The persona of the man we know as William Shakespeare is tough to comprehend. The figure that is Shakespeare is tainted by history, fiction, fame, and politics. Some consider him the father of English literature, some the world’s foremost playwright. But whichever may be an individual’s pick, it is very difficult to understand William, the man.
The film ‘Shakespeare in love’ has attempted to step off a literary pedestal and look at him as a common man- one who had a wife he did not love; one who had to produce lines for a living; one that desired the female company to the extent that he had to visit local brothels; one that drowned his sorrows under the influence of ale; and one who was jealous of his contemporary.
The film traces the creation of Romeo and Juliet and the rise of Shakespeare into the limelight. As is common knowledge, Elizabethan England frowned upon plays. The clergy endorsed only morality plays, performed in the church yards and disregarded any theatre company as the playground of the devil.
Furthermore England had just been hit by another wave of the plague owing to which theatres like the Rose were ordered to shut down. In such a sticky situation, if a young playwright had to leave his mark on society, he had to achieve something extraordinary.
The young Will, not only struggled with writer’s block (which he went to a therapist to resolve), he had to face daily threats of being fired from the owner of the theatre. This man starts out as a village boy trying to make it big in the filth and glamour of London. He fears that he will have to get back to the country to his unloving wife, the marriage to whom was a mere financial contract.
This is a man who is bursting passion. He has a sonnet on his lips for beautiful women and is in search of his muse. The renaissance symbolized rebirth; rebirth of ideas and forming new opinions. It was a world away from the conservative society of the past.
England had a female ruler who drove the country to greatness. She had just won a religious battle against the Vatican and had managed to keep peace between the Catholics and the Protestants in the nation. Furthermore, the common man could finally find means of expression.
Books were being published in the common tongue. Primary education was on the rise. For instance Shakespeare’s generation was perhaps the most literate population England had ever seen.
The classics, that were previously only accessible to the Latin speaking elite, were now available to the masses in English. Theatre was endorsed by the queen herself which is why theatre houses like Rose had survived and people like Shakespeare were employed.
Not only does Shakespeare do things differently in his plays, his complete disregard for the classical rules of drama (like Aristotelian Unity) showed that he was open to experimentation. Due to the lack of props, he had to make do with words and that he did well. Shakespeare was a master of his words. Every sentence he produced did something to the audience.
It was popular belief that all the audience wanted was some comedy (often slapstick), and some fighting as their theatre diet. William changed it. He gave the world a romantic tragedy. He gave the world- Romeo and Juliet.
The story is not just about the relationship between a man and a woman, it is a struggle to find a safe spot in the new world. Although the new thoughts had entered England, the old traditions and believes still existed. Both Romeo and Juliet, face a political divide and yet struggle to find love and hold on to that love despite the protests of their respective families. They end up dying. But the beauty of the story lies in the fact that at the end, they made their own decisions and that Juliet, a woman, had the courage to face the society.
Viola, who was the inspiration for Juliet and also William’s lover, was a very different kind of muse. Unlike previous muses who were overshadowed by the artists, Viola held her own. She, a lady who came from wealth, had the courage to dress like a boy and follow her dreams. She lead a duel life- in one she was Lady Viola full of poise and grace ready to do her father’s bidding, and in the other, she dressed like a boy and played Romeo in front of the audience.
It is the courage and determination of Viola that epitomizes the renaissance. Romeo and Juliet made the audience weep. The queen herself applauded the performance as the first work that got the concept of love right.
Shakespeare’s story is an everyman’s story. It is the attempt to break out of the situation one is born into and make something out of one’s life. Rajnikanth reminds me of William Shakespeare. If the former’s popularity is viewed in context of his background, it is plausible to come to the conclusion that the phenomenon mirrors that of the latter’s.
Shakespeare’s was an all too familiar struggle of the rural against the urban, of the common man against the lords and the mob’s against the regimes. His story resonates with the common man’s and he will always remain their hero.