Much Ado About Nothing
In many ways, Much Ado about Nothing stands alongside As You Like It as a quintessential Shakespeare comedy. It is a classic comedy in the tradition that holds that tragedies end in death, while comedies end in marriages. It’s founded more in character than in situational issues, and it never really lapses into mere farce. It draws most of its energy from the romantic tension of two different couples — Hero and Claudio, on the one hand, and Beatrice and Benedick on the other. In addition there is the nearly slapstick behavior of the constable Dogberry and his confederates — who, despite being fools, also hold the key to the problem.
Whereas the romantic tension of As You Like It depends at least in part on the mistaken (or at least concealed) identity of Rosalind, here the issues are about the misapprehension of someone else’s meaning or action. Claudio misunderstands what he’s given to see about the behavior of Hero, and so assumes she’s been unfaithful to him; Beatrice and Benedick are tricked into knowing themselves in despite of their complex machinery of self-deception and outward presentation.
All in all, the play is a delight, remarkably robust, and almost always entertaining. Each performance, of course, has its own strengths and weaknesses, but it’s generally conceded that the most important single element in making any given version work is a crisp interaction of Beatrice and Benedick. The situation between Hero and Claudio is more static, and while it is in many ways more serious in its initial import, it offers less scope for dramatic manipulation and amusement. It is potentially tragic in its implications, though it does not finally turn in a dark direction. Hero goes down on the list of Shakespeare heroines who have almost infinite patience with their undeserving lovers’ abuses.
There is a delightful range of filmed versions available here: all of those that I’ve seen myself are worth watching, and at least three of them are positively brilliant.