Academic journal article Atlantis, revista de la Asociación Española de Estudios Anglo-Norteamericanos

Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard 1999: Shakespeare in Love (the Screenplay)

Academic journal article Atlantis, revista de la Asociación Española de Estudios Anglo-Norteamericanos

Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard 1999: Shakespeare in Love (the Screenplay)

Article excerpt

Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard 1999: Shakespeare in Love (the screenplay). London: Faber.

Elizabethan England has always been popular in the Anglo-American movie industry. In 1998 two new films on the subject were released, namely Shekher Kapur's Elizabeth and John Madden's Shakespeare in Love. Both of them indulged in certain -otherwise predictable- chauvinistic prejudices. In Elizabeth, for instance, the highly positive features of the British are set against the extremely grotesque and exaggerated vices of the French and the Spanish. Shakespeare in Love, on the other hand, deals with the exploits and achievements--also with a fair amount of cliches- of Shakespeare and the Golden Age of English drama; Queen Elizabeth has a leading role in this second film too, as she appears as a deus-ex-machina who makes it possible for a woman to playa part on the stage. Judi Dench's Academy Award--one of the seven obtained by the film- as the best supporting actress, seems to be quite significant in that context. (2)

Shakespeare in Love -which was awarded the Oscar for the best original screenplay- was also published as a printed book. As most critics then pointed out, a previous script by novelist Marc Norman was later adapted by Tom Stoppard, who adjusted it to its present form (Duncan-Jones 18). Stoppard was already an experienced writer in the field of Shakespeare adaptations as he had used Hamlet for his well-known play Rosencrantz and Guildernstern Are Dead (1966), and in later years had produced Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth (1979) in which Shakespeare appears as a character. As for Norman (also an experienced screenwriter), he stated that the entire idea for the script had originated in an informal talk with his own son about Shakespeare's source of inspiration when composing Romeo and Juliet. (3) However, long before the Academy Award ceremony took place, there had already been a plagiarism row, as some people had noticed strong similarities with the plot of Caryl Brahms and S. J. Simon's novel No Bed for Bacon (first published in London, 1941); also, American writer Faye Kellerman had sued the Hollywood studios and the screenwriters, whom she had accused of having plagiarized her 1989 novel The Quality of Mercy (Gray 7). (4)

Indeed, the ironic and burlesque tone of Shakespeare in Love, already apparent in the film, is even more evident in the script, and that acknowledges Norman and Stoppard's debt to No Bed for Bacon. For not only did the screenwriters imitate the general humorous atmosphere of the novel, but they also lifted several other essential elements as well, such as the name of the female protagonist -Viola-, her taste for plays, her infatuation with young William Shakespeare, her male disguise, her connection with Twelfth Night, rehearsals and a performance of Romeo and Juliet, the rivalry between two theatre companies, the presence of several Elizabethan literary personages, the Bard's suffering from writer's block, and so on. Such specific detail as Shakespeare's hesitation when signing his own name (Normanand Stoppard 5) is also found in the novel (Brahmsand Simon 13). A joke about Anne Hathaway's cottage occurs in both works (Norman and Stoppard 11; Brahms and Simon 109).

On the other hand, if Shakespeare ever had an extramarital relationship as presented in the screenplay, the only "historical" evidence is a contemporary anecdote recorded by John Manningham; he reports in his Diary (13 March 1601) that the Bard had an affair with a lady who had previously agreed to meet Burbage, but found Shakespeare instead. According to Manningham this episode took place just as Richard III was being performed at the Globe (Schoenbaum 17). The core of this story is very likely the basis for an early 19th-century French play by Alexandre Duval entitled, coincidentally, Shakespeare amoureux (Shakespeare in Love) (5), first performed in Paris (1804) and later on in Barcelona (in French, 1810); it then gave rise to Ventura de la Vega's free translation Shakespeare enamorado, first staged--quite successfully- in Madrid in 1828 (see Par 1: 74-78, and 88-89). …

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