Tag Archives: Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Violence against Women, Children, and Minorities

I’m angry. The state of this world – racist and sexist – makes me angry. Reading Much Ado About Nothing in my moments away from the horrors of 2017 isn’t helping at all.

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Nazi scum in Virginia, 2017

The big news this week is Donald Trump’s disgusting, cowardly, and hypocritical refusal to “jump to conclusions” about the Neo-Nazis and various other white supremacist groups marching around Virginia, unmasked, proud, and deadly. The other disgusting news that’s going ignored because there just isn’t enough indignation to go around is this: Johnny Depp is being welcomed into children’s hospitals in British Columbia.

Why is this wrong? Because Johnny Depp is a wife beater. No, I’m not going to call him an “alleged” wife beater, because when a woman is willing to stand up to the world’s biggest movie star and show the world the bruises she received at his hand, I believe her. Her career was not going to improve for calling out one of Disney’s highest-grossing stars. She did it because she needed to escape his violence. Yet, a couple of denials later and here he is: still getting cast in blockbusters and parading himself as a sweetheart that the public chooses to love him because he’s willing to take pictures with sick children.

Image result for amber heard bruisesDoes Depp’s magnanimity during his moments of sobriety erase the fact that he committed violence against a person decades younger than him? No. Are his deeds erased because, even though he refused to own up to his violence, Amber Heard donated her 7-million dollar divorce settlement to charities that support and care for victims of domestic violence? No. Does the time he spent getting into the beloved Jack Sparrow costume and makeup erase the fact that a hospital exposed children to a violent person, and local media applauded them for it? No. Not when, in America, five children die as a result of child abuse every day. So why do they allow this violent person into a place that is likely treating children who have suffered from extreme violence at the hands of people who claim to love them? Where is the justice for Amber, and for the children who know what it is to tremble in fear before violent parents?

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Claudio repudiates Hero as early as 1598

In the late years of the 1590s, William Shakespeare wrote Much Ado About Nothing, a comedy in which an angry man convinces his powerful stepbrother and another fellow soldier that this soldier’s betrothed is cheating on him. He provides them with the shadiest evidence, indeed, a sexual pantomime between servants that they viewed from a distance, in the dark of night. The Duke and Claudio, the betrothed soldier, believe in the insidious Don John, even though their treatment of him on other occasions seems to show that they do not trust him in matters of statesmanship and diplomacy.

So why do they believe him about this? What makes Hero less believable than the notably untrustworthy Don John? Why is Hero’s incredulity so suspect, when she is so virginal that she can’t even deny his accusations for certain because she’s never experienced what they’re accusing her of?

Clearly, I have a lot of questions. A big one is this: what is Claudio’s stake in humiliating Hero? Why does he still agree to stand under the altar with her, only to humiliate her there? Why does he feel the need to shame her publicly? What level of refusal on her part would have made him believe her, instead of believing a man that he barely respects on any other occasion? How is it possible that even her father believes Claudio, at first? How can a parent so quickly turn on his child?

I don’t have the answers to these questions. Indeed, I’m sitting in a café puzzling over them, trying to find a thread that I can turn into a thoughtful, provocative conference paper, but I keep thinking, “this is all old news.” Much Ado was written around 1598/99. It’s 2017, and wife beaters are still treated like the heroes (antiheroes, at worst) they appear to be on the silver screen. Claudio was not punished: he remains a knight in Don Pedro’s service, claiming the privilege of Don Pedro’s trust and influence over him. Leonato does not tell them to leave his estate immediately, if not sooner. Instead, Hero’s father welcomes Claudio and Don Pedro to stay longer. Sure, he plots to shame Claudio into marrying a veiled Hero after telling the soldier that Hero has died from shame, but even as a ruse, it is absolutely horrifying that Leonato agrees to marry his daughter off to the man who publicly shamed her in order to ensure that her reputation was ruined forever.

Image result for jump to conclusions charlottesville memeHow is it that men like Donald Trump can convince others to refuse to “jump to conclusions” about people who are patently bad: slanderous, violent, believers in ideological systems that leave no room for the benefit of the doubt? Why do people refuse to grant that benefit of the doubt to women, to people who have experienced violence at the hands of violent men, even when they are willing to experience the shame of showing their scars in public? Why does society render rich, white men more believable than women, children, Jews, and people of colour? Why hasn’t this treatment changed since 1598? The violence continues.

