Saturday, March 21, 2009

Much Ado About Nothing - Back to Basics

Ernst writes:

Moving on from the larger, profounder thematic concerns that have been discussed up to now, I took a closer look at Act I.

1. Notice how Beatrice dominates the beginning of Scene 1—with puns, smart-ass remarks—all the way up to line 91, when the guys come back from the war. That’s a good way to establish her as a presence to reckon with, and she continues in power until she leaves the stage at 140. And even Leonato and Don Pedro take her side againt Benedick at lines 104-7.

2. Notice the playful alliteration in lines 116-19.

3. Notice some of the early "notings": lines 156, 157, 181, 183, 238, 243, 245, 257, 296, 303.

4. Note that Benedick gives away his true evaluation of Beatrice’s beauty in lines 184-86.

5. Notice that Hero is "short" (line 206). This likens her to Hermia in Midsummer Night's Dream and thus, I would suppose, sets up Beatrice to be the tall, blond Elizabeth-like woman—like, I think, Helena.

6. Note the similarity between the "realist" Benedick at lines 238-241 ("look pale with love" … "With anger, with sickness, or with hunger, my lord, but not with love") to Rosalinds’ similar decrying of romantic love in As You Like It. Even the cadences are alike.

7. Notice how Don Pedro represents a kind of advance over (?) Theseus in that he is basically in control throughout the scene. He has seen this world and is a thoughtful ruler. And his cautions ("I shall see thee ere I die, look pale with love" to Benedick, and "what need the bridge much broader than the flood" to Claudio’s romantic shallowness [I am stretching here] come true.

8. Confusion: In ii, to whom is Leonato speaking when he says, "O, I cry you mercy, friend. Go with me…"?

9. Scene 3. As I’ve been looking back into the worlds of my dissertation, it occurs to me that Don John may be—historically—a more significant creation than is often recognized. Apparently Shakespeare wrote Much Ado toward the end of 1598. A number of significant things were occurring in the "intellectual" community of the 1590s. In the middle 1570s, Robert Greene took a break from Cambridge and went to Italy (the home of Machiavellianism). In an autobiographical piece written shortly before he died in 1582, he writes that when he returned, he "ruffled out in my silks, in the habit of malcontent, and seemed so discontent that no place would please me to abide in, nor no vocation cause me to stay myself in."

The pamphleteer and sometime playwright, Thomas Nashe carried himself as a bit of a malcontent throughout the ‘90s. John Lyly had joked about malcontentedness in the early eighties (first use of the word in English drama), having one character say to another something like, "If you are a male-content, I am a female-content." Marston’s satires published in 1588 included satires against the malcontent-poseur Bruto, who made much of his melancholia and dressed in dark clothes. The first "comedy of humours" (An Humourous Day’s Mirth) had been written by George Chapman in 1597, and was followed in 1598 by Jonson’s Everyman in his Humour. Chapman’s An Humourous Day’s Mirth had contained a melancholy scholar named Dowsecer, who was clearly an intellectual "malcontent," but not an active politician/Machiavellian (a character named Lemot is that).

I think Shakespeare, who rubbed shoulders with these guys and their ideas, was interested in what we might today call Psychology, dealt with in the nineties through "Humours" theories. But what I hadn’t fully realized when writing my dissertation is that Don John is really the first psychologically melancholic Machiavellian revenger in the history of Elizabethan drama. Score one more for Shakespeare! It was an interest he would pursue on into Jacques, Malvolio/Fool [to an extent] and, of course, Hamlet (no one in the house would miss what the latter did when he "encumbered" (crossed) his arms and unlaced the top of his shirt and continued wearing his black. In 15 years, Don John would be (in a slightly dated conception) Webster’s Bosola.

(Incidentally, Hieronymo, in Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy (1587) was not really a melancholic revenger until Jonson changed his lines around the turn of the century and turned him into one.)

So there. Anyone up for Act II?


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