Shakespeare in Love Breakdown

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Rehearsals Will Begin by Saturday, August 3 or Earlier


Performance Dates:     

Thursday, August 28 – Sunday, September 1

Thursday, September 5 – Sunday, September 8

Based on the screenplay by Marc Norman & Tom Stoppard

Adapted for the stage by Lee Hall

Music by Paddy Cunneen

Directed by Mike O’Neal

Choreographed by Mirla Criste

Music Director – Adrian Varnum  



WILL SHAKESPEARE:  Poet and playwright, he is trying to leave his artistic mark on the world.  He is cunning, intelligent, sexual, and anything but confident.  A struggling writer trying to find his voice, and his muse.  He owes money all around town but seems more focused on securing romance than funds.  His best friend Marlowe is both rival and mentor.  Will falls in love with Viola De Lesseps, despite the fact that she is engaged and he is married. 

KIT MARLOWE:Will’s colleague, friend, and inspiration.  A well respected playwright, although he needs to keep working to play the bills.  A little older, a little wiser, and a lot more confident than Will, he is both his mentor and his closest friend.  Based on a real-life historical figure of the same name.  He gives Shakespeare the basic plot for Romeo and Juliet.  


HENSLOWE:Owner and manager of the Rose Theatre. the theatre that puts on Shakespeare’s comedies. He’s in debt to Fennymen, and is constantly riding Will to finish his play so he can make money off it and repay his debts.  He is a business man at heart, more concerned with turning a profit than creating fine art. He doesn’t understand the intricacies of theatrical structure, but he knows what he likes:  “Love and bit with a dog, that’s what they want.”  Calling him an idiot is an overstatement, but not a huge one.  

FENNYMAN:Producer.  A ruthless loan shark who finances theatre plays in return for a piece of the profit. He enjoys the theatre but knows very little about it.  He is a bit of a gangster, unafraid to get his hands dirty when his clients are unable to repay their debts.  He lights a fire under Henslowe’s feet to make him pay back his debts.  Fennyman is given a scene in Romeo and Juliet.  He takes his role as the Apothecary very seriously and ultimately discovers a passion for the theatre.

LAMBERT AND FREES:Fennyman’s accomplices and henchmen

RALPH:An actor who plays the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet.

NOL:An actor who plays Benvolio and Samson

ROBIN: An actor who plays Lady Capulet

ADAM:An actor who plays Gregory, Benvolio, and servingman

JOHN WEBSTER:A street urchin who aspires to be an actor.  At the time, all roles were played by men, and he is interested in the part of Ethel – the Pirate’s daughter.  He is drawn to the theatre because of its potential for horrific gory scenes and bloody battles.  A trouble maker by nature and a pain in the neck in rehearsals.  A bit of a harmless psychopath.  He takes revenge on Will by ratting out Viola’s true identity to Mr. Tilney.

WABASH:A stammering actor and Henslowe’s tailor.  Fennyman gives him a part in Romeo and Julietbecause he owes him money. 


NED ALLEYN:  The lead actor of the Admiral’s Men, a prestigious acting troupe.  One of the most popular actors of the day.  A leading man who has drank his own Kool-Aid 100%  Although seemingly egotistical, selfish, and opinionated at a glance, he takes his craft very seriously and has the deepest respect for committed theatre artists.  Will tells Alleyn the play is called Mercutio– and Ned agrees to play it.  

SAM: An Elizabethan boy actor – he is meant to play the role of Juliet, and Will’s comment on his voice foreshadows Sam’s unfortunate voice change before the play, making it deeper and rendering him unable to play a woman.

PETER: An actor who plays Tybalt



RICHARD BURGAGE:  The lead actor and owner of the Curtain Theatre.  An accomplished stage actor who relishes his fame above all else.  He is melodramatic, completely over the top, but undeniably talented.  Pompous but likable.  He has earned enough success as a performer that he owns and operates his own theater. One of a handful of historical figures portrayed in the play.  Burbage is a rival actor and theatre owner who ends up forming a truce with Henslowe after the Rose is closed.  Burbage takes a stand against censorship.

DOG: A trained animal that delights the Queen



MISTRESS QUICKLY:  Wardrobe mistress at Whitehall Palace

EDMUND TILNEY:  The Lord Chamberlain.  The Master of Revels for the English crown.  Although his chief responsibility is to oversee royal festivities, he is concerned with stage censorship, which makes him both respected and feared by professional theatre artists, especially those seeking to create new works.  

QUEEN ELIZABETH:  The head of state and the face of an entire nation.  She enjoys the theatre, especially when there’s a dog involved.  She is wise and calculated, not necessarily cold, but well aware of the societal structure that she not only adheres to but represents.  She is intimidating, exceptionally intelligent, and keenly aware of her surroundings.  She’s quite compassionate toward Viola. The Queen identifies with Viola because both characters are women in traditionally male roles.  


VIOLA DE LESSEPS:  She adores poetry and is in love with the idea of love.  Passionate, confident, and full of life, Viola is young, rich, and unmarried.  She can’t be an actor because women aren’t allowed on stage.  Things start looking up for Viola when she meets Will Shakespeare. She rebels against her parents – and society at large – by dressing as a man and acting in Shakespeare’s play.

NURSE: Servant to Viola.  Frustrated by Viola’s tendency to buck societal trends, but devoutly loyal to her charge.  A constant source of support to Viola. She helps her cross-dress, and cover her tracks with her soon to be husband.  

