MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING · THEATRE

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING @ FILIPPONI RANCH

Image result for much ado about nothing
From Tales from Shakespeare by Charles Lamb, 1909.

Today I found myself at Filipponi Ranch, a small winery in San Luis Obispo, California. Unbeknownst to me, this little town that I’ve called home for the past two years does have a Shakespeare festival. I suppose calling one play an entire festival is a bit much, but San Luis Obispo is a small town with a small population. One play is enough for us, thank you very much.

In any case, one of my friends saw an ad for the festival at a Starbucks. She texted me a picture, because I am everybody’s resident Shakespeare friend. I decided to give it a shot, and paid only $7.50 for the entire experience. My brief review is: it was alright. If I had paid more than $7.50, I would probably be a little salty. But I didn’t, and I laughed a few times, so it was alright.

This production of Much Ado About Nothing was set post-WWI. All of our male leads were in crisp sailor’s outfits, and the concept of them having come from war was quite fitting. But, of course, I would have preferred for the play to have been put on in period. That is a personal preference of mine, though. Regardless, I would definitely see a professional production set post-WWI, because I think it’s interesting stylistically.

The very first thing I noticed – and the thing that would bother me for the rest of the production – was how smiley Beatrice was. I love when Beatrice is played as deadpan, with a sharp, dry wit that Benedick just cannot match. But all of her jabs were said jokingly and, in a sense, it took away from the chemistry that she is supposed to have with Benedick. I know Beatrice is described as a merry lady many times, but merry doesn’t have to equal smiley and giggly. Or at least it doesn’t to me. I was a bit disappointed because I love Beatrice. She and I are so eerily similar to one another. Truly, Shakespeare accidentally wrote me into Much Ado About Nothing 417 years ago.

I kid, I kid. But my criticism still stands. Beatrice and Benedick work best when they fall into the enemies-turned-lovers trope. Ignore that trope, and almost all tension between them melts away.

Benedick, however, was an absolute charmer. He fled into the audience to eavesdrop on Don Pedro, Claudio, and Leonato and – wouldn’t you know it! – it was my chair that he chose to crouch next to. I love little details like that. The Globe puts those little touches in their plays quite often, and I think it’s very engaging. The entire baiting scene was done very well, and the audience was in hysterics. I think my favorite part was the fact that they had Leonato reading from cue cards, as if he was unable to improvise the conversation. It added a few funny pauses to an already hilarious scene.

I did have one gripe about Benedick, and it concerned the delivery of the line, “I do love nothing in the world so well as you. Is not that strange?” This is one of my absolute favorite lines. It’s so tender, so tender – and yet the latter half was played for laughs. For shame! And Beatrice abandoned her sobbing for laughs and smiles when she responded. But why? The confession of love in this play happens when Beatrice is at the height of vulnerability, and I truly think she should stay in that state throughout. It gives the words weight. This is a comedy, yes, but romance still has its place in a comedy.

Let’s talk about Claudio. The love between Claudio and Hero was appropriately sweet and innocent, but I was totally unconvinced that this Claudio would shame Hero in front of her wedding party. There was something missing from Claudio. I don’t know what, exactly, but it was something crucial. He had no strength, no presence. I couldn’t even imagine him as a war hero, as bad as that sounds. But something interesting did happen during the play – when Hero fainted after being accused, he tried to rush to her…only to be stopped by Don John. I thought this was an interesting choice, because it was clearly an attempt to make Claudio a bit more likeable. It didn’t work on me, because I have ridiculously strong opinions, but it was a good attempt nonetheless.

Shockingly, I loved Dogberry and Verges best in this production. Which is almost unbelievable, because I pay them very little mind usually. But the actors had excellent comedic timing, and they garnered the most applause.

I probably sound like such a stick-in-the-mud, but believe me, I did have a good time. It was nice to be out in the open air, and it was nice to chitchat with other Shakespeare lovers. I really don’t get to do that often – though I can’t tell you how often I have to deal with people’s surprise when they find out that I’m an engineer and not a literature student.

