Monday, August 23, 2010

Much Ado

So my kids will be seeing Much Ado About Nothing for the first time on Wednesday.  I’ve told them the story generally, but wanted to write something down that attempted to touch on the major plot points and characters a little more thoroughly.  I was surprised that, while I could find plenty of summaries that walked right through the play front to back, I couldn’t find any that I would actually have a child read.

With that, I whipped this up.  It is literally first draft right from brain to fingers to Microsoft Word.  If I have time I will edit it up a bit, but I was running out of time and wanted to get something written that I could print out and let them read. I sometimes wonder if I should sit down and make a handful of these that I’m actually happy with, and make them available for download for other parents in my situation who want something that a 6yr old could read.

Beatrice and Hero, two young ladies of the city of Messina, were excited to meet their father’s guests. Don Pedro had come home from the war and brought with him two heroes of the battle, Claudio and Benedick. Beatrice had actually known Benedick for a long time, and though she was secretly glad to see him again, she wouldn’t tell anybody. Don Pedro would also be bringing his brother Don John, who had been getting himself into trouble lately and needed to be kept where Don Pedro could keep an eye on him.

When Claudio meets Hero he immediately falls in love, and it is not long before he seeks out her father Leonato to ask for her hand in marriage. Benedick and Beatrice, on the other hand, do nothing but hurl insults back and forth at each other every chance they get. During a costume ball Beatrice even ends up dancing with Benedick without knowing who it is, and she continually but unknowingly insults him to his face.

Meanwhile, Don John is bored and looking to stir up some trouble. When he sees the budding romance between Claudio and Hero, Don John tries to sabotage it by spreading the rumor that Hero is in love with Don Pedro. No one believes the story, and it’s not long before everyone begins planning the wedding of Hero and Claudio. Excited that he’s already played matchmaker once, Don Pedro decides that he will cause Benedick and Beatrice to fall in love as well. With the help of Hero and the others, they make sure that Benedick hears them talking of Beatrice’s love for him. Likewise, when they know Beatrice will hear they talk about Benedick’s love for Beatrice. Separately, both of them begin to realize that maybe love is what they’ve felt for each other all along.

Don John has not given up yet, however. One of his workers, Borachio, has his girlfriend dress in Hero’s clothes and meet him in at night near Hero’s house. When Don Pedro and Claudio are walking nearby, they see this strange man with a woman who looks like Hero. Hero is to marry Claudio, so this is one of the worst possible things that Claudio could see.

Claudio is so angry that he doesn’t just call off the wedding, he lets the entire ceremony proceed until it is his time to speak. Then, in front of her family and all her friends, Claudio says that he knows of her unfaithfulness to him and calls her all manner of terrible names. Hero faints, but her father Leonato believes Claudio’s accusations. Beatrice and Benedick believe Hero, and together with the priest they calm Leonato down and convince him that it would be best for everyone to spread the word that Hero has died of grief.

While they work together to save Hero’s honor, Benedick finally tells Beatrice that he loves her. Beatrice seizes on the opportunity and tells him, “If you love me, you’ll do anything for me, right? Good, go kill Claudio.” Benedick does not have to challenge his friend, however, because Hero’s father has already done it. Just before they are about to go through with the duel, the local sheriff Dogberry marches a captured Borachio onstage and explains that he overheard him confessing the entire plan.

Everyone now understands why Claudio said what he did, and Claudio is overwhelmed with guilt. Claudio is the only one who does not know that Hero is actually still alive. He promises to do whatever Leonato asks, as penance for what he put the family through. Leonato says that Claudio must agree to marry his niece (not Beatrice), a woman that Claudio has never seen. Claudio, a man of his word, agrees to this arrangement. Of course, this “other woman” is actually Hero, who surprises Claudio at the altar.

With everyone once again in a marrying mood, the friends get together and pressure Benedick and Beatrice to admit that they are in love and should marry. Claudio shows a poem that Benedick wrote expressing his love for Beatrice, and Hero shows a similar poem that Beatrice wrote about Benedick. Still insulting each other the entire time, Beatrice and Benedick agree to marry.

5 comments:

christine said...

this is a lovely write up of the story line. i will share it to my wall for people to read. the rebel version glosses over some of your plot points (ie: don pedro and the duel) but they stick to it pretty much like you have it here.

well done.

and to answer your ponderance, yes. you should write a bunch of these for 6 yr olds because i know some 34 year olds who can use this kid of a synopsis.

