Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing
William Shakespeare

I have this really beautiful old copy of Much Ado, which I brought from the book shop around the back of Winchester Cathedral (if you haven't been there, it is a must!). I think it is my favourite Shakespeare play - I have always preferred the simple jolliness of the comedies to the macabre depression of the tragedies, and Much Ado is a fabulous story about two incredibly proud individuals being bought down a peg or two.

Beatrice and Benedict have met long before the start of this play, and have already declared a dislike for each other. Beatrice is a confident, intelligent woman who has no desire to be subject to the tradition of marriage; and Benedict is a promiscuous bachelor who follows around rich young men, feeding off their popularity. In theory, they seem vile, desperate creatures, but they are sharp and witty, equal matches for each other in terms of pride and foolishness.

And so, their friends and families plot against them, in order to trick them into loving each other. Whereas in Taming of the Shrew, it appears that only the woman is overtly tamed, in Much Ado, they are both ridiculed and made far more amenable. They deny their love for each other, right up to the end scene: too proud to admit the feelings they have discovered. Their competitiveness is full of banter and wit, building up the sexual tension that characterises their love.They are the original love-to-hate couple.

There are some brilliant one-liners in this play: many from Beatrice and Benedict, but also from the watchmen in the subplot. Dogberry is offering advise on what to do if the watchmen come across any scoundrels on the night:
"If you meet a thief, you may suspect him, by virtue of your office, to be no true man; and, for such kind of men, the less you meddle or make with them, why, the more is for your honesty."
It is not a flawless approach to policing that Dogberry presents, but his team provide entertainment for the other characters and for the audience. He is the caricature of ridiculousness. Later, when listing the offences of a criminal, Dogberry says,
"Marry, sir, they have committed false report; moreover, they have spoken untruths; secondarily, they are slanders; sixth and lastly, they have belied a lady; thirdly, they have verified unjust things; and, to conclude, they are lying knaves."
Shakespeare has this incredible way with words and, through Dogberry's 'synonymising', demonstrates his intellect.  In his plays, he offers something for everyone, and often, his best characters are the supporting cast. In this play, there is the drama and romance between Hero and Claudio, the evil plotting of Don John, the argumentative love-making of Benedict and Beatrice, and the strange detective work of Dogberry. And it is not Hero and Claudio's ups and downs that I love, but the language and conversations - from Beatrice's angry rebuffing of Benedict to the watchmen's strange soliloquising. There is power in language, and Shakespeare wields it like a sword to woo his audience into admiration.

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