Signature Shakespeare

October 6, 2012 at 10:50 am (Asides, Hamlet, Macbeth, Much Ado About Nothing, Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , )

A while back I read a piece by Washington Post Book Critic Ron Charles about a beautiful new series of Shakespeare’s plays in print: Signature Shakespeare by Sterling Publishing. These works are illustrated with lovely laser-cut illustrations by artist Kevin Stanton. This interview with Stanton on the Casual Optimist blog gives more info and pictures of these amazing books.

I see Barnes and Noble is selling a Nook version, which seems like an idiotic marketing idea for these particular books which are meant to be touched.

Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet are currently available. Much Ado About Nothing and Hamlet will be released in the fall (you can pre-order now through B&N). More to come if sales are good. I hope they are! On his website, artist Stanton who is only 23, says: “I’m so proud of these, and feel really lucky to have gotten such a sweet job….I hope that you enjoy them – I know I do!”

© All Content, Copyright 2012 by Blog Author, Or What You Will. All Rights Reserved.

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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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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!

© All Content, Copyright 2010 by Blog Author, Or What You Will. All Rights Reserved.

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Northern Exposure

June 28, 2010 at 3:16 pm (Film Adaptations, Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , )

Thanks to blog reader Tue for pointing me to Peter Moss’s 1987 production of Much Ado About Nothing filmed by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and available on YouTube. It’s a very enjoyable version of the Stratford, Ontario stage production starring Tandy Cronyn (daughter of Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn) as Beatrice and Richard Monette as Benedick.

I’ve enjoyed the different takes on Beatrice and Benedick in all the film versions I’ve watched. These must be fun characters to play with all the witty repartee. Cronyn and Monette are very good together. Monette is skilled at using hilarious facial expressions and gestures to get more mileage out of his comic lines. It’s fun to watch and several times he had me laughing out loud just from the looks on his face.

I particularly like Brent Carver’s version of Don John here. He’s smarmy and diabolical. I really enjoy his performance of a character that is challenging to bring to life.

Don Pedro is interesting to me. In reading the play, I dislike the character. In performance, including here played by Edward Atienza, I see much good humor and charm in Pedro. In this Canadian production, I very much enjoy the giggling hilarity of the pranksters as they trick Benedick into loving Beatrice. Pedro is the lead clown and it’s all in good fun.

For me, there are no weak spots in this filmed-for-TV production. As I say, Don John and Benedick stand out as particularly strong here. Now that I’ve read the text a couple times, I’ve also had a chance to go back and watch the Branagh and New York Shakespeare Festival versions. Here’s my take: the Branagh movie is by far the best. It’s a beautiful and wonderfully watchable film. I love Emma Thompson’s Beatrice. But I still dislike Michael Keaton (as Dogberry) and Keanu Reeves (as Don John) in this film.

I like the Keystone Kops version of Dogberry best (from the New York production). After reading the text, I like the New York production better in general than I did on first viewing (and maybe I’m just not as tired now as I was then, when it put me immediately to sleep each time I turned it on!), but it’s still a bit zany overall for my taste. I like the New York version least of the film versions I’ve seen (although it’s still enjoyable). FYI on my Play by Play page, I list the films in each category with my favorites first.

This is the last film version I have for Much Ado About Nothing. Let me know if I missed something I should see! I enjoyed the Canadian broadcast… I’d love to get up north to Stratford, Ontario some day!

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And Be You Blithe and Bonny

June 22, 2010 at 8:31 pm (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 love Balthasar’s song. It describes the play’s action in a nutshell. The men in Much Ado About Nothing are deceivers. The women let them off the hook. Hero forgives Claudio for his (in my mind unforgivable!) actions and marries him. Beatrice, though nursing some past wrongs from Benedick, sees past them and marries him. We hear nothing from the maid Margaret regarding ill will toward Borachio for using her in order to frame her mistress Hero.

And so they all move into hey nonny, nonny (nonsense words… like la, la, la — letting go). The men here make much ado about nothing; the women make no ado about much, in my opinion. In any event, we are left with everyone blithe and bonny at the end, lightening their heels, as Benedick instructs them to dance as they strike up the band! So Balthasar’s song really summarizes the play for me.

Let’s focus now on the blithe and bonny part. These words mean lighthearted and merry. There is certainly much to laugh at in the play! I know my post on the many deceptions of menfolk may leave the impression that it’s a rather dreary combination of conniving, maneuvering and trickery. That’s not the case at all (although the dark stuff is all part of the plot!). The play is also filled with lighthearted mirth and slapstick humor. It’s quite fun!

Dogberry
We’ll start with the slapstick: Dogberry. He’s an oddball. He’s in an authority position as the constable in charge of the watch (he’s like the police chief). It becomes clear (when Conrad calls him an ass) that he thinks highly of himself and he can’t believe anyone would see him in a different light. And truly, he ends up doing his job well here — because of him and the watchman working for him, the truth of the window scene deception is uncovered and Hero’s reputation is cleared.

HOWEVER. Dear God, could Shakespeare possibly have created a more ass backwards character? He really is an ass. A complete and utter ass. I totally see the wisdom of portraying Dogberry and the watch as the Keystone Kops. He is so beyond silly and ridiculous. Ludicrous. I don’t even know how to describe this character.

