John Madden’s multi-award winning film Shakespeare in Love (1998) examines the perennial theme of forbidden love within the historical context of the Elizabethan Era but also from a more contemporary prism since the film emanates ideas, values and attitudes that resonate with modern audiences. The film, a romantic comedy, concerns the great writer, William Shakespeare and how he overcomes his writer’s block through his love affair with the wealthy and radiant Viola de Lesseps. However, due to differences of class, status as well as the position of women, ironically during the ‘golden reign’ of Elizabeth I, this glorious love is transformed into a forbidden one and is duly terminated for reasons of economic expediency and social decorum. In this manner, the film does indeed challenge my own ideas, attitudes and values.
As signalled in the title of the film, love is at the core of this romantic comedy that utilised the literary love story of the ‘star-crossed lovers’ (Romeo and Juliet) as an allegory for the purported ‘real’ romance between the great Bard and Viola, his “muse for all time”. The love between the two leads is as passionate as it is illicit, as Viola and Will love each other even though they know that they cannot but are bound together by their love for theatre, however they are separated from each other due to the extreme differences in their classes of society. As they understand the way of the social hierarchy and that their love cannot overpower the word of the Queen, Viola disguises herself as the boy Thomas Kent so she can involve herself in the theatre and eventually have a forbidden and secret romance. Will climbs Viola’s castle by the vines nearly every night so he can make love to her, and the two are constantly sharing fervent, clandestine moments inside The Rose Theatre as Will’s new play is being rehearsed. Viola says at the end of the play “I love you Will, beyond poetry” which is delivered in the film very dramatically, with a lot of...
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