Study Guide

Shakespeare in Love Setting

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London, 1593

A Large Hamlet

We begin "in the glory days of the Elizabethan theatre, two playhouses were fighting it out for writers and audiences" and that fight will be settled by the performance of a little play called Romeo and Juliet. Hmm…. That sounds familiar.

Recordkeeping being a little spotty back in the 16th century, not many exact details are known about William Shakespeare, which is one way the movie can get away with its artistic license. Some scholars believe Romeo and Juliet was written between 1591 and 1596, so that is accurate. However, the first documented performance of the play wasn't until 1662.

But if the film isn't concerned with facts, we're not either. The film is concerned with mood and evoking the time period, which it does well. Not that we lived in 1593, but it looks convincing to us. The London of 1593 looks more like a large hamlet— as in a village, not a prince of Denmark—than bustling city it is today. The people milling around are in period costume and most of the garments are a little grubby. No running water back then, you know?

The film also shows us interesting little details, like how Will uses a tomato to hold his quill pen. (Maybe that explains why people who sew use little fabric tomatoes to store their pins?) Even without the film explicitly telling you the year it's set in, you'd be able to guess within the ballpark based on the costumes, scenery, and that rotten old tomato.

Every Rose Has Its Thorns

One of the more striking sets in the film is the Rose playhouse. You may be familiar with the Globe, but that theatre, which Shakespeare was closely associated with, wasn't constructed until 1599.

Based on a real theatre constructed by Philip Henslowe in 1587, the Rose looks exactly like you'd expect a theatre of that age to look: standing room only near the front of the auditorium, uncomfortable wooden benches in the balcony, and trap doors for hiding beneath the stage. The thing is also made of so much wood, it's amazing it doesn't burn down any second (like the Globe did in 1613).

When Romeo and Juliet is performed, the camera moves around from the perspective of the actors and audience, so you get a wonderful idea of what it would like to be there, whether you're a performer or a spectator.

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