The Complete Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged)

July 21, 2010 at 11:14 pm (Film Adaptations, Hamlet, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , )

Have you ever seen it? It’s very silly. I saw it maybe 10 years ago, and to be honest, I don’t remember any specifics. I remember coming out of the theater a bit breathless from the zaniness of it all. I remember feeling the same way after the Complete History of America (abridged).

The Reduced Shakespeare Company (RSC) website lists seven minimum opuses! In addition to Shakespeare and American history, they’ve tackled sports, Hollywood, the great books, western civilization and the bible. My, they’ve found quite a little niche here! I’m sure they’re all quite funny.

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to revisit when I saw a video of a 2000 stage production of the RSC performing The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) is available on Netflix (it’s also on YouTube).

The Wikipedia article summarizes the play’s action succinctly:

The three actors first introduce themselves to the audience and begin with a parody of Romeo and Juliet. Next, they do a parody of Titus Andronicus, portraying it as a cooking show. Following it is Othello, which is done through a rap song. The rest of the first act demonstrates most of the other plays, with all of the comedies being combined into one convoluted reading (the justification being that they all recycle the same plot devices anyway), all of the histories being acted out through an American football game with the British Crown as the football (or as a soccer match in at least one German production or an Australian Rules football game in the recent Australian production), a reduction of Julius Caesar to his death, followed immediately by a reduction of Antony and Cleopatra, and a reduction of Macbeth to one duel while explaining all the other elements (witches, Macbeth’s downfall, etc.) in poor Scottish accents. There is also a failed attempt at scholarly discussion of the Shakespeare Apocrypha. At the end of the act, the characters are about to finish when they realize that they forgot to perform Hamlet, Shakespeare’s greatest work. Adam (Adam Long) becomes nervous and petulant about this and runs out of the theater with Austin chasing him. The final actor is left to entertain the audience by himself, which he does by telling jokes and calling for the intermission (the role’s second performer, Reed Martin, who studied clowning before becoming part of the Reduced Shakespeare Company, would play the William Tell Overture on his larynx and eat fire before calling for intermission).

After the intermission, the two actors who left return, saving their partner from having to cover the sonnets by writing them down on a 3×5 card and passing it around the audience. The reluctant one is convinced to continue with the performance. The entire second act is the performance of Hamlet. The audience gets involved during this segment when one audience member is asked to portray Ophelia for the Nunnery Scene. The rest of the audience makes up Ophelia’s subconscious, with three sections that each represent her ego, superego, and id. After the portrayal of Hamlet, the actors play it out several times increasing their speed of delivery. They finish by performing it backwards.[1]

Oh yes. It’s as silly as it sounds. I don’t really have much to add. The whole thing is silly from beginning to end. Hamlet (half the show) is really funny. The play-within-the-play is presented as a puppet show and a shark with Jaws music makes an appearance. They skip the “To be, or not to be” speech because the audience is laughing and makes the actor self-conscious (he milks it). Ophelia drowns on a cup of water (this is even funnier when done in reverse in the finale).

It’s a giggle-fest. It’s very kid-friendly, too. My preschooler was loving it. He was especially fond of the guy that often needed to vomit on audience members (always a crowd-pleaser with the little ones). He also liked the accordion playing, the fire eating (and marshmallow roast) and the William Tell Overture tapped on the larynx. That, my friends, is a very special skill.

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Shakespeare Wallah

July 17, 2010 at 10:31 am (Film Adaptations) (, , , , , , )

I usually love Merchant Ivory films, so I was interested in this early production called Shakespeare Wallah from 1965. It’s based on a real-life group of actors called Shakespeariana who roamed through India in the 1940s-1960s, offering Shakespearian plays to anyone who would watch. (“Wallah” means someone who sells or provides something, so in this case, they are selling Shakespeare.) They would act in theaters, schools, outside, anywhere. The group was led by the Kendal family, originally from England, and members of the Kendal family play their fictional alter-egos, the Buckinghams, in Shakespeare Wallah.

