Piecing Together the Puzzle in Much Ado About Nothing by Theodore Bruni
Much Ado About Nothing is yet another Shakespeare play shrouded in mystery. There are a few pieces of evidence that give clues as to when the play may have been created. For example, the 1600 quarto of Much Ado About Nothing, includes the name of WIlliam Kemp, a famous actor from the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (LCM) acting company. In fact, this is the company in which Shakespeare wrote most of his plays for and even performed in some of the productions. Historical facts state that William Kemp left the LCM in early 1599. For certain, this places the creation of the play somewhere before 1600, and thus, the year in which the first and only quarto was written. Many historians believe that it was written somewhere between 1598 and not later than 1599. One of the second earliest known perform ances was in May 1613. According to Shakespeare in Quarto,
“The only surviving records for early performances are the payments made by the Lord Chamberlain to John Heminge in May 1613 for presenting several plays, including Much Ado About Nothing, for Princess Elizabeth (daughter of James I) and Frederick, Elector Palatine, who were married that year. Shakespeare wrote the part of Dogberry for the comic actor William Kemp.”
Aside from piecing together the career span of William Kemp, additional evidence provided by the sales of ticket stubs further indicates that Much Ado About Nothing became an increasingly popular play at the start of the 1600s.
The first folio was printed in 1623 and the second folio in 1632. Since then, Much Ado About Nothing gained worldwide attention. In 1882, the play was widely played in Victorian England. Famous stage actor Henry Irving directed the play along with Ellen
Terry. Ellen, who performed Beatrice, particularly shined on stage. Through her character she was able to outwardly channel sexual energy, a topic of extreme taboo in Victorian England.
Then in 1903, Ellen Terry’s son, Gordon Craig also produced a performance at the Imperial Theater in London. He even casted his own mother, Ellen Terry, to return as Beatrice.
Fast forward to 1986 and Much Ado About Nothing was adapted for the China Shakespeare Festival. Because Chinese culture drastically differs from that of Shakespeare’s, the director Jian Weiguo, set the play in Ancient China and juxtaposed traditional Chinese characters with “un-chinese characters”. Many scholars refer to this performance because it provides an example of how Shakespeare plays can be adapted to fit different cultures. Weiguo knew that his audience would not have much context to understand Much Ado About Nothing in its original production. In order to provide his audience with a sense of understanding, Weigo set the play in ancient China when the Han Dynasty ruled.
Moving along to 1993, Much Ado About Nothing, was released as a motion picture directed by Kenneth Branagh. It did not quite make the same sales as Romeo and Juliet, but it stands today as one of the most successful movie adapted Shakespeare films. Then in 2012, another film for Much Ado About Nothing was released and directed by Joss Whedon. This time, it was in black and white and it was not nearly as financially successful as its 1993 counterpart.
In present day 2016, one can find Much Ado About Nothing being performed by Edith Frampton’s English 533 class group 3. Our personal rendering of the play borrows from the cult classic 2004 comedy, Mean Girls. In reality, the play would be better understood as ‘Mean Boys’ but nonetheless, the acts that we chose to perform were indicative of a high school environment in which one student becomes the victim of senseless bullying. In our play, Don John, Don Pedro, and Claudio represent the Mean Boys while Hero represents the victim of their evil plot to essentially ruin her reputation. In the end, Hero is redeemed and her reputation is restored — much like the plotline of Mean Girls. Additionally, borrowing elements from this movie allowed us to enhance the overall comic effects of our performance.
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