Review: Much Ado About Nothing

Posted 17 February, 2014 by Lianne in Books / 10 Comments

Much Ado About Nothing
By: William Shakespeare
Format/Source: Ebook; my copy

Set in a courtly world of masked revels and dances, this play turns on the archetypal story of a lady falsely accused of unfaithfulness, spurned by her bridegroom, and finally vindicated and reunited with him. Villainy, schemes, and deceit threatens to darken the brilliant humor and sparkling wordplay but the hilarious counterplot of a warring couple, Beatrice and Benedick, steals the scene as the two are finally tricked into admitting their love for each other in Shakespeare’s superb comedy of manners.

Continuing along in my journey this year to read more of Shakespeare’s works, I’ve decided to read this title next. Given that February is the month of Valentine’s Day, it seemed fiting. Plus, it’s a comedy, which is always fun, and I’ve heard good things about this play.

This book is part of the William Shakespeare Reading Challenge 2014 that I am participating in.

Much Ado About Nothing is a comedy of the sexes, filled with misunderstandings, schemes and revelry all around. It was easy to get into the story as the play starts with the arrival of Don Pedro and his officers, Claudio and Benedick, to Messina. Characters are already previously acquainted but the audience is brought up to speed by the exchange. What really struck me right away was the tension between Beatrice and Benedick, and the verbal sparring that they engage in. It’s probably my favourite part of the play because some of the stuff they say about each other and to each other are pretty sharp and snappy. I wish I had jotted down the acts and scenes but for example:

“’I can see he’s not in your good books,’ said the messenger.
‘No, and if he were I would burn my library.’”

Like, lol. Beatrice in general is quite a fierce character who stands her ground and doesn’t hold back. I haven’t quite encountered a character quite like her so far in any of Shakespeare’s plays and in some ways I felt rather startled by her character because you can transplant her to our day and age and she’d fit right in.

In fact, there’s quite some interesting dialogue throughout the play. Dogberry, who’s a pretty amusing character, had some really interesting lines here and there. And then there’s this crazy bit from Act IV:

Dost thou not suspect my place? Dost thou not suspect my years? O that he were here to write me down an ass! But masters, remember that I am an ass. Though it be not written down, yet forget not that I am an ass. No, thou villain, thou art full of piety, as shall be proved upon thee by good witness. I am a wise fellow, and which is more, an officer, and which is more, a householder, and which is more, as pretty a piece of flesh as any is in Messina, and one that knows the law, go to . . . and one that hath two gowns, and everything handsome about him. Bring him away. O that I had been writ down an ass!

The bit “which is more, as pretty a piece of flesh as any is in Messina” got a chuckle out of me–he just had to add that in, didn’t he?

I was pretty appalled however at Claudio, in…I believe it was the beginning of Act IV, when they were at Claudio and Hero’s wedding ceremony. (Rather surprising too because he seemed fairly harmless personality-wise for the most part throughout the play) I think I understand why Claudio was easily persuaded to believe that Hero was unfaithful but c’mon, how could you doubt sweet and calm Hero? And Leonato too, at first, way to go, father of the year /sarcasm. I wanted to throttle the lot of them. I’m glad that Beatrice was there though and that at that point Benedick was also helping out; I had no doubt in my mind that had Beatrice been a man, she could have challenged Claudio and the others for such slander. Grr that Don John for being the catalyst to all of that drama at the latter half of the play =P

Much Ado About Nothing felt rather similar to some of Shakespeare’s other plays (well, Romeo and Juliet comes to mind for me here) in that misunderstandings play a big role in the following drama. But unlike Romeo and Juliet, everything turned out well for everyone at the end and the miscommunication was eventually cleared. It was entertaining enough, with the verbal sparring between Beatrice and Benedick a highlight.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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10 Responses to “Review: Much Ado About Nothing”

  1. Much Ado About Nothing is a really interesting play on so many levels. For instance, it’s kind of weird to think that Beatrice and Benedick are in a way secondary characters–the plot revolves around Claudio and Hero’s courtship and the to-do made about Hero’s alleged unchastity–but they just steal the show.