I watched the directors’ notes on the DVD and was interested that while the Kendals play essentially themselves in this film, it’s quite a fictional take on things, and they weren’t entirely happy with the final version. They saw themselves in a very positive light, offering culture to anyone, and enjoying the wonderful Indian audiences over the years. It was their life’s calling, and they felt they had done something important. In the film, this group is portrayed at the end of their era — the audience for Shakespeare has dwindled to nothing, and the troupe has trouble getting gigs and making a go of it. It’s rather bittersweet.

Interlaced with the plot about the Shakespearean players (and the film includes the group performing a number of plays including Hamlet, Othello, and Romeo & Juliet), is a rather inane subplot involving the youngest daughter, Lizzie (Felicity Kendal), falling in love with a dashing Bollywood actor Sanju (Shashi Kapoor, who was married to Felicity’s older sister Jennifer in real life). There’s a love triangle situation because Sanju is simultaneously romancing famous Bollywood diva Manjula (played by Madhur Jaffrey of cookbook fame). I found the intrigue here a bit trite, but I guess it keeps the plot moving along.

Also, Manjula personifies the future of Indian entertainment here — the culture that once appreciated Shakespearean tragedy has moved firmly toward the escapist song and dance of Bollywood at this point in history. Manjula attends Othello and her (late and noisy) arrival in the theater box causes such a stir in the crowd that Othello (Geoffrey Kendal playing his fictional character Tony Buckingham) has to stop performing and ask for silence. 

Manjula pays little attention to the play during the five or so minutes she stays in the theater (constantly signing autographs, waving to fans, and eating bon-bons fed to her by her servant). She finds the violence and drama of Othello distasteful, and it’s clear that her fans (the Indian masses) agree. The players finish Othello while mayhem erupts in the theater (Sanju fighting with people he feels are disrespecting the actors on stage with their attention to Manjula). The era of the traveling Shakespearean players is over in India.

I enjoyed this film, all in all. I think I may watch it again after I have read through the tragedies (just to appreciate the plays within the movie a bit more), but it’s enjoyable and gives you a feel for an exotic time and place… now long gone.

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Not Your Grandma’s Shakespeare!

July 13, 2010 at 3:17 pm (Live Performances, Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , )

I must be butta, cuz I’m on a roll. I attended yet another live performance of Shakespeare last weekend! Gaithersburg was the Maryland Shakespeare Festival’s first stop on a tour performing Romeo and Juliet at outdoor venues around the state this month. What fun!

The MSF artistic director, Becky Kemper, trained at Mary Baldwin College and the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Virginia (home of the Blackfriars playhouse recreation I visited last month), so it’s not surprising that this troupe uses original staging practices (audience interaction, fast pace, minimalist sets, actors playing more than one character, live music, etc). From their website:

Company Aesthetic – The Festival Atmosphere & Original Practices

This is not your grandma’s Shakespeare!  Maryland Shakespeare Festival believes in playing like they did in Shakespeare’s day, and is one of seven Original Practice Laboratories in the world.  With extensive research and training by the core company, MSF works to bring Shakespeare back to life as the playwright intended for his plays, players and playhouses.  We play with (and light) the audience, including them in the story.  We include interludes (instead of intermission) filled with live contemporary music.  We create an atmosphere of play and imagination, of poetry and visceral storytelling.  The jokes are funny, the sad parts touching.  We believe Shakespeare was never meant to be a dose of cultural medicine, but a vibrant, fun, and communal event that makes a difference in our lives.  It is a central piece of our mission to bring Shakespeare out of the dark and stuffy theater and into the park where everyone, no matter their cultural or economic background, can enjoy.  For more information on what it means to perform Shakespeare using Original Practices, click here.

The show is so much fun! I arrived a couple minutes before showtime, while the cast was providing a fun and spirited preview of the play’s action. The weather was picture perfect (in stark contrast to the humid heat at the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company performance I attended on the 4th of July) and there was a nice crowd assembled for the freebie show at Gaithersburg City Hall.

