Study Guide

Shakespeare in Love William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes)

William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes)

Writer's Block

William Shakespeare. You may have heard of him. He wrote a few plays, like Hamlet, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter.

Wait, what?

That's how Shakespeare in Love portrays Will: as a struggling writer trying to find his voice, and in order to find that, he must first find a muse. Displaying some of Shakespeare's classic talent for double entendre, here's how he describes his writer's block:

"It's as if my quill is broken. As if the organ of the imagination has dried up. As if the proud tower of my genius has collapsed. It's like trying to pick a lock with a wet herring."

If you didn't get any of that… we'll explain it when you're older.

If Willy is going to write romance, he needs some romance in his life, so he tries all the women in his life to see who can get his quill feather up. Rosaline. Aphrodite (Baggot, "who does it behind the Dog and Trumpet"). And finally, Viola de Lesseps, a woman with a love for romance and poetry that rivals his own.

The film also portrays Slick Willy as a total dreamboat. Joseph Fiennes with his big brown eyes had women (and men) swooning with just a look from underneath eyelashes that stretch for miles. He spends a lot of time staring off into space with a quill pen clutched in his ink-stained fingertips, and starving artists have never been sexier.

He's Sexy and He Knows It

Shakespeare knows he has Big Willy Style, and he's usually looking at himself in the mirror instead of writing. He's as proud of his writing as he is of his looks, crowing, "God, I'm good!" when he gets a sonnet just right. Oh Shakespeare, you're so vain.

But it works. He probably wouldn't attract a gorgeous muse if he wasn't so handsome himself.

Plus, he's sensitive! He's upset when he finds Rosaline with another man, and he's a serial muse-ogamist, never trying to bed more than one muse at the same time, although he does quickly move on from Rosaline to Viola.

And finally, he's passionate. He gets comically jealous when Viola must kiss another man on stage—even though she is pretending to be a man, and her fellow actor is pretending to be a woman. And he makes dramatic boasts like, "For one kiss, I would defy a thousand Wessexes!" Sensitive. Romantic. Dramatic. Would you expect any less from a man who writes soliloquys we're still forced to memorize to this day?

A Shakespearean Tragedy

Like the characters in his play, Shakespeare finds love, loses it, finds it again, and then loses it forever when Viola is shipped to the Virginia colony like an exported crate of bangers and mash. The final loss marks a significant transition for old Shakey: he stops writing comedies and starts writing tragedies. His characters are able to reach the highest highs and the lowest lows only after he has.

Shakespeare's romantic tragedy might hurt, but it's good for his art. His loss is our gain.

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