Actors' Renaissance Season 2012

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Stuff that Happens
Stuff that happens during the play
  • Leonato, the governor of Messina, welcomes Don Pedro of Aragon and his troops after their recent military victory.
  • Beatrice (Leonato’s niece) and Benedick (Don Pedro’s friend) resume their “merry war” and verbally spar with one another. Both swear they will never fall in love.
  • Claudio (Don Pedro’s younger friend) tells Benedick and Don Pedro that he is in love with Leonato’s daughter, Hero.
  • Don Pedro devises a plan in which he will pretend to be Claudio at a masked party, woo Hero for Claudio, and then get Leonato to give consent for Hero to marry Claudio.
  • Leonato and his brother Antonio prepare for the evening party and mistakenly think Don Pedro wants to marry Hero.
  • Don John, bastard brother of Don Pedro, tells his man Conrad “I cannot hide what I am…a plain dealing villain.”
  • At the party, seizing his opportunity to get even with Claudio (whom he despises), Don John convinces Claudio that Don Pedro has wooed Hero for himself.
  • Don Pedro and Leonato clear the air when they reveal that Claudio may marry Hero.
  • Don John devises another plot against Claudio in which Borachio, another of his men, will make Claudio believe Hero has been unfaithful.
  • Knowing that Benedick is eavesdropping on them and thus will overhear, Don Pedro, Claudio, and Leonato pretend to be aware that Beatrice has professed her love for Benedick.
  • Knowing that Beatrice is eavesdropping on them and thus will overhear, Hero and her gentlewoman Ursula pretend to be aware that Benedick has professed his love for Beatrice.
  • Don John puts his plot into motion by telling Claudio that his fiancée “is disloyal” and invites him and Don Pedro to go “see her chamber window entered, even the night before her wedding day.” Claudio vows that if he should “see anything to-night why [he] should not marry her, tomorrow…will [he] shame her.”
  • Dogberry the Constable and his partner Verges prepare their watchmen for the night patrol.
  • Borachio tells Conrad how he tricked Claudio into believing Hero was unfaithful. The watchmen overhear and arrest Borachio and Conrad.
  • Before Dogberry and the watchmen can reveal the truth, Claudio rejects Hero and publicly shames her at the wedding; Hero collapses, Don Pedro and Claudio depart.
  • Friar Francis devises a plot in which Leonato tells Claudio that Hero “died upon his words…Then he shall mourn and wish he had not accused her.”
  • In the aftermath of the ruined wedding, Beatrice and Benedick finally profess their love to one another.
  • Beatrice asks Benedick to kill Claudio for shaming Hero.
  • The merry war ensues.
Dr. Ralph's Brief

1. When was the play first peformed?
A single edition of the play appeared in 1600; it was performed one or two years earlier.

2. Where was the play first performed?
To start with, at the Theatre, James Burbage’s outdoor playhouse north of the city wall, but soon after that at the newly constructed Globe.

3. How does the play fit into Shakespeare’s career?
It comes roughly in the middle of his career, and scholars group it as a “mature comedy” with The Merchant of Venice (coming soon to a Blackfriars Playhouse near you), As You Like It, and Twelfth Night. 

4. How is this play like Shakespeare’s other plays?
In terms of gender relationships, the play seesm to be a reworking of Shakespeare’s theme (also see in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Julius Caesar) that guys who hang out together are generally idiots and largely undeserving of the women they claim to love.

5. How is this play unlike other Shakespeare plays?
Owing in part to its language (see below) and in part to Beatrice’s views on marriage, men, and chauvinism, Much Ado About Nothing feels the most contemporary of any of Shakespeare’s plays. This aspect of the play may explain why Kenneth Branagh’s film was so successful.

6. What do scholars think about this play?
They admire it. though, oddly, they have less to say about it than they do about the comedies they group it with. This relative quiet may be a subconscious response to the play’s message that much of what we have to say is nonsense, a message neatly summed up in the play’s title.

7. Are there any controversies surrounding the work?

8. What characters should I especially look out for?
Beatrice and Benedick, one of the great couples in literature, are among Shakespeare’s wittiest creations, and Beatrice is among his wisest. People who love words cannot resist the two of them nor the play’s hilarious foil to witty language, Dogberry, whose words are very fantastical blanket.

9. What scene should I especially look for?
Act Two, scene three, called the “Gulling Scene,” in which Benedick’s posse tricks him into realizing he’s in love with Beatrice, is theatrical magic. The sudden descent into darkness of Act Four, scene one, has few parallels in comedy, and the duet at the end of the scene may be the stage’s most important exchange about romantic love.

10. What is the language like?
This play has more prose in it than all but one of Shakespeare’s plays (The Merry Wives of Windsor), and, rich and intricate as it is, that prose puts modern actors at ease and contributes to the sense that the play is so contemporary.