Much Ado About Nothing
After successfully concluding a military campaign, Don Pedro and his men, including Claudio and Benedick, visit Leonato, the Governor of Messina. Upon seeing Leonato's beautiful daughter Hero again, Claudio falls in love with her and seeks her hand in marriage, while Benedick, a self-proclaimed bachelor, matches wits with Leonato's niece, Beatrice, a self proclaimed spinster. Don Pedro's wicked brother Don John, however, is determined to thwart Claudio's happiness. He cooks up a plot to persuade Claudio that Hero is not chaste and he succeeds in convincing both Claudio and Don Pedro that Hero has been unfaithful. Beatrice and Benedick, meanwhile, are the victims of a more comic conspiracy, when they are tricked into confessing their love for one another. The wedding of Claudio and Hero is cruelly interrupted when Claudio accuses Hero of infidelity and swears that he will never marry her. Overwhelmed by false accusations, Hero faints, and in the aftermath, the priest, hoping to uncover the truth, suggests that an announcement be made that Hero is dead. Beatrice, never doubting Hero's virtue, demands that Benedick prove his love by challenging Claudio to a duel to avenge her cousin. In the meantime, however, Don John's scheme is accidentally revealed by the bumbling policemen of the town. Hearing the truth, a remorseful Claudio mourns at Hero's tomb. When Hero is at last revealed alive, the happy ending includes not only her wedding, but also that of Beatrice and Benedick, who finally realize that they are perfectly matched.
Our production will be set in a small town in America in 1898. The war from which the men are returning will, therefore, be the Spanish American War (April-August 1898). This was a booming time for the U.S.: railroads crisscrossed the continent effectively closing off the Great Frontier, while the ambition and avarice of famous "robber barons" such as J.P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie made America a center of high finance. Thomas Edison was inventing in his laboratory and Mark Twain was at his writing desk. Scott Joplin composed rag-time pieces for piano while John Philip Sousa created his popular marches and John Singer Sargent painted the portraits of fashionable society.
In 1898 the value of both propriety and chastity was unquestioned. A proper young upper-class lady would certainly be expected to remain a virgin until she married and would surprise no one by fainting dead-away at an accusation that her honor was tainted. Women such as Hero or Beatrice might be able to get a college education, but their world was still dominated by men, and by the mile institutions that ruled all aspects of American fife. The United States of 1898, however, was a country of unbounded social, political, and economic optimism. Even Sunday sermons, such as that by the Reverend Newell Dwight Hill, proclaimed that: "Laws are becoming more just, rulers humane; music is becoming sweeter and books wiser; homes are happier, and the individual heart becoming at once more just and more gentle." Much Ado About Love In Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare presents the audience with some sharply contrasting notions about love This contrast can be seen first of all in the multiple meanings of the word "nothing" in the play's tide. First, at its surface level the word refers to Claudio's baseless accusation of Hero's infidelity. It is clear to the audience that Claudio has been enraged over "nothing." Second, many scholars have suggested that Shakespeare included a pun in the title, for the word "nothing" is similar to "noting," which in Shakespeare's time could mean to stigmatize or gossip about someone. Beneath these meanings there is also a third, ironic comment on the ethereal and insubstantial nature of love. Therefore, this play can be seen as a kind of laboratory in which different ideas of love are compared and tested against each other. In Shakespeare's laboratory, however, love potions are brewed out of words flowing in honey-like romantic poetry with Hero and Claudio, or splashing and sparkling in the rapid exchanges between Benedick and Beatrice In this world, Claudio and Hero are the very models of proper young aristocrats. The courtly conventions of their time and social status demanded that their love be both ornate and rarified. Claudio is careful to admire Hero from afar, even entreating his friend Don Pedro to inform Hero that he wishes to marry Hero. This passion, so easily ignited, is just as easily swayed. When the wicked Don John stages a counterfeit meeting between a serving-woman dressed up as Hero and her supposed "lover" (in reality Don John's servant Borachio), Claudio is all too easily convinced that his fiancÃ©e has been unfaithful. It is also important to keep in mind other aspects of formal romantic love By the terms of Claudio's traditional, aristocratic sensibility, marriage is at least as much a business deal as it is a union of hearts and souls. In this context Hero is traded off almost as though she were some kind of commodity, securing in alliance between two noble families. When Claudio interrupts the wedding with his accusations of unfaithfulness, he condemns Hero as damaged goods, ". . . take her back again./ Give not this rotten orange to your friend" (IV, i, 29-30). It is only when he thinks Hero is dead that he can reflect on the depth of his feeling for her. He starts to understand what real love is only when he believes that he is separated from his loved one forever. In contrast to the rather surface-oriented "seeming" image of love embodied by Claudio and Hero, in which appearances of honor and purity are paramount, the relationship between Beatrice and Benedick is based on wit and humor. If love has some of the qualities of a business deal for Claudio and Hero, for Beatrice and Benedick it has the quality of a game. Even here, however, the changeability of emotions plays a part: for all the barbed comments and sarcastic jabs exchanged between Beatrice and Benedick, each is quite willingly led to believe that the other burns with love for her or him. Each couple's relationship can thus be seen as a strategy for keeping genuine love and commitment at arm's length. A crisis must intervene to make true love possible for these pairs, and this crisis is supplied by Claudio's denunciation of Hero and Hero's subsequent "death." In this process Claudio must reflect on his own pride and hypersensitivity to matters of honor; Hero learns what it is to be a victim of appearances; Beatrice and Benedick's sharp tongued sparring is suddenly stifled as the angry Beatrice demands that Benedick kill Claudio. The possibility of death is real enough to teach these four young lovers that love is neither the stuff of deals, nor of games, nor of dreams, but rather is a profound bond between human beings. This realization, however, does not lessen the essential mystery of love, When, at the end of the play, Benedick is asked how he feels about marrying Beatrice, after sneering so long at the very idea of marriage, he concludes with certainty, that "man is a giddy thing."