These are professional actors, and the show is well done, even with less-than-perfect circumstances. Gaithersburg is a railroad town with the stage located maybe 30 feet from an active track and right on a busy street. There was a train with whistle blaring early in the show, but the players just stopped action briefly to let it pass. No problem! There was a guy talking on his cell phone and a heckler (maybe with Tourette’s) through the first half of the show, but the actors didn’t seem to notice. The show must go on! And it did, much to my enjoyment. I sat right up front at the edge of the grass… a great view.

The players are well cast. Juliet is believably young and naive; Romeo is her dreamy young lover. They’re a good match. Tybalt (played by a woman) is his usual annoying self. I really love Mercutio in this version. He is fiery and excitable. Perfect! He did the whole Queen Mab speech, and I was surprised at how exceedingly long it felt in performance. It’s so odd!

Like at the performance I went to in Staunton, Virginia, the players provide musical entertainment during the intermissions. They played “Sweet Caroline” (changing the lyrics to “Sweet Rosaline”) during the first intermission and during the second break I really enjoyed their acoustic version of “All Along the Watchtower”  (marred only by the guy behind me who apparently thought it was call and response and then added his very shrill and weird wildcat howls). Anyhow.

There’s free Shakespeare in parks everywhere you look this summer. Get out and enjoy some! And if you’re in Maryland, try to catch the MSF’s Romeo and Juliet at a park near you!

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Dead Poets

July 9, 2010 at 11:48 pm (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Film Adaptations, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , , )

Oh my goodness. Can this movie really be old enough to drink? Where does the time go? I guess it’s been 21 years since I saw Peter Weir’s 1989 film Dead Poets Society, because I watched it in a theater. Geez.

Anyway, I got to thinking about it after seeing Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing where Robert Sean Leonard plays the young lover Claudio. In DPS, Leonard plays the pivotal role of Neil Perry, the wannabe high school thespian who lands the part of Puck in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

This film is so wonderful. It won an Oscar for Best Writing and was nominated for Best Picture, Director, and Actor. I love Robin Williams in this film. He is just perfect for the role — the inspiring teacher, John Keating. Doesn’t everyone wish they’d had a teacher like that? Funny, exciting, full of life, full of wisdom, full of dreams. He brings those dreams to life for his students. Poetry is the language he wants them to speak.

And speak they do! He fires them up and gets them interested in life and love and living. You see the changes happen in the boys as they start to realize their interests, their individuality, and their potentials.

His students find an old yearbook where one of Keating’s activities is listed as the Dead Poets Society and they ask him to explain. I love his description:

The Dead Poets was dedicated to “sucking the marrow out of life.” That’s a phrase from Thoreau we would invoke at the beginning of every meeting. You see, we would gather at the old Indian cave and take turns reading from Thoreau, Whitman, Shelly — the biggies — even some of our own verse. And, in the enchantment of the moment, we’d let poetry work its magic.

Of course Shakespeare is one of the dead poets venerated in this film. Neil takes the leap he knows his overbearing father won’t approve of and lands the role of Puck in A Midsummer Nights Dream. He is so excited! He’s doing something he really wants to do!

Neil’s performance is poignant. He sees his father in the audience and speaks Puck’s last lines directly to his dad. He’s begging his father to understand and to forgive him:

If we shadows have offended, 
Think but this, and all is mended, 
That you have but slumber’d here 
While these visions did appear. 
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
If you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.

Keating congratulates him as he leaves the theater, “Neil. Neil. You have the gift. What a performance. You left even me speechless. You have to stay with…” and then he’s cut off by Neil’s father, who even after seeing his son perform is seething with anger over his disobedience.

Ah, life. I love this film. And I love the way it ends… the final scene is really touching. O Captain! My Captain!

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Shakespeare In-The-Ruins

July 5, 2010 at 12:37 am (Live Performances, Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , )

The ghosts of Southern belles are dancing in my imagination right now. I saw Much Ado About Nothing performed in the ruins of an antebellum finishing school today. It was the coolest thing! Well, it wasn’t cool. It was nearly 100 degrees and muggy when the play started. But it was really cool!