His language is so wrong that it’s hard to glean meaning from it. Literally, I need a translator, and it’s not because it’s Elizabethan English. It’s because Dogberry says the opposite of what he means or he makes up words that sound like they could be meaningful, but have no meaning whatsoever. And he does it all very seriously. It’s so crazy-silly! Here are just a few examples from his first appearance:

First, who think you the most desertless [meaning deserving] man to be constable?
III.3.9

You are thought here to be the most senseless [sensible] and fit man for the constable of the watch. Therefore bear you the lantern. This is your charge: you shall comprehend [apprehend] all the vagrom [vagrant] men…
III.3.23-26

Okay, that gives you a small sense of the liberties Dogberry takes with vocabulary. These flips are constant and unceasing.

But beyond that, his meaning (and again, he takes a most serious posture with everything he says) is also often ass backwards. I mean, in his first scene where he is giving instructions to the watchmen, he basically tells them to go ahead and sleep on their watch and to leave the drunks to their own devises.

So, I find myself sitting here scratching my head a lot of the time with Dogberry. What did he say? What did he mean? And then, what makes the whole schtick even funnier is that his cohorts all go along with him like he makes sense. It really is the silliest thing. Frankly, it’s all so crazy that I’m left not really understanding (or trying that hard to understand) all the foolery. 

Now, maybe a reader will comment about what an intriguing character Dogberry is and I will need to consider him in more detail as I did when I said it might be just as well to yada yada through Mercutio’s constant sexual puns in Romeo and Juliet!

The Pranksters
Oh sheesh. Don Pedro comes up with the idea of getting Benedick and Beatrice together by tricking them into each thinking the other is just about sick with love and unable to voice it. Pedro seems to do this for sport… it’s a pastime as they while away the long days until Claudio and Hero’s wedding. It’s also maybe because of the challenge he made to Benedick early on when Benedick is swearing up and down that he’ll never get married. Pedro responds: “I shall see thee, ere I die, look pale with love.” I.1.235

In any event, Pedro comes up with the merry plan of bluffing these two into love, and everyone else falls merrily into the plot, loving every minute of it and playing it to the hilt! They are all just a giggling mess as they’re baiting the hooks and reeling B&B into their nets. It’s so silly!

Who is in on the game? Everyone! Pedro, Claudio and Leonato pull the wool over Benedick’s eyes. And Hero, Margaret and Ursula mess with Beatrice, all at Pedro’s instigation. Oh, how they laugh! Pssss, psssss, psssss… whispering like I do when I’m telling secrets with my kids. They lay it on so thick. Here’s a little taste:

CLAUDIO
Hero thinks surely she 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.
II.3.168-172

It goes on and on. And they do this with Benedick eavesdropping, trying to catch every last morsel about Beatrice, who he suddenly sees in a new light! Benedick, newly starry-eyed and bamboozled, says, “Love me? Why, it must be requited.” II.3.213-214

And the pranksters are just laughing themselves silly. Pedro says:

The sport will be, when they hold one an opinion of
another’s dotage, and no such matter: that’s the
scene that I would see, which will be merely a
dumb-show. Let us send her to call him in to dinner.
II.3.206-209

He’s saying he can’t wait to see the two of them together after Beatrice has gone through the same shenanigans, because then they will each just be bursting with their newfound feelings… maybe even tongue-tied! B&B tongue-tied! That will be a sight! Oh, they are laughing at all this.

And then Hero, Margaret and Ursula work their magic on Beatrice, just as thick. And the newly starry-eyed and bamboozled Beatrice falls for it, just as heavily as Benedick: “And Benedick, love on, I will requite thee.” III.1.111

B&B
I save the best for last. Dogberry is ridiculous; he is like the Three Stooges on steroids. Don Pedro and his pranks are silly business. But the barbed banter of Benedick and Beatrice is something else to behold. Their exchanges are witty and bright, fun, funny, punny and light. The humor of B&B’s wit keeps you on your toes.

It’s not all easy to get; and some of it has darker double meanings. Particularly Beatrice, who has been hurt by Benedick in the past, has an edge… a very sharp edge, on her rapier wit. Here is their first interchange in the play. They have not seen each other in several years. They feed off each other and they are each quick on the return parry.

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 while she hath
such meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick?
Courtesy itself must convert to disdain, if you come
in her presence.

BENEDICK
Then is courtesy a turncoat. But it is certain I
am loved of all ladies, only you excepted: and I
would I could find in my heart that I had not a hard
heart; for, truly, I love none.

BEATRICE
A dear happiness to women: they would else have
been troubled with a pernicious suitor. I thank God
and my cold blood, I am of your humour for that: I
had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man
swear he loves me.

BENEDICK
God keep your ladyship still in that mind! so some
gentleman or other shall ‘scape a predestinate
scratched face.

BEATRICE
Scratching could not make it worse, an ’twere such
a face as yours were.

BENEDICK
Well, you are a rare parrot-teacher.

BEATRICE
A bird of my tongue is better than a beast of yours.

