The movie, Shakespeare in Love, (1998), is a great tribute to the Bard and the transcendent ideal of love. It is a comedy, mimicking the assumed life and works of William Shakespeare, but not as satire or farce. Instead, it uses humour both to scaffold the building romance, as well as to inspire a real deep appreciation for Willy the Shake. Really, it can make one really proud to be a part of the English-speaking world, and to have so great a genius long at the helm of it. We all know that William Shakespeare was great, and had a vast influence. But this movie puts life into the man and his work, which we may have partly missed in high school. And, it does so with silliness, imagination and drama, as the Bard would have had it. And as you'd probably like it.
The plot is focused on Shakespeare himself, (Joseph Fiennes), trying to write a play. He derives inspiration from the commonest sources, including the historical Christopher 'Kit' Marlowe, and especially the fictitious Viola de Lesseps, (Gwyneth Paltrow), who becomes the beloved muse of his genius. Ben Afleck plays the vain and highly popular actor of the day, Edward (Ned) Alleyn, who suggests to Shakespeare that he rename his developing play to, "Romeo and Juliet," as is said to have actually happened in history. Shakespeare evolves the play under the inspiration of his muse, who secretly plays a part in the play, as Romeo, which was forbidden by law. He also uses ideas from the violence, drama and loss occurring around him. Viola's identity is revealled to him, and they build the romance, against the plans of the Queen Elizabeth 1, who is allowing the marriage of the Lord of Wessex, , to her. In the end, this, "meta-theatre," movie takes the gender-blending to its source, as it borrows heavilly from Twelfth Night. In a way, this movie is an answer to the question, "What if 'Romeo and Juliet' were combined with 'Twelfth Night'?" Of course, it also overlays Shakespeare into the real-life role of a Romeo.
On the one hand, it is obvious that the writers expertly knew what they were doing, structurally, historically, etc. This is one thing that impressed me about the movie. But, while keeping to history in some ways, they are also consciously aware of violating historical facts in some places. For example, one thing I noticed is that Christopher Marlowe actually died before the time Willy was supposedly concocting 'Romeo and Juliet'. So, he could not have tutoured Willy on the 'R&J's writing. And, 'Twelfth Night,' did not follow right on the heals of 'R&J', as this movie suggests.
Also, I would think that Shakespeare was something of a more serious guy, rather than this flighty, irresponsible Prince-like love monster, just winging it all at the last minute. Much as I sentimentalise over the thrill of being involved in theatre, while all is hanging up in the air, or spinning on a dime, ready to totally crash and burn, the fact is that Shakespeare got his main idea from an Italian work, published in 1562, well before Willie's writing of his, 'R&J', in the 1590's.
"Romeo and Juliet belongs to a tradition of tragic romances stretching back to antiquity. The plot is based on an Italian tale translated into verse as The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet by Arthur Brooke in 1562 and retold in prose in Palace of Pleasure by William Painter in 1567. Shakespeare borrowed heavily from both but expanded the plot by developing a number of supporting characters, particularly Mercutio and Paris. Believed to have been written between 1591 and 1595, the play was first published in a quarto version in 1597." - Wiki
Plot precedents and similarities - Wiki
After the film's release, certain publications, including Private Eye, noted strong similarities between the film and the 1941 novel No Bed for Bacon, by Caryl Brahms and S. J. Simon, which also features Shakespeare falling in love and finding inspiration for his later plays. In a foreword to a subsequent edition of No Bed for Bacon (which traded on the association by declaring itself "A Story of Shakespeare and Lady Viola in Love") Ned Sherrin, Private Eye insider and former writing partner of Brahms', confirmed that he had lent a copy of the novel to Stoppard after he joined the writing team, but that the basic plot of the film had been independently developed by Marc Norman, who was unaware of the earlier work.
The film's plot can claim a tradition in fiction reaching back to Alexandre Duval's "Shakespeare amoureux ou la Piece a l'Etude" (1804), in which Shakespeare falls in love with an actress who is playing Richard III.
The writers of Shakespeare in Love were sued in 1999 by bestselling author Faye Kellerman. She claimed that the plotline was stolen from her 1989 novel The Quality of Mercy, in which Shakespeare romances a Jewish woman who dresses as a man, and attempts to solve a murder. Miramax Films spokesman Andrew Stengel derided the claim, filed in the US District Court six days before the 1999 Academy Awards, as "absurd", and argued that the timing "suggests a publicity stunt".
