Study Guide

Shakespeare in Love Society and Class

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Society and Class

In modern day, playwrights are practically celebrities. You know the names of American masters like Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller. And modern-day playwrights like Tom Stoppard (who worked on the screenplay to Shakespeare in Love) and Tony Kushner are getting there, with plays like Arcadia and Angels in America.

But even though we know Shakespeare today, it wasn't like he was riding around in a gilded carriage and having money thrown at him on the dirt roads of 16th Century London. He was a struggling member of the lower class, no better than a laborer, with the ink-stained fingertips to show it.

The upper class belonged only to the lords and ladies of the court. And Will and Viola, like Romeo and Juliet, are on different sides of the tracks—or they would have been, if trains had been invented.

Questions About Society and Class

  1. How does the Queen have influence over the style of play that is popular at the time?
  2. What roadblocks exist in Will and Viola's relationship because of their class differences? Would it work out if they were from the same class? Or would they even have fallen for each other if they were more equal?
  3. Why do the Puritans object to the theatre?

Chew on This

The aristocracy has ultimate authority. They can choose what plays are produced, who to marry, basically anything they want. And they don't need money to do it. Status is the ultimate currency.

Viola likes to rebel, so part of the reason she is attracted to Shakespeare is because the love between them—upper-class woman and lower-class man—is forbidden.

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