WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE – Much Ado About Nothing
“Is little Cupid’s crafty arrow made
That wounds only by hearsay?”
This is an exceptionally succinct quote within a play that sums up the premise of a long-held classic tale.
But you would expect nothing else by the brilliant and world renowned playwright William Shakespeare.
No, this is not me, in any way, trying to write a review to say this play is either good or bad. Call me biased, but all of his writings are amazing. I love his work, just as I love this play, and this review only serves as a summary of the wondrous words and witty humour that Shakespeare injects into his work. Cupid, mixed signals and cheeky hilarity? Why, trademarks of just another Shakespeare play. But each are unique and brilliant pieces of work in their own right.
I only decided to read the play some time ago, when I found out that the creator of the Angel/Buffy Universe, Joss Whedon, had done a modern retake of the film, featuring some of his Universe’s characters in the main lead, in the form of Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof. This was timely and encouraging, only because –
***ANGEL SPOILER ALERT!***
Those same two people played characters who came to unhappy ends in Whedon’s Angel. Fans around the world mourned the future for the couple they would have wished to have seen blossom and grow together. The ending was heart-breakingly devastating, in true Whedon style, more so because it ended just as it had began. Oh the unrequited love we had to endure, to then grab a hold of, only to see it while away and DIE.
***SPOILER ALERT OVER***
So when he chose to do a movie as his own homage to the late and great Shakespeare, I was impressed, and also, curious. I bought the DVD…
But I would have to read the original first. This wouldn’t be hard, as I have a complete collection of plays by William Shakespeare that I will be slowly reading through in amidst other reading projects, from now to the rest of my life.
So, moving on to the original heart-breaker. Although in this tale, the heartbreak is presented with that much wit and humour, that to class this in a genre, you would say foremost that it is a comedy.
I imagine Shakespeare thought out his plot twists and ends well in advance, that’s how convoluted and intricate they often are. And this play doesn’t disappoint.
Don Pedro the Prince of Arragon, arrives in the city of Messina with his men, a couple of young lords by the names of Claudio and Benedick. Claudio is immediately taken with Hero, the daughter of Messina’s governor; and as he begins the relatively easy task of getting her acceptance to marry him, with the added blessing of Leonato, Hero’s father, there begins a hilarious and offensive ongoing feud and war of words between the other young lord Benedick, and Hero’s cousin, Beatrice.
Beatrice is a wild and fierce character, and there are fabulous snippets of her wit that very accurately paint a picture of the non-traditional, unashamed and straight approach that she employs.
Her early remark lets us know what she thinks about matters of the heart.
“I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me.”
And another one later on, where her uncle and father are trying to convince her on the merits of having a husband –
“What should I do with him? dress him in my apparel, and make him my waiting-gentlewoman? HE that hath a beard is more than a youth; and he that hath no beard is less than a man; and he that is more than a youth is not for me; and he that is less than a man, I am not for him: therefore I will even take sixpence in earnest of the bear-ward, and lead his apes into hell.”
But the earliest note of hers regarding Benedick, her opponent in everything amicable and friendly, comes when a Messenger hears her talk about him in unfavourable terms, and questions
“the gentleman is not in your books”
to which Beatrice responds with
“No; an he were, I would burn my study.”
Oh man. What a line! As Ashton Kutcher’s Kelso would say, ‘Burn!’ Only Shakespeare!
Despite this ongoing aggressive engagement between the friends of Claudio and Hero, you start to question if in fact there is something more behind their sharp words to one another, when Benedick early on provides us with this snippet (in talking about Beatrice next to Hero):
“I can see yet without spectacles, and I see no such matter; there’s her cousin, an she were not possess’d with a fury, exceeds her as much in beauty as the first of May doth the last of December.”
Words can portray so much, and despite our intention to hide our true thoughts with them, often our subconscious will trick us and belie us the truth, that comes out in dribs and drabs when we are not thinking. When one is too staunch on a topic, often you wonder why, and what that strong-willed position is actually hiding…
While Benedick and Beatrice’s not-so-friendly banter continues, plans are made for Claudio and Hero to wed – they are madly in love, and because of this decide that they can make arrangements for their all too passionate and disobeying friends to admit their love for each other too.
