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Lecture on Much Ado About Nothing

Slanderous Tongues: Much Ado About Not(h)ing

Alexa Alice Joubin

on 24 March 2018

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Transcript of Lecture on Much Ado About Nothing

American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato as Béatrice singing "Dieu? Que viens-je d'entendre?" from Hector Berlioz's opera Béatrice et Bénédict.
Choeur de Radio France
Orchestre National de France
Colin Davis, direction
Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris
February 7, 2009
BBC's Shakespeare Retold: Much Ado About Nothing, dir. Brian Percival
Slanderous Tongues:
Much Ado About Not(h)ing
Alexa Alice Joubin
I do much wonder that one man,
seeing how much another man is a fool when he
dedicates his behaviors to love, will, after he hath
laughed at such shallow follies in others, become the
argument of his own scorn by falling in love; and such a
man is Claudio. I have known when there was no music
with him but the drum and the fife, and now had he
rather hear the tabor and the pipe. I have known when he
would have walked ten mile afoot to see a good armor,
and now will he lie ten nights awake carving the fashion
of a new doublet. He was wont to speak plain and to the
purpose, like an honest man and a soldier, and now is
he turned orthography; his words are a very fantastical
banquet – just so many strange dishes. May I be so
and see with these eyes? I cannot tell. I think
not. I will not be sworn but love may transform me to
an oyster; but I’ll take my oath on it, till he have made
an oyster of me he shall never make me such a fool.

Much Ado About NOTHING
Much Ado About NOTING
nothing and noting were homophones in Shakespeare's day
1. a great fuss (much ado) is made of something insignificant ("nothing") -- unfounded claims of Hero's infidelity

2. got everything to do with spying (interest in othe people's thoughts and lives, notes, letters, eavesdropping)

3. noting = singing (sight-reading)

4. Nothing is also Elizabethan slang for "vagina": a double-entendre, "an O-thing" or "no thing"

5. key words: seeming, fashion, first impressions

marriage is secular because it involves the transfer of property.

marriage is sacred because it can result in procreation, and because the bond between husband and wife mirrors the bond between mankind and the Divine. In

husband-wife relationship is analogous to that of Christ and the Church.

This dual sacred/secular nature informed the customs of marriage
The priest would ask whether there were any known impediments to the marriage.

Spoken consent of the couple needed

Consent could be passive ("Do you [groom] take [bride] to be your wife?" "Yes, I do")

Or active (The bride and groom stating that "I take you as my husband/wife" or "I give myself to you" with the other saying "I receive you.")

Vows of active consent touch upon:

· indissolubility of the marriage bond

· fidelity

· conformity to the laws of the Church

· love
Middle Ages and Renaissance: 2 distinct phases
the betrothal and the wedding
Modern ceremony incorporates both passive and active consent.
Key Themes: Love and War
Much Ado opens in Messina, a society of women and older men
his daughter Hero
his niece Beatrice

Youg men departed Messina to fight as soldiers

Now Messina awaits the return of youth and love

Time of peace (news that few gentlemen have been lost in the late military action

Claudio fights especially bravely, "beyond the promise of his age, doing in the figure of a lamb the feats of a lion" (1.1.12)

"Merry war" between Beatrice and Benedick

Skills useful in war --> not useful in peacetime

Benedick = "pleasant," witty, entertaining, disdains marriage and vows to stay a bachelor
(pretended indifference between Benedick and Beatrice)

Claudio = earnest, tongue-tied, naive, inexperienced, lord from Florence, self-doubting (could someone like Hero love me?)

How do we know this? Turn to Much Ado Act 1 Scene 1
I looked upon her with a soldier's eye,
That liked, but had a rougher task in hand
Than to drive liking to the name of love.
But now I am returned, and that war-thoughts
Have left their places vacant, in their rooms
Come thronging soft and delicate desires,
All prompting me how fair young Hero is,
Saying I liked her ere I went to wars.
Much Ado inaugurated new genres, according to Harvard professor Marjorie Garber

Restoration stage comedy

18th/19th-century COMEDY OF MANNERS

screwball comedy (bantering, witty romantic plots)


First, let's read this passage.

Think about the specific ways that Benedick claims that Claudio has changed.

What has promoted this change?

What words might be emphasized to highlight meaning?

What possible tones could Benedick adopt to deliver this speech?

How could the speech be paced to highlight meaning?