BENEDICK
I would my horse had the speed of your tongue, and
so good a continuer. But keep your way, i’ God’s
name; I have done.

BEATRICE
You always end with a jade’s trick: I know you of old.
I.1.110-139 

It is always like this between B&B. It’s exhausting! You can just imagine all the onlookers gawking at the back-and-forth like the audience at a tennis match. Funny? Oh my gosh, yes. But also, it’s easy to sense some bitterness hidden not far below the surface with Beatrice. Maybe much of her humor is defensive; a protective mechanism, saving her from facing the injury Benedick dealt her in the past.

Benedick is a worthy and witty adversary, but Beatrice often has him by the seat of his pants. At the masked dance, Benedick pretends to be someone else and not even acquainted with Benedick; Beatrice (I believe not fooled) is then freed to go off on a witty tangent about what a dull fool Benedick is. Benedick can’t believe that Beatrice doesn’t recognize him and would say such things — he is hurt by her words.

I think the next scene is the funniest in the play. Benedick is talking to Pedro after the masked dance and then sees Beatrice coming toward them. He begs Pedro to send him on any errand to any spot in the known world to give him an excuse to avoid Beatrice. Here’s the exchange. 

DON PEDRO
The Lady Beatrice hath a quarrel to you: the
gentleman that danced with her told her she is much
wronged by you.

BENEDICK
O, she misused me past the endurance of a block!
an oak but with one green leaf on it would have
answered her; my very visor began to assume life and
scold with her. She told me, not thinking I had been
myself, that I was the prince’s jester, that I was
duller than a great thaw; huddling jest upon jest
with such impossible conveyance upon me that I stood
like a man at a mark, with a whole army shooting at
me. She speaks poniards, and every word stabs:
if her breath were as terrible as her terminations,
there were no living near her; she would infect to
the north star. I would not marry her, though she
were endowed with all that Adam bad left him before
he transgressed: she would have made Hercules have
turned spit, yea, and have cleft his club to make
the fire too. Come, talk not of her: you shall find
her the infernal Ate in good apparel. I would to God
some scholar would conjure her; for certainly, while
she is here, a man may live as quiet in hell as in a
sanctuary; and people sin upon purpose, because they
would go thither; so, indeed, all disquiet, horror
and perturbation follows her.

DON PEDRO
Look, here she comes.

Enter CLAUDIO, BEATRICE, HERO, and LEONATO

BENEDICK
Will your grace command me any service to the
world’s end? I will go on the slightest errand now
to the Antipodes that you can devise to send me on;
I will fetch you a tooth-picker now from the
furthest inch of Asia, bring you the length of
Prester John’s foot, fetch you a hair off the great
Cham’s beard, do you any embassage to the Pigmies,
rather than hold three words’ conference with this
harpy. You have no employment for me?

DON PEDRO
None, but to desire your good company.

BENEDICK
O God, sir, here’s a dish I love not: I cannot
endure my Lady Tongue.

Exit
II.1. 224-260

I can just imagine the tears running down Pedro’s face, he must be laughing so hard. It’s all so fast and furious, there’s hardly time to take a breath! Poor Benedick, in such a tizzy over the lady Beatrice. Game, set, match! (But which one won?!)

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The Local News

June 18, 2010 at 11:33 pm (Film Adaptations, Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , )

The BBC gets the job done, once again! The 2005 BBC’s Shakespeare Retold version of Much Ado About Nothing is really something! I enjoyed it quite a lot. This is a totally modern version using modern English. It is set in a TV news studio. Beatrice (played by Sarah Parish) is one of the news anchors. Benedick (Damian Lewis), a former colleague and boyfriend who jilted her three years before, is re-hired when the current co-anchor drinks himself into a little sabbatical.

Hero (Billie Piper) is the hare-brained weather girl and Claude (Tom Ellis) is a reporter. They bond over difficulty pronouncing “meteorological.” They aren’t the sharpest tacks. I liked this quite a lot. They seem so right for each other.

Benedick and Beatrice are fun and modern; I like them both and they have great chemistry. There’s a sweet scene where they bond over Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116. Benedick is best man for Claude and plans to read this at the wedding.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
   If this be error and upon me proved,
   I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Beatrice helps him understand the lines and he’s impressed that she’s so literary. It’s sweet.

The Don John character takes a pretty major leap from the original play. Here it’s Don (Derek Riddell), the director who has just lost his wife. Hero has pity sex with him and he develops an obsession with her. He’s also drinking and gets demoted to graphics guy. Wow is he creepy. So, the motivation here is different than in the original play. He’s obsessed with Hero and his brooding jealousy of her relationship with Claude fuels the lies and deception that ruin Hero and Claude’s wedding.

Also, Hero takes a step toward modernity in standing up for herself after the jilting. The ending for Hero and Claude is quite different and more modern than Shakespeare’s ending.

The whole show is well done and very watchable. I like the way things are tied up for B&B. The final scene is quite a giggle!

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Men Were Deceivers Ever

June 17, 2010 at 12:07 pm (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

Much Ado About Nothing is a study in male deception. It’s interesting, because the men make much ado about female deception — with incessant teasing and reference to the cuckold horns (referring to a man whose wife is unfaithful). Constant joking on this and yet there’s no grounds for it — women in this play are true.

