“Strangely enough, it all turns out well”

by Bob Schwartz

Tom Stoppard’s best-known work is probably not one of his brilliant and award-winning plays. It is the popular and award-winning movie (7 Oscars) Shakespeare in Love (1998), co-written with Marc Norman.

Many of Stoppard’s familiar themes and conundrums are here. It is about Shakespeare as a frustrated genius playwright, but mostly about love, specifically about Shakespeare in an impossible love affair. He is in a hurry to write—he needs the money—and the play he suggests is Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter, a comedy. The play he ends up writing is a complete tragedy, ending with the death of the lovers Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare’s life in the movie is between comedy and death. His lover is forced to marry and cross the ocean, permanently separating them. He then writes a romantic comedy about her, Twelfth Night.

In Shakespeare there is the repeated question of how things are to turn out, the question every creative writer and every human being faces. Again and again, this is the answer:

FENNYMAN
So what do we do?
HENSLOWE
Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.
FENNYMAN
How?
HENSLOWE
I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

Of course “well” is a loose term, and even with stretching, sometimes there is no way to say it is the way things turn out. But as much as we do and plan to do, as mechanical as we may believe things are, think uncertainty. Sometimes there is nothing to do about life and love. It’s a mystery.