Written by William Shakespeare
As seen in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England
“We are too sensible to woo peaceably.”
Benedick, Much Ado about Nothing by William Shakespeare
This year one of my goals is to read more Shakespeare. I have enjoyed what I have read so far, but I find that I re-read all my favorites instead of branching out and reading different plays. So to help me expand my horizon, I was able to get several student priced tickets to see shows in Stratford-Upon-Avon. One of the plays was Much Ado about Nothing and it was being set in India with an almost Bollywood theme to it. I was super excited, but I knew I wanted to read the play before I went, mostly so I knew what was happening. It is one of the plays that people have recommended to me, but I just kept putting off…because of various reasons. Two of my friends even preformed a sword fight to a passage of the play, but still I had not read it. And I can now say that was a huge mistake and this may be my favorite Shakespeare play, possibly beating Twelfth Night, which has been my favorite since 2001.
I figured for those of you who are unfamiliar with the plot I would give you a summary (there will be spoilers as this is Shakespeare and there has been enough time since its release for people to have read it!), but for those who are familiar please skip ahead to my review of the performance. A wealthy man named Leanato, has only a daughter as an heir (Hero) and is also the guardian of his niece (Beatrice). After returning from a war/skirmish the Prince (Don Pedro), his bastard brother (Don John, the man they had been fighting), and his men stop by Leanato’s estate and are invited to stay for a month. In the company of men is Benedick, who is in “a merry war of wits” with Beatrice. The two of them take every opportunity to try and outwit the other and both professing a desire to never fall in love or marry. They are the main source of comedy. But also in the Prince’s company is Claudio, who has shown a lot of bravery in the fighting. He becomes instantly enamored with Hero when they meet. The Prince deciding it is a good match tries to help, and woos Hero for Claudio. Don John tries to sabotage this, but is unsuccessful. Don John then decides to try and stop the marriage by calling Hero’s virginity into question.
At the same time the Prince, with help, decides to try and cause Beatrice and Benedick to fall in love with each other, mostly relying on eavesdropping and staged conversations. However, Don John’s nefarious plan works, and at the altar, Claudio (and the Prince) publicly shames Hero and storm off. Trying to buy time to figure out what has happened, the friar suggests that they pretended Hero has died and let time try to unravel what happened. Benedick stayed with Leanato’s family, and will act with them against his friends in this because of his love of Beatrice. Beatrice and Benedick have an amusing revelation of feelings, but Beatrice demands that Benedick does not love her if he will not challenge Claudio to a duel over Hero’s honor. The Prince and Claudio show only a little remorse that Hero has died, as they still believe they are correct, even after almost fighting with Leanato. They are surprised when Benedick is stoic around them and not his usual jovial self, and are shocked when he challenges Claudio to a duel and turns in his request to leave Prince’s company/army. At the same time the comically, bumbling neighborhood watch have gotten a confession from the man who helped to frame Hero, and the whole plan comes to light. Claudio and the Prince beg Leanato to decide their punishment for their part. Leanato decrees that they are to tell the world that Hero was pure, and that he has a “niece” that is just like Hero, and Claudio must marry her the next day. At the wedding it is reveled that the “niece” is actually Hero, and she had been hidden until the truth was revealed. Surprising almost everyone, including themselves, Benedick and Beatrice also marry (after some of their bad sonnets to each other are found and presented). And then everyone dances (honestly that is how it ends!)
I know that sounds complicated, but for Shakespeare it is rather straightforward. Overall, it is one of the wittiest plays I have read by him. The dialogue between Beatrice and Benedick is funny and fast paced. Often one of them uses a metaphor and the other continues it. Even the bumbling neighborhood watch with their hilarious malapropisms (using the wrong words) show Shakespeare’s mastery of the language. My only trouble with the play is Claudio’s actions. I just think that while his actions would have been accepted at the time, they are nothing more than a boy whose toy was supposedly damaged. I thought that it showed how shallow his love was. But it makes a beautiful contrast to Beatrice and Benedick’s fiery love that is so much more appealing. I think Beatrice and Benedick are my favorite romantic couple ever!
Now to talk about the performance that I attended; I have to admit I love watching Shakespeare’s works preformed. They are not really meant to just be read, they are meant to be preformed and have life given to them. I think this performance was one of the most entertaining things I have ever seen. It started with some of the extra characters or characters with few speaking lines interacting with the audience before the play. As they dressed the stage they stayed in character and bantered with the audience as we all found our seats. It was the best way I have ever been reminded to turn off my phone.
The play itself was filled with wonderful hints of India in every way. The music was played on traditional Indian instruments with the musicians sat in an extra part of the set. The clothing, the movements, the set, the food, and most of all the dancing paid homage to the setting. One of the best examples of this was during the first attempt to marry Claudio and Hero. She was dressed in a beautiful red sari covered in embroidery. And to make the scene more realistic, several audience members were brought on stage and given a cushion and some food while they pretended to be wedding guests.
One of the aspects of the play that I really enjoyed was that Beatrice and Benedick were a bit older than I was expecting. I think they appeared to be in their late 30s to early 40s. The thought that they have stayed single until then and then are so well matched really brought a different element to the story telling. For my first time seeing the amazing banter between the two characters, the actors did a brilliant job. And I have to say I was so happy to see them dancing together at the end.
To date, this is my favorite performance at the RSC in Stratford-Upon-Avon. And it has helped cement Much Ado about Nothing as one of my favorite plays.
Final Verdict: Run and push small children out of the way to go and see this! Any performance of Much Ado about Nothing would be worth it, but this version will keep you laughing throughout.