1995-06-27: Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing (~1600)

by William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

I read this comedy a few weeks after seeing the Branagh production on TV, with Chris. I thought the production extremely well done (directed, screenplay, and acted by Branagh), and this made me want to read the play for comparison. The adaptation seems to have been quite close (now I want to see it again), although the crucial scene, of the impersonation of Hero, was made more explicit (and vulgar) than in the original.

I found the characters of Beatrice and Benedick very sympathetic from the first, and easily accepted their “conversions” to “love”, taking their earlier protestations as “protesting too much”.

The notes in the New Folger edition were useful, as were the introductory essays. I found the psychological analysis in the back a bit much.

The comedy is, of course, a sex farce, with much of the humor deriving from the tension between the ‘classical’ ideal of marriage and the ‘romantic’ ideal of sexual license. I found it interesting (as mentioned in one of the essays) that the stigma is on the men, who are labelled cuckolds when their wives are free. Little was said of the women (e.g., Margaret), except for the gross injustice inflicted on Hero.

It is also interesting to note that the Elizabethan age (or at least the taste-setting classes) found dark hair and skin unattractive. We are told that Elizabeth was pale and red-headed, but I wonder what the distribution of hair and complexion was among the rest, and who else in the population was presumed to be darker? I suppose by 1600 the Norman (Frankish, Breton, Norse, and ?) gene-pool was fairly mixed in with the earlier Celtic, Saxon and Danes. But supposedly all these were lighter than those from the Mediterranean area (Iberian, Roman, Greek). Who in England felt the brunt of this discrimination? Is there a dark strain among the earliest, perhaps pre-Celtic, populations?

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