 
 

The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company performs outdoors, in the ruins of the Patapsco Female Institute in Ellicott City, Maryland (not far from Baltimore). I found this information about the ruins:

Situated on a hilltop overlooking the Patapsco River Valley in Historic Ellicott City, the Patapsco Female Institute was founded in 1837 and operated for more than 50 years as an elegant finishing school for young women. The stabilized ruins of the Greek Revival structure are open for tours, and serve as a beautiful setting for special events including Victorian teas and a summer open air theatre.

So, there were hoop skirts here. Young Southern belles during the Civil War. I bet they had dances like Scarlett O’Hara went to in Gone with the Wind. 

Anyway, what a cool place to see a play! Huge trees surround the ruins. For the 4th of July, they started the play at 5 PM so we would have plenty of time to get out to see fireworks afterward. The actors also read the entire Declaration of Independence before the performance. That was kind of amazing to hear! 

The seating is very casual and family friendly (kids get free admission to all performances). Some sat on blankets, others brought camp chairs. CSC provides 200 folding chairs, so I took one of those. We all moved around quite a lot to get out of the sun for the first 45 minutes or so. Once the shade from the trees kicked in, everything was much more pleasant. It would be really lovely in the evening. 

The CSC provides pre-performance entertainment (jugglers, activities), but I arrived at showtime, so missed out on that. You could make quite a day of the outing. Because it was a family-oriented performance, one of the actors began by taking the kids (and any interested grown-ups) aside to explain the plot of the play (with photos) so they’d be able to follow along better. I thought that was really nice. 

They did a great job with Much Ado About Nothing. The stage is a series of platforms and ramps built into the L-shaped side of the ruins. So, the actors perform there as well as using the many doors and windows of the ruins. It gives them a lot of flexibility and they use the space well. 

Lesley Malin as Beatrice in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, Photo by Teresa Castracane

This production is set during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. The acting is terrific! I enjoyed everyone. Beatrice has a lot of spunk and presence. You could see her cracking her gum in a Rosie the Riveter job. And she has that Big Band era chic… she looks great with her hair nets and stylish outfits. 

Katie Molinaro as Hero, Steven Hoochuk in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, Photo by Teresa Castracane

One thing I noticed in this production that was not evident in video versions or from reading the text — Margaret during and after Hero’s jilting at the altar. Wow. So, it’s Margaret at the window with Borachio (they staged the window scene quietly here). Then the next day, Claudio humiliates Hero at the altar and accuses her of being a whore. So, all the while, Ms. Margaret, Hero’s trusted servant… is doing what? Why wouldn’t she set things straight at the wedding (blushingly waving, ummm, ahemm, excuse me, can I say something?). I don’t remember seeing her at all during the post-jilting in the film versions. 

Well, here, I watched her on the stage. It was interesting. Everyone else ran to Hero’s aid when she fainted. Margaret stood aside, by herself, nervously playing with a bouquet and quietly contemplating her navel. I kept looking at her. Why wouldn’t she speak up? But then it worked for me. Here she is, a servant. The jilting is huge: Big Drama involving the daughter of the governor and all these important people. I could see then… it would be very difficult for Margaret to own up to the truth here (although I still think she could have done it later, in private). But here, the big scene, how strange it would be for a servant to pipe up with the news that Claudio and Don Pedro were mistaken and that it was she having sex with Borachio at her mistress’s window while he called her Hero. How would she explain that here? So then, I understood Margaret a bit more. 

Only one thing bothered me during the whole show. You may have noticed that I love Balthasar’s song, as I’ve started many of my posts about Much Ado by quoting it. So, I was looking forward to hearing it performed. Guess what? Balthasar sang it in Spanish in this production! Oh, darn. 

It was really fun to watch this play, it’s so entertaining… really a pleasant outing. If you’re in the area, I recommend catching a show here at the ruins. Hamlet is running in repertory this summer with Much Ado. It’s a lovely venue. 

And I got home in plenty of time to see fireworks. Happy 4th of July! 