But the whole play is about deception. The introduction in my edition points out that the words “nothing” and “noting” were pronounced the same in Elizabethan English, so Shakespeare was punning on the title. Another way of reading it is Much Ado About Noting, referring to noticing what others say or eavesdropping. And from that perspective, nothing really is the way it’s noted! Nothing is as it seems. There is much deception. Let’s take a look.

Don John: We’ll start with the most obvious deceiver. Don John’s whole purpose in the play is to deceive. And his deceptions fuel the plot. First, he tricks Claudio into believing that Don Pedro woos Hero for himself and not for Claudio. Claudio notes what John says and believes that Pedro has deceived him. Yet, there is nothing to it; Pedro did as he said, he wooed Hero for Claudio.

When nothing comes of that deception, Don John kicks into high gear and engineers the deception most central to the plot by convincing Don Pedro and Claudio of Hero’s disloyalty and then taking them to witness the supposed deed itself at the window on the night before the wedding. This is an evil deception with evil intent — Don John despises Claudio for his closeness with Don Pedro and wants him to suffer. He’s a despicable character. Again, though, there’s nothing to this… ultimately Claudio realizes that nothing he noted is what he thought. Hero is not a whore with another man on the night before her wedding, and there is nothing true about the accusations against her. Much ado about nothing.

Borachio: He’s Don John’s follower and he’s paid well by John for coming up with the idea of the window scene deception. Yes, although Don John lays the foundation by talking Don Pedro and Claudio into believing in Hero’s disloyalty and taking them to view the scene, the idea for this evil deception comes from Borachio. Borachio is the man at Hero’s bedroom window, there with Margaret and calling her “Hero.” Although Claudio and Don Pedro see what they believe they’ll see (in this case because Don John has prepped them and they believe they will see Hero with a man), it is Borachio’s acting that fulfills the deception. Borachio also apparently deceives Margaret, who he claims later is innocent and not a knowing participant in the conspiracy leading to Hero’s downfall.

Don Pedro: What is up with Pedro? He is apparently an older man, a prince and leads men in battle — you would think he’d be sensible and level-headed. The more I get to know Pedro, the less I like him. At best he’s a nosy and foolish prankster.

First, I do not understand why he offers to woo Hero for Claudio. What an odd little game of a deception to come up with. Why? Like Claudio is too shy to woo her for himself? That is not made clear in the text to me, yet Pedro comes up with this bright idea. It’s so odd and unnecessary! He deceives Hero, pretending to be Claudio while wearing a mask. What’s even odder here is that due to the misnoting of Hero’s uncle’s man (much gossip and eavesdropping going on in this play!) Hero is actually all set for Pedro himself to propose to her! So, who knows if she’s actually deceived by Pedro’s prank — she may have assumed Pedro was really proposing to her! But if not, what an odd turn it takes for her. Ultimately, it’s a harmless prank, as Pedro really does woo Hero for Claudio’s sake, but it’s so odd!

Then, the next prank comes quickly into Pedro’s head: Let’s trick Benedick and Beatrice into loving each other! It’s all his idea to have Benedick overhear him and the other men discussing how much Beatrice loves him. And then he tells the women to get Beatrice to overhear them talking about Benedick loving her. Much ado about noting! He’s the prankster supreme here… just loving the whole big joke.

Claudio: Claudio is in on this joke to deceive Benedick. He has no qualms about it. It’s all so much fun! Also, earlier, Claudio pretends to be Benedick while wearing his mask — Don John knows it’s Claudio, but pretends to think it’s Benedick and Claudio never sets him straight. Then, Claudio believes John because he thinks that John thought he was telling Benedick about Pedro’s supposed deception, wooing Hero for himself instead of for Claudio. Much ado about nothing!

Leonato: Leonato gets in on the deception. Benedick only believes the pranksters regarding Beatrice’s supposedly being sick with love for him because of Leonato’s participation in the ruse. If the gray-haired man, the governor of Messina, is involved, it must be true! So Leonato’s deception is instrumental in the matchmaking ploy. In addition, Leonato has no problem going along with the later deception, pretending that Hero is dead.

Friar Francis: Even the good friar is guilty of deception. It’s his idea to pretend that Hero is dead. He hopes this deception will lead Claudio to miss her and feel remorse for the accusations against her.

Antonio: Old Antonio, Hero’s uncle, falls neatly into the deception about Hero’s death. He knows she’s not really dead, yet he puts on a convincing (and if it were real, touching) display of anger and heartbreak as he lashes out at Claudio for his accusations. Wow. These folks are eager and natural deceivers!

Benedick: I’ll end with our protagonist. He is generally a good man in this play, honest and true to his word. But even he is guilty of deception. Before the play’s action, Beatrice tells us that Benedick deceived her and broke her heart. During the play, Benedick plays the rather minor and flirty deception at the masked dance, pretending to be someone else while dancing with Beatrice (and I don’t believe Beatrice is deceived). And then finally, Benedick works hard at deceiving himself, telling himself over and over again how happy he is being a bachelor and how much he dislikes Beatrice. This self-deception turns out to be amazingly easy to undo with just a little deception from the other men as he eavesdrops on the gossips.

