MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
10th - 12th November, 2016
While the main plot of Much Ado revolves around obstacles to the union of two young lovers (Claudio and Hero), the play's sub-plot, the "merry war" of the sexes between Beatrice and Benedick, is much more interesting and entertaining by comparison. Indeed, the play was staged for a long period of time under the title of Beatrice and Benedick. Especially when set alongside the conventional, even two-dimensional lovers of the main plot, Beatrice and Benedick display a carefully matched intelligence, humor, and humanity that is unmatched among the couples who people Shakespeare's comedies.
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Meanwhile, Don John, an envious and mischief-making malcontent, plots to break the match between Claudio and Hero and employs Conrade and Borachio to assist him. After planting the suspicion in the minds of Claudio and the Prince that Hero is wanton, Don John confirms it by having Borachio talk to Hero's maid, Margaret, at the chamber window at midnight, as if she were Hero. Convinced by this hoax, Claudio and Don Pedro disgrace Hero before the altar at the wedding, rejecting her as unchaste. Shocked by the allegation, which her father readily accepts, Hero swoons away, and the priest, who believes in her innocence, intervenes. At his suggestion, she is secretly sent to her uncle's home and publicly reported dead in order to soften the hearts of her accusers as well as lessen the impact of gossip. Leonato is grief-stricken.
Although there has been some speculation that Much Ado about Nothing may be a heavily revised version of a play that Shakespeare wrote earlier in his career (a "lost" work that is often referred to as Love's Labour Won), Much Ado was probably written by Shakespeare in 1598 or shortly thereafter. This would make it one of Shakespeare's later comedies. Unlike his earliest comedic works, the humor of Much Ado about Nothing does not depend upon funny situations. While it shares some standard devices with those earlier plays (misperceptions, disguises, false reports), this comedy derives from the characters themselves and the manners of the highly-mannered society in which they live.
The play is set in and near the house of Leonato, governor of Messina, Sicily- although we changed this to Somerset! Prince Don Pedro of Aragon with his favorite, Claudio, and Benedick, young cavalier of Padua, as well as Don John, the bastard brother of Don Pedro, come to Leonato's. Claudio instantly falls in love with Hero (her name means chaste), Leonato's only child, whom Don Pedro formally obtains for him. While they wait for the wedding day, they amuse themselves by gulling Benedick and Beatrice (Leonato's niece), verbal adversaries who share a merry wit and a contempt for conventional love, into believing that they are hopelessly in love with each other.
Benedick and Beatrice, their sharp wit blunted by the pain of the slander, honestly confess their love for each other before the same altar. Benedick proves his love by challenging his friend Claudio to a duel to requite the honor of Beatrice's cousin, Hero. Borachio, overheard by the watch as he boasts of his false meeting with Hero to Conrade, is taken into the custody of Constable Dogberry and clears Hero; but Don John has fled. Her innocence confirmed, her father, satisfied with Claudio's penitent demeanor, directs him to hang verses on her tomb that night and marry his niece, sight unseen, the next morning, which Claudio agrees to do in a double wedding with Beatrice and Benedict. He joyfully discovers that the masked lady he has promised to marry is Hero. The play ends with an account of Don John being detained by the local authorities.
Photographs courtesy of Geraint Coll