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Shakespeare in Love (1998)

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A young Shakespeare, out of ideas and short of cash, meets his ideal woman and is inspired to write one of his most famous plays.


John Madden
1,692 ( 70)
Won 7 Oscars. Another 57 wins & 87 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Geoffrey Rush ... Philip Henslowe
Tom Wilkinson ... Hugh Fennyman
Steven O'Donnell ... Lambert
Tim McMullan Tim McMullan ... Frees (as Tim McMullen)
Joseph Fiennes ... Will Shakespeare
Steven Beard Steven Beard ... Makepeace - the Preacher
Antony Sher ... Dr. Moth
Patrick Barlow Patrick Barlow ... Will Kempe
Martin Clunes ... Richard Burbage
Sandra Reinton Sandra Reinton ... Rosaline
Simon Callow ... Tilney - Master of the Revels
Judi Dench ... Queen Elizabeth
Bridget McConnell Bridget McConnell ... Lady in Waiting (as Bridget McConnel)
Georgie Glen ... Lady in Waiting
Nicholas Boulton ... Henry Condell


Will Shakespeare is a known but struggling poet, playwright and actor who not only has sold his next play to both Philip Henslow and Richard Burbidge but now faces a far more difficult problem: he is bereft of ideas and has yet to begin writing. He is in search of his muse, the woman who will inspire him but all attempts fail him until he meets the beautiful Viola de Lesseps. She loves the theatre and would like nothing more than to take to the stage but is forbidden from doing so as only men can be actors. She is also a great admirer of Shakespeare's works. Dressing as a man and going by the name of Thomas Kent, she auditions and is ideal for a part in his next play. Shakespeare soon sees through her disguise and they begin a love affair, one they know cannot end happily for them as he is already married and she has been promised to the dour Lord Wessex. As the company rehearses his new play, Will and Viola's love is transferred to the written page leading to the masterpiece that is ... Written by garykmcd

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Love is the only inspiration See more »

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for sexuality | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »


Official Sites:

Official Facebook | Official site





Release Date:

8 January 1999 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Shakespeare apasionado See more »

Filming Locations:

Barnes, London, England, UK See more »


Box Office


$25,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$224,012, 13 December 1998, Limited Release

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Dolby Digital | DTS | SDDS



Aspect Ratio:

2.39 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


In one of the opening scenes, William Shakespeare has a cup on his desk which reads, "Stratford Upon Avon", Shakespeare's birthplace. See more »


William Shakespeare/Romeo tends to Ned/Mercutio by kneeling to Mercutio's right, and, in doing so, violates the first "rule" of stage acting, which is to never hinder the audience's view of the stage or the actors. See more »


[first lines]
Philip Henslowe: [screams in pain]
Hugh Fennyman: Henslowe! Do you know what happens to a man who doesn't pay his debts? His boots catch fire!
Philip Henslowe: [screams]
Hugh Fennyman: Why do you howl when it is I who am bitten?
See more »

Alternate Versions

The Region 2 DVD contains some deleted scenes:
  • A different end sequence. Here the conversation between Will and Viola is shorter than in the final film. After Viola has left Burbage enters and stops Will from running after Viola. He also takes the 50 pounds and says "Welcome to the Chamberlain's Men". The scene where Lord Wessex's ship sinks is also different. Here we see that Viola survives the drowning and is washed ashore an unknown coast. There she asks two people where she is. Their reply is "This is America".
  • A slightly different version of the scene where Burbank and his men fight against Will and his actors in the theatre. The sequence is largely the same as the scene used in the final film but parts are shown from different angles. A small conversation between Fennyman and Henslowe is added where they discuss about business.
  • A small scene which takes place after Henslowe has announced the audition. Here the two actors John and James walk to the court to play witnesses. When they meet the other actors and hear that Will Shakespeare needs actors for his new play they follow them to the audition.
  • A deleted take where Tom Wilkinson announces that he will be playing the apothecary. To Rushs question "How does the comedy end?" Fiennes replys "By God, I wish I knew". Then Rush says "By God, if you do not, who does? Let us have pirates, clowns and a happy ending and you'll make Harvey Weinstein a happy man."
See more »