Yes, indeed. Men were deceivers ever. And nothing is as noted. And it’s all much ado about nothing!

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BBC = Gets the Job Done

June 11, 2010 at 8:46 pm (Film Adaptations, Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , , )

I found Stuart Burge’s 1984 version of Much Ado About Nothing (part of the BBC’s Television Shakespeare series) quite enjoyable. It’s a straightforward rendition, true to the text, and nothing odd (i.e., green fairies) or annoying (i.e., boring, beige people). There are no bicycles, no Keystone Kops, no surreal umbrellas.

This is the 35th film adaptation I’ve watched for this blog, and I’d gotten so used to gimmicks, I’d kind of forgotten that Shakespeare could be staged in a straightforward Elizabethan setting… and work! Yes, this film works for me.

The setting is not breathtaking like the luscious Tuscan villa in the Branagh version, but it’s fine. The set is a lovely castle, the costumes are lovely Elizabethan costumes, the actors are all good. Now I realize how unusual that last statement is. None of the actors stand out as incredible, I knew none of their names going into it, and I don’t recognize any of them. They’re all good! None are floundering with their lines, none seem uncomfortable in their roles… I see now that this must be very difficult to achieve with Shakespeare.

Beatrice (played by Cherie Lunghi) is quick-witted and sharp-tongued. Lunghi has Beatrice down to a T. I found myself sometimes comparing her in my mind to Emma Thompson in the role, but she doesn’t fare poorly in the comparison. I love Emma Thompson… I find her facial expressions and facility with the words really amazing. But Lunghi does a great job. Her Beatrice is a bit more uptight in prim Elizabethan outfits than Thompson’s loose-limbed ease with her open-necked bodices. But still, it works well. No complaints.

And, she’s got great chemistry with Benedick, played by Robert Lindsay (it’s funny, I see now that Lindsay also played Lysander in the BBC version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but I didn’t recognize him at all). I really appreciate Benedick’s transformation in the film from scruffy, bearded soldier to clean-shaven, handsome swain.

Besides B&B, the rest of the actors do admirable jobs. In the introduction in my edition of the text, it says that the character Don John is “taciturn and opaque–and for most actors almost unplayable.” I had my strong issues with Keanu Reeves in the role in Branagh’s version. With this in my mind, I admire Vernon Dobtcheff’s take on Don John in this BBC version. He’s socially awkward and villainous… a devilish combination. I think he does a good job. I’m not terribly fond of Don Pedro in this version (played by Jon Finch), but I think he’s true to the text. The more I get to know the Don Pedro character, the less I like him.

Anyway, this version is straightforward Shakespeare. Nothing fancy, but it works. It has the drawbacks, I guess, of the Elizabethan setting and British accents (for people who find that intimidating). I like it all. Thumbs up to the BBC and thumbs up to B&B. They put on quite a smooch at the end.

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Much Ado About Nothing, Abridged

June 9, 2010 at 11:30 pm (Much Ado About Nothing, Plot Summaries, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , )

Here is a summary of the plot, and as always, I hope it will entice you to read the actual play. This play is very funny, but there are also some very dark themes. The witty banter between the characters, especially Benedick and Beatrice, can be a bit hard to follow, but it is nonstop and very entertaining. Dogberry and his bumbling cohorts are also very amusing. This play is quite short. I hope you will read it!

If anyone sees any errors, let me know so I can fix them—this is just based on my casual reading of the text, so I could easily have things out of order or get the details wrong.

Without further ado, here’s… Much Ado About Nothing.

Overview
In short, we could call this Three Weddings and a Funeral (although neither the weddings nor the funeral actually take place during the play!). The play is set in Messina (Sicily). The plot centers on Hero and Claudio’s relationship. They plan to marry, but on the night before the wedding, the villainous Don John tricks Claudio into believing that Hero is an unworthy whore.  Claudio jilts her at the altar, causing Hero to faint, and it appears she is dead. Her family hides her, hoping Claudio will miss her and feel remorse. Eventually, thanks to the bumbling Dogberry and the watchmen, the truth comes out, and Hero is proved innocent. Claudio and Hero end up marrying.

It’s interesting because Shakespeare creates the plot around fairly minor, unengaging characters. Hero doesn’t speak much; Claudio is immature and not very likable. Even more interesting is that the plot moves along due to the actions of Don John, an incredibly leaden character who speaks almost not at all in the play!

None of this sounds very funny, does it? The play is quite light-hearted. The fun centers on the banter between the main characters, Benedick and Beatrice. These two have very little to do with the plot, but everything to do with the fun of the play. They begin as bantering adversaries. The other characters see the potential love connection and conspire to bring the two together. Their efforts are fruitful. B&B get married at the end along with Hero and Claudio!

The Soldiers Return
The play opens with a messenger arriving to tell Leonato, the governor of Messina, that Don Pedro and his soldiers are returning from battle and will arrive shortly. Leonato’s niece, Beatrice, asks the messenger if Benedick is returning with the others (he is) and she goes off on a witty tangent about him. She asks who Benedick is hanging out with these days, and the messenger tells her Claudio. This sends the sharp-tongued Beatrice into another tirade.

