The basic story of Much Ado About Nothing is that Leonato welcomes visitors from war, a Prince, Don Pedro, and his friends. One of the friends, Claudio, falls in love with Leonato’s daughter, named Hero, and they decide to marry, but a plot is put in place by the Prince’s brother, Don John, to make Claudio believe that Hero has a lover and hence scupper the wedding. And then there is much ado about nothing, as Hero is entirely innocent. The play is enlivened by the squabbling between Hero’s cousin, Beatrice and Don Pedro’s friend, Benedick, who are both determined never to marry. Here are their respective views on marriage:
‘Beatrice: Just, if he send me no husband; for the which blessing I am at him upon my knees every morning and evening.’
‘Benedick: That a woman conceived me, I thank her; that she brought me up, I likewise give her most humble thanks: ... Because I will not do them the wrong to mistrust any, I will do myself the right to trust none; and the fine is, for the which I may go the finer, I will live a bachelor.’
They both think they are very clever, each want to best each other’s wit and they bounce off each other wonderfully. Beatrice especially is a fantastic creation, she is a woman ahead of her time – rather than being meekly submissive like Hero, she is kick-ass, and has a very biting wit. However, Benedict is a match for this, and both of them really enjoy trying to get one over on the other:
‘Beatrice. I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior Benedick: nobody marks you.
Benedick. What, my dear Lady Disdain! are you yet living?
Beatrice. Is it possible disdain should die while she hath such meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick?’
There was something I wasn’t so keen on about this play, and that was the reaction to the false allegations – everybody immediately believes the worst of Hero, even her father! This is where Beatrice particularly shines, because her faith in her cousin is absolutely unfaltering.
‘Beatrice: Is he not approved in the height a villain, that hath slandered, scorned, dishonored my kinswoman? Oh, that I were a man! ... I would eat his heart in the marketplace.’
The biggest surprise for me most about this play is just how many funny lines there are. Shakespeare is famous for his wordplay, and rightly so, there are puns, the same word used in different ways and comedic bumbling. I am so impressed that comedy can still be funny over 400 years after it was written.
‘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’
There were definitely some lines I recognised because I’d seen them elsewhere – the Lady Disdain quote, and this gorgeous one:
‘Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever,-
One foot in sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never.’
This line reminded me a little of Pride and Prejudice, the idea that strong emotion can be difficult to express...
‘Silence is the perfectest herald of joy; I were but little happy, if I could say how much.’
When Darcy says, when talking of his silence when he came to Longbourn after Bingley and Jane got engaged a man who had felt less would have said more.
As this is a comedy, you are assured of a happy ending, although frankly some of the characters didn’t deserve one! I’m looking at YOU Claudio, and also Leonato. Humph!
I very much enjoyed reading this play. I’d give it five stars, and the particular version I read 3 stars.
So, I have successfully overcome my trepidation of reading Shakespeare, and I’d certainly try reading more. If you’re nervous too, get a version with notes and give it a go!