Historical inaccuracies - Wiki
The film is "not constrained by worries about literary or historical accuracy" and includes anachronisms such as a reference to Virginia tobacco plantations, at a time before the Colony of Virginia existed. A leading character is a member of the House of Wessex, which died out in 1066. Elizabeth I never entered a public theatre, as she does in the film. Between Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth night, Shakespeare wrote ten other plays over a period of six years. The biggest historical liberty concerns the central theme of Shakespeare struggling to create the story of Romeo and Juliet as he simply adapted an existing story for theatre. The Italian verse tale The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet had been translated into English by Arthur Brooke in 1562, 32 years before Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.
So, the writers took liberties with the truth. But that is what movies do, seeking to crystalise the, "essence," of some concept or time. The examples of this fudging are countless. "Girl Interrupted," comes to mind, where the screen-writer rearranged the original memoir and somewhat based the movie on, "The Wizard of Oz." Or, one that really riles me is the movie, "Love and Glory," which has two completely different/looking actors playing Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, neither of them resembling Brian Wilson, because the movie was, "after the essence." And so on. Most adaptive movies do this. It is a matter of how they manage it - how well or discretely they do it - that determines the success of a movie. I think that, "Shakespeare in Love," did a very good job, although some credit goes to its plagiarism.
Referring to the original play: "Romeo and Juliet is sometimes considered to have no unifying theme, save that of young love." - Wiki
I think this is an unfair view. In the play, the lovers elevate love to something they actually die for. That is more than mere young love - it is something relating to the times themselves. The times were changing, (see below). England was coming into its own, rivalling Spain, and rivalling the Catholic Church, gearing towards wealth, industry and empire. Yes, the theme of dying-for-love has happened before in history. But the fact that the English audience was now ready to entertain the very idea, approaching the 17th century, meant that they were entertaining the idea that love itself, and so people themselves, are more important than anything else. Maybe they would not themselves die for love, but they were ready to fantasize that they might.
In times past, there was little room for so ideal, so Romantic a love. In early societies, life was hard, and, for most people, there was not enough time for this ideal. There was not a lot of free-will and self-determine to feel that one could dally in it, requiring a life of commitment unfathomable to anyone in the work-a-day world. Marriages were arranged, and people were sold as chattel. Romantic Love for commoners was regarded in the same way that the freedom of childhood was regarded before the mid 1800's, (USA): Just ain't gonna happen. The only places where this noble ideal of Love could be found was in earlier, wealthy empires, like Greece and Rome, the birthplaces of theatrical play.
Along came Christianity, which promoted the easy idea of God's love for humans, as exemplified in Jesus, who himself died because his love for humans, (or so it goes - these things sausaged through a lot of philosophical discussion over the centuries). Christian ideals did rise up and influence European nobilities. Eventually, they trickled down and influenced common populations, when those populations lives had become fair enough for them to step out of the drudgery and into the fantasy of romantic narcissism.
That's what was happening in England, during the Elizabethan Era. The people were wanting to see themselves as important enough to have the fun, the rights and the "divinity" of royalty. At the same time, religious upheavals were occurring, leading to the reformation and creation of the Church of England. (One reason this whole ball of wax got rolling in the first place was that British royalty were something of common cads, themselves, to begin with. It was all something of a hot mess).
Of course, there is another edge to Cupid's sword, which is: Who would die for love would also kill for love. Thus the endless romantic bloodshed associated with empire, social narcissism, religious warfare, and Shakespeare's plays. Romeo and Juliet came from two families at war with each other. The whole point of 'R&J" was the question of whether exalted love COULD TRANSCEND ALL THIS WARRING, if needs be, through the ultimate act of selflessness: Death for Love. (It's kind of a loop).
So, in the movie, this theme is maintained, and hewed to implacably. This is another thing that impressed me about the movie. Exalted, transcendent love is foremost all along, and alternate related story-lines and angles are spliced together around this continuing theme, like a slow montage. The Queen, (Judi Dench), proposes the question as to whether any play can ever convey the reality of Love. All but Romeo and Juliet believe not, and this becomes the crux of their struggle in society. They stand as examples that not only is this possible, but that Love itself is greater than even such a play. Unlike Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare and Viola only die symbolically, but the outcome was an endless stream of works by the author, Shakespeare, that lifted up Britain and changed the entire world. (That is the story, at least).