As a group, come up with ideas. You can insert music and/or sound to help "aurally" enhance the delivery of the lines. What images would you use to refer to specific phrases for a visual "feel" for the speech?
Benedick ("blessed") and Beatrice ("the one that blesses") stole the show

1613: wedding celebration of Princess Elizabeth and Frederick V, Much Ado was retitled Benedict and Beatrice

1862: Hector Berlioz wrote a comic opera called Beatrice and Benedick

Both characters make fun of ceremonials and conventions
Benedick strongly opposes (the institution of) marriage. Act 1 Scene 1


That a woman conceived me, I thank her; that she
brought me up, I likewise give her most humble 215
thanks: but that I will have a recheat winded in my
forehead, or hang my bugle in an invisible baldrick,
all women shall pardon me. Because I will not do
them the wrong to mistrust any, I will do myself the
right to trust none; and the fine is, for the which 220
I may go the finer, I will live a bachelor.

I shall see thee, ere I die, look pale with love.

With anger, with sickness, or with hunger, my lord,
not with love: prove that ever I lose more blood
with love than I will get again with drinking, pick 225
out mine eyes with a ballad-maker's pen and hang me
up at the door of a brothel-house for the sign of
blind Cupid.

Well, if ever thou dost fall from this faith, thou
wilt prove a notable argument. 230

If I do, hang me in a bottle like a cat and shoot
at me; and he that hits me, let him be clapped on
the shoulder, and called Adam.

Well, as time shall try: 'In time the savage bull
doth bear the yoke.' 235

The savage bull may; but if ever the sensible
Benedick bear it, pluck off the bull's horns and set
them in my forehead: and let me be vilely painted,
and in such great letters as they write 'Here is
good horse to hire,' let them signify under my sign 240
'Here you may see Benedick the married man.'
Noting / Nothing (pronounced notn or nutn)

Don Pedro (Prince of Aragon) asks his servant Balthazar to sing "that song again" (2.3.42-56)

Balthazar says he is unwilling to "slander music" with a repeat performance (2.3.44)

Don Pedro: Nay pray thee, come.
Or if thou wilt hold longer argument,
Do it in notes.

Balthazar: Note this before my notes;
There's not a note of mine that's worth the noting.

Don Pedro: Why, these are very crotchets that he speaks!
Note notes, forsooth, and nothing!

pun on crotchets --> musical note // whim or fancy

Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) hated puns and disliked Shakespeare's

frigidity --> repetitive working of the text without the drive of real inspiration

But the art of word-play --> Elizabethan compositional method (composer Thomas Morley)

But which war?

an unimportant campaign

the only significance is to give military experience to young men like Claudio and Benedick before the turn to wooing ladies

In Badello's novelle, arguably the most important source for Much Ado, the Sicilians, no longer willing to endure French domination, rise up and massacre the French in Sicily

King Piero of Arragon comes with his army and makes himself lord of Sicily, at the urging of Pope Nicholas

Hence the setting in Messina
: Witty Beatrice

Messenger: And a good soldier
too, lady

Beatrice: And a good soldier
to a lady
. But
what is he to a lord?

Messenger: A lord to a lord, a man to a man;
stuffed with
all honorable virtues.

Beatrice: It is so, indeed; he is no less than a
stuffed man
. But for the stuffing-well, we are all mortal. (I, i, 51-57)
"Sigh No More Ladies" by Beatrice (Emma Thompson)
writing itself is a wonderful tool

Let's write a plot summary of ACT TWO for critical analysis

Focus on the theme of deception

Describe what you read or see without prejudice

Then, reflect upon what you wrote.

Which event or detail seems to be the most important? Why?

Did you focus on characterization? Or larger forces at work (that force the hands of the characters)? Why?

How about visual / audio elements?

go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3O4xn90GoMU and play it from YouTube
Go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mbF7LVDKEqk and play it on YouTube

"Productive" Deception vs. Destructive Deception

One deception leads to social peace, to marriage, to the end of deceit

→Don Pedro, Leonato and their friends “deceive” Benedick and Beatrice

This is a deception pleasantly designed to end another deception (the pretense of Benedick and Beatrice that each is the last person the other would marry—pretended indifference)

Purpose: to draw together two people who will nourish each other and their society

This is the “right” deception – supports trust in human nature

Don Pedro uses Benedick’s and Beatrice’s self-deception to end that deception

The other deception breeds conflict and distruct, and leads Beatrice to desire the death of Claudio

This is the wrong deception. It occurs when one trusts appearance and not one’s “Soul”

How? This deception works when one depends on eavesdropping and circumstantial evidence

READ Richard Henze, “Deception in Much Ado About Nothing.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 11, No. 2 (Spring 1971): 187-201
Both Beatrice and Benedick are strongly against romance and marriage.

