Bram's Reviews > Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
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Feb 17, 10

bookshelves: 2010, the-bard
Read from February 15 to 16, 2010

I’ve always found feistiness attractive. It’s probably the only consistent trait in the girls I’ve fallen for since high school. The clever retort, the unimpressed eye roll, the sarcastic aside: for better or worse, these are the things the pique my interest and prepare me for that unique form of suffering known as love. On my own, I’m hardly confident or witty enough to succeed in one-on-one situations with women who are shy or generally unforthcoming. I need someone to throw down the gauntlet and challenge me to emerge from my self-absorbed, overly-staid default setting. I need a Beatrice.

Beatrice, Beatrice, Beatrice. She represents the most extreme range of feistiness that I’ve encountered in my romantic life; I’ve known two like her, and let’s just say that neither are my wife. I realize that, confined by the necessities of a comedic ending, Shakespeare ‘reforms’ both Beatrice and Benedick. In real life, however, there’s usually no such reformation, and while I shrink from suggesting that this type of extreme personality is antithetical to extended relationships, I have no doubt that it’s not for me in the long run. This isn’t to say that Beatrice’s personality no longer spins me around. It does and it has: I have a crush on Beatrice.

So it’s a small, playful crush, you’re thinking. Ah! but she’s more than just a well-timed bon mot. She has layers and a past deftly intimated. She’s been hurt, but she doesn’t let this trap her into the usual insecurities and vulnerabilities of a stock character. She rises above it and, if we disallow some mean-spirited trickery from her friends, I have no doubt that she’d forget Benedick as easily as I’ve forgotten loves long past*. Regardless, I’m sure she continues abusing Benedick verbally for years to come while, if his friends’ jests are to be seen as prophecy, she ends up giving him the horns (with me) after he returns to his flighty, bacheloresque ways. And anyway, I’ve a suspicion that some of Shakespeare’s comedies are more enjoyable if you simply disregard or adjust the ending when it doesn’t quite feel appropriate.

I’m not the only one in the room with a crush on Beatrice though. For starters, I need to compete with the Bard himself, who’s so enamored with his creation that he allows her to entirely overshadow (and occasionally speak for) the ironically named Hero. Plot-mover she may be; Hero is still a timid little thing who offers us very little personality or justification for compassion. In a way this is a smart move by Shakespeare, as it keeps the darker aspects of the play in check: without a large investment in either Hero or Claudio, we take their misfortunes in stride and are allowed the illusion of lightness in a play that’s brimming with calculated villainy.

While I’m temporarily distracted from thoughts of Bea, I’ll go ahead and discuss another character worthy of mention, Dogberry. He plays the hit-or-miss role of the clown, but he rises above the cringing due to a goofy habit that's been inspirational for modern writers. Both David Foster Wallace and Jonathan Safran Foer have made a practice of substituting incorrect but generally more difficult words in the dialogue of ill-spoken characters for comedic effect, which is exactly what Shakespeare does with Dogberry. So I must apologize to William for failing to give credit where it’s due in past reviews. But where was I? Oh! Beatrice. Beatrice, Beatrice, Beatrice.

*I’ve avoided the doghouse, right?
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Comments (showing 1-37 of 37) (37 new)

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message 1: by Bram (last edited Feb 16, 2010 04:12PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bram There you go :)

I really enjoyed this and it's got me excited to read more of the comedies (which I wasn't looking forward to so much after The Comedy of Errors).

Brad I have a crush on Benedick ;)

Brad p.s. great review. what more do you need to say?

David I never cared much for the Hero/Claudio drama in this thing. It seems a bit too dark and mean-spirited to 'fit' with the rest of the play, and it certainly doesn't make Claudio seem like the kind of guy we would want to live happily ever after. (Hey nonny nonny.)

Did anyone notice that the GR 'description' of this play is actually a blurb about the Kenneth Branagh film adaptation? This sounds like a job for a GR librarian. Do we have any on the thread?

message 5: by Bram (last edited Feb 17, 2010 06:24AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bram Hero barely even speaks...she's a black hole of personality. And you're right, David, Claudio's not very sympathetic--pretty wooden, boring, and overly honor-bound. Classic hollywood-in-love daze. Beatrice and Benedick's dialogue really cracks though...probably the best repartee I've yet encountered in Shakespeare. But Dogberry is just ridiculous.

(I might write a review today. I'll probably just delete this comment and flesh it out a little, heh.)

Thanks Brad...really, I'd take Beatrice or Benedick.

p.s. what do you guys think of this new thing that tells you the star-rating of the person who writes a comment?

David Dogberry as played by Michael Keaton in the film version is even more ridiculous.

Bram I have the movie on the queue...worth seeing?

message 8: by Michelle (last edited Feb 17, 2010 08:10AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Michelle The movie wasn't so bad.'s that for an endorsement?

David Keanu Reeves does some of his worst acting in a career otherwise littered with horrific acting. Emma Thompson as Beatrice (as usual) is great, but I often find Kenneth Branagh annoying... especially in comic performances (see also: his performance in Woody Allen's stink-bomb Celebrity).