James Jager as Claudio, Michael Sullivan as Benedick, Theo Hadjimichael as Don Pedro in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, Photo by Teresa Castracane

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Fairy Funny

July 4, 2010 at 12:39 am (A Midsummer Night's Dream, My College Papers, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , )

A couple weeks ago, my drive down into the mountains of Virginia got me thinking about college. I went to school a few hours deeper into those beautiful hills, at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Anyway, then I realized I forgot to post about my college papers. Yep, I wrote one on A Midsummer Night’s Dream back in November 1986. Yawn. Why did I keep these papers? Why would I ever want to read them again? It’s a mystery. Anyhow, this one is entitled: “The Fairies’ Contribution to the Humor in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Yawn.

How do professors psyche themselves into reading this stuff over and over, year after year? How? It’s a mystery. Yawn. This paper is bleeding with red ink, but the guy should have been an MD… his handwriting is so bad I can’t make out what most of his notes say. I see “develop” and “expand” in a couple places; not sure what good comments like that do on a paper that would never be further discussed or revised. Anyway.

Actually, I kind of enjoyed reading the paper because it made me think about the difference between what I’m doing with this blog and what I did in school. In school, I’m sure I just did the minimum required. This paper is only 4.5 pages long, which was probably the minimum requirement (I bet there was a required word count and since this was typed on a typewriter… I bet I actually counted the words).

Also, I wonder about the whole concept of undergrad theme papers. Is it a useful way of teaching? Again, because I never went back and revisited the themes/rewrote the paper/had any useful conversation or input about it, I’m not sure what I got out of it. I guess just the exercise of coming up with something to put on paper is useful in itself. I guess.

On the other hand, I’m having a lot of fun with this blog and think I’m learning a lot. I can write about anything I want and not worry that every statement is backed up with “impressive” evidence that will get me a grade. And also, here I find I have more questions than answers. I’m just putting my thoughts out there and not always drawing conclusions. (I’d love to get more comments about my posts… that would be fun!)

Also, I like writing on the blog because it’s my party and I can do what I want. I can say things I’d never put in a school paper. I don’t have to mind my p’s and q’s so much… I can use slang and sentence frags when I feel more conversational and casual — sometimes it’s less cumbersome to get my meaning across without worrying about the presence and placement of all the parts of speech. I can neglect to ital titles, because I feel like it. I can do what I feel like because no one is grading me! This is more fun. I can spend as much time as I feel like on each play… no deadlines! And maybe (especially if you comment!) I get more out of it than I did from my college papers.

Alrighty. Let’s see. Is there anything insightful in this paper? I talk a bit about the popularity of nonhuman beings in folklore. How people enjoy fairy tales about sprites possessing both human foibles and magical powers. And how this combination of traits is especially amusing because it allows for more imaginative stories — not limited to the predictability of the human world.

For all their humanlike feelings, the fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream have resources for dealing with them that set them firmly apart from mortals. This endears them further to the audience, because the fairies deal with problems we can relate to, but they deal in ways that humans can only fantasize about. Yet for all their powers, they mess things up pretty well. There’s a lot of humor in that.

I compare and contrast the whimsical magic of the fairyworld to the slapstick shenanigans of the mechanicals. I also contrast the mystical, mischievous fairyworld here to the scary underworld of evil spirits, witches and scary magic in folklore. We have love juice here, not death spells. We have the mischievous, but not malicious, Puck.

I go into some detail about Puck – how this character was well-known to Shakespeare’s audience. Puck was the Elizabethan euphemism for today’s gremlins — the causers of all those little, inexplicable things that occur when no one is looking. Shakespeare recounts Puck’s exploits so that the audience is reminded of who he is. He’s a very funny character to include in the play because of his universality: everyone can relate to him because everyone has had a brush with Puck (I used the word “universalism” here, but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t talking about religion!).

I talk a bit about the poetic language of the fairies. How their pretty, ethereal language creates their mystique. And I compare it to the heavy-handedness of the mechanicals’ language. Let’s see, I go into the humor of Oberon’s prank, and the farce of Titania’s doting on Bottom. And then I talk about the humor stemming from dramatic irony… because the audience sees the fairies, but the Athenians don’t. We know all the silliness among the lovers stems from the love juice, but they are unconscious of the cause.