Don Pedro and his men arrive and Leonato greets them warmly. There is some “guy talk” — lighthearted joking about whether Leonato is Hero’s father (so his wife told him and he didn’t have any reason to doubt her since Benedick was but a child at the time, har, har). Benedick goes on a bit longer than necessary and Beatrice makes fun of him for continuing to talk when no one is listening. This gets the two of them going at each other for the first time in the play. Their witfest is pretty much non-stop whenever the two are near each other. They each profess to being happy if they never marry and neither can stand the other.

In the meantime, Don Pedro has been catching Leonato up on the latest news. Don Pedro agrees to stay in Messina for at least a month. Leonato also invites Don Pedro’s brother Don John, who has been off sulking by himself.

Love Struck
Claudio has seen Hero and has fallen in love. Benedick teases him mercilessly, but Claudio is starry-eyed. Don Pedro thinks she’s a lovely girl and a good match for Claudio.

Benedick makes it clear that he doesn’t trust women and will happily stay a bachelor forever. Don Pedro takes this as a challenge and tells Benedick he’ll see him fall in love. There is much, much, much joking (here and throughout the play) about cuckold horns (referring to women being unfaithful).

Don Pedro and Claudio continue their discussion about Hero, and Pedro offers to help Claudio win her hand. They are attending a masked dance that night, and Don Pedro will pretend to be Claudio, woo Hero, discuss marriage with her father Leonato, and do this all on Claudio’s behalf.

This conversation is overheard and discussed twice. Leonato’s brother Antonio hears it from his servant, and gets it all wrong. Antonio tells Leonato that Don Pedro is going to woo Hero and ask Leonato if he (Don Pedro) can marry her.

Then, Don John, busy telling his man Conrad about how unhappy he is, hears the real story from his man Borachio. Don John is very jealous of Claudio’s closeness with his brother Don Pedro, so hatches a plan to hurt Claudio.

The Masked Dance
Don Pedro makes a beeline for Hero and they dance. A number of other couples dance and chat. B&B spar, with the sharp-tongued Beatrice acting like she doesn’t know that she’s speaking to Benedick, so she says mean things, calling Benedick the prince’s jester and a very dull fool.

Don John tells Claudio that Don Pedro woos Hero for himself. Claudio believes him. When Benedick tells Claudio that Don Pedro was successful in wooing Hero, Claudio leaves in anger to sulk (thinking that Don Pedro wooed her for himself). Benedick tells Don Pedro and Don Pedro says he’ll make it right with Claudio.

Pedro teases Benedick about quarrelling with Beatrice. Benedick is nearly overcome just remembering the conversation with Beatrice. Then, when she approaches, he comes up with a number of hilarious errands he hopes Pedro will send him on to the far reaches of the known world, just to avoid having to hear Beatrice’s voice again. He escapes before she corners him again.

Here Beatrice mentions to Don Pedro that she had once before fallen in love with Benedick and that he deceived her and hurt her. This explains some of her bitterness toward Benedick.

Claudio arrives in a huff and Don Pedro sets him straight, explaining that he wooed Hero in Claudio’s name, as promised, and all is well. While Claudio and Hero get cozy, Don Pedro teasingly proposes to Beatrice. Beatrice turns him down lightly and leaves to run an errand for her uncle Leonato.

Don Pedro tells Leonato that Beatrice would be a fine wife for Benedick. Leonato points out, “O Lord, my lord, if they were but a week married, they would talk themselves mad.” (II.1.333-334)

Leonato asks Claudio to wait a week to marry Hero. Don Pedro hatches a plan to get B&B together while they wait for Claudio and Hero’s wedding. Claudio, Hero and Leonato agree to help.

The Plot Thickens
Borachio tells Don John that Claudio plans to marry Hero, but that Borachio knows how he can put a stop to it. He says Don John should tell Claudio that Hero is disloyal and get him worked up about it. For proof, he should bring Don Pedro and Claudio to stand outside Hero’s window. Borachio says that Hero’s maid Margaret has a thing for him, and that she will go to Hero’s window with him and he’ll call her Hero and it will fool Claudio and Don Pedro. Don John loves the plan and promises to pay Borachio well if it works.

Baiting the Hooks
Benedick is busy talking to himself about how happy he is being a bachelor and how no woman will ever catch him. He hides when he hears others approach.

Don Pedro and Claudio see Benedick hiding. They ask Balthasar to sing. He sings his song:

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.
Sing no more ditties, sing no moe,
Of dumps so dull and heavy;
The fraud of men was ever so,
Since summer first was leafy:
Then sigh not so, & c.
II.3.60-73

After the song, Leonato, Claudio and Don Pedro proceed to bait the hook for Benedick. They know he is eavesdropping, so they go on at length about how much Beatrice loves Benedick and how she is sick with love for him, but can’t say anything and he would just make fun of her and torment her if he knew. They lay it on so thick. So thick. Here’s an example:

CLAUDIO
Then down upon her knees she falls, weeps, sobs,
beats her heart, tears her hair, prays, curses; ‘O
sweet Benedick! God give me patience!’
II.3.143-45

They are so ridiculous, and Benedick hardly believes them except that he can’t imagine Leonato would be in on a mean joke like this. So, Benedick believes that Beatrice loves him and it awakens his love for her.

