MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
SUBJECTS — Drama/England;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Romantic Relationships; Brothers;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness; Fairness.
AGE: 10+; MPAA Rating — PG-13; Classic Version;
Comedy; 1993, 110 minutes; Color;. Available from Amazon.com.
SUBJECTS — Drama/England;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Romantic Relationships; Brothers;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness; Fairness.
AGE: 10+; MPAA Rating — not rated but would be PG-13 or PG;
2004; 123 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
The 1993 Classic Version:
This film is an excellent introduction to Shakespeare’s comedies. The acting is so strong and the direction so clear that students can easily follow the complications that beset two sets of lovers. The movie is both a classic presentation of the play and an entertaining experience for students.
The BBC has had the play rewritten for modern audiences. The setting is a local newsroom in Britain and the characters, from the news anchors to the security guards, are drawn from Shakespeare’s play. The result is also delightful and stands on its own as an enjoyable experience for the viewer. It’s especially entertaining for those who have seen the classic version or read the play. (For students who love Much Ado About Nothing or for advanced ELA or Drama classes, an interesting project is to have students compare the play or a filmed version to the BBC’s modern rewrite.
SELECTED AWARDS & CAST
The 1993 Classic Version:
Selected Awards: 1993 Cannes Film Festival Nominations: Best Film; 1994 Golden Globe Awards Nominations: Best Film/Musical/Comedy; 1994 Independent Spirit Awards Nominations: Best Actress (Thompson); Best Film.
Featured Actors: Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Robert Sean Leonard, Kate Beckinsale, Denzel Washington, Keanu Reeves, Michael Keaton.
Director: Kenneth Branagh.
Selected Awards: BAFTA TV Awards: Best Director (Brian Percival)
Featured Actors: Damian Lewis, Sarah Parish, Tom Ellis, Billie Piper.
Director: Brian Percival.
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
The 1993 Classic Version will introduce students to Shakespeare’s comedies. In addition, students will gain some insight into the trials and triumphs of romantic love. A comparison of the two films or of Shakespeare Retold with the play will provide students with an interesting and entertaining insight into the differences between current society and the England of Shakespeare.
MINOR. There is some alcohol use and carousing. In the 1993 Classic Version, the audience is shown a few very brief glimpses of private parts of the human anatomy when the household is bathing before the first night of festivities. For some, the subplot with Dogberry and Verges is overacted and detracts from the other excellent performances.
The Helpful Background section of the Learning Guide to “Twelfth Night” contains a brief discussion of Shakespeare and his comedies.
Deception is used for both good and evil in this play. Don Pedro and his friends show Beatrice and Benedick that they love each other with a charming ruse. But Don John uses deception to cause Claudio to doubt Hero’s virtue. To remove the stain from her honor, Hero’s family deceives Claudio and Don Pedro into believing that Hero is dead.
This is a comedy and therefore the deceptions turn out for the best. In Shakespeare’s tragedies the deceptions, even though well intentioned, are sometimes fatal, see Romeo and Juliet. For another well-intentioned deception that ends in tragedy, see the brilliant antiwar film A Midnight Clear.
There are several references in the play to Greek and Roman mythology.
Harpies had the heads of old women and the bodies of birds. They were foul smelling creatures. Their feathers served as armor and could not be pierced. They could fly as fast as the wind. They would pursue people, snatch them up, and carry them to their deaths in the underworld.
Venus is the Roman goddess of love and beauty. Venus was the mother of Cupid, the god of love.
Diana was the beautiful Roman Goddess of the moon and the hunt.
USING IN THE CLASSROOM
Teachers know that finding touchpoints for today’s students in works that comprise the Canon results in greater buy-in and enthusiasm for the text. There are several repeating paradigms in human relationships that appear in Much Ado About Nothing. They include the sparring couple who disguise their mutual interest in “hard to get” behavior or even mock insults. The cynical front they present to the world and to each other is a cover for lack of confidence and fear of rejection.
A second touchpoint is the question of loyalty and trust vs. jealousy and suspicion. Claudio and Hero have fallen in love at first sight and haven’t had time to develop knowledge of each other’s character. In Shakespeare’s time females were held to a higher standard of fidelity. We still have the double standard today, although deviance is not as harshly punished as it was in Shakespeare’s time – or even 50 years ago.
