At the beginning of Shakespeare in Love, William Shakespeare doesn't exist.
Well, he exists, but he isn't yet the famous William Shakespeare, a man whose plays are taught in every English class. Here, he is still a hard-working playwright struggling to make a name for himself. And what a name it will be!
Call To Adventure
Frankly, Shakespeare doesn't have much of an adventure. He simply needs to pay the bills. However, he lacks inspiration. What he lacks in inspiration he makes up for with romance. He gives Rosaline a charmed bangle and asks her to be his muse. She accepts, and new ideas begin to flow.
Refusal Of The Call
It isn't that Shakespeare refuses the call. It's more like he answers the wrong phone. Have you ever heard of Romeo and Rosaline? No, we haven't either. This spark of inspiration feels good to Shakespeare at the time, but he'll soon realize that there are bigger ideas to be had.
Meeting The Mentor
Shakespeare's mentor is Kit Marlowe, a man rumored in real life to be the real Shakespeare. (Will the real Will Shakespeare please stand up?) In a pub, Marlowe gives Shakespeare a few plot pointers, sketching out what will eventually become Shakespeare's all-time classic Romeo and Juliet. Will, who fancies himself a Romeo, still needs a Juliet.
Crossing The Threshold
For Will, this phase should be renamed "Crossing the Balcony." Will and Viola do their best Romeo and Juliet impressions and have a romantic conversation at her balcony. This encounter inspires Will to write the iconic balcony scene and transform the dull Romeo and Rosaline into the timeless Romeo and Juliet. Now we're gettin' somewhere.
Tests, Allies, Enemies
Putting together a play is hard. Shakespeare writes and rewrites every day. He must find the right cast. He makes enemies with the Master of Revels, who polices indecency in the theatre, and with Viola's fiancé, Lord Wessex. And gotta leave time for those daily duels and steamy encounters with Viola.
Approach To The Inmost Cave
Like Romeo and Juliet, Will and Viola are star-crossed lovers from different lives. If there were trains at this time, Will would be on the wrong side of the tracks. Both he and Viola need to come to terms with the fact that their romance has an expiration date and it's rapidly approaching.
After Viola is revealed to be a woman, she is banished from the theatre. Will must put on his play without her. That means he has lost his best actor, and his favorite lover. As a writer, Shakespeare is able to channel this angst and emotional torture into his writing. Viola has the much harder ordeal here. She has to marry a man she does not love, and she is forbidden from following her dream. But her name isn't in the title, so her ordeal is minimized. (Sorry, Vi.)
Reward (Seizing The Sword)
Shakespeare never imagined he would be a success, but Romeo and Juliet is a hit. The public loves it. The Queen loves it. And Viola gets the greatest reward—she gets to perform in the play in the role of a woman. But their happiness is short-lived. After taking their bows, Viola must leave for America with Wessex. Being his wife will be the hardest role she has to play.
The Road Back
Shakespeare returns to being a playwright. Without his muse now, he considers putting his quill away for good. Even though he knew he and Viola wouldn't be together in the end, their separation is a difficult reality to face.
A muse doesn't have to be present in order to inspire. Sure, Viola can't Skype with Will from across the pond, but she does give him enough inspiration for another play or two before she departs. The Queen gives them time to say goodbye to one another. Shakespeare's career is revived. And Viola…well, her prospects are still pretty grim, but she's not the hero of the story.
Return With The Elixir
Viola gives Shakespeare the idea for his next play Twelfth Night. He has become a little more independent, not needing his muse to be present in the same room—or even the same continent—for him to be driven to write. Shakespeare is back in his little room, but we know what lies ahead for the man and his legacy.