So, Benedick is reeled in. Now the other hook is baited. Margaret tells Beatrice to go out in the garden because Hero and Ursula are talking about her. Beatrice runs out and hides herself so she can eavesdrop. Ursula and Hero go on and on about how much Benedick loves Beatrice but that Beatrice is too scornful and proud to even tell about it. They lay it on thick. They reel her in. She believes them, her love for Benedick awakens, she must requite it!

Leonato, Claudio and Don Pedro see Benedick and joke that he must be in love (he’s shaved his beard and wearing cologne).

The Window Scene
Don John tells Don Pedro and Claudio that Hero is disloyal and that he can prove it if they meet him beneath her window that night. Claudio believes Don John and vows to disgrace Hero at the altar. Don Pedro agrees.

The window scene is pivotal to the plot of Much Ado About Nothing, and yet Shakespeare doesn’t include the scene in the play. He alludes to it, we see the fallout from it later, but it isn’t staged.

Dogberry and the Watch
Dogberry is the constable, in charge of the watchmen, Messina’s security force. He is a crazy ridiculous character. Much of the time, he says the exact opposite of what he means. A fair amount of the time, he just makes up words. He says everything very seriously, and it all seems to make sense to him! I have to admit he does not always make sense to me.

So, on his first appearance in the play, Dogberry gives the watchmen their orders for the night. And he tells them they should be quiet and fall asleep on the job. And they should mess with the Prince (Don Pedro) if they see him. That kind of thing. It’s odd! ( But funny.) The watchmen take it all in stride and seem satisfied that they know what to do!

Conrad and Borachio (from the Spanish word for “drunken”) chat about “the window scene” that was not seen on stage. That is, Borachio boasts to Conrad about being with Margaret at Hero’s window and calling her Hero while Claudio, Don Pedro and Don Juan watched from below. The watchmen overhear the conversation and arrest both Conrad and Borachio.

In the morning, Hero gets ready for her wedding, and there is much discussion between her and Margaret about the fashion of her gown.

Dogberry and his sidekick Verges try to tell Leonato that they have arrested two suspicious men who they think Leonato should see. However, they are so roundabout and annoying that Leonato loses patience and tells them to examine the suspects themselves and give him the executive summary later. He is too busy getting ready for his daughter’s wedding to be dealing with the bumbling Dogberry.

The Wedding, Interrupted
This is a truly cruel and awful scene. The wedding begins and Hero is blissfully ignorant that anything is wrong. Claudio and Don Pedro say nothing of what they’d witnessed the night before (they think they saw Hero having sex with Borachio at her window) until after Friar Francis begins the ceremony. At this point Claudio starts railing about Hero being a whore and Don Pedro backs him up.

Hero is dumbstruck. She can barely speak. She can barely defend herself. She simply says:

I talked with no man at that hour, my lord.
IV.1.85

Claudio, Don Pedro and Don John go on about what they saw, and Leonato believes them. When her father turns on her, Hero faints dead away. Claudio, Don Pedro, and Don John leave.

Friar Francis believes Hero is innocent and unjustly accused. He comes up with a plan to pretend that Hero is dead, hoping that Claudio will miss her and see how good she really is. And failing that, they can send her off secretly to a convent.

Benedick Tested
Up to this point, Benedick and Beatrice have been flirtatious and silly, but here is a turning point in their relationship. Beatrice is sick about her cousin Hero and knows she is innocent. Benedick asks what he can do to help, and Beatrice replies, shockingly, “Kill Claudio.” (IV.1.288)

At first, Benedick cannot believe she asked this of him, but they keep talking and slowly Benedick comes to understand the depth of Beatrice’s feelings about Hero’s innocence and Claudio’s treachery. She would do it herself if she were a man. Benedick finally agrees to challenge Claudio.

Dogberry is an Ass
The watchmen describe to Dogberry the conversation they overheard between Borachio and Conrad. Dogberry has the sexton write everything down so that they can show it to Leonato. As always, Dogberry is very roundabout and back asswards in his speech, and Conrad actually calls him an ass. Dogberry is utterly offended and cannot believe anyone would say such a thing.

Limbo
The next part of the play I see as a sort of limbo. Everything is in uproar. Leonato tells his brother Antonio how sad he is for his daughter Hero. Antonio is angry and lets loose a tirade on Claudio. Claudio and Don Pedro close ranks and deny slandering Hero — they are confident in the whoring they saw at the window. Claudio is very callous to the old men and acts like he doesn’t care that Hero is dead.

Benedick arrives and Claudio hopes his usual wit and humor will lighten the mood. Twit. Benedick is in an evil mood toward Claudio and threatens him. Don Pedro tries to lighten things up by teasing about Beatrice, but Benedick will have none of it. He tells Don Pedro he can no longer be friends and he will fight Claudio. He tells them they have killed an innocent lady and that Don John has fled the city. Don Pedro is very surprised that Benedick takes this all so seriously.

