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Imelda Staunton and Jim Carter are married in real-life, and in this movie, they played the same role. Staunton played the Nurse off-stage, and Carter played the nurse on-stage.
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Dame Judi Dench won an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her role as Queen Elizabeth, although she is on-screen for only about six minutes in four scenes. This is the second-shortest performance to win a Best Actress in a Supporting Role Oscar. The shortest ever performance was by Beatrice Straight in Network (1976), as she appeared in only five minutes of the movie.
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1998 was the only year that two actresses were nominated for Academy Awards for playing the same character in two different movies in the same year. Dame Judi Dench was nominated (and won) for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for playing Queen Elizabeth I in this movie, and Cate Blanchett was nominated for Best Actress for portraying Elizabeth I in Elizabeth (1998). It is also worth noting that Joseph Fiennes portrayed the love interest in both of these movies, and that Geoffrey Rush was nominated for a BAFTA Award for his performance in each, winning for Elizabeth (1998).
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The unpleasant little urchin John Webster (Joe Roberts), 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".
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Wabash (Mark Williams) (Philip Henslowe's (Geoffrey Rush's) tailor, who has gotten a role not because of any acting experience, but just because Henslowe owes him money) has a stutter, but his stutter almost entirely disappears when he is acting on-stage. This is an actual phenomenon that is well-known to speech therapists and other modern-day pathologists who study and treat stuttering. Many actors and actresses who are former stutterers first entered the profession when it was recommended to them as therapy for their speech impediment. Famous actors and actresses who turned to acting to help their stuttering include James Earl Jones, Emily Blunt, Bruce Willis, Nicholas Brendon, and Sam Neill.
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Gwyneth Paltrow saw the script at Winona Ryder's office table in 1997, and asked her if she could read it. Paltrow got the part, without telling Ryder she was going to try for it. The former friends haven't been friends since, because of Paltrow's selfishness, later winning an Oscar for the part.
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In the first scene with William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes), we see him crumpling up balls of paper and throwing them around the room which land near props which represent or refer to other works by Shakespeare. The first lands next to a skull, a reference to Hamlet, and the second lands in a chest, a reference to the Merchant of Venice.
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Dame Judi Dench was so taken with the full-sized replica set of the Rose Theater that Miramax gave it to her to take home when filming ended. Variety reported in early 1999 that she was looking for a site, and a financial backer, so it could be used as a working theater.
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Although long portions of Romeo and Juliet are used in this movie, along with famous lines from many of Shakespeare's play, William Shakespeare is not credited in the movie.
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Second movie in which Colin Firth's character has his love interest stolen by a Fiennes brother. First in The English Patient (1996) by Ralph Fiennes, and here by Joseph Fiennes.
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After initial test audiences had mixed reactions to the ending, a new version of Will and Viola's final scene was filmed in November 1998 (only a few weeks before release), which expanded upon the previously brief Twelfth Night projections, in order to better handle their parting. In order to film the scene, Joseph Fiennes had to interrupt work on a West End play, and Gwyneth Paltrow had to be brought in from filming The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999).
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About six years before this movie was finally made, Julia Roberts was cast as Viola De Lesseps, and flew to the U.K. to try to persuade Daniel Day-Lewis to take the part, but he declined in order to do In the Name of the Father (1993), so Universal Studios dropped the project when no suitable alternative was found. Joseph Fiennes was the only actor ever actually cast in the lead role.
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The line "Was this the face that launched a thousand ships?" that actors recite during the audition, came from Christopher Marlowe's play "Doctor Faustus".
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Counting this movie's win for Best Picture, it has the most Oscars ever won (seven) without winning the Best Director award.
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William Shakespeare is shown playing Romeo in "Romeo and Juliet". Although no such claim appears in most biographies of Shakespeare, he is believed to have originated other famous roles in his own plays, such as The Ghost in "Hamlet", Old Adam in "As You Like It", and Lord Berowne in "Love's Labour's Lost".
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Will is shown signing a paper, with six illegible signatures visible. Several versions of Shakespeare's signature exist, all of which are different. This has led to debate about whether William Shakespeare may actually have been illiterate. Nowadays it is known, though, that back in Tudor times there was just no proper spelling, so anyone could spell words however they liked, and that also led to Shakespeare spelling his own name at least six different ways.