I wind it up by giving the fairies credit for putting things to right, one hilarious step at a time, for leaving everyone feeling like it was all a strange dream, and for making this one of Shakespeare’s most entertaining plays. B+

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Hey Nonny, Nonny

July 1, 2010 at 12:04 am (Analysis and Discussion, Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , )

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea, and one on shore,
To one thing constant never.
Then sigh not so, but let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into hey nonny nonny.
II.3.62-69

I’m wrapping things up here with Much Ado About Nothing. I just have a few miscellaneous thoughts.

Hero
I’ll just say it straight out: I don’t like her. She’s no hero in my book. She’s dumb. She’s mean-spirited. She’s two-faced. In her defense, she’s mightily wronged by Claudio in this play. Also, I suppose to her credit, she’s obedient to her father. It doesn’t make me like her.

Let’s start with dumb. Via hearsay (her uncle’s servant’s misnoting of an overheard conversation), Leonato tells Hero to expect Don Pedro to propose to her at the masked dance (and to say yes to Pedro, who is a good catch). I assume when she is proposed to at the dance, that she assumes it’s Pedro (it is). But Pedro is wooing her for Claudio (why?). And then when things get ironed out with (dumb) Claudio, she is okay with all of it and apparently lovey-dovey with Claudio. Is she indifferent about who she marries? Does she love either Pedro or Claudio? Unclear, but she doesn’t appear to have a lot of smarts (or personality).

Okay, and mean-spirited. Hero is in on Pedro’s plot to bluff the sparring B&B and transform them into lovebirds. She leads the charge on Beatrice. Yet while baiting the hook here (with Beatrice eavesdropping), she is a bit overly harsh.

But Nature never framed a woman’s heart
Of prouder stuff than that of Beatrice;
Disdain and scorn ride sparkling in her eyes,
Misprising what they look on, and her wit
Values itself so highly that to her
All matter else seems weak: she cannot love,
Nor take no shape nor project of affection,
She is so self-endeared.
III.1.49-56

Really now? Hero goes on and on slandering Beatrice while she knows Beatrice is in the bushes hearing every word. What a sweet cousin! Of course, she’s doing it all under the guise of jest, as a big prank to get Beatrice to think Benedick is in love with her. It’s all done in good fun, but… not very nice!

Let’s go on to two-faced. When Hero is dressing for her wedding, she gossips to Margaret about her cousin Beatrice. She says:

HERO
No, pray thee, good Meg, I’ll wear this.

MARGARET
By my troth, ‘s not so good; and I warrant your
cousin will say so.

HERO
My cousin’s a fool, and thou art another: I’ll wear
none but this.
III.4.7-11

Whew! Bridezilla! All this while Beatrice never breathes a critical word about Hero during the whole play, but stands by her steadfastly through the worst. Beatrice is so true to Hero that she asks Benedick to kill Claudio to avenge the slander against her! Hero doesn’t deserve Beatrice’s fierce loyalty.

Claudio
I think the modern Shakespeare Retold version portrays this couple correctly as they bond over mispronouncing “meteorological.” Claudio is also dumb. He’s mean-spirited. He’s two-faced.

The dumb part… I don’t know where to begin. Why does he allow Don Pedro to woo Hero for him? Maybe because he’s dumb and shy and naive? Or maybe because he has no choice, since Pedro is a prince. Why does he believe Don John’s lies about Pedro wooing for himself? Maybe because John is a convincing liar. Or maybe Claudio is just dumb. The window scene… Claudio gullible? Or John just so masterfully deceiving? I can go on and on. Dumb just seems a plausible explanation for Claudio’s behavior throughout the play.

Mean and two-faced: the wedding scene. That is an incredibly mean deception on Claudio’s part. He goes to the wedding solely to humiliate Hero in public. He believes he saw her with another man at her bedroom window the previous night, yet he shows up to the wedding ceremony calmly, as if nothing is awry. And then he lets loose a torrent of hateful stuff at Hero. This really goes beyond mean; he’s pathological.

