This week in Hollywood -- Similarities between ''Shakespeare in Love'' and Caryl Brahms'/S.J. Simons' ''No Bed for Bacon'' are undeniable

By Daniel Fierman
February 12, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

In a comedy peppered with such historical figures as Christopher Marlowe and Queen Elizabeth I, a young William Shakespeare battles writer’s block while his theater troupe fights for actors and space. His muse comes in the form of Viola, a noblewoman who disguises herself as a man in order to perform. And in a running gag, young Will practices his signature a few times.

If you guessed that the above is a synopsis of Miramax’s Oscar hopeful Shakespeare in Love, you’d be right — well, half right. It’s also the plot of the 1941 British novel No Bed for Bacon by Caryl Brahms and S.J. Simon. The similarities between the two works went unnoticed until late January, when a letter to the editor of London’s Daily Telegraph brought them to light. Since then, a few fans of the novel have waged a letter-writing campaign asking Miramax to credit the out-of-print book, which was almost made into a movie starring Alec Guinness.

”I’d never even heard of the book until two weeks ago, and I haven’t read it,” says Marc Norman, who wrote the original screenplay after his son suggested the idea in 1989.

”The book and the movie each tell a very different story about young William Shakespeare,” says Tom Stoppard, who rewrote the script. ”As such they inevitably share some elements.” Portions of the book are indeed very different from the movie. Brahms and Simon, for example, devote many pages to lampooning the politics of the Elizabethan court and Sir Walter Raleigh’s relationship with Queen Elizabeth. Stoppard says he flipped through the book ”when he first got the job” and found it ”of no use” and argues that the limited available material on the Bard (few facts about his life are known) makes such overlaps unavoidable. Hogarth Press in London, the publisher of the most recent edition of the novel, did not return calls at press time. But according to Miramax executive VP Marcy Granata, ”the pedigree of the screenplay is unassailable. This is little ado about nothing.”