Much Ado About Nothing (1598-9)

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Much Ado
About Nothing
(1598-9)
by William Shakespeare
Bevington, Chapter 9
CONTEXT AND DATING
The play belongs with
Shakespeare’s mature
comedies, TWELFTH
NIGHT and AS YOU LIKE
IT, for like them it is
expansive,
philosophical and
mostly festive
investigation of
romantic love
ACTION
ACTION takes place in an
actual place, Messina, a
real place in Sicily, not a
mythical setting...nor does
it move into a “green
world” of sexual
confusion...there is not
contrast between worlds
of court and country...the
language is 3/4 prose
Inspirations
Elements of the
CHARACTERS of Beatrice
and Benedick can be
found in Shakespeare’s
earlier comedies: Berowne
and Rosaline in LOVE’S
LABOURS LOST...Petruchio
and Katharine in TAMING
OF THE SHREW...evolves into
the wits of Restoration
Comedy best expressed in
William Congreve’s WAY OF
THE WORLD with Millimant
and Mirabell
STRUCTURE
The STRUCTURE--The play involves two contrasting love
plots: Hero-Claudio/Beatrice-Benedick
Characters
• Principal lovers are contrasted by other pairs
• Don Pedro and Don John
• Borachio and Margaret
Denzel Washington as Don Pedro
Keanu Reaves as Don John
Dogberry and Verges
Reminiscent of
the mechanicals
in AMND
SOURCES AND
INSPIRATIONS
The merry war between Benedick and Beatrice seems
an invention
Catherine Tate and David Tennant, 2011
Branagh film, 1993
BBC update, 2005
Hero-Claudio
This relationship has a long
literary history
- Novelle of Matteo Bandello (1554)
- Greek mythology regarding tales of
a maiden falsely accused
- Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso
- Spencer’s The Fairie Queene
LANGUAGE
• LANGUAGE is filled with
wordplay
o Puns
o Malaprops (Dogberry)
o Witty exchanges
• Benedick-Beatrice plot is
in prose
• Melodramatic plot of
Hero-Claudio is in blank
verse
• Dialogue is filled with
metaphor and double
meanings
THEMES AND ISSUES
• The battle of the sexes
• False fronts (hiding ones
true feelings)
• Cuckolds and Misogynists
STAGING CHALLENGES
Eavesdropping…how is
this most effectively
staged?
“Kill Claudio” How do
actors motivate the
contradictory and
conflicting emotions
in this moment?
ELIZABETHAN ERA
on stage
Remained in repertory until theatres were closed by
Parliament in 1642.
RESTORATION PERIOD
Davenant staged a revision entitled
THE LAW AGAINST LOVERS which
places Benedick at odds with Duke
Angelo from MEASURE FOR
MEASURE and cut the Hero-Claudio
plot.
First revival in something like its
Shakespearen form came in 1721.
When Garrick took over the
management of Drury Lane in 1747,
it became his most popular
comedy and held the stage
through 1776.
THE
TH
19
CENTURY
Restored more of the original text,
by the time Macready played
Benedick in 1843, it was being
staged in a spectacular
fashion...Charles and Ellen Kean
were notable Beatrice-Benedick
at latter half of the century. Most
famous production of the century
was arguably, the Henry IrvingEllen Terry production at the
Lyceum which played 200
performances before touring.
THE
TH
20
CENTURY
Augustin Daly in New York
and Herbert Beerbohm
Tree in London staged
“opulent revivals” at the
turn of the century.
William Poel and Gordon
Craig explored simpler,
non-realistic settings.
Craig’s 1911 design for the play 
In the 1930s, modern dress productions were
appearing, of particular note was the 1947 Old Vic
production with Don John as a facist black-shirt
and Dogberry as an air raid warden on a bicycle.
John Gielgud and Peggy
Ashcroft were among the
celebrated stars at midcentury.
THE TWENTIETH
CENTURY
Edith Evans also partnered with John Gielgud as the
celebrated lovers of the play. Gielgud was thought to
be the best Benedick since Irving.
THE TWENTIETH
CENTURY
A 1972 production at the Public Theatre set the play in
small-town America at the turn of the century with
Dogberry and his associates as Keystone Cops.
THE TWENTIETH
CENTURY
A 1988 RSC production was set
loosely in the mid-20th century.
Both Katharine Hepburn and
Maggie Smith played Beatrice
as less feminine and more
fiercely aggressive.
Older actors--Alan Bates and
Felicity Kendal in London (1989);
Richard Easton and Katherine
McGrath in San Diego (1995)
have successfully taken on the
roles.
Television and film
•
•
•
•
•
First film was a silent released in 1926
An East German film was released in 1963
Two Russian versions were filmed in 1956 and 1973
Franco Zeffirelli’s stage version (1965) was filmed for television 
Joseph Papp’s 1973 production was broadcast by PBS
BBC Complete Works
The BBC filmed its production for the series in 1984 with director Stuart Burge
RSC company members included Robert Lindsay (Benedick), Cherie Lunghi (Beatrice),
Robert Reynolds (Claudio), Katharine Levy (Hero), Lee Montague (Leonato), Jon Finch
(Don Pedro), Michael Elphick (Dogberry), Graham Crowden (Friar Francis)
Studio setting showed an opulent villa with Moorish, Florentine and Spanish influences
Costuming was colorful and sumptuous
1993 film
Filmed on location at a villa in Tuscany
An international cast featured Kenneth Branagh (Benedick),
Emma Thompson (Beatrice), Richard Briers (Leonato), Keanu
Reeves (Don John), Kate Beckinsale (Hero), Robert Sean Leonard
(Claudio), Denzel Washington (Don Pedro), Michael Keaton
(Dogberry), Imelda Staunton (Margaret), Jimmy Yuill (Friar
Francis), Brian Blessed (Antonio), Phyllida Law (Ursula)
1993 film
• Action is simplified and scenes
are re-ordered.
• Certain speeches are shortened
and visual cues replace speech.
• He stages the “seduction of
Margaret” for Claudio and Don
Pedro to see.
• The “Kill Claudio” scene is played
in a small chapel.
• Many of the cuckolding
references are cut.
• Ends in a joyous dance with Don
Pedro left out of the rejoicing.
2013 Film
Directed by Joss Wheedon at his home…
ADAPTATIONS
• 1862 “Beatrice et Benedict” (opera) by Hector Berloiz
• 1901 “Much Ado About Nothing” (opera)
• Shakespeare Retold BBC (2006)
ADAPTATIONS
On Social Media
References
• David Bevington, etal. Shakespeare: Script, Stage,
Screen. “Much Ado About Nothing.” Pearson, New York,
2006.
• Cox, John D., ed. Plays in Performance: “Much Ado
About Nothing.” Cambridge, England, 1998.
• Findlay, Alison. “Much Ado Abouth Nothing.” A
Companion to Shakespeare’s Works: The Comedies.
• Oxford, 2003.
• Mason, Pamela. Text and Performance: “Much Ado
About Nothing.” London, 1992.
• Paster, Gail Kern. “A Modern Perspective.” The New
Folger Edition of “Much Ado About Nothing.” New York,
1995.

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