After he jilts Hero at the altar, Claudio is disrespectful to the old men Leonato and Antonio, who are upset that he slandered Hero. When the old brothers leave in a huff and Benedick approaches, Claudio says:

We had liked to have had our two noses snapped off with two old men without teeth.
V.1.115-116

I hate this quote. It’s so unfeeling. At this point, Claudio believes Hero is dead, and to say this of her elderly father and uncle is just cold.

And as Hero seems indifferent early on about marrying Pedro or Claudio, at the end, Claudio parallels her indifference, by happily agreeing to Leonato’s odd suggestion that he marry his niece, sight unseen. Sure! No problem! What’s love got to do with it? (Oddly, at this point, I wonder if he is expecting to marry Beatrice, since she is Leonato’s niece.) And when Claudio lifts the mask to discover it’s his Hero, woohoo! A match made in heaven.

The Nature of Love
So, to summarize Claudio and Beatrice’s courting: Claudio comes back from war and Hero is a sight for his sore eyes. He falls immediately in love with her. Her feelings are unknown. Her father prepares her to expect a proposal from Don Pedro. She is an obedient daughter, so it’s assumed she’ll accept. Except the proposal comes from Claudio via Pedro’s mouth (odd situation). So is she accepting Claudio or Pedro? Does she know?

Not clear, but it’s Claudio that meets her at the altar. And Claudio comes to the altar planning to jilt her publicly (which he does, thinking she’s a whore). Her family pretends she’s dead hoping that Claudio will show remorse. He doesn’t. The truth comes out of Hero’s innocence and Claudio now shows remorse. Since Hero is dead, Claudio agrees enthusiastically to marry Leonato’s niece, who he’s never met. Then it turns out to be Hero and so he marries his first choice after all.

Umm, does anyone see this marriage as having a stable future?

Now, let’s talk about B&B. They have a history. We’re not totally clear about the nature of their earlier relationship and how it ended, but it ended badly and Beatrice shows the scars. She says:

DON PEDRO
Come, lady, come; you have lost the heart of
Signior Benedick.

BEATRICE
Indeed, my lord, he lent it me awhile; and I gave
him use for it, a double heart for his single one:
marry, once before he won it of me with false dice,
therefore your grace may well say I have lost it.

DON PEDRO
You have put him down, lady, you have put him down.

BEATRICE
So I would not he should do me, my lord, lest I
should prove the mother of fools.
II.1.261-270

There is some sadness, some bitterness in Beatrice early on in the play, and yet you can see clearly the sparks flying between the two whenever they are near each other. The feelings are already there, just suppressed. They both protest too much, swearing up and down that they will never marry anyone, least of all each other. 

It does not take much for the merry pranksters to plant the seeds that grow into full-blown love for both B&B. It is a clever love-trap that Pedro comes up with. B&B are helpless to resist.

So, they are both starry-eyed, but is that true, lasting love? Then after Hero’s jilting, Benedick checks in with Beatrice and offers to do anything to help with her family’s situation. Beatrice is very clear: “Kill Claudio.” It’s a shocking statement. Certainly, Benedick is shocked! But he sticks around long enough to hear why Beatrice feels so strongly that this is the only answer to the wrong done to her cousin.

Benedick comes around to her reasoning and agrees to challenge Claudio. And when he goes to talk to Claudio, he is all business — there is none of the playful and witty repartee of the Benedick we’ve seen prior to this. He is deadly, bluntly serious with Claudio. There is no doubt he’s taken Beatrice’s feelings to heart. And then (much to his relief) Benedick is let off the hook when Hero’s reputation is cleared. 

So, in contrast to Claudio and Hero who hardly know each other and seem indifferent to who they pair with, B&B have a longterm relationship (even if it has been a “merry war” of words much of the time), they enjoy each other’s company, others see them as a good match, their relationship stands the test of loyalty in crisis, and they end the play clearly joyously in love with each other. Hey nonny, nonny!

Please let me know your comments about Much Ado About Nothing! I think this is my last post on the play, unless a reader brings up something new for me to think and post about. Next on my reading list is Love’s Labour’s Lost. Read it with me!

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