Much Ado About Nothing is one of Shakespeare’s many comedies, written in 1598. Ado means ‘fuss’ so the title ‘ Much Ado About Nothing’ suggests the play is basically a lot of fuss about nothing and maybe all about something which is largely exaggerated.
Shakespeare set the play in Messina in Italy for many reasons. The 15th and 16th centuries were a time of travel and adventure. Italy was also an important trading centre at that time. Precious commodities such as metals, spices and silks came from the east and traded through Italy to the rest of Europe. The masked dances started, as did many new trends, in Italy and became very popular in Elizabethan England.
Italy was an important country in those times as it was a wealthy country which became a very popular place for people to visit and new ideas and fashion started there.
Shakespeare uses the masked dance is Act 2 scene i for many reasons, one of them is to create visual impact on the audience.
Shakespeare’s audiences were completely different to 20th century audiences. In Shakespeare’s times nobody could book or reserve tickets or seats, so everyone had to be there early to get a good seat. The audiences were a mixed group of people and included lawyers, ruffians and merchants. Higher class people would be treated better than lower class people and would also seat in the better seats and lower class people had to sit in the seats which were left. People would also talk throughout the performance and many people would walk around, which was very off putting for the actors.
Audiences heckled if they didn’t like the play and rowdy audiences would throw benches and would even threaten to rip up the theatre if they didn’t like the play.
Gentlewomen always had to go with a man if they were going to the theatre. People would also stand at the front and sale their ice creams and refreshments which would be very off putting for the actors and actresses and would also be off putting for the audience as they would have to listen extremely hard to understand what was happening on stage. There were no curtains, which meant the audience couldn’t see when the play was going to begin and finish.
These days everyone usually needs to book tickets and seats because if they don’t all the tickets have gone and quite often no tickets can be bought on the door. Anyone can go on their own if they want to or they can go with whoever they like. Nothing is thrown or shouted at the actors or actresses. If anyone doesn’t like the play they quietly get up and walk out. There are also still groups of mixed people but anyone is welcome to go and everyone sits together instead of higher class people sitting in one part of the theatre and lower class people sitting in another part. Theatres now also have curtains, which help to indicate when the play is beginning and ending. There is also lighting which helps to create atmosphere on stage.
The masks which people in Elizabethan masked balls, wore showed how wealthy they were and the masks often symbolized their personality. The mask designs were very important to the person wearing the mask as it often reflected them as a person and everyone would take a lot of time and trouble in making the best possible mask they could. There were many different types of masks, which people wore, and many of them were animals, birds, cherubs, stars, flowers, spirits (e.g. devil, ghost) and weather designs (e.g. sun). Many women also used to wear eye masks because they didn’t want to hide all of their face. Masks are still very popular now especially for children’s parties and celebrations (e.g. Halloween)
The masks would also help to keep the audiences attention because the audience would be intrigued to know who was behind each mask.
The costumes, which people wore were very bright and colourful. The costumes were also expensive and were the type of clothes that very high-class people would wear. The costumes helped to keep the audience focused as the bright and colourful costumes would interest and surprise them the costumes would also be interesting because they are so different to what anybody would wear nowadays.
Movement on stage is also very important because if the actors just stood in one certain place throughout the whole play then the audience would become very uninterested and would start to talk or move, which then becomes extremely off putting for the actors and actresses. The main source of movement in this scene would be the dancing.
The music, which would be played on stage, helped to create an atmosphere, which helps to focus and interest the audience. People who weren’t specifically interested in the play also had the music they could listen which then kept them interested and focused in play.
The contrast between the different couples also helps to keep the audience’s attention because the audience are so interested and gripped by what is going to happen between each couple. The different couples behave in different ways because Don Pedro and Hero flirt with each other in a way which isn’t so obvious as the two servants Balthasar and Margaret do. Then Antonio is being funny and teasing Ursula but actually Ursula quite like him.
The identity between Antonio and Ursula is a hidden identity but it fails. ‘ I know you by the waggling of your head.’ This simply means that Ursula can tell that he is Antonio by the way that he holds himself. This is also humour as Antonio keeps denying it his him but Ursula knows that it is him. ‘ I know you well enough, you are Signor Antonio.’ ‘ At a word, I am not’ ‘ I know you by the waggling of your head’ The audience are also well aware of what each of them is thinking which makes it funny. This is a bit of fun and creates a happy mood at the start of the scene.
The identity between Beatrice and Benedick is also a hidden identity which is also failed. Shakespeare is using a hidden identity between them so that Beatrice can get her revenge for Act 1 Scene 1 jades trick.
‘You always end with a jade’s trick: I know you of old’ This was what Beatrice’s last words were to Benedick in the merry war between them in Act i Scene i. This hidden identity helps Beatrice to get her revenge because Beatrice no ides that it is Benedick behind the mask but Bendick has know idea that she knows it is him. ‘ I am sure you know him well enough’ This shows the audience that Beatrice knows it is Benedick behind the mask and that the hidden identity has failed, this is humour for the audience. Benedick being trapped behind the mask also means that he can’t say anything back to defend himself, so it gives her the ideal opportunity to get her revenge.
‘Why he is the prince’s jester, a very dull fool’ Beatrice is basically saying that he is jester or idiot and a very ‘dull fool’ suggest that he is boring and not very clever. Beatrice is also redressing the balance because at the end of Act i Scene i Beatrice was left and Benedick had the last word but now she has had the last word. After the few battles that Benedick and Beatrice have had the audience are now waiting for the next battle or argument.
Claudio hides his identity because that’s the whole point of the masked dance and hiding his identity is fun. Don John’s identity is also hidden and mistaken to give Don John the option to get back at Don Pedro because he is jealous of his wealth and power. Don John uses Claudio and Hero. ‘ How know you he loves her?’ This shows that Claudio is showing a sense of despair. Don John tells him that Don Pedro is wooing Hero for himself.
The mood at the start of the scene was happy and the scene is left with a cliff-hanger at the end. The scene ends with a soliloquy in which Claudio is expressing his thoughts and feelings out loud and only the audience can hear him. ‘ Friendship is constant in all other things,’ This shows friendship is constant in places like work but friendship is not constant in love because in love people get hurt and the friendship between those two people will never be the same again.
I think that Shakespeare’s masked dance in Act 2 Scene 1 has worked very well because it has shown different contrasts between many couples which is amusing and exciting for the audience. The masked dance has also enabled Beatrice to get her revenge on Benedick from Act 1 Scene 1 and has also given Don John the chance to get back at Don Pedro. Movement and music have also been introduced to the play by the masked dance which means the play is more interesting for the audience to watch. The audience have also gained humour from the masked dance because the couples have tried to hide their identities using the masks but the audience have understood what the other person is thinking which makes it amusing to watch.
After reading and studying the text and watching the video I found the video a lot easier to understand and listen to. The book became very uninteresting because I found it hard to understand and remember what had happened over the last few pages. As I first thought the play was basically a lot of fuss about nothing although a lot more did happened in the play than I first thought would. I also thought that the play would become very repetitive and would be a lot longer than it needed to be. I found Much Ado About Nothing very interesting and amusing in parts and would much rather study one of Shakespeare’s comedies than one of his tragedies.