One line I loved was said mid-way through, to test Benedick into admitting his true feelings for Beatrice, and yet the quote still serves as a current quote in the life that we live now.
“a man loves the meat in his youth that he cannot endure in his age.”
Almost everyone in Hero and Claudio’s circle conspire to set Beatrice and Benedick up, and make the other believe, despite ongoing disparaging remarks, that they are in love. However there is a third plan being set up, despite anyone’s knowing… and that is the plan of Don John, Don Pedro’s bastard and cruel brother, who also arrives in Messina with intentions to ruin the planned union of Claudio and Hero, and make Hero out to be an adultress.
The tone changes significantly here. From a hilarious and light-hearted story, suddenly it turns, as Hero stands accused on the day she is to be wed, facing an onslaught of accusations from the man she loves, and even her father joins in on the crucifixion.
“Do not live, Hero; do not ope thine eyes:
For, did I think thou wouldst not quickly die,
Thought I thy spirits were stronger than thy shames,
Myself would, on the rearward of reproaches,
Strike at thy life.”
It is truly a horrendous scene. When I had the fortune to watch this very play in Shakespeare’s Pop Up Globe theatre earlier this year, this particular scene acted out in front of me almost brought me to tears. It was heart-breaking, the accusation of something Hero had not done, made to her by the man she loved, and further condemned with no evidence whatsoever, by her Father! To see the anger and betrayal brought forth by Claudio and Leonato, supported even more so by Hero’s strong refusal and shock to accept the wrongful accusations – it was truly distressing.
Upon reading it, I couldn’t help but think of one thing… Sex and The City. My how times have changed! Here was a show exploring the sexual explorations and lifestyles of 4 women in the current day, whereas in the 1800s a woman was considered a write-off just for apparently talking to a man from her bedroom window! There was no innocent until proven guilty – that was it!
Fortunately for Hero, her reprise comes in the support of both her cousin Beatrice, and interestingly, the Priest (not even her father believed her until he spoke):
“…In her eye there hath appear’d a fire
To burn the errors that these princes hold
Against her maiden truth.”
Aha! It’s ‘fake a death’ time! Does Shakespeare particularly like faking deaths? Using trickery to outdo, trickery? Think Romeo and Juliet. Ahh ok, here we go again.
Leonato, Hero’s father, now convinced of Claudio’s injustice in wrongfully accusing his own daughter (can he just make up his mind?) brings us this beauty in describing his now distaste of Claudio
”My lord, my lord,
I’ll prove it on his body, if he dare,
Despite his nice fence and his active practice,
His May of youth and bloom of lustihood.”
I live for lines like that. Bloom of lustihood. I find that not only is Shakespeare the original author of the base of almost every story told nowadays, but reading lines from such a tale brings such absolute pearlers, I can’t even!
And that is part of the mystery and enticement of reading such old stories. Not only are you going into an older world, but it is a world so similar in themes and values, yet so different in time and place and way of life that it is almost comical to consider that these stories are representative of the time lived then. It is both fascinating and sometimes, horrifying.
In true form of a humorous tale as this, all is restored again by the end, with more than one couple making plans to wed, and the wrongdoers being discovered and called to justice.
But it isn’t as simple as that, is it? It’s true that in life, we start off with one line of thought, and learn that we were wrong all along. This is true in both Benedick and Beatrice’s circumstance, with Benedick speaking ill against it in the beginning
“That a woman conceived me, I thank her; that she brought me up, I likewise give her most humble thanks; but that I will have a recheat winded in my forehead, or hang my bugle in an invisible baldrick, all women shall pardon me. Because I will not do them the wrong to mistrust any, I will do myself the right to trust none; and the fine is (for the which I may go the finer), I will live a bachelor.”
and then coming around by the tale’s end.
“In brief, since I do purpose to marry, I will think nothing to any purpose that the world can say against it; and therefore never flout at me for what I have said against it; for man is a giddy thing, and this is my conclusion.”
And what a conclusion that is.
‘For man is a giddy thing’!
Please let me know your thoughts on Much Ado About Nothing in the comments below, I would love to discuss with you. 🙂