Shakespeare had his will written in 1612, but he died before it was signed. The document is dated March 25th of that year, and if you’re interested to read it for yourself, you can find a copy of the original on the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust website. It’s very short – only one page – and while not exactly light reading, it’s not exactly difficult to understand either.
Apparently, Shakespeare left the bulk of his estate (which wasn’t much) to his elder daughter Susanna and her husband John Hall. He gave “his second-best bed” to Judith, whom he described as his “late wife,” but he also bequeathed her some money. This line is interesting: “Item, I give into my wife my second best bed with the furniture.”
The fact that Shakespeare left Judith his “second-best bed” has been a source of curiosity for quite some time. Was it a pointed gesture? Was he trying to slight Susanna, her daughter Elizabeth and her husband Thomas Quinney by leaving them only his “best bed?” Or was it simply a practical matter? After all, Judith was already married. She didn’t need a big fancy four-poster bed anymore. And given how few possessions Shakespeare had to leave behind in 1612, maybe the “second-best bed” wasn’t even worth mentioning until now.
In any case, what’s really interesting about Shakespeare’s will is that it suggests he didn’t leave behind a complete script for “The Tempest.” The play isn’t mentioned at all. As you might recall from English class, the final scene of “The Tempest” is a long monologue in which Prospero forgives his enemies and gets ready to die. Some scholars have suggested Shakespeare might have been on his deathbed when he wrote those lines, but I’m not so sure about that. After all, Shakespeare was old, but he wasn’t sick. And even if he had been dying (which we don’t know for sure), there’s no reason to believe that would’ve prevented him from writing more plays.
Still, something must’ve happened between 1612 and 1616 to change Shakespeare’s mind. “The Tempest” was published in 1610, so it didn’t take long for his fellow actors and playwright friends to see the script after Shakespeare died. But I’m guessing they were surprised by what happened at the end of the play.
According to Greg Doran, who has directed several film adaptations of “The Tempest,” this last scene is about Prospero forgiving his enemies and getting ready to die. Here’s how he described it to Salon. He said:
“… We look at him as an old man now, whereas before we saw him as a young man pretending to be old – playing on the fact that age brings wisdom, et cetera. Now we are looking at Prospero coming towards death.”
But Shakespeare didn’t write “The Tempest” like that.
Prospero’s epilogue is more like a soliloquy than an actual passage of dialogue between characters. It makes sense, too. He uses the first person point-of-view throughout most of the play; why wouldn’t he use it for his big death scene? Prospero talks about how much he loves music, and how he’ll never get to enjoy it again after leaving this world. But one line, in particular, stands out: “And my ending is despair Unless I am relieved by prayer…”
They are so alike, yet so different. The film “Shakespeare in Love” is about William Shakespeare, who has trouble writing an ending to his play Romeo and Juliet. He becomes depressed after many failed attempts of writing the last scene. After becoming more depressed, he begins to lose ideas of how the plot of his play will end because Romeo dies at the end of his play. While this happens, Shakespeare has a vivid dream that inspires him to write about what will happen with all the other characters after Romeo’s death.
The one character he focuses on in his dream is Mercutio, who survives Romeo’s death but loses his life later on. As Shakespeare begins to write about Mercutio, Viola De Lesseps, who is in an acting troupe that will perform the play Romeo and Juliet, comes to Shakespeare for help with her script. She tells him that she is actually a noblewoman named Viola De Lesseps, not an actress planning on performing the play, but was forced to take part in it by her father because she had no dowry.
Shakespeare promises to give her his whole play so he can write another one. But instead of giving her his complete script, he hides it under her bed while she is performing in the theater. Our film parallels this storyline very well. The film’s main theme represents the love that cannot be due to many obstacles including family problems or prides. William Shakespeare is depressed and finds himself having a hard time writing the last scene of Romeo and Juliet.
After becoming even more depressed, Shakespeare tries to find an answer for how to wrap up his play by having a very vivid dream that inspires him. In this film, the film parallels with the play Shakespeare is currently working on. But instead of giving Viola Shakespeare’s complete script, he writes another one under her bed. Many of the characters in this film parallel those from the play as well as some plot details such as William Shakespeare losing inspiration on how to end his current work and taking down ideas for future projects.
Viola is the muse that helps Will fulfill his greatest plays of all time. The film begins with a stage play of Romeo and Juliet, performed by actors from Shakespeare’s theater. In the film, many of the characters from earlier plays are being portrayed on stage in “Romeo and Juliet”. This is important because it allows movie viewers to become more familiar with the characters so they can better understand their dynamics later on throughout this film. As a result, when a familiar character enters later during Shakespeare’s life it seems less strange because we have seen them before.
For example, Benvolio appears at a party in which Will and Viola attend together along with Fair Verona who is another character from Romeo and Juliet. Benvolio’s appearance is a surprise to the film audience, but not so much to Will because he has already seen him performing in a play set in Verona. This film technique of bringing older characters into later scenes makes Shakespeare in Love seem like more than just another film plot; it also allows viewers to feel like they are on the inside of the theater viewing an actual play.
Although this film gave us great comedic relief at times by including humorous dialogue, some believe that Shakespeare’s plays were played out better with dryer humor rather than slapstick comedy for which this film was famous for displaying (Norman pg. 27). One notable inconsistency between history and film was how quickly Will put together his next play after Romeo and Juliet. “For the next three months, he (William Shakespeare) wrote nothing” (Norman pg. 20). Although this film expressed that Will was able to write in no time at all, it is believed that he actually struggled for many years before getting his act together.
Another difference between film and actual history was when Shakespeare found out about Viola de Lesseps being a woman playing a man on stage. The film shows Will catching her when she falls during one of their scenes together which creates a lot of laughter from the film audience, but according to history this did not happen. In fact, despite there being rumors spread around about an affair between Will and Viola, history tells us otherwise saying that they never met alone together.
This film, Shakespeare in Love, was full of accurate pieces that helped illustrate the life of William Shakespeare during the time he wrote Romeo and Juliet. However, it also included many scenes which were not true to history but created a more interesting film. Although these scenes made for the great entertainment value they are only film scenes and should be taken with a grain of salt when trying to learn about Shakespeare’s actual life. Facts are important, but history continues to be passed down through stories just as this film is being told today through internet articles such as this one.