Academic journal article Shakespeare Bulletin

Shakespearean Relocations: The Final Scene of John Madden's Shakespeare in Love

Academic journal article Shakespeare Bulletin

Shakespearean Relocations: The Final Scene of John Madden's Shakespeare in Love

Article excerpt

What country, friends, is this?" asks the shipwrecked Viola, arriving on dry land at the beginning of the second scene of Twelfth Night; the captain who accompanies her replies, "This is Illyria, lady" (1.2.1). (1) While probably uncertain about which part of the map the ancient kingdom of Illyria occupied, given the largely Italianate names of the play's principal characters, most people would probably incline to Italy, or somewhere in its vicinity. In point of fact, Illyria was an area of land off the Eastern Adriatic Coast, situated in roughly the same area as latter-day Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. (2) However, John Maddens multi-Oscar winning film, Shakespeare in Love (1998) suggests a very different location. In this historical fantasy the struggling playwright, Will Shakespeare (played by Joseph Fiennes), overcomes writer's block by means of an affair with a beautiful and rich young woman, the theatre-loving, Viola de Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow). While Viola provides the amatory impetus that enables Will to write Romeo and Juliet, she cannot escape marriage to the odious Lord Wessex. In the final scene, following the first performance of Romeo and Juliet, which the Queen herself, no less, has judged to be the first play to show "the very truth and nature of love," Will and Viola say their farewells before her enforced departure for the tobacco plantations of Virginia, where Wessex intends to make his fortune. As she leaves, Will takes up his pen and begins to write Twelfth Night as his tribute to her; meanwhile, Viola is shown escaping a shipwreck and landing alone upon a vast deserted sea-shore. Will's pen moves across the page and "VIOLA: What coun ..." appears on the paper as Viola in long shot walks towards the tree-lined mainland. The suggestion that Viola has landed on the East Coast of America is more explicit in conceptions of the scene that did not make the final cut. I quote Madden's commentary:

   In this particular shot, she originally met two people on the
   beach, just as Viola does in the play--that's Viola, the character
   in Twelfth Night, but it seemed to take us somewhere we didn't want
   to go. And it ... er ... the power of a single figure on a
   completely blank canvass walking away into posterity was more
   attractive. There was always a potentially rather wonderful idea,
   which we got some way towards exploring--which was an idea of Tom
   Stoppard's--that during the sequence which I had wanted to, you
   know, find a beach sufficiently long to carry all the credits--and
   that during the course of this shot, very, very, very, gradually,
   and imperceptibly, the ghostly outline of modern Manhattan would
   become visible beyond the tree-line--there for those to see who
   wanted to see it, and not for those who didn't, but somehow
   production schedules overtook us, and we never really had the
   chance to try that out. But the notion that she was walking away
   into history is still what I hoped the shot would mean and feel?

The original idea of Viola being met upon the beach by two people was filmed and is included among the deleted scenes incorporated into the DVD recording. It is in long shot, and as far as one can make out, one of the two seems to be ethnically Indian, while the other is of African appearance. Viola's enquiry is answered politely, "This is America" and the camera focuses in upon her reply, "America ... oh good"; she smiles broadly and is then, as in the final cut, filmed from the back striding towards the tree-lined horizon. Clearly, the "history" that Madden has in mind is the progression from the landing of the founding fathers upon a seemingly fertile tabula rasa, through to the end of the twentieth century, with an economically powerful and culturally sophisticated nation represented by the city of New York. The encounter on the beach suggests an open and harmonious, multi-racial land of opportunity, and one can well imagine why, given its glib erasure of the complex, often bloody, history of American racial conflict and assimilation, the producers felt uneasy about it. …

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