Shakespeare In Love, The Perfect Gateway to Shakespeare’s Biography

At what age do students relate the image of that balding Elizabethan to Shakespeare? It is amazing at how powerfully fixed that image rests inside many minds. And how can we take that iconic image down from the pedestal and wonder about the real life writer amidst the puzzle pieces of biography that historians have recently provided us? Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard’s script swiftly moves us through the muddy and narrow lanes of the Shakespeare’s bankside neighborhood outside the “City” walls. The more I research this script and small biographical points it touches upon, the more I am convinced that this is a great gateway into learning more about the biography of Shakespeare. Did you know that Stephen Greenblatt was an advisor on the project?

Now, did Shakespeare write Act I of Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter? No. But that moment when he tosses the play in the fire and when he writes a sonnet instead of moving forward with Act II of his new play, I think the script dramatizes the overall creative process quite well. For a writer who struggled with creating his own plots but excelled in character development, doesn’t it make sense that there were real life inspirations (though perhaps not Viola DE Lesseps) for the characters Juliet and Viola?

One of my favorite takeaways from the movie is the scene when Richard Burbage comes to the Henslowe’s men at the tavern and offers his theatre.

That can wait. The Master of the
Revels despises us for vagrants,
tinkers, and peddlers of bombast. But
my father, James Burbage, had the
first licence to make a company of
players from Her Majesty, and he drew
from poets the literature of the age.
Their fame will be our fame. So let
them all know, we are men of parts. We
are a brotherhood, and we will be a
profession. Will ;”>Shakespeare has a
play. I have a theatre. The Curtain is
yours. []

Again, the historical accuracy of this speech is not the question. This speech casts a very creative web on dramatizing how the most famous and talented acting company in the history of drama bonded together. In this new theatre business, which perhaps may be similar to what we know of Internet start-up companies where the rules and business landscape is changing constantly, how did fierce rivals turn into partners? Money is always a motivating factor, but the script provides a creative problem (their Viola Twelfth Night disguise is up and illegal) that the new band of brothers will have to solve together. By the standards of 1593, this is a brave new world.

James Burbage did have the first theatre in London, and the Burbages are the first professional theatre family. We will watch Michael Wood uncover the foundation of it north of the old “City” walls in our upcoming viewing of In Search o Shakespeare. Mr. Wood will be taking down the iconic image of The Sweet Swan of Avon off the shelf, too. Though we are missing the historical aspects of the Armada threating and casting a shadow over southern England and London, the movie does supply us the wheeling and dealing in Elizabethan’s most intense police state, and we also realize how the plague is “always hanging around the house” (Mr. Tilney). This is the gateway to Shakespeare’s 1593.

About bsullivan35

I am an English teacher working with great students at an independent school in Ct.
This entry was posted in 21st Century Learning, Digital Shakespeare, Shakespeare and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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