If you have ever read (or seen) and enjoyed a modern romance story, then you owe a lot to William Shakespeare. His 1598/1599 comedic play Much Ado About Nothing has set the tone for many of today's most loved romance stories and remains a classic itself. It is a story that continues to be retold in modern interpretations all over the world and remains a personal favorite of mine.
Leonato, the Governor of Messina, receives word that the Spanish prince Don Pedro is arriving along with his companions after a successful battle. One of these companions, Count Claudio, instantly falls for Leonato's daughter, Hero. Meanwhile, Benedick, the other companion, takes his up his war of wit and words with Beatrice, Leonato's niece. They both profess to hate each other and are constantly throwing verbal punches. Claudio and Don Pedro come up with a scheme to convince Benedick that Beatrice is in love with him and vice versa, thus causing them to fall in love with each other. They enlist the help of Hero and meet with immediate success. Hero also falls for Claudio and the two become engaged. But Don Perdro's brother, Don Jon, decides to wreck things for the lovers by convincing Claudio that Hero is being unfaithful to him. Chaos ensues and one wonders if either couple will finally achieve happiness.
My Review (Caution - Spoilers):
This was the first Shakespeare play that I became familiar with and it remains one of my all time favorites. It is one of those stories that seems to come off of the page with its great characters, witty repartees, and fun plot.
Though Hero and Claudio's story drives much of the action, it is Beatrice and Benedick who are the stars of the show. I think their story is interesting because you can't tell when they actually begin to fall for each other. Have they always harbored secret feelings for each other? Or does percieving weakness in the other (i. e. one being in love with the other) allow them to take down their own defenses and open themselves up to love? Whatever the cause, their transformation from sarcastic enemies to sarcastic lovers is a fun one to watch.
One of the aspects of this story that I love is the masking of one's identity. At one point or another, almost every character pretends to be someone they aren't. Whether it be as a barrier to protect themselves or a way to conceal themselves while creating mischief, each character plays a part that is not really his. I think this has an interesting correlation with our society today. We hide behind our avatars and our Twitter handles in order to protect ourselves or to shrug off responsibility for the things we do or say. Like the characters in the story, we have to open ourselves up to each other in order to experience love and to take responsibility for our actions.
If you are looking for a place to start in Shakespeare, this is a good one. It is probably one of his most accessible and fun plays. Probably my favorite comedy so far.
Though reading Shakespeare is fun, it is also important to see it performed. Shakespeare gives few stage directions and this allows each individual give their own interpretation of the characters an their actions.
I watched Joss Whedon's 2012 film starring Alexis Denisof, Amy Acker, Nathan Fillion, and a host of other people from other Whedon productions. Though the dialogue is all Shakespeare, the setting is modern. I truly love this film. While it is faithful to Shakespeare's lines and plot, its setting allows for a fun and modern interpretation. All of the actors are outstanding, and Nathan Fillion is especially endearing as the hapless constable, Dogberry. I also loved how they took the songs in the original play and set them to modern music. I highly recommend this!
Do you have a favorite performance of this play? Share with us in the comments!