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Slate Magazine reported that in 1999, when Queen Elizabeth II was preparing to bestow a new noble title to her son Prince Edward, she originally wanted to make him the Duke of Cambridge, but after he saw this movie, he asked her if he could instead be the "Earl of Wessex", after Colin Firth's character "Lord Wessex", even though the character is villainous and unlikable. He requested and received the "Wessex" title, and is sometimes known as Edward Wessex. Before Edward received the title, the most recent man known as Earl of Wessex was Harold Godwinson, before he became King Harold II in 1066.
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Philip Henslowe (Geoffrey Rush) and Hugh Fennyman (Tom Wilkinson) talk about paying the writer and actors. "Share of the profits", Fennyman suggests. "There's never any", responds Henslowe. This is in reference to the modern-day movie practice of promising actors and actresses a share of a movie's profits, then, through creative accounting, making it appear that a movie did not turn a profit, thus bilking the actor or actress of his or her money.
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Lord Wessex (Colin Firth) is the villain of this movie, and is generally presented as none too bright. Wessex's mistaken belief that it is Christopher Marlowe (Rupert Everett) instead of William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) who has slept with Viola is particularly amusing given that it is the general historical and literary consensus that Marlowe was gay, something that (this movie implies) Wessex would have known if he paid even a little bit of attention to the theater, arts, or culture of his age.
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Reference is made to Edward Alleyn on a promotional leaflet for one of William Shakespeare's plays at the beginning of this movie. Edward Alleyn, an actor in Shakespeare's time, ("Ned" in this movie, played by Ben Affleck) was the real-life founder of the famous London private secondary schools Dulwich College and Alleyn's School.
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Viola De Lesseps asks Will, "Are you the author of the plays of William Shakespeare?" This is a hint at the modern day speculation whether the works of Shakespeare were really written by him, or whether some nobleman (or another famous author) used his identity as a pseudonym. This movie also manages to provide theoretical sources for the two prevailing academic theories about Shakespeare's inspirations for many of the sonnets: that they were written either for an extramarital mistress or a male lover.
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In the beginning of the movie, when Philip Henslowe (Geoffrey Rush) asks William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) if he has been working on his play, he 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."
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Producer Harvey Weinstein asked Ben Affleck to play William Shakespeare, but he declined, and played Ned Alleyn instead.
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The play being performed for Queen Elizabeth (Dame Judi Dench) at the beginning of this movie is Two Gentlemen of Verona.
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Joseph Fiennes played Romeo in an audio production of Romeo and Juliet.
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Tom Stoppard added several characters in his work on the screenplay, including Christopher Marlowe (Rupert Everett). Some of his additions, including those regarding John Webster (Joe Roberts) were handled with caution, as it was feared some references would be too obscure.
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Screenwriter Marc Norman got the idea for this movie when his son Zachary called him from Boston University and suggested doing something on William Shakespeare as a young man in the Elizabethan theatre. It took two years for Norman to come up with the idea of having Shakespeare struggling with writer's block on "Romeo and Juliet".
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Actor and theatre owner Richard Burbage, who is a character in this movie, in reality, is generally believed to have been the first actor to play William Shakespeare's Romeo, and went on to play the title role in Shakespeare's revenge tragedy Hamlet. In this movie, Burbage (Martin Clunes) is shown coming to the theatre looking for revenge. There is a fight, which ends when Burbage gets hit with a skull; a reference to Yorick's skull which Hamlet famously meditates upon in the play.
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At one point, when speaking to some prostitutes in the tavern, Will jokingly refers to himself as "William the Conqueror". William the Conqueror, of course, was the first Norman King of England, reigning from 1066 until his death in 1087. Will's line in this movie was most likely inspired by one of the few surviving contemporary anecdotes recorded about Shakespeare. Lawyer John Manningham wrote in his diary in 1602 that when Richard Burbage had played Richard III in Shakespeare's play, a woman in the audience was so smitten with him, that she "appointed him to come that night unto her by the name of Richard the Third". Shakespeare overheard the invitation, and went to the woman before Burbage, and "was entertained and at his game ere Burbage came". When Burbage eventually showed up at the door, Shakespeare let him know that "William the Conqueror was before Richard the Third".
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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 male friend of William Shakespeare. Some speculate that this friend is either Henry Wriothesley, earl of Southamption, or William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke.
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In an interview, Dame Judi Dench said she had to wear such high heels for this movie, that Director John Madden nicknamed her "Tudor Spice". (One of the Spice Girls, who were known by names such as Sporty Spice, Baby Spice, Scary Spice, et cetera.)