As I’ve said. I don’t have any answers today, just many questions that don’t have satisfying answers. I’m horrified to think that not nearly enough has changed since the writing of a Shakespearean comedy that got resolved by the marriage of a virtuous woman to a man that has already proven abusive. How is it possible that the voices of the afflicted cannot be heard over the powerful men who have the most to lose?

Old ways aren’t the right ways. What I want to see is growth. What I want to see is progress. What I want to see is change.

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Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing

In early April, I had the privilege of watching an advance screening of Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing at the annual conference of the Shakespeare Association of America. Needless to say, the two hundred Bardolators in the room were pretty darn excited to mouth the entire play in unison. We were even luckier because the director himself sent the film over with a special introduction for us. In it, he gave his answer to that frequently asked question, “Why Shakespeare?” His gleeful response: “Why cake?” Those words assured me that Shakespeare’s text was in good hands.

A black-and-white romantic comedy in 2013? Joss Whedon’s 2012 Much Ado About Nothing

Why do I say “text”? Isn’t the whole point of this film that it’s a play performed, and then edited for the screen? Let me explain. The earliest buzz around 2012’s Much Ado was that it was filmed in black-and-white. That’s a pretty risky decision for someone producing a play by a 400-year old writer, and in the wake of Kenneth Branagh’s colourful Hamlet and Baz Luhrmann’s tripped-out R+J. Those were both released in 1996, and we’ve only gone further down the rabbit hole of CGI and HD ever since. I’d like to suggest not the reason (because that’s Whedon’s job), but the effect of Whedon’s decision to go black-and-white, and that’s that it reduces distraction. The party that goes on in this film is but a smaller version than that in Luhrmann’s recent Gatsby, but the difference is that in this film, you can enjoy the spectacle while also being able to pay attention to the words of “Sigh no more (Hey nonny nonny)“. Instead of looking at what Beatrice is wearing, we can focus on the way she “speaks poniards and every word stabs”. As long as Benedick shaves his beard and Hero wears white on her wedding day, it’s all kosher to me.

Old-school Ken and Em in Much Ado About Nothing (1993)

The other question that people have asked me about this film is: “How does it compare to Branagh’s 1993 film?” Good question. I’m going to go right ahead and say this: Whedon’s is better. And that’s not to say that I don’t love watching “Ken and Em” fall in love, because I really, really do, but that film came out two decades ago and even though none of us have aged a single bit, the play has earned a touch-up. Branagh’s version was sentimental and set with lovely ladies in white dresses, frolicking in the Tuscan sun. The “merry war” took on a more literal resonance in Branagh’s film, as he and the Duke’s men appear in military uniforms. Whedon’s version, on the other hand, is set in his own LA mansion. Don Pedro’s men wear finely-tailored suits, and lacking the swagger or any sort of non-WASP ethnicity to pass for mobsters, they seem like movie producers with concealed weapons. That prompts me to ask what this mise-en-scene does to illuminate the play’s themes of honour, chastity, betrayal, and second chances. In this case, the question for me is as follows: where does honour stand in 2013 LA, where people party all night and go jogging at first light? My answer is that this modern revision of the play concerns itself with pride rather than honour. But Whedon complicates this notion of “rather than”: his production brings to light how honour and pride are two sides of the same coin. The currency? Vanity. This play revolves around appearances: was it Hero making love to another man on the night before her wedding? Can Beatrice and Benedick really trust each other until they read each others’ sonnets? Whedon accentuates this obsession with the visual through an omni-present camera-person, closed-circuit security cameras, and mirrors. Four hundred years old and still rife for adaptation, Shakespeare’s plays offer themselves up for this sort of filmic imagery.

"Forget not that I am an ass."

“Forget not that I am an ass.”

Alas, I cannot make any comment on how the cast fits in to the other television shows and movies of the Whedon-verse, and thus I can’t address Nathan Fillion’s performance, but people were really excited about it, and tickled by his role as Dogberry the malaproping constable. What I can say is that you don’t need to have watched Buffy and Angel in order to love this movie. This is a must-see in theaters, a must-buy when it comes out on DVD, and if you want to recreate that feeling of hot summer nights, drinking wine and flirting with the rich and handsome, pick up the soundtrack, too!

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