A third touchpoint is the use of deception. People will deceive others for good or for ill, from putting a friend in a position that forces him or her to talk to someone they like and so overcome shyness, to practical jokes or cynical plots.
High school students can definitely relate to these situations. Once a teacher highlights the similarities or starts a discussion with questions, the class is primed to tackle the language because the drama has come alive for them, and is relevant.
Step 1:: Tell students the following or words to this effect:
Have you ever seen a student who liked someone, but was afraid to show it? Sometimes, he or she would pretend not to care about that person or even criticize him or her? Or maybe you’ve seen a friend go through hard times when they thought their girlfriend or boyfriend was cheating on them? Or perhaps you’ve seen someone lie to set up a situation in which a girl would have to talk to a boy she liked but was too shy to approach him, or the other way around. Or, maybe you’ve seen someone lie about another to get them into trouble. Or perhaps you’ve been involved in one of these situations yourself. Well, if so, you’ll feel right at home in the world of this play.
Step 2: Supply the class with the information from the Helpful Background Section that students may not be familiar with. Also, review with the class any unfamiliar words listed in the Building Vocabulary section.
Step 3: Before showing the 1993 Classic Version, set the scene for the students. Here is a suggestion:
This story takes place in a remote farming village in Italy in the past century when there were no phones, no internet, no cars, no planes, and no rail links. Months pass when nothing happens except for the day-in and day-out rhythms of nature. The only excitement is the birth of a new calf or a litter of pigs. Travelers on horseback bring news of far-off events. For the wealthy Senior Leonato and for his young daughter and their female cousin, there is little to do but paint and read poetry.
Then comes news that Don Pedro, a war hero, and friend of Senior Leonato, with a contingent of his soldiers, will come for a visit for rest and recreation.
After the class has finished watching the film, conduct a class discussion using some of the questions set out below.
1. How many separate plot lines are there in this play? Identify one of them.
Here are a few: (1) the Hero/Claudio romance; (2) the Benedick/Beatrice romance; and (3) the Don John revenge plot.
2. Deception is central to this play. How many different deceptions are there? What does this play tell us about deception?
Here are five. There may be more. (1) Don John deceives Claudio and Don Pedro about Hero. (2) The deception of Don Pedro wooing Hero for Claudio. (3) The deception of Benedick about Beatrice’s statements of her feelings for him. (4) The deception of Beatrice about Benedict’s statement of his feelings for her. (5) The deception of Hero’s death. (6) The deception of the marriage of Claudio to Hero’s “cousin.” What this tells us about deception is that when employing deception, you must make sure that the goal is to nurture or help the individuals being deceived, not to inure them or someone else.
See the Questions under “Romantic Relationships” below for additional discussions of other important themes of this play.
See also Discussion Questions for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.
SHAKESPEARE RETOLD VERSION: DISCUSSION QUESTION/ESSAY PROMPT
The screenwriter who was charged with making a modern version of Much Ado About Nothing changed some of the characters and modified other aspects of the story. What are the differences between the original and the update and what do those changes tell us about the difference between modern society and the England for which Shakespeare wrote?
Comment on Responses: Students should be able to identify several differences. Here are a few.
(1) Most importantly, the ending: Hero doesn’t take Claud back in Shakespeare Retold. She stops being something created by her father modern day society. In Shakespeare’s time the only role for a woman in respectable society was to have a husband.
(2) A contrary interpretation is also reasonable: the Hero of the play loved Claudio while the affection of the Hero of Shakespeare Retold for Claud was less intense. (But then, is the modern playwright saying that modern love is not as all-encompassing and consuming as the love in Shakespeare’s time?)
(3) the role of the security men is different because they are portrayed in a much less negative light than in the play. At least they can formulate sentences. This, again, brings the story closer to modern sensibilities.
(4) The role of the military is eliminated from the modern version. The military was an important role for aristocratic society in Shakespeare’s time, but in the modern day, movies are about people who are not aristocrats. Now, aristocrats are media figures, as shown in Shakespeare Retold.
These are just examples. Creative minds will undoubtedly find some other interesting differences.
1. During the first part of the play, why were Beatrice and Benedick always saying unpleasant things to each other?
Sometimes couples who love each other are afraid of the strength of their feelings. To cover up for this fear, they fight and bicker.
2. How could people as intelligent as Beatrice and Benedick be blind to their affection for each other and then permit themselves to be brought together by a transparent deception?
