Posted in The Shakespeare Challenge

Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

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Set in a courtly world of masked revels and dances, this play turns on the archetypal story of a lady falsely accused of unfaithfulness, spurned by her bridegroom, and finally vindicated and reunited with him. Villainy, schemes, and deceit threatens to darken the brilliant humor and sparkling wordplay but the hilarious counterplot of a warring couple, Beatrice and Benedick, in Shakespeare’s superb comedy of manners.

I read this play a few years ago and I watched the 1993 adaptation, but I didn’t remember much from either, so rereading felt like reading something almost entirely new.

I enjoyed it but I would like it more if there was more focus on Benedick and Beatrice, so their relationship could develop a bit more slowly. This way, their realization that they’re in love with each other is really quick, but hilarious.  Benedick and Beatrice are a classic example of a love-hate relationship, the same kind that’s seen in so many rom-coms. But their banter is better than most (Shakespeare was amazing at writing insults).

The characters make some strange choices, but that’s fine because it pays off with great comedy. Don Pedro disguising himself as Claudio to get Hero to marry Claudio is one of those things that probably nobody in real life would actually do, but who cares if it’s funny 😀 Also, at this point, whenever a masked ball is part of any story, I’m assuming that it will lead to some kind of misunderstanding between characters.

The most surprising part of this comedy is that, at one point, it stops being a comedy. When Don John makes Claudio believe that Hero is not a virgin, the tone of the play changes. Claudio chooses to humiliate her on what was supposed to be their wedding day and her father, Leonato, wants to kill himself because of the shame he feels. According to the internet, this is realistic for the 16th century. Knowing that a woman’s life could have been ruined just because she wasn’t a virgin is incredibly uncomfortable to read about, but knowing that this is still a reality in some places is much worse. It’s strange to feel like that while reading a comedy.

My favorite part of the play is when Benedick overhears Pedro, Leonato and Claudio talking about him and Beatrice. Right before that, he talks to himself about never falling in love:

I do much wonder that one man, seeing how much
another man is a fool when he dedicates his
behaviors to love, will, after he hath laughed at
such shallow follies in others, become the argument
of his own scorn by failing in love: and such a man
is Claudio. I have known when there was no music
with him but the drum and the fife; and now had he
rather hear the tabour and the pipe: I have known
when he would have walked ten mile a-foot to see a
good armour; and now will he lie ten nights awake,
carving the fashion of a new doublet. He was wont to
speak plain and to the purpose, like an honest man
and a soldier; and now is he turned orthography; his
words are a very fantastical banquet, just so many
strange dishes. May I be so converted and see with
these eyes? I cannot tell; I think not: I will not
be sworn, but love may transform me to an oyster; but
I’ll take my oath on it, till he have made an oyster
of me, he shall never make me such a fool. One woman
is fair, yet I am well; another is wise, yet I am
well; another virtuous, yet I am well; but till all
graces be in one woman, one woman shall not come in
my grace. Rich she shall be, that’s certain; wise,
or I’ll none; virtuous, or I’ll never cheapen her;
fair, or I’ll never look on her; mild, or come not
near me; noble, or not I for an angel; of good
discourse, an excellent musician, and her hair shall
be of what colour it please God. Ha! the prince and
Monsieur Love! I will hide me in the arbour.

And after overhearing the conversation:

This can be no trick: the
conference was sadly borne. They have the truth of
this from Hero. They seem to pity the lady: it
seems her affections have their full bent. Love me!
why, it must be requited. I hear how I am censured:
they say I will bear myself proudly, if I perceive
the love come from her; they say too that she will
rather die than give any sign of affection. I did
never think to marry: I must not seem proud: happy
are they that hear their detractions and can put
them to mending. They say the lady is fair; ’tis a
truth, I can bear them witness; and virtuous; ’tis
so, I cannot reprove it; and wise, but for loving
me; by my troth, it is no addition to her wit, nor
no great argument of her folly, for I will be
horribly in love with her. I may chance have some
odd quirks and remnants of wit broken on me,
because I have railed so long against marriage: but
doth not the appetite alter? a man loves the meat
in his youth that he cannot endure in his age.
Shall quips and sentences and these paper bullets of
the brain awe a man from the career of his humour?
No, the world must be peopled. When I said I would
die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I
were married. Here comes Beatrice. By this day!
she’s a fair lady: I do spy some marks of love in
her.

“The world must be peopled” is, for me, the funniest line in the entire play. His change of heart is so big that he even tries to write poetry to her, but:

“I can find out no rhyme to ‘lady’ but ‘baby”

Oh Benedick, in 21st century this would be enough for you to write some hit pop songs.

Turns out she tried to write poetry too, and that’s the thing that gets them together at the end:

BENEDICK
A miracle! here’s our own hands against our hearts.
Come, I will have thee; but, by this light, I take
thee for pity.
BEATRICE
I would not deny you; but, by this good day, I yield
upon great persuasion; and partly to save your life,
for I was told you were in a consumption.

 

There’s a scene in the play where Balthasar sings a song, that I completely forgot was from this play – but I think everyone has heard at least the first two lines:

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more.
Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea, and one on shore,
To one thing constant never.
Then sigh not so, but let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into hey nonny, nonny.

Sing no more ditties, sing no more
Of dumps so dull and heavy.
The fraud of men was ever so
Since summer first was leafy.
Then sigh not so, but let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into hey, nonny, nonny.

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