Shakespeare

Spring Break Reading: Much Ado About Nothing

One of the most interesting things about reading Shakespeare is that you never know quite what to expect when you pick up a play. There are certain things that are just so typical of Shakespeare – the wise fool, the clever heroine, the soliloquizing tragic hero – but each play has a distinct “feel” to it. Hamlet is a character-driven contemplation on mortality. Romeo and Juliet is a passionate story of doomed love. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is so bizarre and fanciful that it does feel like a dream, whereas Twelfth Night is whimsical and humorous, but much less far-fetched. And Much Ado About Nothing can only be described as a romantic comedy.

I’m not a big romantic comedy person. I don’t mind romance in my reading material, but I’ve always felt like romance on its own makes for a pretty boring story. I like it better as a subplot than as the main plot. So you can probably guess that Much Ado About Nothing isn’t my favorite Shakespeare play I’ve ever read.

That being said, it’s not my least favorite, either. I liked it. I wouldn’t have committed a big chunk of my Spring Break to reading something I didn’t enjoy. Beatrice and Benedick, with their odd courtship and constant bickering, were delightful. Unlike in The Taming of the Shrew, here a clever and sharp-tongued woman is not put in her place, but allowed to be the hero of the story. Her growing love for Benedick softens her, but he is likewise softened, and he isn’t trying to break her spirit as Petruchio does to Kate. It’s the manipulative Don John who creates the play’s conflict, and the two lovers end up working together to clear the name of Beatrice’s cousin Hero, who he falsely accuses of cheating on her fiancé. If anything, Much Ado About Nothing has a Beauty and the Beast sort of storyline, but instead of learning to see past an unpleasant appearance, the two have to overcome their own pride and their habit of being argumentative with each other.

No, not Beauty and the Beast. What it reminds me of is Pride and Prejudice. Just like Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, the two leads of Much Ado About Nothing bicker and resent each other, but fall in love by the end of the story. You could even compare Claudio and Hero to Jane and Mr. Bingley, in love but torn apart by false suspicions, or Lydia and Wickham, the relative in danger of disgrace and the man our male lead confronts in order to save her reputation. There’s certainly a feeling in both works that the two leads have no other equal and could only end up together, regardless of their disdain for each other at the beginning. And in both, they do fall in love, after setting aside that disdain and learning to see each other as they really are.

I didn’t love Pride and Prejudice when I read it. I didn’t love Much Ado About Nothing. They’re just not my type of story. But what I’ve learned through years as an avid reader, a student of literature, and now a teacher, is that you don’t have to love a book or have it come from your preferred genre for it to be worth reading. There’s something fascinating going on in the pages of Much Ado About Nothing that I’m glad I gave myself the chance to experience.

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