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Series / Will

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Will is an American drama television series about the life of young William Shakespeare in the late 16th century London theatre scene. It was created by Baz Luhrmann's frequent collaborator Craig Pearce and premiered on TNT in July, 2017.

It features actor Laurie Davidson (in his first major role) as Shakespeare, Jamie Campbell Bower as his friend and rival Christopher Marlowe and Colm Meaney as theatre owner James Burbage.


This series contains examples of:

  • Always Someone Better: Admiration and envy color Will and Kit Marlowe's interactions — each playwright (seemingly) has something the other desires.
  • An Offer You Can't Refuse: Topcliffe makes one to Will: either he helps Topcliffe write an anti-Catholic play to combat Father Southwell, or Will's family becomes a target.
  • Arranged Marriage: Alice's parents try to set her up with Keenan, the theatre's beer provider.
  • As You Know: During the show's first torture scene, Topcliffe and his captive make sure to remind themselves about England's Catholic vs. Protestant issue, just in case they'd forgotten.
  • Being Good Sucks: Will tries to be a good playwright, a good husband, a good father, a good Catholic, a good friend, and a good lover—all at once. It usually ends very badly for everyone involved.
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  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Will and Kit have a... complicated relationship.
  • Beta Couple: Richard and Molly, though they haven't officially gotten together yet.
  • Big Bad: Topcliffe.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Topcliffe is disgraced and the theater is back in business, but Alice flees the country with Southwell—effectively ending her romance with Will.
  • Bury Your Gays: Emerson is a classic example of this, due to having initially "debauched" his lover Kit before dying.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: Compare the tone of episode 10 to episode 1.
  • Code Name: "Mr. Cotton" for Father Southwell, which is historically accurate to boot.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Richard Topcliffe, Queen Elizabeth's primary investigator and torturer is not a nice man.
  • Confessional: Will confesses his affair with Alice to his cousin Father Southwell—naturally, Southwell proceeds to hold this information over Will's head for the rest of the series.
  • Converting for Love: Inverted in a pretty interesting way— Alice converts to Catholicism only after Will spurns her and leaves her heartbroken.
  • Creator Breakdown: Kit Marlowe goes through an epic one. He eventually recovers.
  • Creepy Child: Invoked in the scene where Presto burns down Burbage's theater.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: The writers seem very fond of the whole "hung then disemboweled while still alive" thing. All in the name of historical accuracy, of course.
  • Cruel to Be Kind: Alice's mother asks Will to be this in regards of his relationship with her daughter. He complies to a devastating effect.
  • Cue the Rain: Things are not going too well for Will in episode 3 — as a bonus he also runs into Kit in what could be called an interesting subversion of Romantic Rain.
  • Dark Is Evil: Heavily invoked with Topcliffe and his evil lair. Interestingly contrasted with the "brightness" that the show tends to associate with Catholicism.
  • Death by Irony: Baxter, who spends the first episode sneeringly trying to one-up Will as a playwright, dies because Kit considers him to be the "lesser of two poets."
  • Does This Remind You of Anything??: On the official TNT's Will Podcast, the writers explained that they were trying to draw parallels between the historical Catholic/Protestant conflicts shown in the series and present-day religious extremism and unrest. Funnily enough, that's exactly what actual Shakespeare history plays tried to do in their day.
  • Double Agent: Kit works as a spy for Walsingham — when he feels like it. Sometimes he feels like doing the opposite, or playing for both teams at once.
  • Easily Forgiven: Will lets Presto stay with him and vows to help avenge his sister's death despite the fact that Presto has actively tried to get Will killed and burned down his theater.
  • Easy Evangelism: Father Southwell manages to convert Alice to Catholicism rather easily considering the fact that English Catholics were illegal at the time and given traitors' deaths. It especially applies since Alice had previously criticized Will quite sharply for getting involved in the movement.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Topcliffe's family is brought in for this very purpose.
  • Exact Words: Topcliffe never tortured Baxter, oh no—he did but set him against a wall, that's all. Bonus points for the fact that this line is something that real-life Richard Topcliffe actually said.
  • Foil:
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The players at The Theatre have weekly bets on the amount of plague victims that week. It's less fun once one of them is among the numbers.
    • Kit, in a fit of self-destructive despair, starts a bar brawl...
  • Get Thee to a Nunnery: Played with a lot. For obvious reasons.
  • Good Night, Sweet Prince: Will often uses this line on his son, Hamnet. Made heartbreaking if you've ever read a biography of Shakespeare...
  • Harmless Lady Disguise: Presto utilizes this technique often. Eventually it comes round to bite him in the arse.
  • Hell Seeker: Kit Marlowe, in the most literal way possible.
  • Higher Understanding Through Drugs: Kit takes Will to an occult ritual to try to achieve this effect, hoping it will inspire him or allow him to glimpse hell. It goes about as well as you would expect.
