Do the sonnets reflect the dark underbelly of Shakespeare’s love life? I watched the BBC’s 2005 A Waste of Shame which is based on this premise. Here we have Shakespeare in midlife crisis brought on by his 11-year-old son Hamnet’s death from plague. The whole world seems filled with death and filth and darkness. The theaters are closed. What is there to live for?
Love. Or maybe it’s “Love.” Or even just “luv”… as in infatuation. Shakespeare becomes infatuated with a young pretty boy, William Herbert (the fair youth). At the same time, he lusts after a half-Moor French prostitute named Lucie (the Dark Lady). Between the two, he seems to barely come up for air. But the sonnets pour from his pen in the mix of emotions from these two simultaneous infatuations.
Shakespeare eventually realizes neither of these “luvs” are all that. And when he finds that the young lad is playing house with Lucie, a double betrayal, it sends Shakespeare into a bit of a tailspin. The tailspin is furthered by his diagnosis with the “French pox” (syphilis) which kind of gives the whole infatuation thing a nasty turn, since syphilis was incurable (although we see him endure a bizarre treatment involving mercury and a soak in what looks like a torture chamber). Source of more sonnetizing.
Poor, long-suffering, sharp-tongued wife Anne Hathaway is living in poverty in Stratford with Shakespeare’s daughters. There is a creepy peeping Tom scene where Shakespeare watches her through the window. He has been not much of a husband or father, and it’s unclear what he’s feeling as he watches his wife. Shame? Wistfulness?
Shakespeare eventually has the sonnets published, and then leaves London to live his last years at home with Anne in Stratford. No more of the whoring and night life of Elizabethan London. What were those last years like for him? Was he ill? Decrepit? Depressed?
We’ll never know.
I can’t say that I loved this movie, but it was interesting. I haven’t studied or even read most of the sonnets yet. I look forward to it some day, but wonder what they mean and what the real story was behind them. I would rather think that the emotions behind Shakespeare’s love poetry were something more real or lasting… less dark than portrayed here.
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