Overall, I’m glad I went. It was a good break from the monotony of my current project. It was an amateur production, no doubt, but Shakespeare is Shakespeare. I’m leaving town for good in a week and a half. How nice of Shakespeare to say goodbye, hmm?

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

BAIT THE HOOK WELL; THIS FISH WILL BITE.

Image result for much ado about nothing
Beatrice (Emma Thompson) and Benedick (Kenneth Branagh) in the 1993 adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing.

Well, I’m here! I’m alive, and the only excuse I have for not finishing this earlier is that I’m just rubbish at keeping up with reading when I’m on vacation. I was supposed to have this play finished by the end of June. In fact, I should be knee-deep in Julius Caesar right now. I don’t like being behind on much of anything, but there’s nothing I can do except move along and try to catch up as quickly as I can.

This post can be summarized in a single sentence: Beatrice and I are one and the same, Claudio is a fool, and Benedick’s biggest choice in this play is wonderfully made. Now that you know my feelings, I can get on to rambling. You, meanwhile, can click out of this tab and be content with the knowledge that I love Much Ado About Nothing.

This play is arguably one of Shakespeare’s most charming. It is genuinely funny, and the characters are just lovely. We open in Messino, where Prince Don Pedro and his army have come to take advantage of Governor Leonato’s hospitality. We meet Hero, Leonato’s lovely and innocent daughter. Claudio, a young lord from Florence and a friend of the Prince’s, is immediately taken with her. Ah, love at first sight! It really suits somebody like Claudio, who is an idealistic, hopeless romantic. Benedick, meanwhile, is cranky as usual.

BENEDICK
If Signior Leonato be her father, she would not have his head on her shoulders for all Messina, as like him as she is.

BEATRICE
I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior Benedick, nobody marks you.

BENEDICK
What, my dear Lady Disdain! Are you yet living?

BEATRICE
Is it possible disdain should die when she hath such meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick? Courtesy itself must convert to disdain if you come in her presence.

The chemistry between Beatrice and Benedick just flies off the page and smacks you right in the face, doesn’t it? These two play into one of my favorite tropes of all time, really. I just love when bickering, bantering characters fall hopelessly in love with each other. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

As I said, Claudio is wildly in love with Hero. For some reason, he chooses to ask Benedick – famed woman-hater and anti-marriage advocate – for his opinion.

CLAUDIO
In mine eye she is the sweetest lady that ever I looked on.

BENEDICK
I can see yet without spectacles, and I see no such matter. There’s her cousin, an she were not possessed with a fury, exceeds her as much in beauty as the first of May doth the last of December. But I hope you have no intent to turn husband, have you?

Oh, he has intent to turn husband indeed. Benedick is annoyed to lose his friend to a woman. He is sure, so sure, that all marriages end with cuckolding. The Prince, however, is not so convinced of Benedick’s supposed immunity to falling in love.

PRINCE
I shall see thee, ere I die, look pale with love.

BENEDICK
With anger, with sickness, or with hunger, my lord, not with love. Prove that ever I lose more blood with love than I will get again with drinking, pick out mine eyes with a ballad-maker’s pen and hang me up at the door of a brothel house for the sign of blind Cupid.

Somebody is protesting a little too much, but we’ll get back to that later. For now, the Prince has decided that he will woo Hero on Claudio’s behalf. What a great, bullet-proof plan! Well, it would be, if it were not for Don John (who, hilariously, I can only picture as Keanu Reeves).

Don John is a hilarious villain, mostly because nobody seems to give a shit about him. He is the Prince’s brother, and is in a permanent state of irritation with the world. He holds a lot of resentment for both his brother and Claudio, and he decides to focus this energy into blocking the upcoming marriage.

Seriously. That’s it. That’s his big evil plan. Ah, Don John. Before this plan forms, Conrade, his henchman, advises him to quit being so obviously full of hate for everyone and everything.

