Musing On Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing

Wow, gentle reader, it has been six years since I started reading The Complete Works of Shakespeare in order; back in the beginning of 2018, I posted this atop my individual play reports:

I’ve started to read the Complete Works of William Shakespeare, and instead of writing one book report at the end, since this could take years, I’ve decided to post my thoughts on each play as I finish it. Of course, it will still only count as one book on my annual reading count in 2020 because I’m silly that way.

Clearly I was optimistic back then; that winter and spring, I only read five comedies (The Tempest, Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Twelfth Night, and Measure for Measure) before setting the book aside. For what would become the better part of a decade (see it languishing on the bottom left stack on the chairside table in 2019). The book presents all the comedies, then all the historical plays/tragedies, and then the poetry. So reading all the comedies fairly close together shows how formulaic they are. On the other hand, reading a lot of Middle English in a row makes it more comprehensible. So perhaps I should read the plays out of order and check them off of a list.

When I looked at the ad for the 2024 Winter Reading Challenge, I said, “I mean, would it hurt the librarians to include a Shakespearean play in there sometime?” Guessing they will probably not, ever, I picked up The Complete Works of Shakespeare and read the next play in it which was certain to be a romantic comedy. This one.

When I mentioned I was reading this play and that I remembered the movie to my beautiful wife, she “remembered” seeing the movie with me as well as the play and the symphony. Which gave me pause: I remember seeing the film with a girl I dated before the woman who would become my wife, and I remembered seeing a play at Washington University with my beautiful then-girlfriend, but a symphony? Ah, she is thinking of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Which is the next play in this collection, by the way. Which I will likely read before the 2020s end, but one never knows.

So: Much Ado About Nothing. The prince (Denzel Washington in the movie)–who does not have the title of prince, but we know what it means–comes to town with two of his caveliers/courtiers, Claudio and Benedick, and they stay with Don Leonato. Claudio (some dude in the movie) finds Leonato’s daughter (some dudette who turns out to be a young Kate Beckinsale in the movie) irresistable, and Benedick (Kenneth Branagh in the movie) crosses wits with her cousin Beatrice (Emma Thompson). Claudio and Hero become engaged, but the evil-for-the-sake-of-evil half-brother to the prince Don John (Keanu Reeves, which leads me to wonder where are the Don John Wick photoshops?–I presume it’s because history started with the Internet in 1997, and Shakespeare is icky to the yut who are getting to be middle-aged now) deceives Claudio into thinking Hero is untrue. The bulk of the story, though, is the Prince and Claudio and various handmaidens convincing Beatrice that Benedick secretly loves her and vice versa. All’s well that ends well–sorry, wrong play–but in the end the deception is uncovered and everybody lives happily ever after.

The play contains some of the common Shakespeare tropes that were probably more common Elizabethan drama tropes that are most familiar to us because of the Shakespeare (one of these days, I will dig out my Ben Jonson and see). You’ve got helpful friars, people in disguise, villains who are just villains because they’re villainous, faked deaths (which I guess survive to the modern time if Lethal Weapon is any guide), and so on. To modern readers, especially those dealing with tiny-print, double-columned omnibus editions, some of the speeches of Hero’s father lamenting his daughter’s calumny and the repartee and soliliquies of Beatrice and Benedick as they ponder their attraction to the other seem a bit long. But on stage, and in the movie, with things to look at and spit out rapidly with the characters, these blocks of text probably come off better.

An amusing read, and a fun watch. Unfortunately, I don’t think I have the film in the Nogglestead video library. I’ll watch out for it, though–given its date in the height of home media sales, I should be able to find a copy of it somewhere. Hopefully before all used DVDs go to $5 or $7 each.

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