It took us eight years of producing Shakespeare in the Park to finally decide to take on Much Ado About Nothing. The popularity of the play, as well as several excellent movie productions, made putting up this play especially daunting. We are so very pleased with this cast, who have done a tremendous job offering a unique and enjoyable take on their characters and this lovable and timeless story.
Like many of Shakespeare’s plays (As You Like It, Love’s Labour’s Lost), the title seems obscure and cryptic. Several theories have been posited about the meaning of the title, Much Ado About Nothing. The one that seems most plausible involves a variation of the word “Nothing.” In Shakespeare’s day, the word was pronounced “noting,” as in, to “take note” of something. Nearly every character in the play is involved in either overhearing someone, or saying or doing something with the intent of being seen or heard by someone else. This is true of even the minor characters: the Watch overhear Borachio confessing his plot to Conrade; Margaret is seen and heard in a misleading and compromising situation. And of course, the famous scenes with Beatrice and Benedick overhearing their colleagues setting them up. Of course this “noting” occurs in many of Shakespeare’s plays, but not to the extent that it is present in Much Ado.
In addition to the idea of “noting,” the theme of mistaken identity is prevalent in this play. In other Shakespeare plays, mistaken identity is central to the plot (Twelfth Night, As You Like It, Comedy of Errors). In Much Ado, a single moment of mistaken identity is central to the main conflict in the plot, but doesn’t occur until halfway through the play.
Perhaps not necessarily “mistaken” identity, both Benedick and Beatrice make a pretense of defying love and romance. Just over 100 lines into the play, Benedick and Beatrice declare their determination to remain single. Benedick states:
and I would I could find in my heart that I had not a hard
heart; for, truly, I love none.
To which, Beatrice responds:
I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man
swear he loves me.
We know this to be a facade: it is suggested later by Beatrice that they had previously been in a relationship. But more importantly, it takes so little to remove these disguises.
Don John, the villain in the play, is very much the opposite. In the third scene of the play, he is open about who he is:
…it must not be denied
but I am a plain-dealing villain.
And Don John remains the plain-dealing villain throughout the play. We learn in the opening scene that Don John and his brother Don Pedro have been reconciled, but the nature of their conflict is unclear. Many would assume Don John to be a cardboard, caricature of the typical Shakespearean bad-guy. I don’t subscribe to that characterization, and I appreciate David’s thoughtful approach to what makes this guy tick.
Another villain in the play, Borachio, seemingly has little motive for his misdeeds. He actually comes up with two separate plans to disrupt the impending marriage of Claudio and Hero, but we’re offered no real motive for his disastrous behavior. When casting the play, we had Steve read the part of Borachio, which led to an interpretation which made some sense of his motivation to hurt both Claudio and Hero.
We’ve also offered a different twist to three of the somewhat minor roles. By combining the Messenger in Act 1 with the Sexton in Act 4, we came up with a Personal Assistant of sorts to the wealthy Leonato. We named her Imogen, who in the play is Leonato’s wife, and has no lines, but is mentioned in some stage direction.
If you’re seeing Much Ado About Nothing for the first time, I believe our production offers a fresh take on the characters and setting, but doesn’t detract in any way from the original and wonderful story and themes. If you are familiar with the play, then I hope you find a few interesting and entertaining takes in our production.