William Shakespeare’s comedy ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ a complex and compelling theatrical creation. Far from being one-dimensional, Shakespeare builds his play on distinct layers of comedy and suspense. The humourous aspects blend harmoniously with the play’s more serious undertones to create a unique sense of appeal. ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ uses the relationship between men and women as the basic foundation on which these levels of comedy and tragedy are constructed. From the male-female rapports in the play stems the captivating main plot and subplot.
This relationship triggers the entire course of events in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ and keeps the audience captivated from the opening to denouement. The affinity between the genders can thus be viewed as the primary source of theatrical appeal in the play. ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ is perhaps most known for its presentation of the witty couple of Beatrice and Benedick. Beatrice’s feisty character sets her apart from the stereotyped Renaissance woman. Her wit and intelligence matches that of Benedick. In her intellect and obstinacy, she is Benedick’s equal; a striking characterization in a male dominated society.
The ‘merry war’ between this couple keeps the audience intrigued throughout the play; from their stinging remarks to their ultimate reconciliation. Through the pair’s frequent battles of words, Shakespeare is able to create great theatrical appeal. Their wit adds humour and lightens the atmosphere of the play. Beatrice contemptuously describes Benedick: “Oh Lord, he will hang upon him like a disease! He is sooner caught than the pestilence, and the taker runs presently mad. “ The playful banter between them both adds to the comic element of Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ thus making the play more theatrically appealing.
In addition, the change in Beatrice and Benedick’s attitude toward each other may evoke laughter in an audience as the warring couple moves from loathing to loving. Their initial dislike sparks the subplot to trick them both into believing that each is in love with the other. The contrast between their contempt at the play’s opening and their ultimate affection heightens the humour and appeals to the audience. However, whilst Beatrice and Benedick provide a comic element to the play, they also highlight serious issues of the place of women in society.
Beatrice’s famous ‘O that I were a man’ speech is striking as it draws emphasis to the social limitations faced by females and the image of obedience and purity they are mandated to upkeep. Her words are timeless: “But manhood is melted into curtsies, valour into compliment, and men are only turned into tongue, and trim ones too… I cannot be a man with wishing, therefore I will die a woman with grieving. ” The issue of the role of a woman which her character raises appeals not only to a Renaissance audience, but is also applicable today. The audience is able to relate to her, thus making the play more appealing.
The relationship between Beatrice and Benedick often outshines that of their more traditional counterparts, Hero and Claudio. As the critic W. H. Auden (1946) states, “The first thing to notice about Much Ado about Nothing is that the subplot overwhelms and overshadows the main plot. ” However, the role of Hero and Claudio’s relationship is as significant in Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing. ’ Hero and Claudio’s relationship contrasts that of Beatrice and Benedick. Hero is the typical Elizabethan young woman – obedient and demure. Their relationship highlights a traditional courtship and marriage.
Claudio states: “I never tempted her with words too large But as a brother to his sister showed Bashful sincerity and comely love. ” Their affinity results in the deception and the ultimate slander of Hero’s honour. The climax of the play occurs as a result of Hero and Claudio’s union and the attempt to destroy it. The tension and suspense created at the wedding scene captivates the audience and increases the play’s theatrical appeal. In Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 film adaptation of the play, Claudio is even portrayed as being violent and furious as he disowns his once ‘fair Hero.
’ The atmosphere of suspense is sustained until the plot’s denouement when the truth is revealed and Hero’s dignity is restored. The element of disguise used to make Claudio believe that he is to marry ‘Hero’s cousin’ also adds visual appeal and ultimately makes the play more theatrically interesting. Similarly, the relationship between Hero and her father is able to effectively captivate the audience. She is forced to comply with the will of her father, as dictated by her status as a woman in a patriarchal society. Thus, her marriage to Claudio is arranged and approved by Leonato.
Likewise, when ‘she is wronged, she is slandered, she is undone’ Leonato becomes emotional and states: “Do not live, Hero; do not ope thine eyes. ” Whether he is moved by rage or sadness is not specified in the text alone. In the 1993 film adaptation, Leonato portrays these lines with great fury and violently pushes his daughter and pulls at her hair. This interpretation shows the dominance of the male figure in society and the prescribed duty of the woman to be pure and obedient. The heightened tension this creates captivated the audience’s attention and increases the theatrical appeal of the play.
Thus, the main source of theatrical appeal in Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ originates from the relationship between men and women. The relations they share provide the pivotal point around with the entire play revolves. The interaction between the genders therefore harmoniously blends the elements of comedy and tragedy to create a deeply complex dramatic work that is ultimately more theatrically appealing. Whilst the relationship between men and women in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ forms the pivotal point around which the main plot revolves, it is by no means the sole source of theatrical appeal.