"Shakespeare in Love"—From Academy Award-Winning Film to the Most-Produced Play of the 2017-18 Season

Beth Fhaner
 | Dec 08, 2017
Shakespeare in Love

Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow in the 1998 film ​Shakespeare in Love.

Fun facts about the film Shakespeare in Love:

  • The original idea for the film came to screenwriter Marc Norman in the late 1980s after his son Zachary called him from Boston University and suggested doing something on William Shakespeare as a young man in the Elizabethan theatre.
  • Julia Roberts originally agreed to play the role of Viola and she insisted that only Daniel Day-Lewis could play the role of Will Shakespeare. When Day-Lewis passed on the project, Roberts withdrew from the film.
  • In one of the opening scenes, William Shakespeare has a cup on his desk which reads, “Stratford Upon Avon,” Shakespeare’s birthplace.
  • In 2005, the Writers Guild of America ranked its script the 28th greatest ever written.
  • The film was parodied, along with Star Wars, in the 1999 short film George Lucas in Love.
  • Filming locations used in the production include Hatfield House, Hertfordshire (for the fireworks scene), Broughton Castle, Oxfordshire (which played the role of the de Lesseps home), the beach at Holkham in Norfolk, the chapel at Eton College, Berkshire, and the Great Hall of Middle Temple, London.

Nearly two decades after the release of the film Shakespeare in Love, this epic love story is back in the spotlight as the most-produced play in the U.S. for the 2017-2018 theatrical season. 

Shakespeare in Love, the American romantic comedy-drama that won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actress (Gwyneth Paltrow), Best Supporting Actress (Dame Judi Dench) and Best Original Screenplay, was released in the U.S. on Dec. 3, 1998. Directed by John Madden, and written by Marc Norman and playwright Tom Stoppard, the wildly popular film was a hit with both audiences and critics alike.

Shakespeare in Love movie poster

The Shakespeare in Love movie poster.

The story centers on young Will Shakespeare’s formative years, as the aspiring playwright has writer’s block and owes two demanding producers a new comedy—a half-baked mess titled Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter. Enter his inspiration: the cross-dressing heroine Viola de Lesseps. Smart, beautiful and Will’s greatest admirer, she will stop at nothing—including breaking the law—to be in his play. As their love blossoms, so does his greatest masterpiece in this tale of mistaken identities, ruthless scheming and backstage theatrics.

Janet Maslin called the film “pure enchantment” and selected it for a New York Times Critics’ Pick. Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times, gave the film four stars out of four, and wrote: “The movie stirs in a sweet love story, juicy court intrigue, backstage politics and some lovely moments from Romeo and Juliet….I was carried along by the wit, the energy and a surprising sweetness.”

U.S. box office revenue for Shakespeare in Love topped more than $100 million worldwide​, the film took in over $289 million. Additionally, it was listed among 1999’s box office number-one films in the U.K.

In November 2011, Variety reported that Disney Theatrical Productions intended to produce a stage version of the film in London with Sonia Friedman Productions. Shakespeare in Love: The Play opened at the Noel Coward Theatre in London’s West End on July 23, 2014. Based on the screenplay by Norman and Stoppard, it was adapted for the stage by Lee Hall. Staged by the team of Declan Donnellan (director) and Nick Ormerod (designer), the joint founders of Cheek by Jowl, the play was a smash hit and earned rave reviews from critics. Daily Mail described it as “A swooning delight,” while the Daily Telegraph called it, “A joyous celebration of theatre.”

Shakespeare in Love: The Play

​Orlando James (Will Shakespeare) in Shakespeare In Love at the Noel Coward Theatre, London 2015.

During the 2016 Stratford (Ontario, Canada) Festival season, Shakespeare in Love played to sold-out audiences. Declan Donnellan again directed, with the rest of the original creative team from the London show returning for the Canadian production. The play had its U.S. premiere at Oregon Shakespeare Festival on Feb. 18, 2017.

A recent American Theatre magazine survey found that Shakespeare in Love will be the most​-produced play in the U​.S. during the 2017-18 theatrical season, with 15 productions planned across the country, including a much-anticipated staging on SCR’s Segerstrom Stage from Jan. 13 – Feb. 10, 2018. With its witty wordplay, gorgeous costumes and sweet romance, theatregoers won’t want to miss the delightful Shakespeare in Love!

Learn more and buy tickets.