Beatrice “had rather hear [her] dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves [her]” (1.1.132-133) and will have no husband until “God make men of some other metal than earth (2.1.62-63)

The world of Much Ado = military community in an off-duty moment

Life of a soldier = shared pride in jocular camaraderie, masculine courage, honor

Life of a lover = stuff of jokes, peace-loving, domestic, tame, emasculating
Comic Scene: Act 3 Scene 3

The ridiculous Watch (the policemen of Messina) led by Dogberry (head constable) and Verges (deputy)

The Watch -- polite by ineffective at deterring crime

Dogberry's malapropisms (French mal à propos, inappropriate;
the ludicrous misuse of words, especially through confusion caused by resemblance in sound
Jim Zidar (Dogberry) and Richard Mancini (Verges) in Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Nick Hutchison, Folger Theatre, 2005
Much Ado About Nothing, dir. Nick Havinga, CBS TV, 1973
(Joseph Papp production at NY Shakespeare Festival)
The Keystone Kops
= incompetent fictional policemen in early silent films, such as the Bangville Police (1913)

First seen in Mack Sennett's films for the Keystone Film Company (1912-1917)
Malapropisms of Mrs. Malaprop in The Rivals (comedy of manners, 1775) by the Irish playwright Richard Sheridan

“…the point we would request of you is, that you will promise to forget this fellow…to illiterate him, I say, quite from your memory.” (obliterate)

“Make no delusions to the past.” (allusions)

“He is the very pineapple of politeness.” (pinnacle)

“I am sure I have done everything in my power since I exploded the affair.” (exposed)

“…as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of Nile.” (alligator)

“…she might reprehend the true meaning of what she is saying.” (apprehend)

“Your being Sir Anthony’s son, captain, would itself be a sufficient accommodation.” (recommendation)
COMEDY: Dogberry

erbal faux pas

not slapstick

“First, who think you the most
desertless [deserving]
man to b
e constable?”

"You are thought here to be the most
senseless [sensible]
and fit
man for the constable of the watch” (3. 3. 11).

“True, and they are to
meddle [mingle]
with none
but the prince’s subjects. You shall also make no noise in the streets;
for, for

the ....
watch to babble and to talk is most
tolerable [intolerable]
and not

to be endured” (3. 3. 15).
The first for is a conjunction and the second, a preposition.

“Truly, I
would not hang a dog by my will, much
more [less]
a man who hath any honesty in him” (3. 3. 25).

“Adieu: be
vigitant [vigilant]
, I beseech you
” (3. 3. 36).

“Comparisons are
odorous” [odious]


“Our watch
, sir, have indeed
comprehended [apprehended]
a[u]spicious [suspicious]
persons" (3.5.23).

Is our whole
dissembly [assembly]
ppeared?” (4.2.3).

O villain! thou wilt be condemned into everlasting
redemption [perdition]

for this” (4.2.32).

Dogberry to Don Pedro:
y, sir, they have comm
itted false report, moreover they have spoken untruths, secondarily, they are slanders, sixth and lastly, they have belied a lady, thirdly they have verified unjust things, and to conclude, they are lying knaves. 5.1. 208-212 (p. 83)
Animal Imagery

in exchanges between Beatrice and Benedick

in references to them by other characters

suggests the wildness of the love/hate relationship between the two

BEATRICE: I had rather hear my
bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me.

BENEDICK: God keep your ladyship still in that mind! so some gentleman or other
shall 'scape a predestinate scratched face.

BEATRICE: Scratching could not make it worse, an 'twere such a face as yours were.

BENEDICK: Well, you are a rare

of my tongue is better than a
of yours.

BENEDICK: I would my horse had the speed of your tongue, and so good a continuer. (1. 1. 53-58)

Benedick: If I do [submit to love], hang me in a bottle like a cat and shoot at me; and he that hits me, let him be clapped on the shoulder (1. 1. 101).

Don Pedro tells him that even a “savage bull” (1. 1. 103) must in time yield to the yoke of love.

The savage bull may; but if ever the sensible Benedick bear it [the yoke], pluck off the bull's horns and set them in my forehead: and let me be vilely painted, and in such great letters as they write 'Here is good horse to hire,' let them signify under my sign 'Here you may see Benedick the married man.' (1. 1. 104)

Benedick compares Beatrice to a
harpy, a hideous winged monster
in Greek mythology (2. 1. 114).

When Beatrice finally acknowledges her love for Benedick, she also implies that she is like an animal who needs to control her feral instincts:

“Benedick, love on; I will requite thee, /
Taming my wild heart
to thy loving hand" (3. 1. 117-118).
YouTube http://youtu.be/mVaEuyo7Tnw (private)
Much Ado About Nothing, dir. Peter Moss (1987 TV) Stratford, Ontario, Canada
Full transcript