Notes on The Tragedy of Beatrice and Benedick
Shakespeare reveals how Much Ado About Nothing could so easily have headed in a very different direction in this week’s cartoon. The thin line between comedy and tragedy is a bit of a theme this year, particularly with the Midsummer Night’s Dream stuff I’ve been doing lately, but in many ways Much Ado is the play that most perfectly demonstrates this.
Much Ado is sweet, funny, romantic and utterly beguiling, even the war going on offstage is treated with the seriousness of a cricket match on the village green – nobody died, at least no one important. But then it hits you with the wedding scene, which is simply horrific, and all the more so since none of the men who abuse Hero (including her own father, no less…) suffer any real consequences for their actions. Even Don John is dismissed to be dealt with another day, and I’ve always suspected Don Pedro will probably be inclined to forgive him his funny little ways.
I came up with the plot of Much Ado: The Tragedy while playing the bastardly villain in a production a few years back. It occurred to me at the time that the only thing separating the outcomes of Much Ado About Nothing and Romeo and Juliet is that Dogberry is in the right place at the right time and Friar Laurence’s errant messenger is not. Fate can hang on that delicate a thread. (They’re also connected by the fact that Friar Francis and Friar Laurence are clearly the same man, but that’s neither here nor there…)
I wanted to suggest a possible element of magic in this one. While the Lady is Shakespeare’s muse in metaphorical terms, there’s a part of me that likes the idea she might actually be the mythological real deal. (I’m not saying she is, but she could be…) Are we seeing a supernatural being invisibly planting inspiration in an artist’s mind, or a man so wrapped up in his work he’s oblivious to anyone around him, at least consciously? That’s up to you.
I like Shakespeare’s squint and lopsided smirk as he casually bumps off Claudio. I like to think George RR Martin pulls this face a lot.