Harriet said...

I don't have a copy of the play to hand (and am too lazy to check an online text) but I think there may be a couple of minor errors in your writeup:

1. "When Claudio meets Hero he immediately falls in love". Hadn't he met Hero a bit earlier, but was too busy thinking of other things (ie battle) but now that he's back he remembers 'how I liked her ere I went to war' (or something).

2. "Beatrice even ends up dancing with Benedick without knowing who it is". I've always thought it's arguable that Beatrice knows exactly who she's dancing with (probably depends on the director and actors). Might it be better to leave this bit out?

3. "Borachio, has his girlfriend dress in Hero’s clothes and meet him in at night near Hero’s house". Didn't she just talk to him out of the window? (Not one of my favourite bits of the play, so I could be misremembering).

4. "Claudio is the only one who does not know that Hero is actually still alive." I think Don Pedro is still in the dark, as well.

Of course, these may have been intentional simplifications, but they didn't sit quite right with me.

Having said this, I generally thought the summary was great. And I think it's a good idea to have summaries suitable for younger readers ... which could also be useful to adults. I still remember trying to give a plot summary to a friend while on the bus going in to see the Branagh/Thompson Much Ado - a short written version like this would have been very helpful!

Duane said...

Hi Harriet,

I did simplify a few things on purpose - most notably the rendezvous between Borachio and Margaret. I didn't really want to get into explaining exactly what the big deal was, and decided that "being seen with another man the night before the wedding" was good enough for the 6yr old crowd.

The other stuff, like Claudio first seeing Hero after the war, may be something of a gloss over. But it was late, this is literally straight from brain to fingers to post, so there's always room to tweak it around the edges.

GeorgeD said...

Please forgive the objections.

Beatrice seizes on the opportunity and tells him, “If you love me, you’ll do anything for me, right? Good, go kill Claudio.”...

...is not only wrong, but putting Beatrice in a very bad light, and damaging what seems to be Shakespeare's best love story. Beatrice is no cold and calculating harpy, and in fact it is Benedick himself who opens the trap beneath his feet, by saying, immediately after Beatrice's avowal of loving him, "Come bid me do anything for thee".

Benedick does not have to challenge his friend, however, because Hero’s father has already done it.

I can't make out what this statement means. Why should one challenge prohibit, or prevent, another? The more so, since, in the play, it doesn't. Leonato, and then his brother, Antonio, have indeed challenged Claudio, and have been rejected, and mocked for being old fools, not only by Claudio, but by the Prince, too. Entering the stage at the end of that confrontation, Benedick does challenge Claudio in no uncertain terms. He (Benedick) even goes as far as telling the Prince that he will no longer be his companion. I always thought this a very important scene in the play, since it shows Benedick's finally growing up. May I, please, suggest to alter that part into something like: "Benedick does indeed challenge Claudio, but, in the end, does not have to fight with him, since the misunderstanding is soon cleared up. Dogberry enters with Boracchio etc." --?

...and Claudio is overwhelmed with guilt.

No, he's not. He reveals his cold and callous nature by immediately rejecting any responsibility for the havoc and misery he has created, "Yet sinned I not, but in mistaking"! Then he goes through a superficial show of mourning, and is back to his old silly joking self within the hour. (One of the reasons I love Shakespeare so much, is the intense feelings of hatred that overcome me, each time I'm confronted with Claudio ... even when watching such bad productions as Brannagh's.)

(Claudio is the only one who does not know that Hero is actually still alive. has already been corrected.)

Well, of course I'm aware that no one is obliged to share my views and tastes; I'm nonetheless a bit saddened, getting the impression that you don't think this comedy doesn't deserve more than a passing thought.

Duane said...

Hi George,

Two disclaimers you may have missed up at the beginning. First, the entire intent of this little summary was to provide a plot outline for my kids, one of whom is only 6 years old. So if I glossed over some deeper motivations, they are details that the kids would not have gotten anyway. All I wanted to do, quoting myself, is "touch on the major plot points and characters a little more thoroughly."

Second, that was very literally a first draft that I banged out in one sitting at 10 o'clock at night, basically from memory. So your suggestion that I deliberately shorted it in some ways is misguided. It got only a "passing thought" because the circumstances - providing something for my kids to read before they went to see the show - demanded it.