WILL: Henslowe, you have no soul, so how can you understand the emptiness that seeks a soul mate?
This line accomplishes a lot early in the film. It establishes Henslowe as a person who is decidedly not a romantic, and Shakespeare (in case you've never heard of him) as a person who is romantic, and might be in search of a soulmate. We have a feeling he'll find her.
DR. MOTH: So now you are free to love.
WILL: Yet cannot love or write it.
Shakespeare is a mastery of dramatic irony, and it appears that he lived is as well as wrote it. At least he did when he was writing. Here we see that he can create love on the page, but not in his real life.
VIOLA: All the men at court are without poetry. If they look at me they see my father's fortune. I will have poetry in my life. And adventure. And love. Love above all. […] No, not the artful postures of love, but love that overthrows life. Unbiddable, ungovernable, like a riot in the heart, and nothing to be done, come ruin or rapture. Love like there has never been in a play.
Even if Viola weren't played by Gwyneth Paltrow and on the poster, we would know here that she is the romantic soulmate Will is searching for. Her philosophy on what love should be seems to perfectly line up with his.
VIOLA: I do not love you, my lord.
Sadly, for Viola, her father and Lord Wessex do not care that she doesn't love Wessex. At this time, marriage is more often a business transaction before it is a declaration of love.
WILL: Love denied blights the soul we owe to God! So tell my lady, William Shakespeare waits for her in the garden!
"Love denied" is what Will is feeling toward Viola here, and that becomes a major theme of the play Romeo and Juliet as well. Both Will and Romeo are of a lower class than Viola and Juliet, and dramatic tension results because of it.
VIOLA: I would not have thought it. There is something better than a play.
Viola says this after her first night of doin' it with Will. Either he was really good, or she's only seen some average plays over the years.
VIOLA: I love you, Will. Beyond poetry.
Before Viola met Will, poetry was the biggest part of her life. Will came along and dethroned it, placing love in the number one spot. Shakespeare tends to believe that love will conquer all, so it makes sense that Viola has such a passionate reaction.
HENSLOWE: But I have to pay the actors and the authors.
FENNYMAN: A share of the profits.
HENSLOWE: There's never any.
FENNYMAN: Of course not!
HENSLOWE: Mr. Fennyman, I think you may have hit on something.
Anyone going to school for theatre or working in a community playhouse will feel this quote hit close to home. The actors in this time period must perform for love of the art, not money… because there isn't any money. Much like today, unless you're a Gwyneth or a Fiennes bro.
WILL: Words, words, words… once, I had the gift… I could make love out of words as a potter makes cups out of clay: love that overthrows empires, love that binds two hearts together come hellfire and brimstones… for sixpence a line, I could cause a riot in a nunnery… but now
Considering no one believes that, at this point anyway, a play has accurately conveyed what it's like to love, we wonder if Will is overestimating his own artistic talents here. How many nuns go see his plays, anyway?
VIOLA: All the men at court are without poetry. If they look at me they see my father's fortune. I will have poetry in my life. And adventure. And love. Love above all. […] No… not the artful postures of love, but love that over- throws life. Unbiddable, ungovernable, like a riot in the heart, and nothing to be done, come ruin or rapture. Love like there has never been in a play.
Here is what we were talking about. This line sets us up to see Romeo and Juliet for the first time, and to see what a groundbreaking play it is. Today, it's not as special because everyone knows it. But at the time, it was revolutionary.
VIOLA: You would leave us players without a scene to read today?!
This is a humorous line as Viola kicks Will out of bed, but it shows us that she still wants to be an actor more than anything else, which she can be if she stays in bed with the playwright all day. She can't act without scenes, so he needs to get his knickers on and start writing.
VIOLA: I love poetry above all.
QUEEN: Above Lord Wessex?
One of the reasons Viola is such a fantastic actress is because of her powerful love for art and poetry. She is probably a person who reads it often, and studies and— most importantly for an actor—feels it. She is able to convey these lines on stage. And as the Queen quips, Viola definitely loves poetry more than stodgy old Wessex, who doesn't have a poetic bone in his body.
QUEEN: Playwrights teach nothing about love, they make it pretty, they make it comical, or they make it lust. They cannot make it true.
The Queen seconds Viola's remark about plays not portraying true love. Being the Queen, she is much blunter with her remarks.
QUEEN: There was a wager, I remember… as to whether a play can show the very truth and nature of love. I think you lost it today.
The main theatre critic of the time seems to be the Queen, and she puts her royal seal of approval on Romeo and Juliet, and declares it the first play that ever showed true love. We think that's a success. And it shows us why we still read this play over five hundred years later.
VIOLA: I would stay asleep my whole life if I could dream myself into a company of players.