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The street preacher at the start points towards the Rose Theatre and proclaims "The Rose, smells thusly rank, and would by any other name", is an adaptation of "That which we call a rose, would by any other name smell as sweet", which is a line in Romeo and Juliet, the play at the center of this movie.
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In one of the opening scenes, William Shakespeare has a cup on his desk which reads, "Stratford Upon Avon", Shakespeare's birthplace.
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The last recipient of the short-lived Academy Award for Best Original Musical or Comedy Score, which the AMPAS only handed out for four years before discontinuing it. The other winners were Pocahontas (1995), Emma (1996), and The Full Monty (1997).
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In the final scene, Will tells Viola "You will never age for me, nor fade, nor die." He is paraphrasing Sonnet 18: "Thy eternal summer shall not fade, nor lose possession of that fair thou owest. Nor shall death brag thou wand'rest in his shade, when in eternal lines to time thou growest."
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The Priest near the beginning yells "a plague on both your houses", which is a famous quote from Romeo and Juliet.
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Kate Winslet turned down the role of Viola after the success of Titanic (1997). She went on to film Jane Campion's Holy Smoke (1999) instead.
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Robert Lindsay lost out on a role in this movie because of an intervention by Producer Harvey Weinstein, who objected to his involvement dating back to the time that Lindsay had confronted Weinstein over his behavior on Strike It Rich (1990).
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No conclusive evidence exists as to why Rupert Everett was uncredited for his role as Christopher Marlowe. However, regarding his performance, Everett was quoted by US Weekly as saying "I was very, very bad in it. I was a bundle of fuc-king hideous nerves."
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The boatman (Simon Day) who rows William Shakespeare says, "I had that Christopher Marlowe in my boat once." This is a reference to the stereotypical remark of London taxi drivers about their famous customers: "I had that (famous name) in the back of my cab once."
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During an interview with Howard Stern in January 2015, Gwyneth Paltrow opened up about how she initially turned down the part of Viola de Lesseps, citing emotional distress following her break-up with Brad Pitt. Paltrow told Stern that she was "very sad" and said, "'I'm not going to work' and all that nonsense". Eventually, she was persuaded by Miramax Producer Paul Webster to go out for the role, and the rest is Oscar history.
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By winning an Oscar for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth, Dame Judi Dench completed an odd Academy Award first. She and Charles Laughton, who had won an Oscar for playing the title role in The Private Life of Henry VIII. (1933), became the first acting pair to win Oscars for portraying a parent and child in separate movies. Two others had been nominated for each of those parts: Richard Burton in Anne of the Thousand Days (1969), and Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth (1998). Another pair would later win Oscars for playing a royal father and daughter separately: Dame Helen Mirren in The Queen (2006), and Colin Firth in The King's Speech (2010). Mirren had previously also played Queen Elizabeth I in Elizabeth I (2005), and the latter movie reunited Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush from this movie.
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One of the reasons co-Screenwriters Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard were able to take so many liberties with the script was that not much is known about William Shakespeare's life between 1585 and 1592.
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In the house of ill repute, when Ralph (Jim Carter) is explaining to the waitress what the play is about and he says it is "about this nurse . . ." That is a reference to a line in Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990), explaining that Hamlet is a play about a gravedigger who meets a Prince.
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After this movie's five credited producers received Oscars for Best Picture, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences changed the rules the following year. Beginning with the 1999 awards, a maximum of three credited producers can be nominated to receive Best Picture statuettes, even if more than three are credited on-screen. This restriction was loosened slightly beginning with the 80th awards in 2007, when the following was added to the rules covering the award for Best Picture: "The (Producers Branch Executive) committee has the right, in what it determines to be a rare and extraordinary circumstance, to name any additional qualified Producer as a nominee."
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The journeys up and down the Thames in river boats are taken from the puppet play Hero and Leander, which was 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.
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As of 2018, Gwyneth Paltrow's Oscar winning performance in this movie is her only Oscar nomination. This movie also featured Dame Judi Dench's only Oscar winning performance out of seven nominations.
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Russell Crowe has stated that he was offered the part by Harvey Weinstein, if he would sign on for a package deal of four movies. Crowe refused, but continued to lobby for the part of Shakespeare.
