Much Ado About Nothing is a typical Shakespeare comedy about the problems love can cause and how they are overcome. Throughout the play Shakespeare uses misinformation and overhearing (both fairly expected conventions in Shakespeare’s plays) as comic devices. The entire play is based around the over exploited subject of love, but uses many other Shakespearian conventions such as disguise for comic value. Shakespeare’s audiences expected such devices within plays- which sometimes aloud writers to parody themselves.
Act 2 scene 3 opens with Benedict’s soliloquy about the folly of love. The entire speech seems to be bitter in tone- and specifically about Claudio having fallen for Hero. When he sees Claudio coming he mocks him calling him “monsieur love”. He talks about how that now Claudio “dedicates his behaviours to love” he has changed from being war loving and “plain” speaking to being sentimental and soft. Benedick compares Claudio’s speech to a “fantastical banquet, just so many strange dishes”. Shakespeare generally used soliloquies, as he does here, to let the audience hear what a character is thinking. Benedick shows the audience how stubborn he is, but as he has said he will never marry, by convention it is therefore the audience’s expectation that he will before the end of the play. Benedick hiding himself presents a lot of opportunity for humour in this scene. It could for example be played so Benedick could not see the other three allowing them to use body language to communicate.
When Don Pedro, Leonato, Claudio and Balthasar enter there is a lot of scope for humour in the dramatic irony of the situation. I.e. that Benedick thinks they do not know where he his, while the audience no that they do. This could be used in the tone of Don Pedro’s, Leonato’s and Claudio’s voices. The lines they do not want Benedick to hear- for example “see you where Benedick hath hid himself”- could be said in a stage whisper. Also, the lines which are meant to lead Benedick on- i.e. “what was it you told me today, that your niece Beatrice was in love with signor Benedick” should be said very falsely, overacting them, and forced loud enough for Benedick to hear. This will convey to the audience the lines that are meant to be heard, and those that aren’t.
Shakespeare’s plays are often left open to interpretation from the director as he wrote very few stage directions. Apart from exits and entrances any action he wanted Shakespeare would write it in to the dialogue. During the time they are persuading Balthasar to sing Benedick could create some visual humour. He could fidget about – perhaps picking his teeth or preening his hair (showing how vain he is). Or maybe he could just sit and watch them with a bored expression. I would have the song sung extremely badly, and Balthasar could half dance between the others as they lie back to listen. The song is heavily ironic in the situation as it is about men being “deceivers ever”- while they themselves are tricking Benedick. During the song Benedick could exasperatedly put his head in his hands; seemingly offended at how badly it is being sung, looking up only to bitterly mutter that “had he been a dog that should have howled thus, they would have hanged him”.
At the end of the song, Benedick could get up to leave, only to fall in to the first trap set for him as Don Pedro says “What was it you told me today, that your niece Beatrice was in love with Signor Benedick?”. There is again opportunity for humour in Benedick’s reaction. He could trip and fall, shout out and quickly cover his mouth, or he could just freeze and very slowly turn his head back. Meanwhile the others could watch to make sure he had reacted before quickly carrying on. The trick works my catching Benedick’s attention suddenly, and then drawing him in further. They then have to cover themselves by making excuses why she hasn’t “made her affection known to Benedick” to make it more believable. The trick ties in to the themes of the whole play in that the entire plot revolves around a core of misinformation and deceit.
During the trick, Claudio, Don Pedro, and Leonato seem to see it as a perfect opportunity to show Benedick some of his flaws. I think this is yet another opportunity for visual humour with Benedick’s reactions. When they begin Benedick’s reactions could seem quite reasonable- accepting the criticisms. But as they continue he should become more and more indignant about the criticism. The audience will find his growing indignance funny, and somewhat ironic as this reaction as this reaction is partly what the others are criticising. Besides his indignance however, Benedick is obviously learning about himself, as until he recognises them, he cannot love. This is shown in Benedick’s final soliloquy that, as apposed to where Don Pedro, Leonato, and Claudio speak in verse, he speaks in prose. Shakespeare often showed simpler, straighter thinking characters by writing their lines in prose not verse.
In Benedick’s second soliloquy it becomes evident to the audience he has fallen for the trick hook line and sinker. I think it could be played with amazement but, despite what he has heard, still showing some of the arrogance criticised of. However he could hastily lose this arrogance when he says, “they say I shall bear myself proudly” as if to deny them the satisfaction of being right. There is again irony in this soliloquy as Benedick, listing Beatrice’s loveable qualities, lists the exact same qualities he claimed immunity to in his first soliloquy. Throughout the speech he seems to be trying to justify his feelings for Beatrice. He even goes so far as to say “The world must be peopled” as though he were doing the world a favour. He also tries to void his previous declaration that he would die a bachelor by saying he did not think he would “live till I were married”.
At Beatrice’s entrance, I think Benedick hastily trying to look mildly seductive could create some visual humour. This would create the dramatic irony that while Beatrice is completely bemused by his behaviour, the audience would understand what he doing. Shakespearean audiences would generally expect some visual humour in his comedies. For example, there is often a dog sequence to provide some slapstick in Shakespeare’s comedies.