Gender Roles - Women
Language and Sexual Content
Room for Improvement:
Gender Roles – Men
Self-Esteem and Body Image
Gender Roles - Women: 3 Stars
Viola craves poetry and adventure and all the delicious emotions that she experiences through Will’s plays. She has the audacity to defy social convention by dressing as a man to get closer to the stage that she loves. Unfortunately, her penchant for rebellion doesn’t extend beyond the walls of the theatre. Her protests over her arranged marriage are both weak and brief. Although she is not afraid to tell Lord Wessex that she finds no joy in marrying him, she accepts her fate and hopes only to enjoy what little freedom she has left.
Plot: 3 Stars
Viola is given the chance to shine on stage, in spite of the prohibition against female actors. She isn’t afraid of disguising herself as a man to go after her heart’s true calling. And even after she’s discovered, she has the courage to step out on stage in violation of the law. She puts her heart and soul into playing Juliet, easily proving that women are as capable actors as men.
Viola also rebels against the social customs of the time by allowing Will into her bedroom each night. She has very limited opportunities to carve out her own future, but she does practice what little independence she can. In the end, however, she is more obedient than she is rebellious. She knows she will never be a stage actor, and she will never marry for love, and can scarcely hope for much more than becoming another man’s property.
Language and Sexual Content: 5 Stars
Shakespeare in Love is a beautiful story of a young woman’s first experiences with love and sexual desire. Although she becomes a woman in an age of modesty, Viola isn’t ashamed of her feelings for Will or the pleasure that she experiences in his arms. Giving in to her lust is perhaps her only real means of defiance against Lord Wessex. She is empowered by every rebellious foray with Will.
Shakespeare in Love cleverly avoids any harsh judgment or criticism of women’s sexual activity. Viola’s nurse protects her secret without a word of reproach, and possibly even a subtle encouragement. Even the discarded character of Rosaline, who is intimately involved with a fair number men, is never debased with lewd words or gestures. Her behavior is certainly portrayed as disreputable, but only for her dishonesty and unfaithfulness, not for simply giving in to her desires.
Gender Roles - Men: 2 Stars
Will Shakespeare is a creative soul who lives off of his emotions and self-expression. He uses his gift with words to exalt and revere women, though this is hardly the same thing as respecting them and treating them as equals. To the contrary he seems to adore women for primarily superficial reasons, such as their stunning beauty and sensuality. In addition, Will doesn’t seem to have much affection or concern for his wife and children, having left them years prior to pursue his dreams of poetry and revelry. While he is certainly a caring and inspiring male figure, he’s far from an ideal role model.
Self-Esteem and Body Image: 1.5 Stars
Viola’s beauty is glorified by both Will and Lord Wessex throughout the film. Both men cite her eyes and lips and other body parts as inspiring their love for her, but little attention is devoted to her lively spirit. At one point, Viola tells Will that it isn’t just his poetry, but all of him that she’s fallen in with. Unfortunately, Will never returns the sentiment. He never explains that he cares for more than just her lips and eyes and bosom. To the contrary, he makes a promise that she will never age for him. She will remain his perfect muse forever.
Character Development: 2.5 Stars
Viola has a clear sense of purpose and determination when it comes to her love of the theatre. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have the same daring to challenge her arranged marriage. She never considers dressing up like a man and following Will out of London to escape Lord Wessex. She never even confronts her father on his cruel decision or cries to her nurse over the injustice of her situation. By the end of the film, Will can lay claim to some small sense of happiness and hope, having been inspired to love and dream again. But Viola is forced to abandon the only freedom she’s ever known. And yet she goes quietly and willingly, content in knowing that Will will continue writing poetry for the rest of London. The simplicity of her sacrifice suggests that she truly is Will’s muse, - more spirit and imagery than a real, tangible person.
Love: 3 Stars
The romance between Will and Viola is more magic than it is reality. It is sensual and imaginative and thrilling, but completely mired in fantasy. Most of their scenes together are spent reciting the sacred lines of Romeo and Juliet, rather than learning each other’s weaknesses and flaws. Will never speaks of his wife and children in Stratford. Viola never discusses her fears about someday sharing Lord Wessex’s bed. They have no future and no past. Nothing but a series beautiful nights in each other’s arms, making love without heartache or complication.