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Producer Harvey Weinstein did not want Edward Zwick to receive a Producer credit on this movie since he was no longer directing it, while Zwick did not think Weinstein deserved a Producer credit. Rumor has it that Weinstein expressed his contempt for Zwick by deliberately editing the opening title sequence so that Zwick's production company, The Bedford Falls Company, received its on-screen credit over a shot of Henslowe stepping in horse dung.
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Warner Brothers planned a musical version of the life of William Shakespeare in 1967. Titled "The Bawdy Bard", it was to be directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz with a screenplay by Anthony Burgess. Robert Stephens was to play Will, with his then wife Dame Maggie Smith co-starring, and a surprise role for Diana Ross, but a series of big budget, high profile musical flops, amongst them Doctor Dolittle (1967), Star! (1968), and Darling Lili (1970), led to its cancellation.
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Marc Norman conceived the idea of the movie in 1988. The movie was released ten years later.
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Ben Affleck joked that he was the only member of the cast who hadn't been knighted.
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Geoffrey Rush and Colin Firth appeared in The King's Speech (2010), another winner of the Best Picture Oscar. Rush received nominations as Best Actor in a Supporting Role for both movies.
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Many plot elements from Romeo and Juliet (such as the opening duel, the tragic love story, and a balcony scene between two lovers), were used in Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac, a role played by Joseph Fiennes on-stage.
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Producer Edward Zwick was initially supposed to direct when Universal Pictures was involved. At that time, Julia Roberts was cast as Viola, and the production got as far as having sets in the process of construction. However, Roberts had casting rights, and insisted on Daniel Day-Lewis. When he passed on the project, it fell through. When Miramax Films finally went ahead with the project, Harvey Weinstein decided to not hire Zwick to direct. However, Zwick's production company, The Bedford Falls Company, remained involved.
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Simon Callow was originally cast as Philip Henslowe. However, after the project was re-activated, Geoffrey Rush was cast as Henslowe, and Callow was offered the smaller, but key role of Tilney.
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Mark Williams and Imelda Staunton appeared in the Harry Potter film franchise, which also featured Joseph Fiennes' brother, Ralph.
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The cast appeared in a classroom video supplement titled "Shakespeare in the Classroom".
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The cast includes five Oscar winners: Gwyneth Paltrow, Dame Judi Dench, Geoffrey Rush, Colin Firth, and Ben Affleck; and two Oscar nominees: Tom Wilkinson and Imelda Staunton.
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Dame Judi Dench played Queen Elizabeth I in this movie. Geoffrey Rush and Joseph Fiennes appeared in Elizabeth (1998), which centered on Queen Elizabeth's life. Rush and Fiennes played important figures of Queen Elizabeth's life, Rush played Sir Francis Walsingham, and Fiennes played Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.
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The name of Antony Sher's character, Dr. Moth, may be a nod to Moth, one of the fairies in A Midsummer Night's Dream.
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Jim Carter, best known for playing a butler on Downton Abbey (2010), also plays a servant in this film.
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Bridget McConnell and Georgie Glen also played Dame Judi Dench's courtiers in Mrs. Brown (1997), also directed by John Madden.
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Geoffrey Rush was the only Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee that year that was from a Best Picture nominated film.
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Imelda Staunton and Colin Firth appeared in Nanny McPhee (2005). Nanny McPhee Returns (2010) had a short appearance by Ralph Fiennes, older brother of Joseph.
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Included amongst the American Film Institute's 2000 list of the five hundred movies nominated for the Top 100 Funniest American Movies.
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Dame Judi Dench (Queen Elizabeth) played Juliet in a widely acclaimed Old Vic production of Romeo and Juliet, staged by Franco Zeffirelli, in 1960.
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This movie was considerably re-worked after the first test screenings. The scene with William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) and Viola De Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow) in the boat was re-shot, to make it more emotional, and some lines were re-recorded to clarify the reasons why Viola had to marry Lord Wessex (Colin Firth). The ending was re-shot several times, until Screenwriter Tom Stoppard eventually came up with the idea of Viola suggesting to Shakespeare that their parting could inspire his next play.
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The scene that shows a woman (presumably Viola) nearly drowning in a shipwreck, is a direct homage to one of the opening scenes of "Twelfth Night" (recently produced as Twelfth Night or What You Will (1996)), in which the character of Viola nearly drowns. However, considerable artistic license has been taken in this scene, as the play (a) does not open on a deserted beach (but in Orsino's court), and (b) not everyone drowns in the shipwreck (scene two has Viola discussing the near-drowning with the ship's Captain, with other sailors present).
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