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Is This Problematic? – Shakespeare in Love

Is This Problematic? - Shakespeare in Love

Hey and welcome to Is This Problematic? the continued thought experiment the place we (Brooke and Shannon) revisit the movies of the previous and close to-previous with a feminist lens and ask ourselves the robust questions concerning the narratives that formed the tradition, and our youthful selves.

The movie: Shakespeare in Love

It gave us one of the controversial Greatest Image wins in Academy Awards historical past (beating out Saving Personal Ryan for the little gold man), a supporting actress nod for one of many briefest performances in Oscar historical past (Judi Dench as Elizabeth I), and the perfect ‘shipping experience since we devoured Romeo and Juliet in 9th grade English. 1998’s Shakespeare in Love gave us the story of William Shakespeare and the fictional Viola De Lesseps, a pair of star-crossed lovers whose ardour for one another units the stage for the Bard’s future works.

The dialogue:

B, I feel we’d do our pricey readers a disservice if we don’t first handle the elephant (learn: monster) in the room. Did producer Harvey Weinstein ooze his creeper goo throughout this function?

B: Ugh, Harvey. Isn’t he a spectacularly ripe plague boil on this in any other case ravishing manufacturing? I’ve little question that Harvey was crucial in orchestrating the expertise in this image. His identify carried large weight in the late 90s, in any case — Miramax was to the cinephiles of Gen X what A24 is to me. It was the studio the place auteurs went to make the movies the opposite studios wouldn’t contact. It was a powerhouse, creatively and in the awards circuit. Miramax stumbled publish Chicago in the early-to-mid aughts, and it’s by no means been fairly the identical maybe as a result of Harvey had too many skeletons to juggle by then. However when Shakespeare In Love toppled Saving Personal Ryan it was *the* status arthouse and far of that was right down to the Weinsteins’ savvy. Which is why I’m additionally satisfied that Harvey was everywhere in the Oscar marketing campaign for this factor. And as a lot as I rejoice that a film concerning the Bard beat a WWII drama for Greatest Image, it’s disagreeable to consider the methods and means Hollywood’s Creep-in-Chief may need employed to make sure the vote carried. I converse right here extra of political muscle than sexual threats, however it all provides as much as one terrifying sense of entitlement.

Right here’s the ray of sunshine. I can’t think about Harvey had an excessive amount of artistic affect right here. Miramax in the 90s appeared to have the great sense to let their expertise do their factor. I can’t know for positive, however I feel director John Madden and writers Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard led the artistic cost with their cadre of sensible performers. Or so I hope.

However let’s not give that toxic bunch-backed toad (h/t to Willy Shakespeare) extra ink than he deserves. Shakespeare in Love is a exceptional cinematic achievement, the sort of storytelling that’s each bit as transporting 20 years later because it was then. Let’s return to London 1593 and unpack probably the most unlucky period in which our heroine, Viola finds herself.

Take it away, S!

S: Sooooo many issues to debate. However first, I need to help your level and ship a shout out to my fellow Gen X movie snobs. Poring over Miramax movies was what we did whereas all of the cool youngsters have been going to events. Did we uncover Kevin Smith earlier than he was cool and watch Clerks a complete of 37 occasions in one week? Sure we did. (Sidenote: we should always in all probability add that movie to our listing. Upon dropping that delicate Clerks joke – you with me Gen X cinephiles? – I noticed…yup, in all probability problematic.) Did we identify an excellent dreamy dude who labored at an area grocery retailer “the crow” as a result of he appeared like Brandon Lee in The Crow, and in addition, have been we obsessive about the film The Crow? Yup.

My level is, you’re proper. 90s Miramax permeated my highschool expertise as a lot as Counting Crows and Barenaked Women did (additionally found them earlier than they have been cool…okay, I’ll shut up now), and had quite a bit to do with molding me into the movie lover/snob I’m at present. Understanding that Creepy McCreeperton had a hand in shaping my popular culture affinities bugs the dwelling shit out of me. It’s a superb factor my pricey good friend Brooke invited me to write down this collection together with her…it’s therapeutic.

However, I digress. You requested me to dive into the intense issues the Elizabethan period introduces to our Woman Viola. And to reply that query, I submit an trade between Viola’s darling daddy and her betrothed-to-be, Lord Wessex:

Lord Wessex: Is she fertile?

Sir Robert De Lesseps: She is going to breed. If she don’t, ship her again.

Lord Wessex: Is she obedient?

Sir Robert De Lesseps: As any mule in Christendom. However in case you are the person to experience her, there are rubies in the saddlebag.

Um, thanks dad? And in addition…gross?