CONRADE
Yea, but you must not make the full show of this till you may do it without controlment. You have of late stood out against your brother, and he hath ta’en you newly into his grace, where it is impossible you should take true root but by the fair weather that you make yourself. It is needful that you frame the season for your own harvest.

DON JOHN
I had rather be a canker in a hedge than a rose in his grace, and it better fits my blood to be disdained of all than to fashion a carriage to rob love from any. In this, though I cannot be said to be a flattering honest man, it must not be denied but I am a plain-dealing villain. I am trusted with a muzzle and enfranchised with a clog; therefore I have decreed not to sing in my cage. If I had my mouth,  I would bite; if I had my liberty, I would do my liking. In the meantime, let me be that I am, and seek not to alter me.

So edgy. Don John sounds like he needs a cup of tea and nap.

A masquerade is held that night, and what an eventful masquerade it is. Leonato decides to acknowledge Don John’s existence for a second.

LEONATO
Was not Count John here at supper?

LEONATO’S BROTHER
I saw him not.

BEATRICE
How tartly that man looks! I never can see him but I am heartburned an hour after.

HERO
He is of a very melancholy disposition.

BEATRICE
He were an excellent man that were made just in the midway between him and Benedick. The one is too like an image and says nothing, and the other too like my lady’s eldest son, evermore tattling.

Well, folks, you heard it here first. The perfect man is a combination of silent, scheming Don John, and witty, talkative Benedick. I should be taking notes. There are a few unimportant lines after this, but I want to highlight this small exchange:

LEONATO
By my troth, niece, thou wilt never get thee a husband if thou be so shrewd of thy tongue.

LEONATO’S BROTHER
In faith, she’s too curst.

BEATRICE
Too curst is more than curst. I shall lessen God’s sending that way, for it is said “God sends a curst cow short horns,” but to a cow too curst, he sends none.

Time for a personal interlude: do you know how many times I’ve been told what Beatrice has been told? That my sharp tongue will keep me from finding a husband? I wish I had known about this play when I was younger, so I could have learned how to respond from Beatrice. What a silly thing to say – it’s no wonder she doesn’t take it seriously.

I adore how this ends, though.

LEONATO
Well, niece, I hope to see you one day fitted with a husband.

BEATRICE
Not till God make men of some other metal than earth. Would it not grieve a woman to be overmastered with a piece of valiant dust? To make account of her life to a clod of wayward marl? No, uncle, I’ll none. Adam’s sons are my brethren, and truly I hold it a sin to match in my kindred.

You tell ’em, Beatrice.

Don John, meanwhile, unsuccessfully tries to ruin everything by telling Claudio that the Prince means to woo Hero for himself. This, of course, is cleared up immediately when the Prince declares he has wooed Hero on Claudio’s behalf. It’s almost like Don John doesn’t expect people to speak to one another. Although Claudio wants to marry Hero immediately, Leonato needs a week to get everything together. So, to pass the time, Don Pedro proposes they trick Beatrice and Benedick to fall in love. And this, dear readers, is a trick I can get behind.

Benedick, who is very secure in his intelligence and wit, ends up being a very easy fish to bait. Leonato, Claudio, and the Prince simply stage a conversation while Benedick is within earshot.

PRINCE
Come hither, Leonato. What was it you told me of today, that your niece Beatrice was in love with Signior Benedick?

CLAUDIO
O, ay. [Aside to Prince.] Stalk on, stalk on; the fowl sits. – I did never think that lady would have loved any man.

LEONATO
No, nor I neither, but most wonderful that she should so dote on Signior Benedick, whom she hath in all outward behaviors seemed ever to abhor.

BENEDICK, [aside]
Is ‘t possible? Sits the wind in that corner?

It certainly doesn’t take long for him to fall for the trick, does it? But if Beatrice is so madly in love with Benedick, why hasn’t she told him? Don’t worry, our boys have got that covered.

