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Best-selling Jewish writer suing makers of ‘Shakespeare in Love

LOS ANGELES, March 22 (JTA) — The makers of the Oscar-winning “Shakespeare in Love” have been served with a lawsuit by mystery writer Faye Kellerman, who charges that the film’s story was derived from her 1989 novel “The Quality of Mercy.” The suit, filed in U.S. District Court five days before Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony, accuses Miramax Films and the movie’s co-writers, Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman, of copyright infringement. Kellerman and her mystery-writer husband, Jonathan, are both Orthodox Jews and committed Zionists. The protagonists in many of her novels, such as “The Ritual Bath” and “Day of Atonement,” are an Orthodox couple, and much of the action is set in the Los Angeles Orthodox community. In the action against “Shakespeare in Love,” the suit claims that both the novel and the film have similar characters and plots. “William Shakespeare, a young, struggling playwright, falls in love with a young, well-born but untitled woman forbidden to him and betrothed to another man, and conducts a love affair with that woman,” the suit alleges. “The young woman departs to another continent. Shakespeare writes a play based upon events that occur during their love affair.” Additionally, in both instances the young woman disguises herself as a man and the action is set in the year 1593. But there are also differences, particularly in the heroine’s background. The film’s Viola de Lesseps is a stage-struck young woman from an upper-class and, presumably, gentile family. The novel’s heroine is Rebecca Lopez, a “converso” whose family converted to Christianity during the Spanish Inquisition but secretly practices Judaism. Her father has risen to become physician to Queen Elizabeth. After Rebecca meets Shakespeare, the budding playwright helps her hijack a boat to save a friend from the Inquisition, and does part-time duty as an amateur detective to track down the killer of his mentor. After the two separate, Shakespeare embarks on a new play, which he calls “The Merchant of Venice.” Miramax labeled the suit a likely publicity stunt that has no merit, adding in a written statement that “the two stories are so different that the idea that one was copied from the other is absurd.”