Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

Today’s blog is about the Globe Theatre production of Much Ado About Nothing for this summer. I’m going to watch the play at the end of the month and before I go, I thought I’d do some homework. We’ll briefly look at what the story is about. Then let’s look through some photos of previous RSC productions and the current one. As usual, I link my video on the same topic at the end of the post just in case you prefer watching to reading :)

What is it about?

I listened to BBC Radio Shakespeare production while reading the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) paperback edition edited by Jonathan Bate. The introduction straightaway said, in Elizabethan time, ‘nothing’ was pronounced ‘noting’. So the play is about noting and overhearing. The title immediately made a lot more sense to me!

Two women lived in the palace at Messina two ladies, whose names were Hero and Beatrice. Hero was the daughter, and Beatrice the niece, of Leonato, the governor of Messina. Hero was a beautiful, gentle and modest woman. Beatrice had a quick wit and a sharp tongue. Some men of high rank in the army arrived at Leonato’s house on their return from a war that was just ended. There were Don Pedro the Prince of Arragon, and his friends Claudio and Benedick. Benedick also had a quick wit and a sharp tongue. This was not their first meeting; they knew each other from when the men were on their way to the war.

Claudio fell in love with Hero immediately and a wedding was arranged in a few days’ time. In order to kill time as they waited for the wedding day, the Prince, Claudio, Leonato and Hero decided to play matchmaking and make Beatrice and Benedick fall in love with each other. After some very comical overhearing scenes, Beatrice and Benedick fell for the trick as planned.

Don Pedro the Prince had a brother called Don John. He wanted to ruin the wedding and the marriage because he hated his brother and Claudio. He told them that Hero was unfaithful and said if you don’t believe me, go watch her window this evening. Don John then paid a man to speak to a gentlewoman of Hero’s at Hero’s bedroom window. The Prince and Claudio mistook them for Hero and her lover. The men were furious and humiliated Hero on her wedding day.

But since it’s a comedy, the plot was discovered and all was well at the end.

That might sound like a terrible story to you. I read last year the summaries of twenty Shakespeare’s plays in Mary and Charles Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare. These were written in prose for children, especially for young girls. After each retelling, my response was almost always, ‘these people were too over the top and these stories were too unlike real life’. Reading Tales from Shakespeare was a shortcut, it helped me to get to know the stories faster, but it did not help me to like them better at all.

Previous RSC Productions

The article at the back of the book introduces a series of RSC productions over the years. It showed me what has happened before and what possibilities and potentials Shakespeare gives to theatre interpretations and productions. There has been a range of settings in terms of time periods and geographic locations:

1961 – early nineteenth-century Italy. Note the war element and men’s costumes in all the following productions. The war provides the context even when it doesn’t play a major role and different directors made use of the war element differently. In this case, it’s the Napoleonic War, a similar time to the Jane Austen era.

1976 – late nineteenth-century British India. (1976 Production Photos are by Reg Wilson©RSC)

2002 – 1930s fascist Sicily (2002 Production Photos are by Jonathan Dockar-Drysdale©RSC)

2006 – early 1950s Catholic Cuba (2006 Production Photos are by Simon Annand©RSC)

2012 – set in India (2012 Production Photos are by Ellie Kurttz©RSC)

2014 – set in an English country house just after the First World War (2014 Production Photos are by Manuel Harlan©RSC)

2022 – futuristic (2022 Production Photos are by Ikin Yum and Ellie Kurttz©RSC)

One play, so many interpretations. All those pictures make me realise what’s lacking if I only read Shakespeare, especially if I only read a summary of a Shakepeare’s play – his play is designed to be watched, it’s a feast for the eyes.

Much Ado About Nothing Summer 2022

Here’s the blurb on the website. “April 1945, Northern Italy. Following years of war, Leonata and her daughters reopen their battle-scarred palazzo for a celebration to welcome the partisan soldiers back from recent hard-fought victories.” A few things I noticed immediately.

Leonata is presumably the female version of Leonato; we have a mother instead of a father. Beatrice is one of her daughters, she’s not a niece and an orphan anymore, she’s not a poor relative that depends on Leonato and Hero’s kindness. I wonder if that makes a difference to the character. Because, if Beatrice’s quick wit and sharp tongue are a result of her dependent circumstances, as in, she has to be high spirited and funny to be liked, becoming a daughter would make those characteristics unnecessary unless that’s what she’s truly like.

The time is set in 1945 towards the end of WWII. ‘Partisan’ is a member of an armed group formed to fight secretly against an occupying force, in particular one operating in German-occupied Yugoslavia, Italy, and parts of eastern Europe in the Second World War.

We’ve just seen the list of various productions with different time periods and geographical settings, I’m sure they were all great. But for my first show, I really wanted something closer to the original. I don’t expect Elizabethan costumes in Italy but I’m very glad the location is Italy! And I find WWII a very moving time period in many ways.

Photographer: Manuel Harlan

Here we have Antonia and Leonata. The Father and Uncle become Mother and Aunt. Note the musicians in the background.

Photographer: Manuel Harlan

A picture of our couple! I’ve been very interested in their age. According to the book, there were three previous productions that had very successful middle-aged Beatrice and Benedick. These guys are not middle-aged, but not teenagers either. Note again the musicians.

Photographer: Manuel Harlan

Here are our partisan soldiers, Benedick, Don Pedro and Claudio. I love how comfortable they look in their costumes.

Photographer: Manuel Harlan

A picture of the overhearing scene. I’ve been wondering how this will look like and where they will hide. One production had them hiding in the swimming pool!

There are about two weeks to go before I watch the play. I really can’t wait!

Profile photo and all Summer 2022 production photos by Manuel Harlan from http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/whats-on/much-ado-about-nothing-2022

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