The 16th century (and TBH, centuries afterward) was not the perfect time to be a lady. Even in an period when the world’s strongest nation was dominated by a fierce, fearless feminine, ladies have been traded into marriage like cattle, banned from the stage and compelled (in extra methods than one) to “do their duty.” Even our favourite monarch, the Virgin Queen, refused to marry for worry she must undergo a person.

However what this movie demonstrates – in spades – is the delicate, however highly effective arrow that ladies of this period did have in their quiver: their wit. B, what was your favourite woman-delivered sick burn?

B: It’s a most ultimate query you increase. My notes are cram-jam filled with snippets of dialogue and declarations like “The Queen has the sickest burns. SICKEST BURNS.” And naturally, it’s from she that I take my favourite woman-delivered sick burn (Viola will get all the great swoon-y strains), however as almost each certainly one of Dame Judi Dench’s scant handful of minutes on display is peppered by wit, I had a bear of a time selecting. A lot as I am keen on the shade the Queen throws at Lord Wessex, I feel my favourite second was her dressing down of the whole assemblage of play attendees who have been scandalized to assume that they’d seen a lady on stage. “The Queen of England does not attend exhibitions of public lewdness. So, something is out of joint.”

And this brings me to a different of my most frequent ruminations throughout this re-watch. Shakespeare’s precise works have many situations of characters donning a disguise in order to be their truest selves. And lots of is the time that these disguises contain taking over one other gender — it’s quite as if the Bard understood a fantastic deal extra of gender fluidity and the spectrum of sexuality than … properly you realize who. However I digress, I discovered myself questioning concerning the diploma of intention to all of that pressure. Will and “Thomas Kent” share sultry glances and steamy kisses, whereas Will reads Juliet and Viola recites Romeo throughout their trysts. It’s all powerfully intoxicating — speak about your stark distinction in intercourse scenes from Terminator to a movie the place even the digital camera actions emit seduction. However, was the intention to flex the gender roles in a playful, attractive approach? Or was it merely a plot gadget? Watching it now, it positive feels intentional, even when Will’s lengthy overdue recognition of Viola and Thomas as one is a bit complicated.

Am I overthinking this, S? Or have we stumbled not solely into a movie that’s constructed on the injustices of life as a lady in 1593, but in addition one which’s intercourse-constructive and 90s woke?

S: I feel you’re spot on, B, and I’ll go one step additional together with your evaluation. Shakespeare in Love makes use of gender fluidity to attract a metaphor about gender dynamics, and notably concerning the plight of the 16th-century feminine. You see, Viola is simply really free when she turns into Thomas Kent, a person. She is free to pursue her ardour for appearing, and she will expertise romantic love. As Viola De Lesseps, a lady, she is barred from in search of a profession she loves, and romance is out of the query. Equally, it’s whereas posing as a lady that Shakespeare makes a wager that ultimately permits him to flee the drudgery of being a playwright for rent. It’s as if the movie is telling us that it is just by means of acceptance of gender fluidity that one can thrive.

And talking of intercourse-constructive and 90s woke, I need to share one among my favourite moments of Shakespeare in Love: Viola’s nurse turning into the sock on the doorknob to Viola’s late-night time hookup with that scorching, artsy author from the theatre downtown.

Nicely, B, I feel it’s about that point. We could to the stray observations? And…as a bonus query, which of Shakespeare’s works do you assume is probably the most feminist, and why?

B: I really like stray observations time, even when most of mine are about how Nurse is the best wingwoman of all time. However earlier than we get there, I’ll dip my toes into this query of probably the most feminist Shakespearean work. The title that instantly involves thoughts for me is As You Like It. 

We’ve already mentioned Shakespeare’s use of disguise to permit characters to be their most true selves and pursue their forbidden wishes. Properly, As You Like It is filled with these types of charades. Right here’s my lackadaisical Reader’s Digest model of the goings-on. Our heroine, Rosalind, is chased out of her place at courtroom after she upsets the Usurper of her father’s crown. The usurper’s daughter, Celia, is an excellent, experience-or-die sort of pal who decides to run away with Rosalind, however not earlier than Rosalind falls head over heels for Orlando. The women away to the countryside the place they purchase pastures and determine to stay that agrarian life whereas someday operating about in the forest making pals and weaving romantical webs, all while dressed as males, in fact. For his half, Orlando has been betrayed by his brother and likewise finds himself headed towards the forest of Arden, the place he leaves all types of affection notes for Rosalind, resulting in a number of amusing mistaken id situations whereby Rosalind performs matchmaker for herself and all of her associates.