CLAUDIO
Hero thinks surely he will die, for she says she will die if he love her not, and she will die ere she make her love known, and she will die if he woo her rather than she will bate one breath of her accustomed crossness.

PRINCE
She doth well. If she should make her tender of her love, ’tis very possible he’ll scorn it, for the man, as you know all, hath a contemptible spirit.

It’s very clear that the Prince and Claudio know Benedick well. By wounding his pride, they’re pushing him to defy their expectations. Scorn her? Ha! He’ll love her back. That’ll show them. The men leave the garden, while Benedick marvels about what he’s just discovered. Then, Beatrice shows up.

BENEDICK
[…] Here comes Beatrice. By this day, she’s a fair lady. I do spy some marks of love in her.

BEATRICE
Against my will, I am sent to bid you come in to dinner.

BENEDICK
Fair Beatrice, I thank you for your pains.

BEATRICE
I took no more pains for those thanks than you take pains to thank me. If it had been painful, I would not have come.

BENEDICK
You take pleasure then in the message?

BEATRICE
Yea, just so much as you may take upon a knife’s point and choke a daw withal. You have no stomach, signior. Fare you well.

[She exits.]

BENEDICK
Ha! “Against my will I am sent to bid you come in to dinner.” There’s a double meaning in that. “I took no more pains for those thanks than you took pains to thank me.” That’s as much as to say “Any pains I take for you is as easy as thanks.” If I do not take pity of her, I am a villain; if I do not love her, I am a Jew. I will go get her picture.

This exchange is made for laughs, really. There isn’t a single audience in existence that wouldn’t delight in seeing Beatrice interact with this suddenly affectionate Benedick. Can you imagine her face? She cuts this conversation short, probably bewildered and convinced he must be messing with her. Benedick, meanwhile, has decided to take pity on Beatrice – but we can all tell that he’s ecstatic at this turn of events.

Now that Benedick is hooked, it’s time to pull Beatrice in. Hero and her waiting gentlewoman, Ursula, stage a conversation. They pull the same tricks, preying upon Beatrice’s pride. I do think they take it a tad too far, but perhaps I found their words overly harsh because I see so much of myself of Beatrice, and have heard those words framed as pitying critique before.

Don John, who failed to make a mess of things just a while ago, is back to his old tricks. He shows up to tell the Prince and Claudio that Hero is disloyal. Yes, you heard that right. Hero. Sweet, innocent, pure Hero. There’s no way they’ll fall for that, right?

Ha.

In Don John’s defense, he’s actually taken pains to flesh this plan more than his last one. He has his companion, Borachio, fool around with Margaret (another of Hero’s waiting gentlewomen) in Hero’s chamber for all to see. But how could the men mistake Margaret for Hero, you ask? Well, Borachio has her dress up. Please don’t ask me how Borachio talked Margaret into dressing up as Hero for a night of forbidden passion. I just don’t even want to begin to talk about this. The takeaway is that Don John’s plan is successful.

The next morning, Hero and Margaret tease Beatrice about being in love with Benedick. This happens while Hero is getting ready for her wedding, which is still on. I’m sure it’ll go well.

FRIAR, [to Claudio]
You come hither, my lord, to marry this lady?

CLAUDIO
No.

Never mind. This is going to go terribly. Claudio breaks into a tirade, and rips Hero apart at her own wedding in front of all her guests. What a charmer.

LEONATO
What do you mean, my lord?

CLAUDIO
Not to be married,
Not to knit my soul to an approvèd wanton.

LEONATO
Dear my lord, if you in your own proof
Have vanquished the resistance of her youth,
And made defeat of her virginity –

CLAUDIO
I know what you would say: if I have known her,
You will say she did embrace me as a husband,
And so extenuate the forehand sin.
No, Leonato,
I never tempted her with word too large,
But, as a brother to his sister, showed
Bashful sincerity and comely love.

HERO
And seemed I ever otherwise to you?

