‘Shakespeare in Love’ which is a romantic comedy directed by John Madden, starring Joseph Fiennes as Will Shakespeare and Gwynneth Paltrow as Viola de Lesseps is a well-made film from start to…
AN ANALYSIS OF ‘SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE’
‘Shakespeare in Love’ which is a romantic comedy directed by John Madden, starring Joseph Fiennes as Will Shakespeare and Gwynneth Paltrow as Viola de Lesseps is a well-made film from start to finish; if not for its accurate portrayal of the Renaissance Period, it’s seven Oscars speak for themselves. This film is an example of inter-textuality in literature – a term referring to the introduction of a new point of view or approach to an already existing story or historical event. Another example of this narrative style is ‘Titanic’ starring Leonardo di Caprio and Kate Winslet. ‘Shakespeare in Love’ is not only commendable in terms of its story and it’s script because if it’s narrative components are considered, such as the cinematography, mis-en-scene, and editing are considered, all these work together to create a classic example of a film masterpiece.
Cinematography is the harmonious use of lighting, the camera movement, and the elements of the shot in a scene to create an artistic rendition of a particular scene in the movie. In ‘Shakespeare in Love’ this particular element of the narrative is given great attention from the moment the movie opens. In the opening scene, which also establishes the general subject matter of the movie, a panning shot of a Renaissance theater is presented. While the camera focuses on the balconies, the lighting is a bit dark, then as it pans slowly downward, the lighting begins to brighten, until the camera finally fades unto the page of a script titled ‘The Lamentable Tragedie of the Moneylender’. From this point, the camera snaps quickly and pans very rapidly to show a scene at the back of the theater where a confrontation is taking place between a play patron and a loan shark. This is a very unorthodox example of exceptional creativity in cinematography because, the shot succeeded in introducing the general elements of the film even when there were no actors presented yet; then, with the screaming play patron’s voice in the background, before the shot shifts rapidly to the confrontation, the whimsical tone of the film is established. Here we can easily see fluid harmony between all the elements, the lighting, the camera, and even the sound. In another scene, where the love of Queen Elizabeth I for theater is first introduced, the camera first focuses on the onstage performance of an actor, then on the Queen who begins to laugh. The shot of the Queen, however, stops here, and shifts to the audience who also begin to laugh, but with the escalating laughter of the audience, the distinct voice of the Queen is heard in the background, giving more focus on her, until the shot finally returns to her and shows how boisterous her laughter has become. In this same segment of the film, the character of Viola and her love for theater is also introduced through clever cinematography – while an actor is delivering a poem about ‘Sylvia’ the shot focuses on Viola who mimics what the actor is saying in silence; a very subtle change in her facial expression is then noticed, showing how passionate she is about acting. This is achieved without Viola saying a single word. Notice also that in this particular shot, to give more emphasis to Viola, the other actors in the scene are off focus, which brings us to the second component that makes this film exceptional, the mis-en-scene.
A scene featuring the sleeping Will accurately illustrates how expertly mis-en-scene is used in this film. Consider the visible elements in this particular shot – a worn candle, the hourglass in the background, crumpled paper, and Will who seems to have fallen asleep in the midst of something. The shot’s composition features backgrounds that are slightly blurred to focus attention on the main character; however, although these elements do not grab attention from the actor, they contribute to the scene’s composition in a very subtle manner, discreetly explaining the relevance of this particular scene to the story as a whole. The attention to the details to include in this particular shot is brilliant – none of the elements in this particular scene grab focus from the actor, and yet all of the elements tell their own individual stories. Now, consider another scene, the second confrontation between the play patron and the loan sharks – as opposed to the permission that actors may look directly into the camera for dramatic emphasis, the play patron here still does not look into the camera despite the drama in this particular scene. This is not in any way diverting from how mis-en-scene is interpreted because in this particular shot, the actor’s not looking into the camera would seem like he is not able to look anyone directly into the eyes, which contributes to his general dilemma of avoidance of the loan sharks. Hence, it can be concluded from this particular scene that drama can also be achieved in mis-en-scene by other, more creative means.
Another element in the film that makes it very ingenious is very creative use of editing. In a scene where the play patron calls for auditions for the unfinished comedy of Will, an initial shot is made of the people in the room; while only the legs of the play patron are shown as he speaks. Then this is followed by a wide angle shot of the speaking patron, a close shot of his bust, cutting to a customer in the pub who asks a question, and finally cutting to Will who seems to be very worried at what the patron is doing. In this series of shots, what editing did was that it established various moods in just one scene – first the enthusiasm of the play patron, then the whimsical doubt of would be actors who might audition, then finally the all too real concern of Will who has not written the script yet. Unlike classic editing, where a shot cuts back and forth various actors to establish a line of sight or conversation, this particular editing style in ‘Shakespeare in Love’ proves that editing can actually work to portray even unspoken conversation. Hence, other than just the actors here, the editing is what establishes the scene.
These are just a few commendable components of the film and throughout the entire movie, there are more, very creative illustrations of the classic elements of the Hollywood Narrative – despite the story not having a happy ending, as Viola leaves Will behind in the end – the movie is an absolute fairy tale in the eyes of a film critic and the world of classic filmography.
Shakespeare in Love. Dir. John Madden. 1998. DVD.