After All, 'Tis Shakespeare
There are quite a few little nods to Shakespeare and the playwrights of his time, some obvious and some less so. The movie's enjoyable whether or not you're a Shakespeare junkie, but here are some of the references in the film.
At Will's desk, there's a skull, a reference to a famous scene in Hamlet. (Which does not begin with "to be or not to be" but "Alas, poor Yorrick!") Also, he has a souvenir cup from Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare's birthplace.
Reference is made to Edward Alleyn on a promotional leaflet for one of Shakespeare's plays at the beginning of the film. Edward Alleyn, an actor in Shakespeare's time, ('Ned' in the film, played by Ben Affleck) was the real-life founder of the famous London private secondary schools Dulwich College and Alleyn's School.
The play being performed at the beginning is "Two Gentleman of Verona". Incidently, though this play was written before Romeo and Juliet, it was not performed until twenty-five years or so after the first performance of the more famous work.
The unpleasant little urchin John Webster, who is shown playing with mice, grows up to be a big name of the next (Jacobean) generation of playwrights. His plays are known for their blood and gore, and his most famous title is "The Duchess of Malfi".
n the beginning of the movie, when Henslowe asks Will if he has been working on his play, and Will answers "Doubt thou the stars are fire, Doubt that the sun doth move" he is quoting from Hamlet (Act II Scene 2). The lines are from a letter he wrote to Ophelia while pretending to have gone mad, and are followed by "Doubt truth to be a liar, but never doubt I love."
The ending scene is a direct homage to "Twelfth Night" which the movie presents as Shakespeare's next play. In realtiy, Twelfth Night is was written considerably after R+J. Still, it features the character of Viola, who nearly drowns in a shipwreck :P
The lines "Was this the face that launched a thousand ships" that the actors recite during the audition come from Christopher Marlowe's play Doctor Faustus. Marlowe was a prominent Elizabethan playwright (as is shown in the movie) who did die in a barfight (OR DID HE?!) Some people think that Marlowe wrote many of Shakespeare's plays from beyond the grave.
The journeys up and down the Thames in river boats are taken from the puppet play Hero and Leander, which is written by the character Littlewit in Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair. Littlewit adapts the classical story of the lovers divided by the Hellespont to contemporary London.
The sonnet Will writes for Viola which begins with "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" is Sonnet 18. In reality, this sonnet, along with Sonnets number 1 to 126, were written for a "Mr. W. H.". Some speculate that this friend is either Henry Wriothesley, earl of Southamption, or William Herbert, earl of Pembroke. There's an Oscar Wilde short story about this mysterious fellow.