Viola has a huge obstacle to becoming an actor, and it isn't her acting ability: it's that she is a woman. At the time, on all the stages in the world (or at least in London) all the players are merely men.
VIOLA: Stage love will never be true love while the law of the land has our heroines played by pipsqueak boys in petticoats!
Viola makes a good point here. Can men playing women accurately portray the emotion of love? Maybe the reason no play has shown true love (cisheterosexual love at any rate)is because all the actors are men. Perhaps Romeo and Juliet isn't all that great—it's the fact that a real woman is on stage that makes it so powerful.
VIOLA: You will not tell. As you love me and as I love you, you will bind my breast and buy me a boy's wig!
Here Viola orders her Nurse to disguise her as a man. We're not sure how anyone falls for it before she wears her fake facial hair, but many of the young men who play woman have feminine features anyway.
WILL: Your voice, have it dropped?
SAM: No, no, a touch of cold only.
The men playing women don't have it easy in the theatre. Their careers have a short lifespan. This line foreshadows Sam's voice change, and the end of his ability to play female roles on stage.
VIOLA: I will do my duty, my lord.
Not all the gender issues in this film take place on stage. This one takes place off. As a woman, Viola is not only banned from acting, but she is bound to the whims of her father and Lord Wessex. She is less a person and more like a piece of property to be traded.
VIOLA: I do not know how to undress a man.
WILL: It is strange to me, too.
This is a funny little scene after "Thomas Kent" reveals his true identity as Viola. We don't often see this part of a gender bending comedy, and it adds a bit of levity to a romantic situation.
WILL: Her chaperone. My lady's country cousin. My, but you be a handsome gallant, just as she said! You may call me Miss Wilhelmina!
At this point in the film, Will does his best Mrs. Doubtfire impersonation. William Shakespeare plays, and this movie, have a lot of gender bending, so it's only natural for Will, too, to get in on the act and dress as a nurse for comic effect.
QUEEN: I know something of a woman in a man's profession. Yes, by God, I do know about that.
This is a bit of a throwaway line for some girl power from the Queen, since she isn't that major of a character, but it illustrates why the Queen sympathizes with Viola. She sees Viola as a pioneer in a sea of testosterone, just like herself.
PURITAN: The theatres are handmaidens of the devil! Under the name of the Curtain, the players breed lewdness in your wives, rebellion in your servants, idleness in your apprentices and wickedness in your children! And the Rose smells thusly rank by any name! I say a plague on both their houses!
This quote doesn't just serve as the inspiration for Shakespeare's famous line "A plague on both their houses!" It also shows us that despite how popular the theatre is, there are still some who denounce it. This early in the film, it seems like it might be foreshadowing a scandal, but it really doesn't. Yes, the Master of Revels is scandalized by Viola… but no one else seems to be.
NURSE: Playhouses are not for well-born ladies.
The Nurse explains to us the class differences in effect at this time. Mostly common folk attend the playhouses, in the cramped standing-room only pits and uncomfortable wooden benches in the balcony. Viola, as a lady, may only see plays performed when the Queen does, at her various estates.
NURSE: Well-monied is the same as well-born and well-married is more so. Lord Wessex was looking at you tonight.
This line is a bit of foreshadowing that Lord Wessex will likely make a bargain for Viola, whether she wants it or not. She may be upper class, but in a way, that gives her even less power as a woman. She is merely a bargaining chip.
SIR ROBERT DE LESSEPS: She will breed. If she do not, send her back. […] If you are the man to ride her, there are rubies in the saddlebag.
Upper class doesn't mean classy, does it? Here we see Viola's father describing his own daughter as if she's livestock. And to him, she might as well be. It's a way for him to forge an alliance with Lord Wessex, who is influential with the Queen.
WILL: To be the wife of a poor player?—can I wish that for Lady Viola, except in my dreams?
Will realizes that his and Viola's love is doomed for a variety of reasons, one of the main ones being their difference in class. Shakespeare may be a world-renowned name now, but then, he was basically a tradesman, unsuitable to marry a lady.
PURITAN: Licentiousness is made a show, vice is made a show, vanity and pride likewise made a show! This is the very business of show!
This quote is basically a repeat of the earlier quote, and doesn't really have any impact on the plot. However, were there to be a sequel—Shakespeare 2: Shake Harder—we imagine the conflict between the religious conservatives and the playhouses might heat up a bit as plays become more popular. There's nothing a Puritan hates more than fun.
THE QUEEN: The Queen of England does not attend exhibitions of public lewdness, so something is out of joint.
The production of Romeo and Juliet serves as a turning point for theatre's place in society. After the Queen attends a lowly playhouse, and gives it her approval, we have a feeling more upper class folk might venture to the theatre than ever would before, when it was considered crude entertainment for commoners.