Monday, May 9, 2016

Much Ado About Nothing - Shakespeare

A group of young nobles are returning from the wars and chance to stop at the house of one of their friends, Leonato, the governor of Messina.  As soon as they arrive, Leonato's niece, Beatrice, starts a war of wit with one of the nobles, Benedick.  (The two have obviously tangled in the past.)  Another noble, Claudio, professes that he has fallen in love with Leonato's daughter, Hero.  In response to this, Benedick tells everyone that he will never marry.  The leader of the nobles, Prince Don Pedro, tells Claudio that he will win Hero for him.  Another of the nobles is Don Pedro's bastard brother, a villain named Don John, decides to ruin things out of spite.
With some small, easily resolved, difficulty, Don Pedro wins the hand of Hero for Claudio.  The nobles then gather with Leonato and decide to try and make Beatrice and Benedick fall in love with each other.  They do this by allowing Benedick to overhear a conversation in which he 'learns' that Beatrice is in love with him but afraid to say anything because she is sure it will be unrequited.  The women pull the same trick on Beatrice.  Both of them are lodged firmly in the other's brain.
Meanwhile, Don John has figured out a trick to ruin the upcoming marriage between Hero and Claudio.  One of his men makes loud love to Hero's nurse while using Hero's name.  Claudio is made to overhear this and thinks that his Hero has been untrue.  Claudio disgraces Hero at their wedding and storms off.  Leonato is shattered but is soon convinced by the priest that his daughter must have been slandered.  They agree to pretend that Hero has died from the shock of the accusation.  In the aftermath of this, Beatrice and Benedick admit that they love each other.
Don John's man is caught by the village guards, a loveable group of idiots led by constable Dogberry.  He confesses to Leonato and word trickles back to Claudio and Prince Don Pedro.  Claudio asks forgiveness of Leonato and is bid to marry, sight unseen, a previously unmentioned niece.  Claudio agrees to do so.  At the wedding, the new niece is unveiled as Hero and the marriage is held.  Benedick and Beatrice have their love proclaimed publicly.  The villain, Don John is captured, but he will be dealt with later.  All is happy.

I know this play well because of the excellent film adaptation from Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson.  I've seen the movie several times but this was my first time reading through everything.  The movie does a good job of sticking to the script and there was nothing I noticed edited out that would have been missed. 
I love the movie but I felt that it was hard for me to imagine the story being played differently.  This isn't the case in the couple of Shakespeare plays that I've actually acted in.  Thus the power of movies, I guess.  (I hope to get a chance to see a live performance next month so that may help get past this.) 
If you haven't seen this film version, find time to do so.

That battle of wits between Beatrice and Benedick is truly wonderful.  Both of them are so hardened against love and then they are betrayed and fall for each other.  I find it impossible to not enjoy the two of them.  Maybe more than any other pair of Shakespearian lovers.  From what I've read, this is a popular feeling. 
The love affair between Hero and Claudio, meanwhile, suffers in comparison.  The love is straightforward, even if the path to get there isn't.  The scheme that keeps them apart is also simple and easily pierced.  In fact, it's so simple that the simplest people in the play discover the plot. 

This might be my favorite of the comedies.  When I've reviewed them all, I'll (why not?) try and come up with some kind of ranking.  Then I'll try and compare that to some other ranking system and see how far out of step I am with conventional wisdom.

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