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This review is from: Much Ado About Nothing - BBC Shakespeare Collection  [DVD] (DVD)
Enter this comedy with the image of the devil in mind. It is a diabolical tale of unrequited and unpunished treachery. But fate has it so that good prevails over the evil of that treacherous bastard brother of the prince.
This 1599 comedy is a satire of people who cannot hold their tongues and think that wit is all the best when it is cruel. Beatrice and Benedick have it quite right when they wittingly say: "BEATRICE A bird of my tongue is better than a beast of yours. BENEDICK. I would my horse had the speed of your tongue, and so good a continuer." The tongues of those witty young and not so young people are animals, wild and fast, and remember fast leads to quick and no one likes being hurt to the quick by some witty retort.
And they all know how bad a tongue can be when it becomes multiple. As Don Pedro says: "'Nay,' said I, 'he hath the tongues.' 'That I believe' said she, 'for he swore a thing to me on Monday night, which he forswore on Tuesday morning: there's a double tongue; there's two tongues.'" And then that kind of multiple tongue can become the worst weapon you can imagine. And don't believe Cupid can be better with his tongue. "He hath a heart as sound as a bell, and his tongue is the clapper; for what his heart thinks his tongue speaks." That clapper makes more noise and damage than the arrow of Cupid.
And Hero is slandered by the brother of the local prince and Claudio she was going to marry rejects her publicly in front of the friar who was to marry them. She faints in the process and the friar dissimulates the fainting into an announced death caused by the slandering and the grief. Few are in the secret that Antonio, Hero's uncle, sums up as follows: "Content yourself. God knows I lov'd my niece; / And she is dead, slander'd to death by villains, / That dare as well answer a man indeed / As I dare take a serpent by the tongue. / Boys, apes, braggarts, Jacks, milksops!"
The father Leonato and his brother will force thus Claudio and the Prince to shame themselves and repent their crime. All the more because at this moment two ruffians who had been arrested during the night and tried in the morning are brought to the Prince and just as they had done with the judge, they do not hold their tongues and they spill out the whole truth about the bastard brother of the Prince financing them heftily to set up the fake nightly rendez-vous of Hero with some man.
Then on the following evening and in the night Claudio and the prince make penance for Hero's death at the funeral monument of her family. And Claudio hangs there his written epitaph to Hero. "Done to death by slanderous tongues / Was the Hero that here lies: / Death, in guerdon of her wrongs, / Gives her fame which never dies. / So the life that died with shame / Lives in death with glorious fame."
We know of course better and Shakespeare can finish up on the following morning with a "masque" of his own to present to Claudio who had accepted, Hero's cousin Beatrice he is supposed to marry as a punishment, and her personality is not exactly a gift of God. But the masks enable Claudio to marry Hero and discover her real identity when all is said. That enables then Benedick to marry Beatrice who he loves though she has the witty tongue of a viper. Another serpent who will be tamed like any shrew that Shakespeare put on the stage.
The bastard brother of the Prince will not be punished and we don't even know what happens to him, and who cares. The genius of this production is that the rhythm is really good and sustained as brisk from beginning to end. Then the artificiality of the situation and successive events are like some variations on themes we have already seen or met, like the false death of the girl (Romeo and Juliet), the ceremony in the family funeral monument (Romeo and Juliet but also Hamlet and Ophelia's burial, not to speak of Cleopatra's death) and many others. Of course we have two weddings (quite a common event in Shakespeare's plays though it is not enough to bring Juno down like in A Midsummer Night's Dream where there are four couples united or reunited at the same time.
This is probably the best part about this long trip of mine through Shakespeare's thirty-two plays. We find some themes and motifs, and every single time something comes back again, there is a variation on that something that makes it different. With a few ideas Shakespeare created a whole constellation of variations. He is a real dramatic jazzman of the stage.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, University Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne, University Paris 8 Saint Denis, University Paris 12 Créteil, CEGID