The Truth
Dogberry walks by with Conrad and Borachio bound. Don Pedro recognizes his brother Don John’s men and asks why they are detained. Borachio, now penitent, tells the whole story of the window scene and the deception and says that Margaret was innocent. Borachio takes full responsibility for Hero’s death. Claudio cannot believe his ears.

Leonato comes and Borachio also tells him the story and takes responsibility for Hero’s death. Leonato tells him that his guilt is shared with Claudio, Don Pedro and Don John.

Leonato tells them to hang an epitaph at Hero’s tomb, explaining her innocence. He then tells Claudio he is forgiven and that he will give his neice to Claudio in marriage the next day. Claudio can’t believe his good fortune! He agrees to the marriage, sight unseen.

Dogberry is still upset about Conrad calling him an ass, and he tells Leonato all about it, hoping this will increase his punishment. Leonato gives Dogberry some money to thank him for his good work and to get him to leave.

The Happy Ending
Margaret teases Benedick as he tries to write a love sonnet to Beatrice. He is so besotted he stumbles over the rhymes. When Beatrice arrives she asks what happened with Claudio and Benedick says he challenged him. This changes their mood to witty banter regarding what they first loved in each other.

Ursula arrives with the breaking news that all has been set straight in Messina. Hero was falsely accused, Don Pedro and Claudio were misled, everything was the evil Don John’s doing, and he has left the city.

Claudio and Don Pedro put the epitaph on Hero’s “grave.” Claudio promises to return annually in her memory.

Everyone is glad at the happy turn of events. Benedick is relieved that he does not need to fight Claudio. Leonato tells the women that he will call for them and he wants them to come masked when he calls.

Benedick asks Leonato if he can marry Beatrice. Leonato agrees. Don Pedro and Claudio show up at Leonato’s house as planned. Leonato asks Claudio if he is still willing to marry his niece and Claudio agrees. There is much needling back and forth between Claudio and Benedick.

The women come out masked. Claudio agrees to marry the niece unseen. She then unveils herself and it is Hero! She’s not dead! They are all shocked to see Hero alive. She assures Claudio she is still a virgin. Leonato explains that Hero was only “dead” while the slander against her lived.

Benedick asks which masked woman is Beatrice. She comes forward. There is a little friction between them as they argue a bit and realize that their love was based on the tricks played by the others. However, Claudio pulls out one of Benedick’s love sonnets to Beatrice and handily, Hero has one Beatrice wrote to Benedick, and they both give in and accept their love for each other.

So, Claudio is ready to marry Hero, and Benedick is ready to marry Beatrice, and Benedick calls for the weddings to be delayed so they can dance. A messenger arrives with the news that Don John has been caught and returned to Messina. Benedick is too festive and says they will deal with him tomorrow. Now, let’s have some music!

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Law & Order – Keystone Kops Style

May 27, 2010 at 10:48 pm (Film Adaptations, Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , , )

I had a flashback to tenth grade—falling asleep in class during an endless, boring movie. I’ve had the flashback over and over again over the past couple weeks. Here’s the thing. I want to like Joseph Papp’s 1973 New York Shakespeare Festival production of Much Ado About Nothing. I really want to like it. I know I should like it. It keeps putting me to sleep.

It’s 2.5 hours long, and (yawn) I just never get through more than about 30 minutes in a sitting. I’ve watched it twice so far. Reader Tue says I need to watch it again after I read the text, so I’ll put that on my agenda (I’ll block a week for it). Just kidding. It’s not that bad. It does put me to sleep.

This production was originally done in Central Park and then moved to the Winter Garden Theater on Broadway before being filmed for television. Televising it was the kiss of death for the stage production. According to the Internet Shakespeare Editions website, the TV broadcast killed ticket sales and the Broadway show closed nine days later.

I like the actors. I think Sam Waterston does a nice job with Benedick and I like Kathleen Widdoes as Beatrice (she was nominated for a Tony for the stage role). It’s fun to see these two actors in their youth. But it’s also hard not to compare them to their present, 37-year-later TV selves (Waterston on Law & Order, Widdoes on As the World Turns).

This production is set in turn-of-the-century America, with soldiers returning from Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War. The sets are a bit hokey; I kept worrying that a shaky balcony might come tumbling down. The costumes are fine, although I find Leonardo’s (played by Mark Hammer) wig and false beard distracting.

I like this Dogberry (Barnard Hughes) better than the strange Michael Keaton version in the Kenneth Branagh production. Here, Dogberry and his watchmen are portrayed as the Keystone Kops, and it’s very slapstick and silly. He’s an ass. He’s an ass. Yes, he’s really an ass.

Yawn. It’s making me tired even writing about it. I want to like it, but this movie is just long and kind of cheesy and boring to me. There is a lot of loony fast-action running around with madcap music to match… sort of an Edwardian/Benny Hill thing going on. Odd!

Maybe it will all come together for me after I read the text. I guess I need to get reading!

By the way, I added a page Play by Play so you can easily find all my posts on a given play. I’m only on the third play, so it’s not unwieldy yet, but I thought this might help as I get further in.

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