In rising cultures and rising empires, art is employed to lift up the expectations and demands, and by way, satisfy the happiness, of those people who matter enough, (as in, "If we don't placate them, will they start a revolution?"). People are called to go to war to uphold principles of fairness, involving ideals like love, destined to slaughter and die in endless waves of agony. Similarly, in growing empires which are constrained, people are called forth to service the love of the Emperor, and sacrifice their lives in dive-bombing fighter planes. Needless to mention, Christianity has been, at times, a massive killing machine - although, it has been given a run for the money by other empires and religions. (WHY humans get this way is something I hope to discuss in another post, about human nature and the nature of cooperative society, ironically requiring external enemies).
It must be said that love is not always a cruel delusion. It is something which can bring us to act for good, as blinded as we may be. We cannot exist on this Earth for long without rationalising some excuse for narcissism. It is necessary to survival. (More on narcissism in other posts). It may as well be argued that if one is willing to kill for love, then one would be willing to die for love, since murder is a killing of self. And so, if one is willing to die for love, then one would be willing to live for love. And love for a living.
What does this have to do with Adam Sandler? Not much. But, I am getting there...
In a lot of movies in the last two decades, there is a switching back and forth through time. A character remembers to something in the past. A character time-travels. From what I can see, this schizophrenic cinema was given its first push by Vonnegut's, "Slaughterhouse Five," which was imitated and made even more influential in Joseph Heller's, "Catch 22," in the 1960's - the decade of mass experimentation - the zenith of Empire. Time-fracturing was used in subsequent movies, like, "Contact"; "Girl, Interrupted"; "The Time-Traveller's Wife"; "Interstellar", and, of course, "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind."
The problem with these movies is that they are often confusing or alienating. People don't time travel as a matter of habit. They are OK with it when reading a novel, where their own attention is in control. But in a movie, throwing blocks of time this way and that, it can be emotionally disruptive, (though emotionally intensifying when successful). But, there are some movies which can pull this technique so subtle that it feels more organic. [I had a great example of one such movie, a while back, but have forgotten it for now - maybe it was, "Lion"]. That is when time is treated more spatially - as if the shift was more of going from one related place to another.
In, "Shakespeare in Love," this kind of spatial time-travel is completely sublimated into a superposition enhancing the theme, (that love transcends all). What I mean by this is that alternate scenes, or times, are repeatedly superimposed over each other, almost as if they were the same time or event. The best example is when Shakespeare and Viola, outdoors, rush to their final kiss, which is then transposed into the kiss of Romeo and Juliet, on stage. In this way, it is the theme which almost comes to life as the very plot of the movie! Well done. And, I should mention, the scoring is very good, and works towards the same end.
Other than this, and because of it, this movie is rather linear. It is like looking down a tube wherein are mirrored a myriad of colours and shapes on the walls inside. During the first half of the movie, everything is set up. Then, the crafty coincidences and plot devices occur, during the building of the plot, and romance. References to assorted Shakespearean lines and plays are made. Someone is shot, and it so happens that Viola comes to believe that person was Will. These situations and mistakes and twists are arranged so well, it comes to be like reading a novel - by Shakespeare. These haphazard slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune!
This is what I mean when the writers knew what they were doing. And, historically, they may have fudged, but, in so doing, they came up with gems. Perhaps the Queen never brokered any relationship related to Shakespeare, but the real Queen famously tried to hitch two people together for the throne without even telling them. - Wiki
This is, after all, a romantic comedy. So, who can expect such elabourate work from such? But, that's what we get - and when they deviate, they deviate nicely. The comedy of the film is never historical. (Only the verbal banter is occasionally witty enough to escape us - but this is also because, sometimes, the words of the movie are not always easy to catch). There is no crude scatological humour. And the slap stick has no slap. But the humour is commonish anyway, as COMedy should be. It appeals to the common people, just as the performance of their play, "R&J', appealed to the upwardly mobile unwashed mass watching in the Rose Theatre.
An English-American movie about actors in drag could be expected to immitate a little Monty Python, which this movie clearly did. The theatre manager was reminiscent of Terry Jones. So, here is something interesting, which I have concluded: The 1970's movie, "Don't Start the revolution Without Me," starring Gene Wilder, about the French revolution, significantly influenced, Monty Python, especially the, "Search for the Holy Grail." Then, Monty Python came around and influenced this historical comedy about Shakespeare.
