This, often hilarious, romantic comedy, set in late 16th Century London, traces the story of a particular time in a young playwrights life as it goes badly. William Shakespeare's (Joseph Fiennes) romantic life is a shambles, he's poor, and worst of all, he's got writer's block. To make matters worse he is supposed to be nearing completion of his latest play entitled; "Romeo and Ethel the Sea Pirate's Daughter", but in truth he hasn't written a single line, and his 'investor' is oblivious to this.
At an audition for this non-existent play, he admires the talent of a never-seen-before young actor called Thomas Kent (Gwyneth Paltrow) but as he thinks he's found the latest in talent, he runs away. Shakespeare, in search of this boy, soon meets Viola de Lesseps (also played by Gwyneth Paltrow), who is a devoted fan of the plays written by Will, and just so happens to live in the same stately home as the evasive Thomas. William is astounded by Viola's presence and it's love at first sight, which, thankfully, inspires him to begin writing the play for real.
However by the time Will realizes that Thomas is, in fact, Viola in disguise, her hand has been promised to the cold-hearted Lord Wessex (Colin Firth), meaning that Queen Elizabeth (Judi Dench) herself will be expecting for the wedding to happen.
Yet Will and Viola find that their mutual attraction is far too strong to ignore and the two dare to risk the ire of her fiance and they soon partake in a secret love affair. This is not the only thing the two must fight against now, unfortunately in this day and age women cannot, by law, perform on stage so they try to get past this by having 'Thomas' play Romeo in the play. It really is no wonder that the play ends up a tragedy...