Principally: Rosalind has hella company, will get to seek out love, makes that cash and solves all the issues for everybody earlier than she captures love with a candy man. In different phrases, she does dude issues in a time when that was a revolutionary act.

However sufficient of this nice literary evaluation, I’ve some random ideas to air:

  • It has nothing to do with something we’re speaking about, however I really feel like recognizing Downton Abbey’s Carson as a drunkard actor was an actual full-circle second for me.
  • What precisely does Will sprinkle on his pages when he’s completed with them? Flour? Starch? What was the luxury 1590s ink absorber?
  • Will says that each one of his muses are referred to as Aphrodite, implying he falls quick and onerous, however his buddies always confuse this metaphor with a woman named Aphrodite who “does it behind a pub.” Which begs the query, has mankind labeled intercourse as “it” for hundreds of years at this level?
  • This line and so many prefer it: “I will have poetry in my life. And adventure. And love. Love above all else.”
  • I swear to henceforth work each anon and struggling cats into my vocabulary.

S, I implore you. Give us your observations and your decide for many feminist little bit of the Shakespeare canon. I want your whole ideas. Then, let’s making a last ruling on this image with all of the panache of the Queen.

S: Put together thyself, as a result of I’m about to make a controversial selection. For me, feminism in fiction is alive and nicely when ladies have the chance to play the breadth and depth of elements that males do … and meaning huge, juicy, surroundings chewing dangerous man roles. And one in every of my favourite Shakespearean baddies is Woman Macbeth. She was a “fixer” lengthy earlier than Olivia Pope pulled the strings on the White Home. She ruthlessly energy grabbed forward of Claire Underwood. And she or he performed the sport of thrones with the manipulative depth that Cersei Lannister would come to be recognized for hundreds of years later. With strains like “screw your courage to the sticking place,” she is the hardest of badass baddies. And in addition, the witches are rad.

However now tis time to talk mine random ideas:

  • Ben Affleck. I utterly forgot he was in this film, and I really like him so. The truth is, I feel that is my favourite Ben Affleck position of all time.
  • Talking of sick woman burns, Viola had a number of the greatest. My faves? “I see you are open for business, so let’s to church.” Additionally, in response to Lord Wessex’s “Lady Viola, I have spoken with your father,” Viola retorts, “So my lord? I speak with him every day.” Ya burnt, Wessex.
  • Seeing Romeo and Juliet carried out on the finish of the movie despatched my coronary heart a-flutter. I really like Shakespeare so.
  • The delicate nods to strains from Shakespeare’s performs all through — this film is impeccably written.

The Verdict:

Earlier than we bid this submit adieu, I feel it’s time to screw OUR braveness to the sticking place and are available to a verdict. Behold! The maths:

  • +10 cringes for Harvey Weinstein. No mercy for the creeper to finish all creepers.
  • -9 cringes for the writers managing to construct a surprisingly feminist story out of one of many least feminist occasions in world historical past.
  • +1 cringe for the minor creeper crutch second in the type of Lord Wessex planting an undesirable kiss on his bride-to-be. Gross.
  • -1 cringe for Dame Judi, who managed to play Elizabeth I as terrifying, hilarious, compassionate and highly effective suddenly, in lower than 10 minutes of display time.

If mine eyes don’t deceive me, I consider that leaves us with 1 cringe — which I need to depart in place to account for the Harvey issue. Had the film not had a Harvey drawback, this might have been our first cringe-free movie.

What say you, B?

B: I couldn’t agree extra, S. However certainly, I hath two extra bits of ‘rithmatic so as to add to our equation.

  • +four cringes for the truth that Will Shakespeare is a married man and a lothario, however the truth that Rosalind bangs different dudes ruins her place of honor as his muse for him. C’mon, Will.
  • -2 cringes for Viola’s unrepentant enjoyment after her first night time with Will. When her nurse warns her, “Viola, the house is stirring. It is a new day.” Viola responds with glee, “It is a new world.”
  • -2 cringes for the great nurse as historical past’s biggest wingwoman, I’ll say it once more for the individuals in the again: Historical past’s. Biggest. Wingwoman.

As ever, we agree. And for the report, I’m thrilled Shakespeare in Love gained greatest image over Saving Personal Ryan. I do know you agree, S, and I don’t a lot care if anybody else questions our (right) opinion.



Anon, pricey readers, we’ll be again by and by. Our subsequent effort finds us on the street with Thelma & Louise, and also you higher consider we’re going to seek out the Brad Pitt gif of your goals.


Principal picture credit score: Miramax Movies

About Shannon Fern

Anglophile. Star Wars apologist/prequel denier. Creator of small people. Thrower of close by objects upon listening to of pay inequity in fashionable media.



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