Much Ado About Nothing
Relationships that end on a sour note, not only can leave the ex lovers with a bad taste but with those around them as well. What's cupid to when his love arrows have gone awry? Take aim and try again. In Much Ado About Nothing, young lovers come together, are broken apart and then reunited but this time around its the slightly older, slightly jaded ex-lovers that take center stage. Benedick, a consummate military commander has sworn off the pursuit of women, most likely because of his constant war of words with Beatrice. A woman who herself has given up on finding the right man and just happens to be Benedick's ex. The two live for and loath the witty repartee that ensues whenever they are near each other and have a strange intimacy that few couples ever achieve. However, while they may enjoy these little encounters, their relatives and friends are less than amused.
As the play appeared in the 1623 First Folio
Taking place in Messina, Sicily, the story picks up after a war between two feuding brothers Don Pedro of Aragon and his illegitimate brother Don John. Don John has made an easy peace and their armies return home to Messina and are greeted by the town governor, Leonato. Claudio, a young lord, who at first thought of nothing but the business of war finds himself swept off his feet by Leonato's daughter Hero and she feels likewise. Looking for guidance in this budding romance Claudio turns to his best friend, Benedick, who sees nothing to gain by this 'loathsome' marriage. Hero likewise seeks advice from her less than enthusiastic cousin Beatrice. While Don Pedro, seeks to help his officer Claudio achieve his relatively easy love, he then seeks a more challenging match, getting Benedick and Beatrice together. Recognizing underneath their insults, the pair still love each other, Don Pedro enlists Leonato and Claudio to trick Benedick into thinking that Beatrice is madly in love with him and Hero and her servant Ursula to trick Beatrice into thinking that Benedick is in love with her. As the dumbfounded pair mull over this startling "news", Don John grows sick of these happy pairings. He has his servant Borachio concoct a story that Hero has been unfaithful prior to her wedding night with Claudio. The damage done, the rest of play follows the comic subplot of the insane Dogberry and his inane sidekick Verges as they hysterically uncover the truth and Benedick and Beatrice put aside their petty insults to help Hero restore her name and get back with Claudio.
The play's first appearance in print, quarto title page of 1600
Much Ado is based in part on several versions, both Italian and English adaptations of Lodovico Ariosto's Orlando Furioso. The story was very popular during Shakespeare's time being the subject of several theatrical adaptations. The show from its first performance has been one of Shakespeare's most popular and often performed comedies. In his own day, the play appeared in a quarto edition but unlike many of other period quartos, this version of Much Ado, seems to be taken straight from Shakespeare's manuscript. This is indicated by something known as a ghost character. The name Innogen appears in the Act I, Scene 1 heading but is never mentioned no speaks. It appears that this would have been Leonato's wife, but the character was never developed beyond the name. The mistake simply continued to be copied from the original manuscript to actor's prompt book to printed copy. Plays that often feature this quirk are thought to be the most authoritative.
The play was written in 1598 and appears to have just missed the cut in Francis Meres list of Shakespeare's plays which appeared that same year. Although, it is thought that this may be the show Love's Labours Wonne mentioned by Meres and was either renamed or was a mistake on Meres' part. Whether an original work or an updating of an older play, Much Ado is considered the first of Shakespeare's three Mature Comedies of which As You Like It and Twelfth Nightmake up the rest. In this grouping, Shakespeare's comedy gets more sophisticated and intellectual and he plays with darker themes, although they don't overshadow the comedy as he would in his later Romances. The off again/on again relationship of Benedick and Beatrice is the play's most popular storyline, though its actually a subplot. So popular was their story that Restoration period adaptations would feature them in the title and they became the central figure in Hector Berlioz' opera Beatrice Et Benedict. Most recently, the duo were played to perfection by Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson in Branagh's film version.
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