On the whole, it's serviceable, but it doesn't succeed in lightening up the Hero/Claudio storyline.

message 10: by Bram (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bram Hmmm, sounds very...ok. Has Branagh done any other really good Shakespeare besides Henry V?

David Y'know, now that I think about it... the only film adaptation of Shakespeare that I've seen and really love is Roman Polanski's Macbeth...

David Bram wrote: "Hmmm, sounds very...ok. Has Branagh done any other really good Shakespeare besides Henry V?"

No. Not really.

message 13: by Brad (new) - rated it 4 stars

Brad I am a big fan of Branagh myself (with the exception of his bastardization of Frankenstein), and he is the reason for my crush on Benedick. Much Ado is good fun -- even Keanu.

Branagh's performance as Hamlet was uneven, but it was a strong adaptation with some inspired casting, though far from perfect. And I really loved his performance as Iago, even though he didn't direct that version of Othello.

message 14: by Brad (new) - rated it 4 stars

Brad Elizabeth wrote: "Branagh's Hamlet is one of the rare films I've walked out on. Branagh's biggest problem is that he doesn't want to look bad or unattractive or weak, and it ruins his performance...."

Wow. I didn't have that big a problem. Nowhere near. I watched it again recently and really enjoyed large chunks of it. I think you are bang on about why his personal performances suffer, though.

trivialchemy PIQUE, goddamnit. These are the things that PIQUE your interest. Your interest is neither a mountain range nor freshly-whipped cream.

message 16: by Bram (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bram HAHA, ouch. You fucker.

message 17: by Brad (new) - rated it 4 stars

Brad I don't see Hamlet's behavior towards Ophelia as being entirely unforgivable. I think it is understandable, actually. Ophelia tosses Hamlet aside on the bad advice of her brother (particularly considering that Gertrude hoped that she would marry her son) and because of pressure from her father, and she betrays Hamlet to Polonius and Claudius. Those acts seem pretty unforgivable to me (particularly in a moment when the man you love has lost his beloved father, his mother has married his uncle and his throne has been usurped). Hamlet's genuine hurt at her hands made him cruel. Not nice of him, perhaps, but certainly not nice of her either. My favourite Hamlet performances have always incorporated a vulnerable Hamlet who struggles to deal with repeated betrayals and pain. And I have always felt that Polonius, Laertes and Ophelia herself bear as much responsibility for her fate as Hamlet. And I like that Branagh tries to capture some of that in his film -- even if the expression of that is overwrought.

I do prefer the Renaissance Theatre radio production, as you do, though, Elizabeth. It is well done, and interesting in that many of the actors are in both the radio play and the film, though not always in the same roles.

trivialchemy Okay you are forgiven. Now I vote.

message 19: by Bram (last edited Feb 17, 2010 09:06AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bram I only take 70% of the blame. The rest is on the people who read this (especially Kowalski) and decided not to tell me about the error.

message 20: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! I have the movie on the queue...worth seeing?

If I remember correctly, there was a huuuuge wet t-shirt scene with lots of full moons.

message 21: by Bram (last edited Feb 17, 2010 09:16AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bram Seriously? Geez.

And did I really write 'on the queue'? Ack, that's almost as bad as New Yorkers standing on line. Tough morning.

message 22: by Kelly (last edited Feb 17, 2010 11:04AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kelly I actually also really liked Much Ado About Nothing apart from Keanu Reeves' awful awful horrible acting. Now there's someone who is a terrible black hole, just sucks the energy out of everyone around him. I've only seen a few good actors overcome it. Argh. Anyways.

.. I did really like the movie. I think it evokes the perfect mood and setting for these characters and I think that it makes us more understanding of them that we might have been otherwise, given their flaws and given the sometimes horrible things they say to each other. I didn't mind Branagh's Benedick. Elizabeth, you said that he never wants to make himself look bad, but I felt like as Benedick he makes himself look cruel, stupid, and absolutely ridiculous at various points. We also get to see him visibly trying to change in front of us. The little scene where he's trying to compose a song for her and they talk afterwards is one of my favorites in the movie- "thou and I are too wise to woo peaceably". I like it. Not as much as Henry V, but I still like it. Makes me smile a lot.

I will agree that his Hamlet bothers me, didn't like Love's Labours Lost, and his latest, As You Like It, was kind of eh. Kevin Kline turns in a great performance as Jacques (of course), but the rest was pretty forgettable.

Also, great review Bram. :)

message 23: by Bram (last edited Feb 17, 2010 09:26AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bram Thanks Kelly--you've convinced me to go ahead and check out the movie.

I think I need to see more Shakespeare in performance because every time that I do, I recognize how limited my imagination can be in rendering certain scenes. There are always one or two spots where I end up feeling that my reading was really weak (and occasionally a few where I feel the director's reading/actors' performance was).

message 24: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! I remember thinking the movie looked beautiful and that memorable scene was very joyful.

