Study Guide

Shakespeare in Love Art and Culture

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Art and Culture

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.

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