Pre-Reading Notes on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing (by Bethany)

Much Ado about Nothing cover image

You may have noticed that I am taking my own sweet time with the A.P. Challenge. This is only partially my fault, since when we started this challenge back in June of 2012 I was mostly unemployed. Beginning in January of 2013 I began working part time, and then in mid-May of this year I started working full time and then some. When I stepped up my work schedule, my main worry was insomnia. In the past, when I’ve been overworked and stressed, I’ve stopped sleeping. On the one hand, this means that I was always able to keep up a fairly rigorous reading schedule in spite of working long hours. On the other hand, though, it meant that I became absolutely miserable and unproductive and a danger to myself and others. This time, I’ve managed to sleep seven hours a night – and often more – even while I’ve been working ten- and eleven-hour days. This is a good thing, of course – but it also means that I haven’t been the most sophisticated of readers these days. The next book I’m supposed to read is Anna Karenina, and while I’m looking forward to that book very much, I don’t think I will be able to focus on it until late August, when my schedule will collapse back into my 30 hour-per-week comfort zone. But I do love the AP Challenge and want to move forward with it, so I’ve decided to skip ahead and read June’s selection: Much Ado About Nothing.

When our class read Much Ado About Nothing back in December of 1993, I was either sick for real or I was faking sick. It was impossible to tell with me. I had two speeds in high school: 90 mph and broken down by the side of the road. I was a good student who worked hard and got at least most of my assignments done, but I needed a day or two off every few weeks in order to recharge myself and get everything done. Half the time, I’m not sure if I even knew when I was actually sick and when I was just exhausted. On some level, I think this line is still sort of blurry for me, even today.

Here’s what I remember. Jill called me after school on one of the days when I stayed home. “We’re starting Much Ado About Nothing,” she said. “Fr. Murphy put us into groups, and we’re doing group projects. You’re in my group. We’re meeting on Saturday morning at the Owl and the Monkey Café on 9th and Judah. Oh, and there’s a character in the play named Sir John the Bastard.”

I had memories of being taken to the Owl and the Monkey Café as a child, and I remembered it being a little on the creepy side. I didn’t go to the meeting, not because I was put off by the venue – most of San Francisco circa 1980 was a little on the creepy side, so this particular café did not stand out in any way – but because by Saturday I was not yet finished pretending to be sick or being sick for real. Jill called me again after the meeting to inform me that I had a role of some kind to perform in a scene and that the group had assigned the role of Sir John the Bastard to another group member who had failed to show up. I had dodged that bullet. Whew.

I think I was back in class by the time we gave our presentations, and it’s possible that I stood up with the group and read some lines. I don’t remember. I also remember absolutely nothing about the play except for the existence of Sir John the Bastard and the fact that the primary characters are named Beatrice and Benedick. Not Benedict – Benedick. I also remember that Fr. Murphy made a great to-do about the fact that an Elizabethan audience would have heard no marked difference between the words “nothing” and “noting”; in other words, the title is a pun that can suggest either making a big deal about nothing or making a big deal about all the little observations that people make in the course of their lives – in other words, over “noting” or noticing things. Fr. Murphy didn’t just tell us about this pun and then let it rest – oh, no. Every time he mentioned the play for the rest of the year, he called it Much Ado About NO-TING, just to make sure the point was driven home – which apparently it was, since it’s one of only three things I remember about the play and takes equal status in my memory with Sir John the Bastard and a romantic hero named after a penis.

So, in the spirit of Fr. Murphy and his favorite Elizabethan pun, I plan to notice lots and lots of things when I am reading Much Ado about NO-TING: variations in the iambic pentameter, images of light and dark, sexual innuendo, puns on Shakespeare’s name – you name it, I will notice it. And I will make a very, very big deal of all these details when I write about the play here on Postcards from Purgatory. Just you wait.

This entry was posted in AP English - 18 Years Later, Authors, Drama, Reviews by Bethany, William Shakespeare. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Pre-Reading Notes on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing (by Bethany)

  1. badkitty1016 says:

    I remember that a classmate called the play Much to do About Anything once. And Keanu Reeves played Sir John the Bastard in the movie version that came out around the time we were reading it. And there are MY pre-reading notes.

    • lfpbe says:

      There’s another movie version out right now. It’s playing at some of the alternative movie theatres. I hope it’s still out when I finish the play.

      • badkitty1016 says:

        It’s a modernization directed by Joss Whedon, with a bunch of the actors who usually turn up in his stuff. I found it when I was looking up who played who in the 1993 version, so I knew who to picture in my head while I was reading. I wonder if they speak in verse or if they updated the language? I suspect Joss Whedon would go with verse but you never know.

      • badkitty1016 says:

        In verse. Also in black and white. Looks pretty good actually.

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