Much Ado About Nothing

Content Group

Overview
Much Ado About Nothing, California Shakespeare Theater, 2003

Much Ado About Nothing is celebrated for its contentious pair of lovers, Beatrice and Benedick (see Frances Abington, Anna Cora Ritchie and Ellen Terry as Beatrice, and David Garrick, E. L. Davenport and Henry Irving as Benedick), whose mutual skirmishes are resolved in shared defense of Beatrice's friend Hero, slandered by her fiancé, Claudio, friend of Benedick. The plot involves a series of contrived overhearings (or "notings"—hence the title) which foster the love of Beatrice and Benedick, but mislead Claudio (see our staging of Act 3, Scene 3). Critics censure the supposed central plot involving the undistinguished characters of Hero and Claudio (see John Forbes Robertson as Claudio and Viola Tree as Hero), but Shakespeare uses them merely as foils and catalysts of the more jaded, witty couple, who have provided the norm for most later literary love affairs evolving from seeming contentiousness, such as Mirabell and Millamant in William Congreve's comedy The Way of the World or Elizabeth and Darcy in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, and perhaps even Martha and George in Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (see the essay in H. M. Richmond, Shakespeare's Sexual Comedy). The distinctive setting in Messina bizarrely matches the locale of the paranoid victor over the Turks at Lepanto (1572), the Bastard Don John of Austria, who unexpectedly figures as the villain of the play (he first planned the Armada against England). Some of the farcical humor derives from the incompetent police (forerunners of the Keystone Kops; compare our staging of these characters at the Globe with this 1976 RSC production) led by Dogberry (see John Gilbert in the role), who resolve the lovers' misapprehensions; but the play's great delight is the progress of the affair between Beatrice and Benedick, which has been a favorite of leading performers (compare St. Louis 2007, CST 2003, RSC 1990 and RSC 1976 with Mr. and Mrs. Kean, Ellen Terry and Henry Irving, and Lewis Waller and Winifred Emery), as famously illustrated by the enthusiastically revived production starring Antony Quayle and John Gielgud with various actresses: Diana Wynyard, Margaret Leighton, and Peggy Ashcroft. It was also the script for UC Berkeley performances at the rebuilt Shakespeare Globe Theatre in London (see Much Ado About Nothing at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre (1996) and a video of the production). See also Much Ado About Nothing: Researching a Production History.

Images
Much Ado About Nothing: Peggy Ashcroft as Beatrice and John Gielgud as Benedick
A George Inn Staging of Much Ado About Nothing by UC Berkeley
Another Shot of the Globe Much Ado About Nothing Production
The Balcony Above the Globe Stage
The Much Ado About Nothing Cast Finale
Much Ado: California Shakespeare Theatre; Beatrice (Julie Eccles) in Love
Much Ado: CST; Love's Labour's Won? Beatrice; Bendedick.
Much Ado: CST; Don John (Andy Murray) as Villain
Much Ado: California Shakespeare Theatre; The Watch
Much Ado: California Shakespeare Theatre; The Wedding Crisis
Much Ado: CST; "Engaged"
Much Ado: CST; Final Dance
A Balcony Scene in Much Ado.

Pages

Slideshows
Bibliography

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Cox, J. F., ed. Much Ado About Nothing. Shakespeare in Production. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Crowl, Samuel. "The Marriage of Shakespeare and Hollywood: Kenneth Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing." In Spectacular Shakespeare: Critical Theory and Popular Cinema, edited by Courtney Lehmann and Lisa S. Starks, 110-24. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press; Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 2002.

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Much Ado About Nothing at Talkin' Broadway.

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Except where otherwise specified, all written commentary is © 2016, Hugh Macrae Richmond