. The other cast members worth noting were Martin Clunes, Richard Burbage; Antony Sher, Dr. Moth; Simon Callow, Tilney, Master of the Revels; and Ben Affleck (who played a cocky but determined actor Ned Alleyn); and Dame Judy Dench portrayed the Queen.
A remarkable cast. Witty writing and acting. Impeccable directing. Brilliantly produced. The film, “Shakespeare in Love,” is wonderful entertainment. Additionally, this film has a “theatrical” sense to it (as it is about theater). In all my experience and years in academic theater, I have always enjoyed the story within the story, or the play within the play. This film had it and played it very well.
“Shakespeare in Love” was directed by John Madden, and written by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard. It has a run time of 123 minutes and is rated R.