The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Hero Takes A Fall


MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

Odd title. Apparently, back in Shakey's day, the word 'nothing' was triple entendre. Firstly, 'nothing' can mean a women's downstairs front naughty bits. Secondly, it is a homonym for 'noting', as in eavesdropping. A thirdly, 'nothing' means, as in the modern sense, f*ck all.

MUCH ADO ABOUT F*CK ALL

The first half, however, is correct. There is certainly a bit of 'ado'. And like A Bit Of A Do, it's based around farcical misunderstandings; people acting under false impressions. It's about duplicity and the hilarious consequences thereof.

Themes and stuff:

The two love stories run in parallel, and compare-and-contrast the effects of duplicity. Benedick and Beatrice are given cause to fall in love with each other as a result of the friends lying to them. Similarly, a deception is what brings Claudio and Hero together; but then a second deception tears them apart; and it requires a third deception to reconcile them.

It's all about people overhearing things and getting the wrong impression; sometimes deliberately, as in the case of Benedick and Beatrice being set up for each other, or in the case of Claudio being set up to get the wrong idea about Hero. But what saves the day is another misunderstanding, as the local police force overhear the villains discussing their plan, and - mistaking them for famous thieves - arrest them. So eavesdropping can be used deliberately as a means of getting something to believe they wouldn't otherwise give credence, it can be used to change people's minds and hearts for good or for bad, and it can also result accidentally in the discovery of the truth.

Plus it's a good theatrical device, as one character hides behind a pillar as the other characters talk about them, pretending not to see them. And, as in all farces, the humour arises from the audience having information that the characters are not privy to, and the contrast between in how the scene looks from the different characters' points of view. That is the delight of the Benedict and Beatrice relationship - everyone’s in on the joke except for them. Dramatic irony.

As the play draws contrasts the positive and negative outcomes of people-being-set-up-to-get-the-wrong-impression, it also draws contrasts between the male leads and the female leads. Benedick is cynical, sceptical, witty and sardonic; he would never do anything so stupid as to fall in love, he's seen it all before. Claudio is gullible, innocent, trusting and jealous; he is only too eager to fall in (and out of) love.

The other contrast is the girls. Beatrice is feisty, independent, spirited, witty, clever, sexy, who talks endlessly and gives rather better than she gets. She is nobody's woman but her own,and she would never do anything so stupid as to let a man get the better of her. Hero, on the other hand, is docile almost to the point of catalepsy; she has virtually no dialogue at all, she is wet, fluffy, and probably owns a collection of ornamental glass ponies. She doesn't mind whom she marries, it's up to her father to decide and whatever he wants, she’s happy with.

So, as you can see, Benedick and Beatrice are made for each other, and so are Claudio and Hero. Benedick and Beatrice spark off each other like a couple of aides in The West Wing, whilst Claudio and Hero can, I don't know, be incredibly wet together and form a simpering heart-shaped puddle.

And in the case of each character, it is these traits that make them so easy to manipulate. Benedick and Beatrice are mistrusting; so they can be made to believe something if they overhear it, because they’re more inclined to believe what people say about them behind their backs than to their faces. On the other hand, Claudio and Hero take absolutely everything at face value, without a single doubt entering their pretty but entirely brainless heads.

So that's the themes and stuff covered. What actually happens?

What actually happens:

There's been a war. The Prince, Don Pedro, has been away with his two mates Claudio and Benedick. They are also accompanied by the Prince's illegitimate brother, Don John the Bastard. Don John has a massive grudge against Don Pedro for no adequately explained reason. His loathing for Don Pedro extends also to Claudio and Benedick, just because.

A villain who just seems to be bad for the sake of it, rather than having any proper motivation? He's in good company in Shakespeareland then. Don John is a bit of a prototype Iago.

They arrive in Messina, the house of Leonato and his brother Antonio. This is also where Beatrice, Leonato's daughter, and Hero, Leonato's niece, reside.

Claudio falls in love with Hero without her saying a word. He asks for Benedick's advice, but Benedick says he isn't interested in women. Not because he's gay, you understand, but because he doesn't trust them. (If you want a gay character, then Don Pedro is almost certainly your man)

To celebrate the arrival of the soldiers, Leonato holds a masque. Everyone wears masks and acts as though they can't recognise each other even though clearly they can. Beatrice and Benedick say nasty things about each other whilst pretending to be different people. Don Pedro offers to chat up Hero on Claudio's behalf; being a bit shy, and a bit of a dribble, Claudio accepts. Hero, being a bit of an airhead, is completely taken in by the ruse.

Enter Don John, the bastard. He has a quiet word with Claudio, and tells him that Don Pedro isn't chatting up Hero on his behalf, but is after Hero for himself. Claudio believes him hook, line, sinker, net and copy of the Angling Times (joke stolen from somewhere, I forget where). He gets irked, almost to the point where he might almost do something. Don Pedro then brings Hero over to him, wooed on his behalf, and they exchange soppy looks, and Claudio is happy again. He's like a puppy. Hero is so overcome by emotion she almost says something.