There are some annoyances. One might rename this movie, "Rapture of the Chicken-Necks," because the two main actors keep bending their skinny rubber chicken-necks around. And some of the men are too cute for a male audience. And Gweneth Paltro has a little bit of an American spaciness that doesn't work, especially in that era. And, Ben Afleck innitially seems out of place. Shakespeare is kind of an energetic twerp who looks like a white Prince.
But, the Queen is a great character. The language is fun. The costumes are excellent - even though most people would have been wearing hand-me-downs from the previous era, at that time. Fortunately, there was not a lot of mud and slop, which has attended such movies as, "Holy Grail," and, "Les Miserables." Most of all, it aspires strongly towards transcendent romance, which will make you cry, but finally gets transformed into the ideal of Love of Art. Art which can move mountains. After all, the movie was basically about Willy's inspiration, and Viola was a kind of fictitious Tinkerbell, just passing through the night.
Now, I just want to quickly compare this to Adam Sandler movies. Wut?
Adam Sandler is forever criticised because he keeps wallowing in gutter humour, and mixes this with lofty, touching family values and romance. In most every movie, he is an irresponsible mope, who is suddenly inspired by only one woman, to do all that is good and write - he finds his muse.
I think Sandler is, himself, an intrepid blue-collar dufus, in real life, just like Trump is a douche. But, they are both pushing to do what they think is best. Sandler is working with mud, and trying to build a crystal palace - what better set-up for natural comedy? So, it works. Whatever that means.
And, Sandler is forever trying to live up to his father's love or expectations, so he is perennially screwed up, in a way that brings us crazy, fun and stupid movies.
Shakespeare was never so deep in the gutter as Sandler, but he knew to appeal to the prurient affectations of the common people. Sandler is doing the same thing, and usually reaching a broad audience, despite the critics. And, like Willy the Shake, he contrasts this base-line with the more serious, uplifting stuff. It is a springboard for flight. Sandler, of course, lacks the wit and flourish of Shakespeare, but he slips a lot of little things into his movies which are craftier and smarter than many critics would recognise.
In reality, the common people are not surrounded by cushy jobs, always appreciated for their opinions. In most cases, they are rewarded for shutting up, vocally and emotionally. More often than not, they are in jobs that don't allow them to express themselves freely, indulging, even, in a little crudeness. And a hard day at work, and in a relationship, hounded by money problems? What do a lot of these people want to do? They don't want to go to a pretty, preachy movie, with subtle twists and turns to follow, with nothing in return.
They want to laugh at stupid, crude humour. They want to sit there hearing other people laughing at the same garbage, just so that they can feel like they fit in somewhere. And do they want to hear about love and romance? yes, they do. But make it quick and easy, and let them back off and hide behind the bullshit again. See, they are so unaccustomed to opening up to schlop like that, especially in public, when they have lives which are forever keeping them shut about it, already. Get it? Make them laugh. Make them smile. But don't make the squirm.
Sandler was definitely ribbing his critics, in, "Blended," when he and Drew Barrymore crept out of the tent, where the children slept, after a very touching moment, when Barrymore had sang to, and kissed, the kids goodnight. Now outside, Sandler suddenly screams at Barrymore, "Behind you! It's a gorilla! OMG!!!" Barrymore screams in terror.
Then he says, "Naw. I was joking. It was just getting too touching, there. I couldn't handle it!"
A part of this is Sandler's own personality. A apart of it is his craft in selling it to an audience who is also somewhat uptight about real things, like love. This is just like the commoners in Shakespeare's England, afraid to come out of themselves. Although, in the long run, they had more to hope fore, compared to those living today in America's decline, but, in the here-and-now, both groups are pretty similar.
I have decided that Adam Sandler is superficial, but in an existential way. Contrast that with American Pie superficiality, all about fuzzy abstractions. I think this is who he is, and who he is as an American Jew. We can get into a long discussion of Jewish comedy in Christian America - or in Christendom in general. But, I think there is something meaningful here, which we just pass off as, "The Jewish rejection of the Holocaust, and the drive to fit in in flighty American society, especially through money and media."
