July 12, 2017
But soft, what light through yonder television breaks?
by Peter Kranitz
No writer can truly enter the canon without a suitably gritty origin story. Edgar Alan Poe finally got one with the 2012 film The Raven, as did Truman Capote with 2005’s aptly named Capote. Now, after 400 years in literary limbo, William Shakespeare can finally join the list of truly great writers: the illustrious minds at TNT are at long last bringing the world’s most famous playwright to the small screen.
Will, which begins July 10, tells the story of Shakespeare in a way unseen in any history textbook. According to the New York Post’s Robert Rorke, the series follows a twenty-five-year-old Shakespeare, played by Laurie Davidson, as he tries to catch his big break in the London theater scene. Along the way, he meets other historical figures, most notably Christopher Marlowe, played by former Twilight actor Jamie Campbell Bower. Of course, no story about Shakespeare’s life would be complete without a plotline about English religious persecution; the series apparently also addresses the “widespread discrimination against Catholics” that Shakespeare may have experienced in London at the time (despite the fact that he was almost certainly a Protestant).
Also featuring prominently in the series, which is in no way similar to the Oscar-winning 1998 film Shakespeare in Love, is a love triangle with the married Shakespeare at the vertex, torn between his wife at home in Stratford-upon-Avon and the alluring Alice Burbage, played by Olivia DeJonge. Alice, whom Rorke describes as “something of an invention,” acts as young Will’s muse, inspiring his work in a way that is totally not at all like the role Gwyneth Paltrow’s character played in the aforementioned film. It has yet to be announced whether Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway, will be played by Anne Hathaway, but I like to think the producers will make the right casting decision here.
If the show is a success, we can only speculate as to which seventeenth-century writer will be next to score a television spot. Will eager audiences soon see John Milton starring in his own show (proposed title: John) about trying to break into the world of pamphleteering? Or John Donne in a miniseries (proposed title: John) about struggling to become the foremost writer of raunchy religious poetry? For now, anxious fans will have to content themselves by crafting theories about Will’s trajectory. I’m predicting a Fight Club–style ending in which Shakespeare turns out to have been Edward de Vere the whole time.
Peter Kranitz is an intern at Melville House.