    And then there’s the question of the ending. Is it a happy ending? Hero and Claudio get back together, but do we want them to? Claudio’s actions are just so repulsive. I suppose you could give him a bit of break and say he had some “evidence” (even though the source is obviously sketchy. Come on, Claudio!). But why does he have to humiliate Hero publicly? And then he seems to feel absolutely no remorse upon her death–like he thinks she had it coming. I can never understand why Hero even wants to marry him after that!

    And, yes, the betrayal of Hero’s friends and family really hurts. Some guy comes along and alleges stuff about a woman they know and love and live with, and just about everything believes him over her protestations. It’s painful to see how quickly they turn from her. But Beatrice stays strong–that’s a beautiful friendship.

    • Agreed, it took me a few scenes to realise that Beatrice and Benedick were the B-storyline but, like you said, they just steal the show. Every time I hear about this play, my thoughts immediately go to the two of them, lol.

      That’s a good question about the ending, I never thought about it, though it did leave me somewhat unsettled because of the public humiliation (I’m sure this isn’t the first classic I’ve come across where the lead male character goes off on a tangent based on some sketchy evidence but still, I was expecting better of Claudio). But yes, Beatrice and Hero’s friendship redeems (?) some of the =S I felt about that development 🙂

  2. Much Ado About Nothing is probably my second favorite Shakespeare (behind Taming of the Shrew). I really enjoy Benedict and Beatrice as well. If you’re interested in a film version, I really enjoyed Joss Whedon’s recent version and I’ve also heard rave reviews about Kenneth Branaugh’s version as well, though I’ve not personally seen it.

    • Glad to hear the Whedon version was good! I’ve also heard great things about the Branaugh adaptation…I’ve also seen clips of the stage version starring David Tennant and Catherine Tate and that one looked zany and fantastic 😀

  3. I haven’t seen the Whedon version yet, but the Branagh version is brilliant! I have made people watch it just for the chair scene. It’s absolutely hilarious.

  4. Oh my goodness, this play. THIS PLAY. I have so many conflicting feelings over this play especially towards the men who just flip out at Hero. I just want to go “REALLY?!” and, like you want to, throttle them.

    Also Dogberry and his rant that you posted. HILARIOUS!

  5. Aww man, I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy this more! (It’s my favorite Shakespeare.) Like you, I love the Beatrice/Benedick romance. They are totally the real hero and heroine of the play, even though the other heroine is actually named Hero (misdirection! And slightly confusing, gender-wise…). I think Claudio is purposely set up as sort of a foil for Benedick. He seems to be the nicer guy, in the beginning — he’s full of praise for Hero, while Benedick is basically just insulting to everybody. But Claudio clearly (at first) sees Hero as more of an object than anything else; that line “Can the world buy such a jewel?” is a perfect example, and Benedick rightly mocks him for it by saying, “Yea, and a case to put it in, too.” And then when Claudio immediately believes that Hero is unfaithful and publicly rejects her, Benedick reserves judgment and ends up siding with Beatrice, who knows Hero better than anyone. But I do think Claudio is somewhat redeemed by his utter horror and grief when he thinks Hero is dead. He grows up a bit, in my view.

    All of which is to say that I really like this play, which I see as a sort of prototypical Pride and Prejudice. Two sets of lovers, one set much more interesting than the other, one set driven apart by a misunderstanding, the other set constantly bickering until they realize their true feelings…OK, I’ll stop rambling like a crazy person now. 🙂

    • I never thought about it but interesting point about it being a kind of prototypical P&P. They really do steal the show with their bickering and intensity 🙂

      Also, thanks for sharing the interesting point about Claudio and Benedick contrast. I never really thought about it (was too busy all “Grr” over what happened with Hero, haha) 🙂

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