Much Ado About Showers: Tone in Shakespeare’s Comedy

I spent part of the weekend listening to the BBC Radio production of Much Ado About Nothing soaking up the language and catching more of the nuance to each of the various interweaving plots contained within the play. There is something seriously pleasurable about this comedy. It is funny, for one thing. It’s hard to imagine that jokes would hold up after four hundred years, but the “skirmishes of wit” between Benedick and Beatrice are truly amusing.

The more I listen to it and think about the narratives, the more I think that people have gotten it wrong. At least, this BBC production misses a few marks, in my opinion. Stating first that it is an incredible production well worth the purchase and something I will listen to again and again, it fails to achieve a sense of realism that I think is lurking in the text. The characters go too quickly back and forth between love, murderous rage and love again. Something about the tone is not quite right, and that has to be achieved by the direction and the acting.

What we need to see is how horrified Hero is to be falsely accused of sleeping around and to be sentenced to death by her own father. Surely that would be a traumatic enough moment to have affected her for the rest of eternity let alone for the duration of the play. Having narrowly escaped death, she must be feeling a whole range of things, including rage and despair. What happens to her sense of trust? What kind of value does she possess to be so easily disposed of by the men who are bound to protect her? 

Truly, the murderous rage of Beatrice is the tone that makes the most sense. Her desire for revenge is understandable in the context of her cousin having been framed and almost murdered. How could things return to normal so quickly? What kind of horrible shadow are these people living in to be so blind to their own behavior? It is a creative indictment of a shame-based culture. It is a critique of people who value honor above family and above human life. It is also a comedy, an expression of the continuity of hope and good humor despite the cruelty of a patriarchal world.

Just before going to sleep last night, I started the Kenneth Branagh production of Much Ado About Nothing and after listening to an audio production so many times, the excitement of seeing a cinematic translation was unexpected but fun. This is a great movie and I’ve only watched the first ten minutes, but oh what some ten minutes they are. 

Emma Thompson as Beatrice is an insanely wonderful choice. She may be the most beautiful woman ever to act in a film. Anyways, it is at that level where there are only peers, no superiors. That immediately makes the film too good to be true. As you see the soldiers arriving on horseback, though, you realize that this is going to be one helluva a movie.

You have a glorious glamorous slow motion shot of the men riding up on horseback. Keanau Reeves, Denzel Washington and Kenneth Branaugh are all looking radiant in their prime and it is like a Baywatch running on the sand kind of soft porn scene vibe. As the men approach on horseback, the women all laugh and run to the showers where an absolute orgy of cleaning begins. The men parkour leap off of the horses into the baths and before you know it we are experiencing a montage of perfect butts flashing back and forth between the women in the showers and the men in the bath all laughing and rough housing with each other.

Now that’s how you do Shakespeare. I can’t wait to see if he gets the darkness of the play right, but this version makes the fun of it just absolutely tremendous. It is truly one of the great opening scenes of 90s cinema.

Leave a Reply