The cadence of a script can help convey mushy period romance (i.e. “Shakespeare in Love”), bad ass edge, comedic timing, wit, intelligence, stupidity, class; the list is endless. This is possible because delivery is not just about which words are put in a sentence to convey meaning but about how the audience is hearing them. (Thus every scriptwriting instructor will tell you to read lines aloud–a lot.) It’s what separates written dialogue from regular speech. And it’s not all up to the actors. Our job is to put the words in the right order.
There was no attempt to mask it nor was there a need to; a great deal of dialogue in 1998’s Best Picture, Best Original Script winner, “Shakespeare in Love” is directly borrowed from “Romeo and Juliet.” The superficial genius in using the dialogue of the iconic tragedy is that the audience was made to feel that they were seeing the story being created. Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard reached back into an interpretation of Shakespeare’s creative process and allowed the almost-21st century a look into the making of Elizabethan theater. Quite enthralling, actually. The deeper genius in using dialogue from “Romeo and Juliet” (and imitating it in the rest of the script) lies in the cadence of Shakespeare’s work. Blank verse is all about meter and rhythm and timing. It’s the closest thing you can get to an opera without music and it’s pure poetry–an art form every writer of drama must practice. Dramatic writing (for stage or screen) and poetry are much alike in that they require creators to be masters of compression.
A poem lifts the essence of an emotion or an experience and, when well done, relays it so carefully that the reader can identify with the image without all the details. Much the same, a script lifts the essence of real life drama and compresses it into an image that an audience can identify with.
One of our many tasks as dramatists is to make dialogue flow like poetry but read like prose. Case in point: this scene from “Shakespeare in Love.”
No, it’s not blank verse, but it’s probably some of the most poetic prose you’ll ever see on the silver screen. And that, dear writers, is why “Shakespeare in Love” won so many awards.