The Classics Retold project was inspired by Project: Fairy Tale. Simply choose a classic work of literature, and explore all of its sequels, retellings, reinterpretations. How you do this is completely up to you–character analyses and liveblogging can mix with reviews of the texts and/or films. September 2013 is when it all goes down!
A merry war brews in the town of Messina, and few in the house of the governor Leonato are spared. But this is no war with swords and arrows–the only weapons that fly through the air are words, and Benedick and Beatrice are no amateur fighters.
When Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon, brings his host of men to celebrate the end of a battle fought with his brother Don Jon, he gets far more than he bargained for. Young Claudio falls hard for Leonato’s beautiful daughter Hero, and a wedding seems nigh, but what gossip through yonder window breaks–is there another man that seeks to woo the young lady? And the ruckus one hears in the gardens of the palace–could that be the sound of two sworn enemies falling in love?
Tell Me More: As I mentioned in my introduction post, I never really gravitated towards Shakespeare’s comedies as much as I did his tragedies. Many of the characters’ names blended together in my head, and I could never keep their twisting plot lines straight. As I grew older, however, I grew to appreciate the biting wit and sheer hilarity in those plays, and Much Ado About Nothing is now my second favourite of Shakespeare’s scripts. (My ultimate favourite is The Taming of the Shrew.)
It’s been years since I last read the play, and my interest in it was newly restored by the fantastic 2011 production starring David Tennant and Catherine Tate. I reread the play after watching it, and I’ve spent much of the last month reading and rereading the now-familiar lines. I still find much to love, and new things to discover with every reading.
The play is divided into five Acts with three Scenes each, and they are paced far more quickly than one might expect. Indeed, read too quickly, and you might miss some of the many puns and forms of wordplay that Shakespeare slips in. The version I chose to utilize for this project (pictured above) was extremely helpful and provided footnotes on the left side of the book, along with photographs from some of the many productions of the play. Benedick and Beatrice use barbs that may fly over the head of a modern reader because of pure unfamiliarity with the situations and persons they mention, and the footnotes are an indispensible resource.
While reading, I found that I was saying lines aloud, and while it was helpful in situating myself in the story, it was also just fun to do so! Plays are meant to be performed, and Much Ado is no exception. The witty repartee that is exchanged only gets funnier when read aloud, with the emotions that the characters are experiencing, and the darker scenes in the play become more poignant and chilling.
And make no mistake: Much Ado About Nothing is not just a comedy. There is a very real bitterness to this play, and it makes itself known in both the smallest throwaway lines and the punch-in-the-stomach scene that breaks apart one of the main couples of the story. Beatrice might seem like a harpy to Benedick, but she has every reason to be wary of men and the pretty things they say, as Claudio later proves with his lack of faith in Hero. Hero’s experience (or lack of, as the case is) becomes the sole deciding factor of her worth as a human being, a concept which, unbelievably, is still argued about in 2013. Readers will be divided by Hero’s decision, and rightly so, because it’s a choice that women still face today and it is worth talking about.
But despite being tempered by misunderstandings and tears, the play continues along with a lightness that is comforting and inspiring. There’s a reason why the romantic comedy as a genre can trace its origins back to Shakespeare, and why we continue to be fascinated with the way enemies can fall in love with one another. No one is immune to being loved, and the Bard illustrates that beautifully, with how Benedick and Beatrice trip, swear, and tumble into love with one another. It is precisely their dueling natures that match them so perfectly to each other, and if nothing else is certain, their undeniable chemistry is.
The Final Say: Much Ado is a story of how quickly promises can fall apart, and how fickle hearts are even when they don’t mean to be, and it continues to resonate today because of those universal truths, along with the messy, merry war of love that Benedick and Beatrice wage with one another.
Check back on Friday for a review of the 1993 film starring Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson!