Shakespeare in Love, a Reflection of Two Classes, circa 1998

Shakespeare in Love, a Reflection of Two Classes, circa 1998

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I saw “Shakespeare in Love” last night for the first time since I saw it in a theater in Cincinnati in 1998.

The film won the Best Picture Academy Award that year, as well as a Best Actress (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Best Supporting Actress (Judy Dench).

Since the (fictionalized) story was about Shakespeare’s writing and producing on stage “Romeo and Juliet” – it obviously had a fine cast of male supporting actors since plays in Elizabethan England in that period were comprised of male-only casts.

I recommend you see it if you haven’t already.

Now, I’ve always been a fan of period pieces; the costumes, the sights and sounds of everyday life, and especially the patois, the vernacular of the commoners and royals of England in 1600. One of our best friends here, Lady Impact Ohio, has a real passion for the dress and manners of the courts of Europe and would have taken keen notice of how royals and their attendants were dressed and behaved, and how quickly an aristocrat could step outside the confines of a manicured estate into the muck and mire of a London street, horse poop and house slops everywhere.

But the story was about love, not fashion, and by love I mean romantic love, not Biblical love-thy-neighbor agape love. And early on Queen Elizabeth sets the stage by asking the question, and making a bet, with an aristocrat who owned a Virginia plantation and had come to England to obtain a wife, “Is there such a thing as true love?” (He had come to England to gain the Queen’s permission to take Gwyneth Paltrow as wife and fetch her back to America. Her father’s holdings were his main concern, and was cynical about true love.)

Interestingly then, this is where “love” and “class” intersect, for at this time in history romantic love had absolutely nothing to do with marriage, while the securing of property had everything; at least among those who owned property. No one ever bothered to find out about what commoners felt about love, or even property since they had so little, but, according to my son, who actually took a class on the subject in college, William Shakespeare is largely given credit with having “invented” romantic love in literature. As you can see from the street people of London who filled that first theater to see “Romeo and Juliet,” “love” had a telling effect. He had created a genre.

Interestingly, America is largely credited with having brought romance and love into the national matrimonial conscience, in part, because it was the first nation in the world where men were free men per se, and could own property (land) simply by settling it, clearing it and building a real house on it. Under these circumstances, love took on an entirely different, and more vital survival aspect to culture that, to my mind, the Europeans never quite captured in the 600 years since Shakespeare[…]

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