To Wit, To Woo

August 5, 2010 at 8:34 pm (Film Adaptations, Love's Labour's Lost, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , , )

Oh, I’m tired. I’m witless from witty banter. I just finished reading Love’s Labour’s Lost and I’ve watched the 1984 Elijah Moshinsky version for the BBC Shakespeare series. I’ve watched it twice now. As I say, I am tired and witless from all the witty banter.

I had never read this play or seen it performed, so this was all new. It’s an acquired taste. I was lost the first time I watched the BBC version. The play is all about wit and puns and there’s very little action; it is difficult to keep up with the dialogue and make sense of it on casual viewing.

Then I read the play; I watched it again. Okay. I get it now. It’s very thick satire. Extremely thick, non-stop mockery of people who have nothing better to do than to be impressed with their own wit. So I say: To Wit, To Woo. That is, I think, Shakespeare’s pun on the lyrics in the final song representing the owl’s cry, “tu-whit, tu-who!”

The whole play is about wit and wooing. Or maybe, as the introduction in my text says, “Perhaps the men have been too witty to be able to woo effectively.” The banter and wordplay is just all-around too much for me. But I’m critiquing the content of the play itself, and that’s hard not to do when it’s the basis for the film.

I read that this is Shakespeare’s most intellectual play, and so one that is less accessible to modern audiences. And in fact, it probably was not originally produced for the general public, but for a learned audience who would get the thick allusions and wordplay. It’s not easy.

That said, I think that the BBC version does a good job of making it at least a bit accessible (and I’ve read that this play can also be quite enjoyable performed live… even when much of the witty banter goes right by you). There is really not a serious moment until the very end and the film keeps moving along briskly (not belaboring the wordplay at all).

The BBC setting reminds me of a Fragonard painting… a frothy 18th century French fantasia. The actors are well-suited to their roles. I especially like David Warner’s version of the endearingly goofy Don Adriano de Armado. I also enjoy the Beatrice/Benedick-esque sparring between Rosaline (Jenny Agutter) and Berowne (Mike Gwilym). But unlike Beatrice and Benedick, these characters are never developed enough in the play to really care about them and the sparring is all just verbal play — there’s little emotion behind it.

That’s a critique of the play again, not the BBC production. I cannot say I like this play much. It’s smarmy and pedantic. I feel like a pedant just saying that. When I start getting the jokes I feel like Miss Smartypants. The whole thing is making fun of smarmy pedants, but you have to be one to get the joke. And so the joke’s on you. Sneaky guy, that Shakespeare.

I appreciate that this BBC version is a fun take on Shakespeare. I can’t say I recommend this for people who are not familiar with the play. I don’t think most people will enjoy it or get much out of it on casual viewing.

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