SIR ROBERT DE LESSEPS:  Viola’s father.  A successful, wealthy man.  He essentially sells her into marriage, and makes no bones about it.

LORD WESSEX:  A nobleman betrothed to Viola.  A man with a title but no money, a fact that fills him with frustration and insecurity. He has been trained in the noble arts of etiquette and swordplay, but is bad with words and worse with people.  An unlikable prig.  He is William Shakespeare’s opposite in almost every way. Humorless, arrogant, and lacking any poetry.  Wessex makes a bargain with Viola’s father, trading parts of his tobacco plantations for her hand in marriage.  In the end Viola must go to America with him, on orders from the Queen.

CATLING:  A guard at De Lesseps Hall






MOLLY AND KATE:  Whores at the taverns

MUSICIANS:  appear in various locales throughout the show 

ENSEMBLE:  There are multiple ensemble tracks to be played by actors of different genders, all of whom will play multiple roles in the production.  Artistic and functional in their responsibilities, these are the individuals that make this show work.  Many of the roles listed here will actually be covered by the ensemble and will be doubled.



Time:  1593 Place:  London


Young Will Shakespeare has writer’s block and needs some inspiration.  His ideas for his new comedy, Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter, are less than genius and the owner of the theatre is under scrutiny form the producer, to whom he owes money. Meanwhile, across town, a rival theatre performs Will’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and heaven forbid, they added a dog, all without his permission!

The high-spirited young lady, Viola De Lesseps, who knows Will’s work very well, wishes to be on the stage.  This, of course, is against the law in Elizabethan England, but it doesn’t stop her from trying.  Disguised as the young man and going by the name Thomas Kent, Viola attends auditions for Will’s next play, the very one he is struggling to finish.

Viola returns home to prepare for the ball being hosted by the De Lesseps household and discovers her father has arranged a marriage for her to a Lord Wessex, a wealthy Virginia plantation owner.

Will and his playwright friend Christopher Marlowe come to her house looking for “Master Kent” to offer him the lead of Romeo in his play, and are invited to come in to the ball.  Here Will sees Viola for the first time, and soon a scene similar to the initial meeting of Romeo and Juliet takes place.  Will’s sudden attention to Viola offends Lord Wessex, and when asked for his name, Will introduces himself as Marlowe.

Later, Viola’s nurse delivers Will’s message to Viola about her getting the role in the play but warns that acting will not end well for her.  Marlowe accompanies Will to Viola’s balcony, and a Romeo-and-Juliet-like balcony scene unfolds as Will discovers new-found inspiration.  The nurse discovers Will before he escapes, but now the household is onto him – but by the name Marlowe.

Rehearsals begin the next day and Viola (as Kent) plays Romeo.  As they continue, the story gradually changes from one about Romeo and a pirate’s daughter to one with a love interest named Juliet.

Wessex visits Viola and informs here of their impending marriage and journey to Virginia.  Though it breaks her heart, Viola sends word to Will and that he must not visit her again because it is too dangerous.  Will follows Kent from rehearsal and divulges his desperate love for Viola.  He soon discovers Viola’s disguise, and they come together in passion for each other.

Will tries to convince Viola to run away with him instead of marrying Wessex.  She knows she can never do this, and that she must go with Wessex to receive the Queen’s approval for their marriage.  Once at court, the Queen examines Viola and privately tells Wessex she can tell Viola has another lover.  In his anger, he assumes it is Marlowe and goes after him.

As things continue to fall apart, one of Will’s rivals claims he has rights to the Romeo and Julietmanuscript and attempts to get it away from the cast during a rehearsal.  Will’s company manages to hold on to it, but as they celebrate.  Viola/Kent discovers Will has an estranged wife and two children. She runs out, leaving the group to mourn over the sudden news that Marlowe was just stabbed to death across town.

Drunk and stirred up, Wessex finds Viola distraught in her bedroom and breaks the news of “her” playwright’s death.  She faints, believing he means Will; but when Will enters looking for Viola, Wessex flees thinking him the ghost of Marlowe.

Similarly to the ending of Romeo and Juliet, Will sees Viola and pleads if she be dead, that he die too.  Fortunately she awakes at his kiss and they work through their misunderstandings.  

When Edmund Tilney, the Master of the Revels, is informed that there is a woman player at The Rose, he closes the theater for breaking the ban on women.  Viola’s identity is exposed, leaving them without a stage or lead actor, until Richard Burbage offers them his theatre.  Shakespeare takes the role of Romeo, with a boy actor as Juliet. Following her wedding, Viola learns that the play will be performed that day, and runs away to the Curtain. Planning to watch with the crowd, Viola overhears that the boy playing Juliet cannot perform, and offers to replace him.  While she plays Juliet to Shakespeare’s Romeo, the audience is enthralled, despite the tragic ending, until Master Tilney arrives to arrest everyone for indecency due to Viola’s presence.

But the Queen is in attendance and restrains Tilney, instead asserting that Kent’s resemblance to a woman is, indeed, remarkable. However, even a queen is powerless to end a lawful marriage, and she orders Kent to fetch Viola because she must sail with Wessex to the Colony of Virginia.  The Queen also tells Wessex, who followed Viola to the theatre, that Romeo and Juliethas won the bet for Shakespeare, and has Kent deliver his 50 pounds with instructions “to write something a little more cheerful next time, for Twelfth Night”.

Viola and Shakespeare say their goodbyes, and he vows to immortalize her, as he imagines the beginnings ofTwelfth Night, imagining her as a castaway disguised as a man after a voyage to a strange land.