This neatly sets up Claudio's gullibility and Don John's manipulative nature. Which will be paid off later, as Don John makes up a second plan to thwart and wreak revenge. Just because.

The rest of Act 2 is taken up with a very funny scene where Benedick overhears his comrades - Don Pedro, Claudio and Balthazar - talking about how much Beatrice is in love with him. They have come up with a scam to make Benedick fall in love with Beatrice, and it works. Benedick believes everything they say, even though Claudio is a hopeless liar (a hopeless case full stop). I daresay this scene also involved some funny business about Benedick hiding behind pillars in full visibility of his friends, with them pretending not to see him, like when Doctor Who is hiding from the Nimon in the power complex in the iconic Tom Baker adventure The Horns of Nimon.

Benedick then joins his mates a few days later, having undergone a transformation. He has shaved , washed and put on aftershave. He's wearing more fashionable clothes. He has a dreamy look in his eye. Worst of all, he says that You Know I Never Noticed It Before But Paul McCartney Wrote Some Really Great Love Songs. He's got it bad. He's even talking all flowery, and has a strange yearning. He's love sick. It's a very funny transformation from the you'll-never-catch-me-falling-in-love Benedick of earlier, and his mates take the piss something chronic.

Act 3 sees Beatrice's friends - Hero and Margaret - putting together their identical plan to make Beatrice fall for Benedick. Which works, though not producing such a dramatic or amusing transformation, it has to be said. Nevertheless there is something charming in the idea that all it takes is for someone to know they are loved for them to lower their defences and allow themselves to love someone else. I expect this scene also involved some amusing people-pretending-not-to-be-able-to-see-Beatrice-hiding-behind-a-pillar shenanigans.

Beatrice reminds me of Katherine from The Taming Of The Shrew; she has the same fiery spirit and wit. But there is something much more satisfying about the way Much Ado has Beatrice's defences being softened, in contrast to Petruchio's tough-love regime for Katherine.

Act 3 also sees Don John putting his second plan into action. Or rather it doesn't, because it all happens off-stage (which is odd, because it could easily have been achieved on stage). Don John gets Claudio and Don Pedro to wait outside Hero's bedroom window at night.

Don John's plan is this. His servant, Borachio, knows Hero's friend, Margaret. He has arranged for Margaret to greet him at Hero's window and pretend to be Hero.

So when Claudio and Don Pedro arrive, they see what they think is Borachio talking sexy-talk to Hero at her bedroom window.

MASSIVE GAPING GRAND-CANYON-SIZED PLOT HOLE: Presumably Hero is in her bedroom during this? And she doesn't notice? Or she has been sent to sleep in another room, but never thinks to mention this later on? It just doesn't make sense. I think I shall go and moan in the 'Gaffes and Bloopers' thread on Outpost Arden.

Thinking Hero has betrayed him, Claudio is gutted. He doesn't want to marry Hero if she is not a virgin. He doesn't want a girl where another man has already slipped his cock up her 'nothing' in case his cock won’t measure up and will seem second-best.

That is it, though, isn't it? The whole virgin thing is all about men's insecurity. They don't want to diddle their doodah somewhere a larger doodah has been in case they might not touch the sides. They want virgins so they can be sure the woman can't make a size comparison. So this proves, I think, beyond any doubt, why suicide bombers must have incredibly small dicks.

Like Biro lids. That small.

Having successfully pulled off his deceit, Borachio then goes for a wander at night and boasts about it to his mate Conrad. But little does he realise he is being overheard by the Watch.

The Watch a variation on the mechanicals from AMND. A motley collection of conscripted yokels and bumpkins, probably wearing armour that doesn't quite fit. All desperately stupid. They are led by Dogberry (another role for Will Kempe), a local bobby with an overblown sense of his own trousers. Dogberry is hugely funny; like Bottom or Quince, he uses what he thinks is educated language to look impressive, but gets it all wrong. He may even be funnier than Bottom. He is clearly scared when faced with the local magistrate, or the Prince, which just makes him talk even more shit. I would quote it but you need the context, you really have to be there.

In case you are wondering who Will Kempe is, he was a player in Shakespeare's theatre company, and was the Mark Benton of the late 16th century. He appeared in absolutely everything, always playing the funny fat bloke. He was in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Henry IV, even a series of advertisement for Ye Nation-Wide Banke. He had catchphrases and everything. Possibly his greatest claim to fame is that he jigged continuously from London to Norwich over 9 days. I would like to see Mark Benton do that.

