I can’t really say much about this particular play because I saw the Branagh film from 1993 before I read it, so I’ve got scenes from that one stuck in my head. I watched it in Lit class in high school and have to admit I enjoyed the hell out of it.
Who woulda thought?
But now, it damn near makes it impossible for me to rate the writing on its own merits!
Okay, let’s take a crack at it: victorious men, virtuous women, scheming, love at first sight, a costume party, deception, social graces, social climbing, and rapier-sharp wit.
Okay, here’s a longer crack.
There are two main pairs to follow here: Hero and Claudio, and Beatrice and Benedick. Hero and Beatrice are cousins, and Claudio falls for Hero, the governor’s daughter, immediately. Beatrice and Benedick have known each other a while and every time they meet, there’s a clash of sharp wit and words. They act like they despise each other, but they’re so similar, everybody around them thinks they should just stop bitching and get married already.
Well, a lie around one pairing will bring out the truth in another.
The primary instigator is Don John, the bastard brother of Don Pedro, who leads the men that have come to Hero’s home. He’s sullen and bitter and despises everyone, so he sows discord wherever possible through his intermediaries. He comes between Claudio and Hero when he hears about the possible marriage, and let’s just say, if you haven’t read or seen it yet, it’s a damned intense scene and Claudio just lets it all out at the altar.
I’ll let you read to understand what happens after. Let’s just say I don’t like Claudio–does he really love Hero, or her status in society? I’ve had fun digging into old character analyses I’ve had to read and write about, and I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.
I was cleaning my office and throwing away decades of files and high school research papers… what timing, I might add, but I digress.
There’s lots of good-natured scheming, bad-natured scheming, truths overheard, and some really witty word-play that’s worth reading.
I was surprised how short this play was. I was fairly certain some events might’ve been shaved down for time in the film, but I could swear that all the speeches and such, the rapid-fire delivery in this short work was given the full treatment in the film, and even expanded a bit.
I have to say, Shakespeare made good use of the page.
Now, I can’t help hearing Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson in these roles (it sucks they’re divorced now) of Benedick and Beatrice, and then Robert Sean Leonard as Claudio, the ever-so handsome Denzel as Don Pedro (that man just can’t age, I swear), Michael Keaton as Dogberry… just too much fun.
And I had no idea Hero was Kate Beckinsale til I saw the trailer again.
Whaaaa? That movie was so long ago! I knew she looked familiar.
And it’s probably not surprising that the play’s been done, re-done, and filmed plenty of times. Even Joss Whedon had to get in on the act!
Though I admit part of me wants to get it just to see Nathan Fillion as Dogberry in the Whedon version. But using Shakespearean tongue in a modern setting always feels weird to me (still can’t watch Romeo + Juliet from the 90s–makes me sick, except for a great soundtrack).
There are too many great quotable moments in this play to regurgitate for you–just enjoy the hell out of the written word…or the plays on stage…or watch some of the movies if you’re so inclined.
Addendum: I nearly snorted a Frappuccino out of my nose watching this digital theater trailer with David Tennant and Catherine Tate’s version. What the hell???!!!