Much Ado About Nothing (1598-9)
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Much Ado About Nothing (1598-9) by William Shakespeare Bevington, Chapter 9
CONTEXT AND DATING The play belongs with Shakespeare’s mature comedies, TWELFTH NIGHT and AS YOU LIKE IT, for like them it is expansive, philosophical and mostly festive investigation of romantic love
ACTION ACTION takes place in an actual place, Messina, a real place in Sicily, not a mythical setting...nor does it move into a “green world” of sexual confusion...there is not contrast between worlds of court and country...the language is 3/4 prose
Inspirations Elements of the CHARACTERS of Beatrice and Benedick can be found in Shakespeare’s earlier comedies: Berowne and Rosaline in LOVE’S LABOURS LOST...Petruchio and Katharine in TAMING OF THE SHREW...evolves into the wits of Restoration Comedy best expressed in William Congreve’s WAY OF THE WORLD with Millimant and Mirabell
STRUCTURE The STRUCTURE--The play involves two contrasting love plots: Hero-Claudio/Beatrice-Benedick
Characters • Principal lovers are contrasted by other pairs • Don Pedro and Don John • Borachio and Margaret
Denzel Washington as Don Pedro
Keanu Reaves as Don John
Dogberry and Verges Reminiscent of the mechanicals in AMND
SOURCES AND INSPIRATIONS The merry war between Benedick and Beatrice seems an invention Catherine Tate and David Tennant, 2011
Branagh film, 1993
BBC update, 2005
Hero-Claudio This relationship has a long literary history - Novelle of Matteo Bandello (1554) - Greek mythology regarding tales of a maiden falsely accused - Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso - Spencer’s The Fairie Queene
LANGUAGE • LANGUAGE is filled with wordplay o Puns o Malaprops (Dogberry) o Witty exchanges
• Benedick-Beatrice plot is in prose • Melodramatic plot of Hero-Claudio is in blank verse • Dialogue is filled with metaphor and double meanings
THEMES AND ISSUES • The battle of the sexes
• False fronts (hiding ones true feelings) • Cuckolds and Misogynists
STAGING CHALLENGES Eavesdropping…how is this most effectively staged?
“Kill Claudio” How do actors motivate the contradictory and conflicting emotions in this moment?
ELIZABETHAN ERA on stage Remained in repertory until theatres were closed by Parliament in 1642.
RESTORATION PERIOD Davenant staged a revision entitled THE LAW AGAINST LOVERS which places Benedick at odds with Duke Angelo from MEASURE FOR MEASURE and cut the Hero-Claudio plot. First revival in something like its Shakespearen form came in 1721. When Garrick took over the management of Drury Lane in 1747, it became his most popular comedy and held the stage through 1776.
Restored more of the original text, by the time Macready played Benedick in 1843, it was being staged in a spectacular fashion...Charles and Ellen Kean were notable Beatrice-Benedick at latter half of the century. Most famous production of the century was arguably, the Henry IrvingEllen Terry production at the Lyceum which played 200 performances before touring.
Augustin Daly in New York and Herbert Beerbohm Tree in London staged “opulent revivals” at the turn of the century. William Poel and Gordon Craig explored simpler, non-realistic settings.
Craig’s 1911 design for the play
In the 1930s, modern dress productions were appearing, of particular note was the 1947 Old Vic production with Don John as a facist black-shirt and Dogberry as an air raid warden on a bicycle.
John Gielgud and Peggy Ashcroft were among the celebrated stars at midcentury.
THE TWENTIETH CENTURY Edith Evans also partnered with John Gielgud as the celebrated lovers of the play. Gielgud was thought to be the best Benedick since Irving.
THE TWENTIETH CENTURY A 1972 production at the Public Theatre set the play in small-town America at the turn of the century with Dogberry and his associates as Keystone Cops.
THE TWENTIETH CENTURY A 1988 RSC production was set loosely in the mid-20th century. Both Katharine Hepburn and Maggie Smith played Beatrice as less feminine and more fiercely aggressive. Older actors--Alan Bates and Felicity Kendal in London (1989); Richard Easton and Katherine McGrath in San Diego (1995) have successfully taken on the roles.
Television and film • • • • •
First film was a silent released in 1926 An East German film was released in 1963 Two Russian versions were filmed in 1956 and 1973 Franco Zeffirelli’s stage version (1965) was filmed for television Joseph Papp’s 1973 production was broadcast by PBS
BBC Complete Works The BBC filmed its production for the series in 1984 with director Stuart Burge
RSC company members included Robert Lindsay (Benedick), Cherie Lunghi (Beatrice), Robert Reynolds (Claudio), Katharine Levy (Hero), Lee Montague (Leonato), Jon Finch (Don Pedro), Michael Elphick (Dogberry), Graham Crowden (Friar Francis) Studio setting showed an opulent villa with Moorish, Florentine and Spanish influences Costuming was colorful and sumptuous
1993 film Filmed on location at a villa in Tuscany
An international cast featured Kenneth Branagh (Benedick), Emma Thompson (Beatrice), Richard Briers (Leonato), Keanu Reeves (Don John), Kate Beckinsale (Hero), Robert Sean Leonard (Claudio), Denzel Washington (Don Pedro), Michael Keaton (Dogberry), Imelda Staunton (Margaret), Jimmy Yuill (Friar Francis), Brian Blessed (Antonio), Phyllida Law (Ursula)
1993 film • Action is simplified and scenes are re-ordered. • Certain speeches are shortened and visual cues replace speech. • He stages the “seduction of Margaret” for Claudio and Don Pedro to see. • The “Kill Claudio” scene is played in a small chapel. • Many of the cuckolding references are cut. • Ends in a joyous dance with Don Pedro left out of the rejoicing.
2013 Film Directed by Joss Wheedon at his home…
• 1862 “Beatrice et Benedict” (opera) by Hector Berloiz • 1901 “Much Ado About Nothing” (opera) • Shakespeare Retold BBC (2006)
ADAPTATIONS On Social Media
References • David Bevington, etal. Shakespeare: Script, Stage, Screen. “Much Ado About Nothing.” Pearson, New York, 2006. • Cox, John D., ed. Plays in Performance: “Much Ado About Nothing.” Cambridge, England, 1998. • Findlay, Alison. “Much Ado Abouth Nothing.” A Companion to Shakespeare’s Works: The Comedies. • Oxford, 2003. • Mason, Pamela. Text and Performance: “Much Ado About Nothing.” London, 1992. • Paster, Gail Kern. “A Modern Perspective.” The New Folger Edition of “Much Ado About Nothing.” New York, 1995.