Oh, poor Hero. Claudio is being so incredibly petty, doing this here and now. What kind of person airs all of their dirty laundry in front of everybody in the world? Maybe Hero is dodging a bullet. Claudio was so incredibly sweet and hopelessly in love, but I’m not quite sure what I think of him now.

The men leave, but Benedick stays. According to Tina Packer, author of Women of Will, this is unusual. His friend and fellow officer has just been humiliated, but instead of honorably following after him, Benedick stays. Even Leonato is convinced of Hero’s supposed crime against Claudio. Does he not know his own daughter? It would have been so unlike Hero to have sex with some random man in her window.

Hero faints, and the Friar tries to defend her. Even he knows that all of this is bullshit. The Friar suggests that everybody pretend that Hero has died as a result of Claudio’s denouncement of her. This way, Claudio and the others will feel sufficiently guilty about what they have done. After this plan is agreed to, Beatrice and Benedick are left alone.

BENEDICK
Lady Beatrice, have you wept all this while?

BEATRICE
Yea, and I will weep a while longer.

BENEDICK
I will not desire that.

BEATRICE
You have no reason. I do it freely.

BENEDICK
Surely I do believe your fair cousin is wronged.

BEATRICE
Ah, how much might the man deserve of me that would right her!

BENEDICK
Is there any way to show such friendship?

BEATRICE
A very even way, but no such friend.

BENEDICK
May a man do it?

BEATRICE
It is a man’s office, but not yours.

BENEDICK
I do love nothing in the world so well as you. Is not that strange?

Benedick’s last line up there is such a tender one. It’s so simple, but so beautiful. We have Beatrice in tears, at the height of vulnerability, and Benedick chooses this moment to profess his love to her.

BEATRICE
As strange as the thing I know not. It were as possible for me to say I loved nothing so well as you, but believe me not, and yet I lie not, I confess nothing, nor I deny nothing. I am sorry for my cousin.

BENEDICK
By my sword, Beatrice, thou lovest me!

BEATRICE
Do not swear and eat it.

BENEDICK
I will swear by it that you love me, and I will make him eat it that says I love not you.

BEATRICE
Will you not eat your word?

BENEDICK
With no sauce that can be devised to it. I protest I love thee.

BEATRICE
Why then, God forgive me.

BENEDICK
What offense, sweet Beatrice?

BEATRICE
You have stayed me in a happy hour. I was about to protest I love you.

BENEDICK
And do it with all thy heart.

BEATRICE
I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest.

BENEDICK
Come, bid me do anything for thee.

BEATRICE
Kill Claudio.

Benedick, of course, refuses immediately. Beatrice moves to leave, but he stops her. I will say, that as far as confession scenes go, this is one of my favorites. Beatrice and Benedick are both so prideful, both so sharp. But they love each other with such a sweet tenderness that they are only able to show to each other. But Beatrice is right to be in such a state – there is nothing she or Hero can do about what has just happened. Why would anybody believe their denial of the event? A man has to intervene on behalf of the women. And that man is Benedick.

BENEDICK
Think you in your soul the Count Claudio hath wronged Hero?

BEATRICE
Yea, as sure as I have a thought or soul.

BENEDICK
Enough, I am engaged. I will challenge him. I will kiss your hand, and so I leave you. By this hand, Claudio shall render me a dear account. As you hear of me, so think of me. Go comfort your cousin. I must say she is dead, and so farewell.

Packer sees this text as being incredibly important, and I am inclined to agree. Not only do we have Benedick acknowledging that Beatrice has a soul (something that wasn’t exactly a popular opinion in Elizabethan England), but he decides to be guided by Beatrice’s gut feeling. According to Packer, “[Benedick] violates the honor between officers, choosing instead to follow his love. Love is the higher calling.”

