Much Ado About…

I don’t like silly. Ridiculous, absurd or complete fantasy I can enjoy very much, but silly for silly’s sake does nothing for me. Farce too, and slapstick – I really can’t stand slapstick. I saw the Legend of Zorro on Saturday and it went with silly for the comedy element, and I didn’t have a fun time. I started watching Bedazzled a few weeks ago and gave up after twenty minutes. I don’t know how much this is based on mood, or context, and I don’t know how to describe the line. Airplane, for example, I think is fantastic. Maybe it’s how clever I think the silliness is. Zorro’s horse smoking a pipe is just stupid, but a nun knocking the IV drip out of a girl’s arm while enthusiastically playing a guitar is funny indeed. Go figure.

This is a slightly weird segue into the strange relationship I have with Shakespeare. Like everybody, I studied various plays at school, and continued into college during the English Lit. A-level. The opinion I formed was that Shakespeare’s dramas are great, but don’t mention the comedies. I find Romeo and Juliet wonderful, and Hamlet1 is similar, but during our A-level course we saw As You Like It2 at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and I thought it was godawful. At the time, it seemed very much like Shakespeare’s sole method of creating comedy was to involve cross-dressing. Merchant of Venice needs a bit of lightening up, so the women dress up as men to go into court. Twelfth Night can be summed up with: ‘he thinks she’s a man, isn’t that funny’. As You Like It was also incredibly slapstick, and it put me off any Shakespeare comedy for a long time. I’ve never, ever found cross-dressing inherently funny. Lots of people do, and I’m happy for them, but it’s just not my style. If there are clever jokes, fine, but I’m not laughing just because a man’s wearing a dress. Sorry.

The other play we studied was Much Ado About Nothing, which I pretty much despised. I could appreciate Shakespeare’s undoubted writing skill, but the plot? No. It’s called Much Ado About Nothing, and that sums it up. Two couples, one with an entirely superficial relationship, the other much more complex, dally about for a while and someone gets married. Blergh. Sure, Beatrice and Benedick’s war of words was quite fun, but the majority of the play was, well, nothingy. I wasn’t a big fan before seeing the Kenneth Branagh film adaptation, but that really did it for me. It was silly. I couldn’t see anything to identify with. Beatrice and Benedick as characters were ok, but the farcical elements, plus every other character, annoyed the hell out of me. The world was entirely different when the plays were written, and while they may have been relevant then I saw very little that applied to modern-day life. Well, that’s not entirely true, but to be honest I’d decided that was my opinion, and I was damn well sticking to it. I saw that the interplay of relationships was a constant, no matter what the setting, but the continual dissection of every word was enough to (at the time) drive the wonder from the page.

Looking back, I can see what I was doing. Analysis cannot remove wonder. It’s like Keats claiming3 that Newton drove the beauty from the rainbow by explaining its colours – that’s just complete nonsense. If something is wonderful, finding more information can only increase that wonder, not diminish it. But back then I’d decided that the English Lit. method of over-analysis was enough to remove any majesty4 and that was the end of it. So I stuck with the black and white opinions when discussing it with friends, wrote what the examiners wanted to hear and came out with an A. Since then I’ve re-analysed those particular beliefs, but hadn’t seen anything to do with the plays I studied.

This evening I watched the BBC’s ShakespeaRE-Told adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing. I’m not entirely sure why – it probably has more to do with the gorgeous Sarah Parish than I should admit – but I thought it was excellent. Which I found interesting, hence the introspective paragraphs. First of all: it wasn’t silly. It was played straight, and that was so much better. No need for amusing malaprop-prone sidekicks or Benedick attempting to assemble a deckchair. The themes of the play are still relevant, as you’d expect, and removing the extraneous gumpf5 did wonders to bring it all out. I know this makes it seem like I have little imagination or insight, but it’s how it was.

Had I seen the BBC adaptation while studying, I like to think I’d have enjoyed the play more. Maybe it’s just something you grow into, like jazz and olives6, or maybe I did understand it back then but was too wound up in wanting to rebel against the views we were forced to accept. Whatever the reason, I’m happy to appreciate the play now, and it’s made me slightly less wary of other Shakespearian comedies. Just, please, don’t make them silly.

  1. while studying this I saw “Hamlet the Panto” and thought it was bloody marvellous. I told my teacher about it and was told ‘that won’t really help your studying, will it’. Bollocks. Would I have remembered “O, yes, my lord; he wore his beaver up”, had the actor not walked onto stage in that exact costume, paws, teeth and all? I think not. []
  2. it might have been A Comedy of Errors…I forget []
  3. line 229 []
  4. I still think the English Lit. teaching style is pretty ridiculous – it forces out all independent thought and demands you accept what is good and what is bad. Maybe that’s just how to pass exams, but on entering college I fully intended to continue with English at university, and by the end there wasn’t a chance in hell of that happening. []
  5. aren’t you glad I did that A-level? []
  6. this line stolen directly from tonight’s script []