Just the other day, the Folger Shakespeare Library sent out a tweet asking how and when followers first found their love of Shakespeare. I eagerly wrote back because I not only could tell you exactly when I fell in love with Shakespeare, but I also am about to return to my first and favorite play, Much Ado About Nothing.
I was 16 and in my British Literature class. Up until that time I had the typical passing exposure to Shakespeare, but I had never really studied a work or tried to understand it on a deeper level. All I knew was that Shakespeare was supposed to be hard to read and I was worried. Our teacher explained that we would be studying Much Ado About Nothing, but we wouldn’t be reading it. We would be watching Kenneth Branagh’s version. He handed out versions of the text if we wanted to follow along, but we didn’t have to try to read and watch at the same time.
Looking back, I am so fortunate that I had a teacher who understood the importance of Shakespeare as a performance, not a text. I’m not sure I would have come to love Shakespeare as much as I do if I hadn’t seen it performed first. Experiencing – and enjoying – the performance is what unlocked the language for me. After seeing a couple performances, I found that I was better able to read the text. Now, I can pretty easily dive into any text with or without performance and understand what is going on. That being said, performance always makes it much easier to understand.
As I prepare for my return to Much Ado, I found myself thinking about what it is that I love about the play. Here is what I have come up with so far:
The Opening Scene: I can’t picture a more perfect opening scene. The language used during rapid exchanges of wit is exquisite. It sets the tone for the entire play clearly and immediately. And, there is so much language and nuance to play with that no two performances will play it the same way.
The Exploration of Gender Roles: With so many romances popping up and breaking down, the play takes an interesting look at the role gender plays in society and specifically in romance. Both Beatrice and Benedict challenge the roles set for them, which is what makes them perfect for each other.
The Sheer Absurdity of the Shenanigans: My husband recently commented on the fact that many adaptations include a lot of drinking. I replied that it was a good explanation for how all of this could plausibly happen.
Dogberry: Need I say more? The way he misuses language is so hilarious and I will never forget Michael Keaton’s amusing portrayal.
Those are the major highlights for me. What is your favorite play and why? What about it speaks to you? What sparked your love of Shakespeare? Please share in the comments below and get ready for part one of Much Ado on Friday.