News of Hero’s “death” finds its way to Claudio and the Prince. Benedick, meanwhile, makes good on his promise to Beatrice and challenges Claudio to a duel. This is a comedy, however, so things need to be set right. Claudio and the Prince learn about Don John’s plot to ruin the wedding from Borachio and Conrade, who are now prisoners. Don John, meanwhile, has fled the city like the overdramatic non-villain he is. But however will Claudio live with his guilt? Leonato has an idea:

LEONATO
I cannot bid you bid my daughter live –
That were impossible – but, I pray you both,
Possess the people in Messina here
How innocent she died. And if your love
Can labor aught in sad invention,
Hang her an epitaph upon her tomb
And sing it to her bones. Sing it tonight.
Tomorrow morning, come you to my house,
And since you could not be my son-in-law,
Be yet my nephew. My brother hath a daughter,
Almost the copy of my child that’s dead,
And she alone is heir to both of us.
Give her the right you should have giv’n her cousin,
And so dies my revenge.

Claudio agrees to do this and, despite this, I am still annoyed with him. What a foolish, silly man.

Benedick, meanwhile, tells Beatrice that he made good on his promise to her.

BENEDICK
[…] But I must tell thee plainly, Claudio undergoes my challenge, and either I must shortly hear from him, or I will subscribe him a coward. And I pray thee now tell me, for which of my bad parts didst thou first fall in love with me?

BEATRICE
For all of them together, which maintained so politic a state of evil that they will not admit any good part to intermingle with them. But for which of my good parts did you first suffer love for me?

BENEDICK
Suffer love! A good epithet. I do suffer love indeed, for I love thee against my will.

It’s nice to know that Beatrice and Benedick still have the same chemistry they had at the beginning of this play. I love them together more than I can say.

At the second wedding, Claudio finds himself facing a masked bride. But – surprise! – it’s actually Hero.

CLAUDIO
Another Hero!

HERO
Nothing certainer.
One Hero died defiled, but I do live,
And surely as I live, I am a maid.

PRINCE
The former Hero! Hero that is dead!

LEONATO
She died, my lord, but whiles her slander lived.

That’s right, idiots. Honestly, if I were Hero, I would have kicked Claudio’s ass to the curb. But, as I’ve mentioned three thousand times already, I am no Hero.

BENEDICK
[…] Which is Beatrice?

BEATRICE, [unmasking]
I answer to that name. What is your will?

BENEDICK
Do not you love me?

BEATRICE
Why no, no more than reason.

BENEDICK
Why then, your uncle and the Prince and Claudio
Have been deceived. They swore you did.

BEATRICE
Do not you love me?

BENEDICK
Troth, no, no more than reason.

BEATRICE
Why then, my cousin, Margaret, and Ursula
Are much deceived, for they swear you did.

BENEDICK
They swore that you were almost sick for me.

BEATRICE
They swore that you were well-nigh dead for me.

BENEDICK
‘Tis no such matter. Then you do not love me?

BEATRICE
No, truly, but in friendly recompense.

Oh, these two! We saw such tenderness between them, but that was only because they were alone. Claudio and Hero end this useless back and forth by producing love sonnets written by both Beatrice and Benedick.

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.

Hilariously, Beatrice and Benedick agree to marry out of pity for one another. But you can just feel the giddiness and affection radiating off the pages of this play.

Everything has ended happily, with our sharp tongued heroine and our proud hero in love and set to be married. But what of Don John?

MESSENGER, [to Prince]
My lord, your brother John is ta’en in flight,
And brought with armed men back to Messina.

BENEDICK, [to Prince]
Think not on him till tomorrow.

Everything must truly be as it should, because everybody is back to not giving a shit about Don John. Better luck next time, you silly bastard.

This play was such a balm to my soul – it sounds a little unusual, I know, but it really was. I go through phases where I feel cripplingly lonely. But I saw so much of myself in Beatrice, and hey, if it can work out for her, then maybe there’s hope for myself and all the other sharp-tongued girls out there.

I should be starting Julius Caesar next, but I am afraid that I’ve been tempted by a fluffy, empty romance novel. I promise I’ll be back, but only because I’ll want to complain about how much I hate tragedies.