American playwright Tennessee Williams said that, “if the writing is honest, it cannot be separated from the man who wrote it.” This provides an appropriate framework for the film Shakespeare in Love which blurs the distinction between the life and art of “Will” Shakespeare.
As a young poet fumbling for inspiration to write his next great comedy, Will inadvertently falls in love with Viola. (Gwyneth Paltrow wins a Best Actress Oscar for her performance and the film won six others, including best picture, in 1998.) Viola is the daughter of a wealthy merchant and is on the brink of being married off to a bankrupt aristocrat, played by the always dashing Colin Firth.
This is the first layer of the film’s plot line.
But in the midst of this passionate and hilarious love story, Will begins to write and act in the play as he lives it. His life entangles the story. And here is the second, deeper plot about what happens when Will enters into his own work; when Shakespeare becomes Romeo and falls in love with the real Juliet.
Whatever your spiritual perspective, it’s worth noting that C.S. Lewis makes a similar analogy in his Christian writings. Could it be possible for Shakespeare (or God, as Lewis’s analogy goes) to write himself into his own play, to meet and interact with his own characters? What happens then?
Shakespeare in Love is a classic fairy tale romance with a significantly different bend. A bend towards honesty, entering in, and art crashing into reality. This is a film about love, yes, but I’d argue it’s more deeply about living and telling an authentic story.