Volume 92, Issue 58

Tuesday, January 12, 1999



Falling in love with Shakespeare again

Blue Rodeo colours Stratford theatre

Dancing the Quentin Tarantino

Falling in love with Shakespeare again

Gazette File Photo

By Christina Vardanis
Gazette Staff

Ahh... the greatest love story of all time. Two star-crossed lovers, destined for tragedy. But alas, where would our fair Romeo be without his Ethel, the pirate's daughter?

This may have been the fate of William Shakespeare's masterpiece, Romeo and Juliet, had Shakespeare not met his muse, Viola De Lesseps. Or so suggests the premise of John Madden's latest film, Shakespeare In Love. Madden creates a masterpiece of his own with this movie, which follows the life of Shakespeare as he pens the romantic tragedy of the Montagues and Capulets. It is cleverly written, brilliantly directed and fantastically performed – guaranteed to captivate all who view it.

Joseph Fiennes plays poet Will Shakespeare, a young, passionate, free spirit commissioned to write a comedy for The Rose theatre, currently rivaling The Curtain theatre for the pinnacle of Elizabethan entertainment. Experiencing a touch of writer's block, Shakespeare is finally inspired when he meets Viola De Lesseps, played exquisitely by Gwyneth Paltrow. The comedy he owes the theatre slowly turns into the classic romantic tragedy, Romeo and Juliet.

Paltrow is the daughter of an aristocrat, betrothed to a wretched fiancee, played by Colin Firth. While finding it difficult to live within the confines of her corset, she devotes herself to poetry and specifically is enraptured by the words of Shakespeare, thus she is determined to act. As women were banned from the stage, she disguises herself as a man and unknowing to Shakespeare, lands the part of Romeo. The story begins to unfold meticulously, as Shakespeare creates his tragedy while falling into a tumultuous romance with De Lesseps.

This story is driven by absolute passion – for theatre, for words and most notably, for love. Passion is presented as an undeniable emotion which only brings momentary happiness, followed by tortuous suffering. However, the point made in the film is suffering should not be avoided. Instead, it's necessary to appreciate real love, no matter how fleeting.

It is with passion Madden directs this film and the results are brilliant. He intertwines the story of Romeo and Juliet with Will and Viola seamlessly, combining fact and fiction, creating a tragedy within a tragedy. The strategy of presenting a play within the film brings the love story to life, both on the stage and in the character's lives.

Simultaneously, Madden breaks the boundaries of stereotypical historical dramas. Instead of long, drawn out scenes which concentrate on the atmosphere of the era, the movie pulses at an energetic pace, with breathtaking climaxes and heart breaking pitfalls. The characters are smart, sexy and witty, commanding respect for those who push the limits of society.

The entire cast delivers incredible performances, from Judi Dench as the determined Queen Elizabeth I to Ben Affleck as the veteran theatre performer. However, it is when Paltrow and Fiennes share the screen that true magic begins. These two share an unspeakable chemistry, communicated by a simple glance.

However, the true beauty of this film is how it humanizes the characters of Shakespeare's work. The real personalities of his plays are those surrounding him in life. It is a privilege to see where his inspirations originated and realize the comedies and tragedies which he made famous are based on his soul, not just his imagination.

Shakespeare In Love is pure poetic justice. It facilitates a new understanding and appreciation of Romeo and Juliet and Shakespeare himself, which is often lost in lectures. If Shakespeare were alive today, it would bring a tear to his eye.

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Copyright The Gazette 1999