Corrections or additions?

This article by Joan Crespi was prepared for the July 21, 2004

issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

‘Much Ado About’ . . . Something

‘Much Ado About Nothing," the production by Princeton Rep in the

lakeside amphitheater in Pettoranello Gardens, opens to the public on

Thursday, July 22 and runs Thursdays through Sundays at 8 p.m. through

Sunday, August 8 (absent rain). "This is one of Shakespeare’s most

sophisticated and audience-pleasing plays," says Victoria Liberatori,

Princeton Rep’s Artistic Director.

In my college text of the play, a footnote notes that "Nothing" is a

pun on "Note-ing." On musical notes, that is. (Balthazar, a servant,

is about to play an instrument and sing). This is also a play about

note-icing – with the eyes and ears.

Despite its full title "Much Ado" is really a play about something,

and that something is love, which wins out over caustic wit, scorn,

and spoken resolve. The play has two interwoven plots. The main plot

involves Claudio, a valiant warrior just returned from war, who –

through the wooing of Don Pedro, acting honestly on Claudio’s behalf –

becomes engaged to Beatrice’s cousin, Hero, with the easy consent of

her father, Leonato.

The second plot is that of Beatrice and Benedick, two of Shakespeare’s

most famous characters, who engage in an ongoing battle of wits.

Beatrice has sworn to have no man. Benedick finds no woman good enough

and will not wear horns as "Benedick, the married man." Their friends,

for sport, during the waiting time between the engagement and the

marriage of Hero and Claudio, scheme to have each love the other.

Benedick and Beatrice each "overhear" that the other is suffering from

unrequited love for her/him. In an instant, stung by the reputed blots

on their characters, they each resolve to requite the other’s love.

Says Liberatori, "It’s an extremely character-driven play. Both avowed

bachelors fall in love."

The comedy, over 400 years old, is frequently performed, in large part

because of Benedick and Beatrice’s clever, caustic, stinging

repartees. Princeton Rep performed it here on the Palmer Square green

in 1997. Now it’s set just after World War II and in the United

States, but still in Messina, Massena, New York, that is. Yes, there

is a Massena, New York. The difference between the two are two vowels.

Messina, Sicily, is where Shakespeare set the play.

World War II was an unusual time when women, formerly largely absent

in the workforce, worked in war plants, filling jobs to relieve men

for the military. All the women in the play have occupations,

Liberatori says. She is stressing the "Rosie, the Riveter" angle. "The

female characters are played very strongly," she says. "Nell (that’s

Nell Gwynn who plays Beatrice) was involved in the war effort; the

younger male characters (Claudio played by Addison McQuigg and

Benedick played by Alfredo Narciso) are all coming home from war."

Why did Rep choose this play? Having done a tragedy, "Romeo and

Juliet," Rep wanted to balance the season with a comedy, and Nell

Gwynn had been talking with Liberatori about doing the play. (Gwynn

was Regan, Lear’s middle daughter, in Princeton Rep’s "King Lear;"

Celia in "As You Like It;" and Ms. Ford in "The Merry Wives of – West

– Windsor.")

Both, Gwynn and Narciso, says Liberatori "are inventive and sexy;

there’ll be exciting chemistry between them. Both the actors playing

Benedick and Beatrice are exceptionally emotional, funny, have an edge

to their performances, and as in the ‘Kill Claudio’ scene, are able to

turn on a dime."

In "Much Ado" Liberatori sees a number of parallels to "Romeo and

Juliet." Hero’s relationship with her father, Leonato, parallels

Juliet’s relationship with her father, Lord Capulet, she notes. Both

Juliet and Hero were obedient daughters, respecting their fathers,

until Juliet (actually) and Hero (by seeming unchastity) disobey. In

both plays the relationship, father to daughter, is drastically

altered. Both fathers wish death upon their daughters, and Leonato

would even kill his daughter himself. In both plays there are friars

who are plotting the fates of the characters. And both female ingenues

feign death. (In "Romeo and Juliet" the friar’s plan ends tragically;

here it ends happily.)

Here the scheme to entrap Don Pedro and Claudio is unraveled by a

foolish, comic, bumbling watch who overhears Borachio confessing it to

Conrade, but who is prevented from confessing it to Leonato in time to

stop the shaming of Hero. Here, after a time of remorse, the Hero-ine

is married to her duped Claudio, who had humiliated her in church,

charging wantonness before the congregation gathered for what was to

be his marriage ceremony.

While the play is great fun, it raises fascinating, troubling

questions that are with us today. Liberatori notes that the play

builds plot and suspense on eavesdropping, overhearing, on gossip, and

social discourse. Add to that a staged betrayal. Can we believe what

we hear? What we see?

Who can we trust?

Claudio believes what he sees; assumes it’s the truth. Beatrice and

Benedick believe what their ears tell them about each other from the

reports of others. Don John, a bastard, convinces his brother Don

Pedro and Claudio with a staged scene, using Margaret, Hero’s serving

woman, and calling her Hero (so "proving" that Don Pedro gave a

"stale" Hero to Claudio.) Even Hero’s father, Leonato stricken with

grief, believing Claudio and Don Pedro, denounces her and would kill


The friar, who believes in Hero’s innocence from her expressions,

proposes a new scheme. He suggests that she be secretly kept in while

word is that she is dead, so Claudio will wish he had not accused her,

causing her death.

Benedick, now for his spoken love of Beatrice, also believes Hero and

challenges Claudio to a duel – to show his love of Beatrice, and

Liberatori contrasts Benedick’s early flowery language with his new

maturity near the end of the play. Beatrice all along believes her

cousin wronged.

However much Beatrice may believe Hero wronged, it is only through a

chance discovery of the watch that Don John’s slanderous scheme is

exposed. The discovery is followed by Borachio’s admitting the

deception to Don Pedro and Claudio. The falsely accused Hero,

pretending death, reappears as "another Hero" and finally marries her

Claudio, who has agreed in penance to marry the likeness of Hero that

Leonato will provide.

Benedict has already admitted his love to Beatrice, but it is only

near the play’s end that Beatrice confesses her love to Benedict,

acknowledging "I yield upon great persuasion: and partly to save your


All four lovers marry. To borrow another Shakespeare title, all’s well

that ends well.

Here’s just a sample of the wit in this play. Don Pedro, Duke of

Arragon, commenting on Beatrice’s words to Benedick, "You have put him

down lady." Beatrice returns the scold with, "So I would not he should

do me, lest I should prove the mother of fools."

But witty Beatrice, one of Shakespeare’s great heroines, is not all

barbed speech. A complex character, she has a tender, humorous side.

When Don Pedro tells her "you were born in a merry hour," she responds

with a line that has survived centuries. "No, sure my lord, my mother

cried; but then there was a star danc’d and under that was I born."

– Joan Crespi

Much Ado About Nothing, Princeton Repertory Shakespeare Festival;

Pettoranello Gardens, Community Park North, Princeton. Thursdays

through Sundays, July 22 through August 8, at 8 p.m. Free, but a $10

donation is requested. Performances rain or shine unless conditions

become dangerous for the actors. Call 609-921-3682 or visit for more information.

Previous Story Next Story

Corrections or additions?

This page is published by

— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.

Facebook Comments