After harshing quite a bit on the previous Shakespeare play I read, Twelfth Night, we now come to the comedy of Much Ado About Nothing. And this comedy, for some reason, I enjoyed much more than the previous one. I’m not really going to compare and contrast the two, however, as they are just so different in terms of where they draw their comedic factors from.
I remember seeing the 1993 film of this play back in the eighth grade, and in all honesty, I had no idea what was going on. All I know is that I found Robert Sean Leonard’s melodramatic acting to be hilarious, and by God, did Kenneth Branagh ever worm his way into my heart, the sly devil! Upon reading it now though, I appreciate the language and plot a lot more, even if the story itself follows a simple course to its predictable, rosy end (as is to be expected in Shakespearean comedies). In any case, here’s an extensive rundown, with the ending included… Spoilers? Can I really “spoil” a 500 year-old play?:
A young prince, Don Pedro, and some of his noblemen are visiting their friend Leonato, following their recent triumph in battle. Well that’s nice, a friendly bro-gathering! Ah, but as this is a comedy, we must have some romance… Fortunately, Leonato has a beautiful daughter named Hero, who Don Pedro’s friend, Claudio, is instantly taken with, and after some meddling around with showing their affections, they soon decide to get married.
Meanwhile, Leonato’s sassy niece, Beatrice, does nothing but banter with the equally saucy Benedict. Oh, you can cut the sexual tension with a knife! But alas, both of them are pretty much sworn off finding a spouse. Fortunately for the story, however, Don Pedro decides that they would be a perfect match, and formulates and plan to get the two to show their affections for one another. Through a ruse involving setting both Beatrice and Benedict up for eavesdropping and learning of the love of the other, they eventually see what a good match they actually are. Tricky tricky, and so simple too!
But of course, all is not well, and Don Pedro’s bastard brother, Don John, is none too pleased with all the happiness. He devises a plan to destroy Hero’s reputation and honor the night before her wedding to Claudio, by having a gentlewomen who looks just like Hero be seen in a compromising situation with another man. Of course, Claudio feels as though he has been betrayed, and slanders Hero most cruelly at the wedding the next day, refusing to marry her. Hero is in absolute agony because of this, and the Friar who was there to marry them tells Hero to go into hiding, while everyone else pretends that she is dead until Claudio shows enough remorse to make the situation right again. Wait, what? How is being dead going to solve anything? I guess we will see…
Because of the nasty things Claudio said about her cousin, Beatrice is most angry with him. Now that Beatrice and Benedict have professed their love to each other through the power of sly matchmaking, she feels at though she can ask Benedict to challenge Claudio to a duel, to show his true feelings for her and to avenge her cousin’s name. Of course, Benedict feels he has to accept because of the power of love. Good gracious, will the tom-foolery never cease!
All seems as though it is in absolute shambles at this point (omnishambles!), but fortunately, a foolish man of the local Watch, Dogberry, captured the man who had relations with Hero’s gentlewoman, as he heard him slandering the girl, and also the Prince. Upon interrogation, everything is cleared up (including the fact that the villainous Don John had been behind it all), but Claudio is now most despaired, as he fears he killed Hero with a broken heart, even though she was virtuous after all. To show his remorse, he agrees to marry a niece of Leonato in the place of Hero, but of course, Leonato has no other niece besides Beatrice, and huzzah! The bride is revealed at the wedding to be Hero after all! Marriages for everyone!
What’s great about Much Ado About Nothing is how cheeky it is. You think that people in the olden days were all uptight? Well they may have been, but they also may not have been. Whatever the case, they certainly liked to make naughty jokes all the time (though, yes, they still did uphold some very strict morals and ideals, I’ll give you that). In addition, a definite strength of the drama is found in the fact that the conflicts of the whole thing are very much based on simple human mistakes, which still cause serious problems for people today: I’m talking rumors, planting the seed of doubt, infidelity, lies, and all the likes.
But more than anything, the greatest thing about the play is the banter between Beatrice and Benedict. They are both such strong-willed characters, and the second they start speaking to one another, you know they should be together (might I say, this “Ship” sails itself?). It’s like when you know two people who are good friends and are totally perfect for each other and adorable together, yet for some reason they refuse to date and don’t seem to understand why everyone thinks they should, and all their friends get frustrated just waiting for it to happen, and as soon as they realize they are in love and inevitably get together it’s like the skies open up and angels descend from heaven playing their magical lyres and you just want to scream “Finally!” That’s how I feel about Beatrice and Benedict. They are infuriatingly wonderful in that way.
I did however find Dogberry to be a little irritating by the end of the play. And yes, this character is where the term “Dogberryism” (in the place of malapropism) comes from, as he is constantly making silly vocabulary mistakes. At first, all the malapropisms are amusing, but after a while it’s like a one-trick deal with the character. And there is nothing more irritating than a foolish person who thinks they are a genius (in my opinion, that is), despite being a trope used in a number of Shakespeare’s works.
At the end of the day
it’s another day over, I have a
weird place in my heart for Much Ado
About Nothing. Maybe it’s because it was the one that started my bizarre
(and somewhat inappropriate) crush on Kenneth Branagh? Or maybe it’s because I
love how unapologetic the characters are-- in terms of what they believe and
who they are-- throughout the entire play? Whatever it is, I certainly enjoyed
it as a fun and quick read (despite being also required for an English course).