The Stages of the Hero’s Journey (Project 2: Exercise 1)

The stages of the hero’s journey as applied to the film Shakespeare in Love

The stages are:

Act I (Beginning = the hero’s decision to act)

  1. Ordinary World
  2. Call to Adventure
  3. Refusal of the Call
  4. Meeting with the Mentor
  5. Crossing the First Threshold

Act II (Middle = the action)

  1. Tests, Allies, Enemies
  2. Approach to the Inmost Cave
  3. Ordeal
  4. Reward


Act III (End = the consequences of action)

  1. The Road Back
  2. Resurrection
  3. Return with the Elixir.

(Vogler, 1999, p.14)

As applied to the film Shakespeare in Love

Act 1

– we are introduced to Shakespeare. He is a playwright, but suffering from writer’s block. This is in part as he is looking for a new love in his life. (His wife is at home in Stratford.) We also find out that he is in competition with another playwright; Kit Marlowe. This is his ordinary world.

His call for adventure comes from Philip Henslowe, one of two men for whom he writes plays. The call is made with some urgency as Henslowe is in debt to Hugh Fennyman, a moneylender who is demanding his money back. Henslowe has gone into partnership with Fennyman for the production of Shakespeare’s next play.

Inspired by his love for Rosaline, Shakespeare gets to work on his play. He finds out, however, that she is having an affair and so he throws the first draft of his new play into a fire. In effect, this is the refusal of the call.

An accidental meeting with Kit Marlowe in a public house provides the foundation for Shakespeare to rethink his play. This is his meeting with the mentor.

He subsequently meets a woman, Viola de Lesseps, with whom he falls in love. He is immediately inspired to write his new play which will become Romeo and Juliet.

Act 2

– the rehearsing, writing and production of the play presents Shakespeare with Tests, Allies and Enemies.

A key test in this act is the news that Viola will marry Lord Wessex. His love cannot be fulfilled.   

A second test presents itself. Queen Elizabeth poses the question, “Can a play show us the very truth and nature of love.” It is the subject of a £50 wager which the Queen witnesses and “…will judge when the occasion arises.”

The approach to the inmost cave comes when Viola mistakenly believes that Shakespeare has been killed. (A sub-plot to the film has led to Kit Marlowe being killed.) Viola and Shakespeare meet and so Viola realises that Shakespeare is still alive. At this meeting he faces his ordeal; the realisation that they can never be married. Yet this leads to his reward; the tragedy of his situation inspires him to completes the writing of Romeo and Juliet, with its famous final act. Those performing and rehearsing now recognise it to be a great play.

Act 3

– Sees the the rehearsals of Romeo and Juliet nearing their conclusion. This is the road back. They are very close to the dates of their performances when one of the players, Thomas Kent who is playing Romeo, has been seen to be a woman. (Thomas Kent is in fact, Viola; a fact known only to Shakespeare.) Women are not allowed on stage and so the theatre is closed down – the play cannot be performed.


Another actor and theatre owner, Richard Burbage, had also been promised a play by Shakespeare. Due to his outrage at the closure of the theatre, he offers his, The Curtain, and so Romeo and Juliet is performed. The play is resurrected. There are other minor roads back and resurrections, but the play is performed with Shakespeare as Romeo and Viola as Juliet.


The play is a success with the audience, one of whom is Queen Elizabeth. She judges that Shakespeare has won the wager. He can now afford to write and produce his own plays. He has returned to his ordinary world as a playwright but with the Elixir in the form of £50 and his writer’s block a thing of the past.






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