Of course, it is more than that. It goes way back, and, after some thought, I have considered that there may be credence to the idea that Shakespeare may have been Jewish. Honestly. But, this is a big topic for bigger, deeper, beefier, bouncier posts.
Finally, let's compare what I said above about, "Shakespeare in Love," to a movie made fairly recently by Sandler, "Grown Ups - Part 2."
This is a vastly ensemble movie, full of stupid jokes, especially in the first half. Like, "Shakespeare," "Grown-Ups 2," spends the first half of the movie setting things up. But it doesn't time travel or superimpose. It flips from one family in the neighbourhood to another, in real time. So, this set-up is not linear like time's arrow. It is SPATIAL.
Although this movie has been said to be, "plotless," by some critics, the fact is that half of the movie is devoted to making these cross-hatching connection, which doesn't involve a lot of obvious plot. But, there is still plot beginning to develop. You can see the potential when you just notice that there are so many big muscle men in the movie. Later, they would also be used to win a little war. A neighbourhood Shakespearean war for love.
So, the first half is more like various little situation comedy vignettes, gradually revealing relationship to each other. This is why the first half of the movie drags and seems plotless, which are valid points to some degree.
But, just like in, "Shakespeare," this movie comes together in the very middle, right after the son breaks his leg. Soon, it is littered with countless gaffs and jokes and stunts, many of which are pretty funny. Not expert writing, as in, "Shakespeare," (or by Shakespeare), but the same winning formula. Sometimes, almost expert humour! The gutter stuff is mainly comedic and not too oppressive - but they are definitely, intentionally there.
Soon, the movie picks up steam and becomes enjoyable, leading to a big 1980's party, which is great, and then to the war. Although this movie plays no internal tricks with time, it is ABOUT guys getting too old to play like they once did, and they finally beat up the snotty, threatening college guys in spite of this. And, all's well that ends well.
These two guys have come up through the common people, probably as outsiders, and have cavorted with the elites. Their secret is to give the people what they want, bread* and beer, and belches.
* - I meant pizza.
Not burnt cake from the walls of a stove, as per Marie Antoinette.
Laughs, sex, violence, romance, and more laughs.
Overall, ultimately, what are Adam Sandler movies about?
Adam Sandler is the Shakespeare of our age, lol. Albeit, he has less wit, historical and lingual skills than said bard, (whomever he was). And, he has a lot more stupid jokes, dump devices, racial stereotypes, misogyny, and goofy ideas about relationship - all because he is a little Shakespeare who never grew up! So, this is why, if you ask most kids, they will say that they LOVE Adam Sandler! We elitists critics tend to have grown up, many into an easy life, and we forget how comic-book life was when were children. But, there are a hell of a lot of common folk out there who haven't grown up, either. (This is the USA, after all). They see Sandler as high-quality stuff, so let them have that. It is, sometimes.
We are living in trying times, at least for men's souls. One would think that there were no more troubled times than these, requiring a host of water-boys to bring us mirth, in good measure. But, just look at Chicago in 1963/64, as I posted below. Or, look at Bosnia two decades ago - and also right before WWI.
Or, look at the incursions of the Ottoman Empire into that region - while, at the same time, the Spanish Inquisition was expelling Jews - while at the same time Spain sent a massive Armada of ships to dethrone Elizabeth 1 in England, only to crash on Irish shores - while at the same time the Church of England was emerging out of civil strife - while at the same time Christopher Marlowe was shot - and plagues crept - and winds howled - and emigrations to the Americas began - and... All these were occurring in the time of Shakespeare. They were mind-bogglingly incredible times! There was, and never will be, a day like them.
But, like poetry, history may not repeat, but it rhymes. Here, in our times, we suffer similar plagues, which are only mounting. Like the Four Horsemen. Where are the muses for this age? Where are the Shakespeares? Really, we don't know. The present very seldom knows. We fret and pace, in a petty race, and then are gone, having done what we've done, letting history, the conqueror, be the judge, like at the end of, "Big Daddy."
Both Shakespeare and Sandler, and everyone else, were mere puppets of history. Their genius arose from the urges and love of the restive masses, you and me. How it all shakes out, who knows. The point is to do what you can, contribute what you can afford, and get on with it.
And to me, that's a pretty Jewish outlook on life, or am I wrong?
...and love's labour lost?
How now, brown cow?
Mad Dogs and Englishmen
Another English Love Story
Mother reports: "Adam was a very breit bard!"