  • Historical Domain Character: Majority of the cast of characters, including cameos from Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Bacon and Dr. John Dee.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: In real life, Robert Southwell was a Jesuit poet who was eventually captured by Topcliffe, tortured, imprisoned for years, and martyred without betraying his fellow missionaries. All that's really known about his connection to Shakespeare is a letter in which he criticizes the poetry of a "W.S." for not being focused enough on God. In the series, Southwell is a manipulative, cowardly, selfish hypocrite who not only treats his cousin Will cruelly when he refuses to risk his and his family's lives by getting involved in the Catholic underground movement, but also regularly lets people die for him with little effort to prevent it and even sacrifices Alice to save himself when their safe house is raided by Topcliffe. Oh yeah—and the real Southwell is also a canonized saint.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: In the finale, Topcliffe invites his superiors to watch Will's commissioned play and proudly proclaims the main character to be based on himself. The only issue: the play in question is Richard III, and the officials are horrified by Will's depraved portrayal of the man, even going so far as to cancel Topcliffe's upcoming promotion.
  • Homoerotic Subtext: There's some major Belligerent Sexual Tension going on between Will and Kit Marlowe.
  • I Didn't Mean to Turn You On: After some goading from Kit (channelling his inner Mephistopheles) slightly drunk Will grabs him by the shirt and throws him on the table, getting right in his face. Kit, being Kit, loves this while Will appears to have something of a sexuality crisis.
  • I Don't Want to Ruin Our Friendship: Richard's reason for not pursuing a relationship with Molly.
  • Illegal Religion: A major plot point.
  • Incompatible Orientation: Richard believes this to be the case when his attempts at wooing Emilia fall flat. There are some implications that he might be onto something.
  • It Will Never Catch On: "Who would want a play by William Shakespeare?"
  • Kick the Dog: Topcliffe's snide exchange with Presto in episode 1 after he turns in Will as a Catholic—the guy is a high-ranking official of the queen and could certainly have afforded to pay Presto as a reward, but instead just equivocates his way out of it.
  • Ladykiller in Love: How Richard's feelings for Molly are presented.
  • Leaving You to Find Myself: Alice during the last few minutes of the finale.
  • Love-Obstructing Parents: The Burbages, for understandable reasons.
  • Making Love in All the Wrong Places: Will and Alice have loud sex in Hell, a.k.a. the space under the stage. While her mother is showing her would-be suitor around in the theatre.
  • Manipulative Bastard: For such an earnest guy, Will can be this just as much as Kit is, managing to succesfully play both Topcliffe and Kit himself during the course of the series.
  • Mr. Fanservice/Shameless Fanservice Guy: Kit appears in the buff in more than one episode. Other characters generally fail to ask him to put some clothes on, even when his nudity might be considered inappropriate for the situation.
  • The Muse: Alice for Will, Emerson for Kit.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Will breaks Alice's heart at her mother's request, thinking that it would prevent her from throwing her life away for their affair. It actually drives her right into Father Southwell's dangerous cause and leads her to convert to Catholicism, eventually getting captured and tortured by Topcliffe. Then, she decides to leave her family and the theater to flee the country with Father Southwell. Definitely not the effect that Will or Mrs. Burbage had in mind.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Will pretends to be too simple to write a Southwell-bashing play for Topcliffe.
  • One True Love: Will considers Alice to be this to him.
  • Parental Substitute: Will to Presto during the last few episodes.
  • Posthumous Character: Will's martyred uncle, who spends his time as a ghost berating his nephew for his various misdeeds and lapsed Catholicism. It's unclear whether the ghost is real or just Will's hallucination.
  • Purely Aesthetic Era: Mixes 1970s glam rock/punk music and aesthetics with the Elizabethan era in similar manner as A Knight's Tale.
  • Revenge Before Reason: Presto declares that he will kill Topcliffe after he murders his sister, despite the fact that it would probably get himself killed. Will talks him out of it, and then proceeds to do the exact same thing when he finds out that Alice was tortured. Luckily she convinces him to stick with his plan to discredit Topcliffe instead.
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare: Obviously.
  • Show Within a Show: Pretty hard to avoid in a series about a famous playwright. Most notably used in the finale.
  • Shown Their Work: Despite some (often very deliberate) anachronisms, the show is very well researched, often delving into lesser known facts or theories about the period and the life of its titular character.
  • Spooky Séance: Episode 4 contains a hell-raising variation of this, as entertainment for the School of Night. It's not quite historically accurate, as the real John Dee would be horrified by such a base display of magic and the real Edward Kelley, in addition to never being a part of the School of Night, was in Prague at the time the show is set, but it's a delightfully disturbing sequence.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Kit certainly comes across as this at times.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Alice often dresses as a boy for safety and convenience, possibly inspiring some of Will's female characters.
  • The Fundamentalist: Topcliffe, without a doubt. The show hints that he may be Hiding Behind Religion as well in order to justify his sadistic love of torture.
    • Father Southwell is an example of a somewhat milder version of this trope.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Essentially what the last five episodes are—and it applies to almost every major character. Will, Alice, Presto, Kit, Richard... Apparently 16th century London was a bit of a mess.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The show could be said to be doing the same thing to Shakespeare's life as he himself did to many historical characters that predated him.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Robert Southwell.
  • Writer's Block Montage: Kit has considerable trouble inspiring Doctor Faustus out of himself.
  • You Are Worth Hell: Kit to his lover, who he calls "my king".
  • You Should Have Died Instead: Will's Catholicism leads to Baxter's death and Alice's torture, while he gets off (mostly) scot-free. Understandably, the Burbages aren't very happy about this.