The Play & the Marriage
Written by Stephen Warbeck
Performed by Catherine Bott
Conducted by Nick Ingman
See more »

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User Reviews

Review on `Shakespeare in Love' - 1998
11 February 2002 | by PBiddhi-1See all my reviews

Summer 1953: William Shakespeare, well-known playwright, fails the words. In order to earn some money, Shakespeare promises the two competing theatre-owners of London his new script named `Romeo and Ethel, the pirate's daughter'. But, as I already mentioned it, he suffers from the so-called writer's block. This complicated situation makes him visit a psychiatrist. Unfortunately, the psychiatrist's treatment turns out to be a waste of time and money.

As his rival Marlowe gives him some tips for his new script, William feels humiliated. The playwright's inspiration returns, when Lady Viola, beautiful daughter of a prosperous gentleman, takes part in a casting for `Romeo and Ethel, the pirate's daughter'. Dressed like a man, because women were not allowed to act on stage by order of Queen Elizabeth I, Lady Viola impresses Shakespeare so much, that he decides to follow her, as she escapes the theatre and flees from him. Later on, he invites himself to her father's dance in order to find the one, whose voice has turned his head. In the course of time, they come closer to each other and fall in love. Being in love, William dedicates several sonnets to her and gets back his gift to write.

The humorous love story of Shakespeare and Viola changes into a tragedy, just as his script of `Romeo and Ethel, the pirate's daughter', renamed `Romeo and Julia', does. Viola's Father marries her to Lord Wessex, a nobleman who plans to buy land in Virginia to cultivate tobacco. Shakespeare, on the other hand, is married to Anne Hathaway.

As a result, the constellation turns the former love story into a tragedy, between William and Viola as well as between Romeo and Julia. Lady Viola has to leave with Lord Wessex.

The dialogues are easy to understand; still they contain the poetic language of the past. Joseph Fiennes, playing Shakespeare, does not personify a wise man, philosophizing all day in some backroom, not having any social contacts but a genius, whose life is most chaotic, exciting and driven by his passions. Gwyneth Paltrow, playing Lady Viola, does not correspond with prejudices people have towards the aristocracy. She is not stuck-up and spoilt. Lady Viola's most important desire for her future is to become an actress, a wish that was neither common nor allowed during the 16th century, especially as a member of the British upper class. She lets herself being carried away into adventures without having the feeling of leaving the throne.

Considering the throne, Queen Elizabeth I was its holder during Shakespeare's lifetime. Her strong influence on the theatre and in this respect the orders she enacted like the one which forbid women acting, are fantastically realized in `Shakespeare in Love'. Judi Dench expresses the Queen's power in an impressive way, especially by her mimic and movement. Slow but vigorous and sovereign, the Queen behaves and wherever she enters the room, people sag at their knees. For her brilliant acting, Judi Dench achieved the Oscar in the category `Best actress in a supporting role'.

The scenery of the film appears very authentic. Reading books about life in Britain during the 16th century, the directors and producers reproduced a quarter of London quite detailed. The streets are covered with dirt and citizens throw excrements out of their windows. The interior decorations are generally kept rather simple, wooden and robust. Torches light up the dark alleys of old London. `Shakespeare in Love' indicates the comeback of Shakespeare in our society. The opinion about his works as being outdated and incomprehensible has gone. The film, awarded with seven Oscars, has made a story of the 16th century become one of the present. Millions of people have seen the film and made it one of the most successful movies of the year 1998. The idea of making a movie about one of the most important playwrights in history is unprecedented and has revived a yellowed legend. Shakespeare is comprehensible again, for people who read his works just as for those who don't. The love story of the protagonists of `Shakespeare in Love', bound up with the love story of `Romeo and Julia' and its creation, arouse the viewer's interest even more. I most liked the last part of the film, the change between Viola and William, loving each other in a physical way on the one hand, and verbal on stage as Romeo and Julia on the other hand. The energy of love, the beauty of the poetic words are only disturbed by the ending, which is not what people would call a `happy' one. In spite of the romance and final tragedy, the acting is neither kitschy nor very exaggerated.

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