Study Guide

Shakespeare in Love Society and Class

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Society and Class

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.

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