Welcome to the very first instalment of From Screen to Page! If you're wondering what the hell I'm talking about you can find my announcement for this little series here. This series was supposed to start back in February, and then it just sort of... didn't. Oops!
When it comes to historical films most people who aren't big fans of history or historical fiction have usually seen Shakespeare In Love. In many ways it's a rom-com with costumes, and with a cast like that it's no surprise that so many people enjoy watching it.
For any of you who haven't seen the film, Shakespeare In Love tells the story of, you guessed it, Shakespeare and his fictional affair with a young woman named Viola de Lesseps who longs to be an actress in a time when women were not allowed to perform on the stage. In true Shakespearean fashion, she disguises herself as a man so that she can perform and becomes Shakespeare's most convincing Juliet, as well as the inspiration for Viola in Twelfth Night.
In terms of period films it's not one of my favourites - I'm not a big fan of any films or books in which Shakespeare himself is a character, I'm not entirely sure why - but it is a pretty good film. If you're a fan of the film, there's a book I think you just might like!
Maeve Haran's The Lady and the Poet isn't entirely unlike Shakespeare In Love. There are three big differences: firstly, the writer in question is John Donne, not Shakespeare; secondly, our leading lady, Anne More, was real as was her relationship with Donne; and thirdly, The Lady and the Poet is a little more serious than Shakespeare In Love.
At their heart, however, both of them tell the story of an Early Modern writer and his great love. Donne is most famous for his rather saucy poetry - his most famous poem is 'The Flea' - and he lived a very dramatic life. He was a Catholic during the reign of Elizabeth I, and while we might argue that the Catholics were safer under Elizabeth than the Protestants were under Mary, they were never really 'safe'.
He was appointed chief secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton, the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, and subsequently fell in love with his niece, Anne. They married against the wishes of Egerton and Anne's father George More, who just so happened to be the lieutenant of the Tower. Oh dear...
The marriage ruined his career and landed him in Fleet Prison, but thankfully he was only there a short time when his marriage to Anne was proven valid. It was during this time he wrote the famous words: John Donne. Anne Donne. Un-done.
Clearly their marriage was a passionate one, as during sixteen years of marriage Anne bore John twelve children. Twelve. Anne died five days after the still-birth of their twelfth child, and John mourned her deeply, writing his 17th Holy Sonnet:
Since she whom I loved hath paid her last debt
To Nature, and to hers, and my good is dead,
And her soul early into heaven ravishèd,
Wholly on heavenly things my mind is set.
Here the admiring her my mind did whet
To seek thee, God; so streams do show the head;
But though I have found thee, and thou my thirst hast fed,
A holy thirsty dropsy melts me yet.
But why should I beg more love, whenas thou
Dost woo my soul, for hers offering all thine:
And dost not only fear lest I allow
My love to saints and angels, things divine,
But in thy tender jealousy dost doubt
Lest the world, flesh, yea, devil put thee out.
Even if you're not inclined to read The Lady and the Poet, there's no denying that the true story that inspired it is just as romantic as anything penned by Shakespeare. Perhaps even more so.
So if you like Shakespeare In Love, why not check out The Lady and the Poet?