Shakespeare as a Real Man in Shakespeare in Love

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                                                        Pavlína Tejcová – 6th year

                                                        Independent Readings

                                                        Doc. Milada Frankova, CSc., M.A.

                                                        30 August 2004

Shakespeare as a  Real Man  in Shakespeare in Love

     Shakespeare has been presented in myriad versions, from the traditional to the almost unrecognizable. Directors and actors have adapted him as long as his plays have been performed. Some feel that without Shakespeare´s original poetry, audiences are robbed of the opportunity to experience the cleverness, poetry, and majesty of the language – Shakespeare´s genius. Others feel that modern adaptations don´t challenge viewers and offer weaker plots and less complex characters. Shakespeare in Love  combines in a way both. The film applauds the brilliance of Shakespearean writing through the lines directly taken from Shakespeare,  while at the same time exploring a fictional depiction of his true love and life. When you deconstruct the script, Shakespeare in Love is built in perfect Shakespearian form. Virtually a Shakespearean plot in itself, it mixes a great story with bits and pieces of history (whether fact or not); lies and deception; mistaken identities; a couple of swordfights; and of course a passion that can only end badly.

     For hundreds of years we have been hunted by the question: “Who was the real Shakespeare?” Literally thousands of pages have been dedicated to uncovering the facts about Shakespeare´s identity, but even after years of debate, no one truly knows the answer to the question. The mystery of the authorship of Shakespeare´s thirty-seven plays, 154 sonnets and two long poems remains unsolved, and people have been arguing for centuries about his identity (The Shakespeare Question).

     The purists take up one side of the debate: they are convinced the orthodox view of Shakespeare´s life is correct. They believe William Shakespeare was the son of an illiterate glove-maker from Stratford Upon Avon, who in his lifetime managed to become both an actor and a playwright. The Anti-Stratfordians take up the other side of the debate: they insist that a man of such humble circumstances could never have written the works within the Shakespearean canon. In fact, they posit that Shakespeare, the actor, agreed to publish the work under his own name for a fee, and did so to protect the identity of the true author. The Anti-Stratfordians believe that Shakespeare was simply a “paid” player (The Shakespeare Question).

    The film effectively undermines this Anti-Stratfordian argument by explaining how Shakespeare could have afforded to become a “sharer“ in Richard Burbage´s The Lord Chamberlain´s Men.  Throughout Shakespeare in Love, Will tries to raise the capital needed to buy his way into the company. In fact, when Lord Wessex makes a bet with Queen Elizabeth I about whether or not a play can show the real truth and beauty of love, the prize wagered is fifty pounds -- the exact amount Will needs to achieve his goal. Of course, by the end of the film, Shakespeare´s Romeo and Juliet has proven both the bittersweet truth and unwavering romance of true love, and  Queen Elizabeth determines that Will´s play has won the bet.

     Nevertheless, whatever the side we take (either the purist or the Anti-Stratfordian), few facts do exist about the life of William Shakespeare. He was born in Stratford Upon Avon as the son of John Shakespeare and Mary Arden, and he was christened on April 26, 1564. He married Anne Hathaway, in 1582, and had three children, Susanna, born in 1583, and twins, Hamnet and Judith, born in 1585. He left Stratford upon Avon sometime after 1585, but arrived in London a number of years later and joined the Admiral´s Men (The Shakespeare Question). Nothing beyond conjecture is acknowledged about the missing years -- one of the theories  assumes  that Shakespeare spent his “lost years“ in Lancashire as a „servant in a chain of Catholic households“ (Shakespeare and the Jesuits). Shakespeare stayed in London until approximately 1611 when he retired from public life completely and moved back to Stratford. He died in 1616 (The Shakespeare Question).

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     Beyond these few irrefutable facts, little is known about one of the most important and most influential figures of world´s literature. No letters, books, personal papers or original manuscripts survived. In fact, only six examples of Shakespeare´s signature exist, each one cryptic with various different spellings of his last name. Of the surviving signatures, three appear on Shakespeare´s will (Fakta a fikce).

     That void left screenwriters Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard with freedom to speculate about who Shakespeare really was, what he did and whether real life served as any kind of inspiration for ...

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