David I actually didn't notice the peak/pique thing. I'm a terrible proofreader. I just sent out a mass mailing at work with 'omtp' in place of the word 'into.' Ouch! (All the letters are one off on the keyboard on the right hand.)

Anyway... as far as non-literal Shakespeare 'adaptations'... let's not forget Kurosawa's Ran (King Lear) and Throne of Blood (Macbeth) -- two of Kurosawa's best films, I might add.

trivialchemy Ran is one of my favorite films of all time.

And while we're on the subject of the finest of acting, the most beautifully trained, I thought this was appropriate:

message 27: by Dave (new)

Dave Russell Although in theory I liked the idea of setting it in Japan, I thought the Japanese forest in Branagh's As You Like It was just plain ugly.

And his Hamlet was just a petulant jerk, not the tragic hero he's supposed to be.

For me the two best adaptations of Shakespeare are Polanski's Macbeth and Welles Othello.

message 28: by Kelly (last edited Feb 17, 2010 01:52PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kelly I hope you do watch the Much Ado, Bram! I think you'll have fun with it. (You'll have to let me know where you come down on the Michael Keaton Dogberry when you see it- people seem to be pretty love/hate about it.)

I'm curious what else you liked about the Branagh As You Like It Elizabeth?

Although in theory I liked the idea of setting it in Japan, I thought the Japanese forest in Branagh's As You Like It was just plain ugly.

Really? I thought the whole thing was really lovely. Not that that's a surprise. Branagh knows how to create beautiful tableaus. I love the colors in his movies- whoever does his art direction has a wonderful eye. I usually find lots of things to nitpick at in his movies, but not that.

message 29: by J (new)

J I always think I loved Branagh's Much Ado about Nothing until I remember his Henry V. That I loved. This I only liked.

Your review, however, is wonderful. I think I'll go back and read it again.

Ellen Elizabeth wrote: "Thanks. It's almost as thorough as your Richard II review. Very deep.

She does rock though. You may also like Rosalind in As You Like It."

I love Rosalind. I also liked Kate - prior to being tamed.

And Bram - an excellent review - but I doubt you've avoided the doghouse...

message 31: by Bram (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bram Thanks. Heh, maybe she won't see it--she's not the Goodreads addict that I am :)

message 32: by Robin (new)

Robin Ellen wrote: "I also liked Kate - prior to being tamed."

It all depends upon your interpretation of Shrew. (I can't keep up -- have you read that one yet, Bram?) I've seen/researched a few productions that give it a feminist reading, where Kate's last dialogue is delivered with furious sarcasm or crazed mania. Alternatively, you can read her exchange wtih Petruchio at the end of Act IV and Act V as being more playful -- more a marriage of equal wit. (Harold Bloom's interpretation, for what that's worth.) And loved the movie with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. I'm a sucker for Zeffirelli. He even ALMOST made me like Mel Gibson in Hamlet, which is heresy.

Great review, by the way, Bram!

Jesse I saw this performed at Shakespeare's Globe in London with an all-female cast, and it was a blast--it made it all the more jaunty and sly. And for the record I really like Branagh's film, which manages to be quite good besides some abysmal casting decisions (Keanu Reeves?!?!).

I should definitely reread this--it was my favorite comedy at one point, but it's been eclipsed by readings of Twelfth Night and As You Like It in the time since.

message 34: by Bram (last edited Feb 22, 2010 06:11AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bram So I just watched the Branagh movie this weekend...and loved it. Yep. I thought Denzel, Branagh, and Emma Thompson were all fantastic and Keanu, as the rather dimensionless villain Don John, didn't bother me too much. Even Robert Sean Leonard, who was pretty bad, didn't really bother me because Claudio is a pretty cheesy and weak character anyway. So maybe the performance was actually great? Keaton was absurd, but I'm not sure there's a way to play Dogberry, given the text, that's anything less. As in Henry V, Doyle's score does a good job of bringing in the right emotions in the right places. I know many people hate this type of emotionally-manipulative film scoring, but I think it actually works well in Shakespeare.

I was so excited after watching the movie that I had to grab more Shakespeare, and I promptly tore through A Midsummer Night's Dream, which was amazingly good.

Jason without a large investment in either Hero or Claudio, we take their misfortunes in stride and are allowed the illusion of lightness in a play that’s brimming with calculated villainy.

This is a great review, Bram. It's what I love about this site: finding threads that are over three years old and having them still be relevant (to me).

message 36: by Bram (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bram Thanks Jason! I still find old threads and reviews that I've never seen before and it's always fun to see who was commenting and what they were saying. You can track all sorts of interesting GR trends, spats, and temporary reading crazes that way, although just as often you find incomprehensible inside jokes and confusing cross-thread communications.

David Sarkies You sound like you have a crush on Beatrice, though I know where you are coming from with regards to feistiness. I tend to prefer 'chatty' women because I am not really all that good with small talk.

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