Shakespeare in Love

Directed by John Madden,
Screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard

Discussion Questions

Scene 1: Love and Poetry
1. What is Viola's complaint about "stage love"? Does she think that it could ever be "true love"?

2. Is Viola's enthusiasm for love or her enthusiasm for poetry greater? Are they distinct?

Scene 2: Love and Marriage
1. How does this scene juxtapose Lord Wessex and Will Shakespeare, in their relation with Viola?

Scene 3: Poeticized Love
1. How well does Will know Viola? What is the basis of his description of her?

2. Why does Thomas/Viola want to hear Will's description of his beloved?

3. Discuss the irony in Thomas's statement that he has not seen Viola "close"?

4. Why does Thomas think that Viola should keep Will's love for her "at a distance"?

5. Why does Viola identify her beloved as "the author of the plays of William Shakespeare"?

Scene 4: Can a Play Show the Very Truth and Nature of Love?

1. What, do you think, is the Queen's opinion of Lord Wessex? Of Viola? Of William Shakespeare?

2. In presenting love as pretty and comical, and lust, do poets not "make it true"? What does the Queen's criticism of poets imply about her view of love?

3. If the Queen holds the view of the theater that she states, why does she have so many plays "acted for [her]"?

4. Would Lord Wessex agree with the Queen that the question of the wager is a "worthy" question?

5. Why might Shakespeare be intrigued by Queen Elizabeth?

Scene 5: Love Beyond Poetry
1. Does Viola love the poet, or the man? Is love beyond poetry?

2. Why will Viola marry Wessex? Does her decision qualify her love for Will?

3. Does Will's musings about Marlowe have any bearing on Viola's decision?

Scene 6: The Play
1. How does the action of "the play within the play," Romeo and Juliet within Shakespeare in Love, compare with the action of the film?

2. What are the significant differences between the two plots?

3. Why is it important to the film that circumstances dictate that Viola play Juliet rather than her original role of Romeo?

Scene 7: The Encore
1. Why does the Queen reveal herself and get involved in the drama? Why does she deny that Master Kent is a woman?

2. Is there any validity at all in the law that forbids women from acting on the public stage? Why was it passed?

3. If the Queen knows well that a woman can perform admirably in a man's profession, why does she not seek to overturn the law concerning the theater?

4. In what way(s) can the Queen's pronouncement about Master Kent be considered an act of statesmanship?

Paper Topics:
1. Does the performance of Romeo and Juliet in the film prove, as the Queen declares, that a play can show the very truth and nature of love? Does Shakespeare in Love suggest that a film can do so? Discuss the film's treatment of the theme of the relationship between poetry and truth.

2. Discuss the role played by Queen Elizabeth in Shakespeare in Love. What decisions does she make, and why? How do her decisions illustrate the potential and limits of statesmanship? How does she contribute to the themes of the film?

3. Is "something more cheerful" an appropriate aftermath to the action of Shakespeare in Love?

4. Would Shakespeare in Love work as well if Will had turned to writing the tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra as it does when he turns to write that of Romeo and Juliet?

5. Is Shakespeare in Love worthy of William Shakespeare?

Shakespeare in Love Reading

Guide to unit 6

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