Shakespeare in Love
By: Fernanda Price
Shakespeare in Love explores an inside- albeit fictional- look at the great William Shakespeare’s method of coming to write one of his most talked about works Romeo and Juliet. Through this insider’s view, there is another topic that comes to light; if perhaps one that is talked about today even more than his works. This is the issue of authorship.
As a playwright in a time period not bothered with copyright laws, or ownership of intellectual property, citations and such, William Shakespeare took a lot of liberties with his work, as is demonstrated time and again throughout Shakespeare in Love. There are several instances throughout the film in which issues about legitimate authorship are raised, but not addressed directly.
Perhaps the main example of this is the scene in the bar when Shakespeare is conversing with fellow playwright Christopher Marlowe. In it, Marlowe aids Shakespeare’s creative juices by feeding him ideas, even throwing out names (such as Mercutio) which Shakespeare takes as his own and incorporates into the final play. This raises the issue of ownership of intellectual property, as well as what constitutes an author. Can Shakespeare be said to be the true author of Romeo and Juliet, even though he used Marlowe’s ideas and thoughts to compose the storyline? In fact would the story even exist without Marlowe’s contributions? In this aspect, Marlowe could be said to be as much an author of the play as Shakespeare, or at least a very generous contributor/collaborator. Yet, Shakespeare never acknowledges this fact. This happens again towards the end of the film, when Viola gives Shakespeare, once again a starting point to his next play, The Twelfth Night.
Another issue is that of rights over a piece of work, at least in terms of usage. In the beginning of the movie, Shakespeare promises two different theater owners the same play. One of them even goes so far as to paying Shakespeare two shillings for his first pages. However, he never receives said pages. In fact, Shakespeare relinquishes the entire play to the other producer in its entirety. In a case such as this, would the theater owner that was promised and paid for the pages in advance, have a right to take them away- since they were supposed to be written for him in the first place?
And the final issue seen in the movie comes about when Shakespeare throws away his original draft- written for Rosalyn- into a street trash can. If someone had found those pages, would they have a right to use them, since Shakespeare disposed of them? Would an act such as this relinquish ownership of the work?
Although there are many instances of authorship issues throughout the film, the larger implication and overarching theme can perhaps be said to be the renown for a piece of work. William Shakespeare will continue to be known as one of the greatest playwrights throughout history whether or not he deserves the extent of the credit and renown for his works. In the long-run, all that can be done is to continue to explore and learn from not only his works, but his lifetime and how those works came to be as well. In this way, the implications of his authorship will set an example for generations of writers to come.