Dogberry's second-in-command is Verges, a near-senile idiot. Played in this production by Clive Dunn. Compare this to the film where he is played by Ben Elton. Michael Elphick is fairly good - but not fantastic - as Dogberry, but he’s a zillion times better than Michael Keaton in the film, who gets the role COMPLETELY WRONG.

The Watch arrest Borachio, thinking him to be a famous thief, and bring him before the local magistrate. Borachio explains all about Don John's plan.

At this point, Don John does a bunk. In the film he's played by Keanu Reeves. He doesn't have many lines. All Don John has to do is skulk. For no particular reason.

Act 4 and it's Claudio and Hero's wedding. They are brought before the Friar, played by Graham Crowden, who you may remember starred in the iconic Tom Baker adventure The Horns Of Nimon. He's very good in this, but then, he's good in everything. In fact, this BBC production has a pretty good cast - Robert Lindsay etc - and is very well done, lovely costumes, sets and so on. But the Kenneth Branagh film’s probably better. It's certainly a lot shorter. And it contains mild nudity, which is great if you like your nudity on the mild side.

Claudio and Hero's wedding. They get to the just-cause-and-impediment bit, you know the bit where it is impossible not to giggle. And where for some reason I can't help thinking of Dustin Hoffman banging his hand silently against a window to get our attention. Do do-do-do do- do do do do we'd like to know a little bit about you for our files...

Claudio doesn't hold back. He doesn't mince his words. His words are unminced. He tells it like it is. Hero is a slag, a bitch, a whore. She may look like a sheep that's been dipped into toilet water, but don't let that fool you, that's merely an act. She's really a complete hussy. She may blush, she may protest, but that's just her evil womanly wiles. Ooh, women, you are naughty.

Well, stone me. Hero even wakes up and starts talking! She doesn't say much, it has to be said, but she does speak up for herself for a bit. Before falling to the ground, unconscious. Not that she was ever particularly wide-awake to begin with.

This is heartbreaking stuff. Wonderful. Don't let the BBC thing with Billie Piper put you off. They really f*cked up the ending in that.

Claudio and Don Pedro leave the church, their work done. Then Hero wakes up, and the Friar comes up with a cunning plan. Why not tell everyone that Hero has died? Keep her out of sight, and then people will start to think more kindly of her? In particular, tell Claudio and Don Pedro, and they will regret being sooo mean to her at the wedding.

This plan cannot possibly go wrong.

The Friar has clearly been in touch with his colleague in Verona, as they are careful to remove all sharp implements and poisons from Claudio's vicinity before telling him his girlfriend is dead. He is gutted. And when Don Pedro learns that his evil brother has done a suspiciously-timed bunk, he starts to put two and two together, and a four slowly begins to form in his mind...

Meanwhile Benedick and Beatrice finally get it together and declare their love for each other. “Is there anything I can do to prove my love?” asks Benedick. “Yes, kill Claudio”, says Beatrice. “Ah.... anything other than kill Claudio,” says Benedick. “He's a mate, you see.”

Act 5, and Claudio and Don Pedro are met by Dogberry and the rest of the Watch, and his prisoner Borachio. Borachio confesses all. It was all a scheme! Hero didn't really sleep with anyone else, she is still fanny intacta.

Claudio is now in two minds. On the one hand, he's pleased that Hero didn't betray him and that she loved him. On the other hand, he's fairly annoyed that he is directly responsible for her death.

Enter Leonato, who has a deal for Claudio. As a punishment for wrongly accusing his daughter Hero of infidelity, Claudio must agree to marry his niece, sight unseen. Claudio agrees.

The final scene takes place at the wedding, where Claudio agrees to marry a young girl who is wearing a mask. After he has said yes, she takes off her mask. She is Hero! WHO DID NOT DIE AFTER ALL!

Audience goes 'aaaah' and melts into a big romantic toffee-flavoured goo.

But what's this - Beatrice and Benedick discover that they were set up! They both deny being in love with each other but, in a plot resolution of almost Boom Town-level convenience, they have written love letters to each other that have accidentally fallen in Claudio and Hero's hands! So Claudio and Hero have proof that Beatrice and Benedick do love each other after all!

Audience goes 'aaaah' again, having now developed into a sort of warm, happy, fudge.

Benedick decides he was wrong, women are okay after all, and being married to them is okay too. He even recommends that Don Pedro gets himself a wife, despite Don Pedro being gay (probably).

And then all that's left is for them to bring Will Kempe back on for him to do his funny fat-man dance. With a hey ho and a nonny ho and a nonnynonnynonny hey-ho.

In summary, then, another brilliant play. Funny, touching, and, for Shakey, relatively economically told. How long can this winning streak last? (Until about half-way through As You Like it, but that's another story)

Next up: The Merry Wives of Windsor

1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad. I found this UNSPEAKABLY TEDIOUS. You've now explained why. Good criticism either challenges your opinion or confirms them for you in a way far cleverer than you've been able to formulate.

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