The emotional intelligence to know when you really love someone with whom you have a complicated relationship is not the same as the intelligence involved in making witty comments or doing well in school.
3. What kind of person is Claudio? In your evaluation of this character be sure to talk about his reaction to what he thought he observed Hero do on her balcony.
Here are two possible responses. Any response that takes into account the events of the play are just as valid. (1) Claudio is a fairly shallow character. He doesn’t give Hero a chance to explain and is totally taken in by appearances. He chooses a particularly cruel way to break off the engagement. He gets jealous of Don Pedro and thinks his patron may be wooing Hero, ostensibly on Claudio’s behalf. However, he doesn’t stand up to Don John. (2) Claudio is an upright and honorable gentleman. This is shown by Don Pedro’s affection for him and by the fact that when he realizes that he has wronged Hero, he is willing to go to extraordinary lengths to make amends by announcing his error to the village and agreeing to marry a young girl he has never seen.
4. Do you think that Hero and Claudio are mature enough to make rational decisions about romance and marriage? What about Benedick and Beatrice?
There is no one correct response to this question. A strong response will note that it is difficult to make rational decisions about romance and marriage at any age and at any level of maturity. That is the nature of romantic feelings. Thus, Benedick and Beatrice, much older than Hero and Claudio are not acting maturely throughout most of the play.
5. How does this film show the cruelty of love? Give at least two examples.
The way Benedick and Beatrice treat each other and the way that Claudio treats Hero.
6. It has been said that “love” is not cruel; cruelty is left to the lovers? What does this mean?
Love is a feeling that cannot necessarily be controlled and it leads people to do things that may hurt others, especially when love is not returned. However, all of this can be dealt with in a reasonably mature and caring way. Cruel actions are what lovers do when they act out of hurt or fear, as when Benedick and Beatrice treat each other or Claudio humiliates Hero on their wedding day.
7. What does this play say about the danger of judging others, particularly a person with whom you are romantically involved?
Jumping to conclusions is always risky.
8. Benedick states, toward the end of the play, “Man is a giddy thing.” Is he correct?
Have you ever seen a boy or a man of any age in the first throws of love? Then you will know what Shakespeare meant when he had Benedict say that “Man is a giddy thing.”
9. If you were Don Pedro, what would you do about Don Jon? There are reasons to be sympathetic to the poor Don John. He is the bastard son of their father. In that culture, he will never be as respected as Don Pedro. If you were Don Pedro, judging Don John, would you forgive or would you punish?
There is no one correct answer to this question. However, a good idea is to allow him to reconcile again through repentance and redemption. Allow him to gain his place by some good deed to make up for his wrongful actions. And, of course, for a good long time, always keep your eye on him.
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Be honest; Don’t deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable — do what you say you’ll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal — stand by your family, friends and country)
1. Evaluate the actions of Don John in relation to the “Respect” Pillar of Character.
(Play by the rules; Take turns and share; Be open-minded; listen to others; Don’t take advantage of others; Don’t blame others carelessly)
2. Evaluate the actions of Claudio in relation to the “Fairness” Pillar of Character.
3. Is it fair to jump to conclusions about others without giving them a chance to explain?
ASSIGNMENTS, PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES
2. Divide the class into groups of 10 or less and assign characters to each student to read. The readings can be among the group or with the rest of the class as audience. The smaller parts as a group can be assigned to one or two persons. Suggested scenes to read are described in the Bridges to Reading section.
3. Ask students to list out each separate subplot, trace the lines of each subplot and describe how the subplot, if any, contributes to the play as a whole.
4. Ask students to write an essay describing the use of deception in the play, to list the different deceptions and, for each, to describe how they relate to the play as a whole.
5. Ask students to write an essay describing the moral messages of the play. Another way to put this assignment is, “What was Shakespeare trying to tell us in this play about the way that people should or should not act?”
6. Ask students to write an essay describing what this play tells us about people. Another way to put this assignment is, “What was Shakespeare trying to tell us in this play about the way that people behave?” Was this play just for fun?
7. Ask the students to select two major characters in the play and to write a short description describing what was motivating them?
8. Ask the students to write essays on appropriate questions set out in the Discussion Questions section above.
BRIDGES TO READING
Read scenes from the play together. You can compete to see who reads various parts best or just enjoy the beautiful language. Suggested scenes to read are Act One, Scene I; Act Two, Scene I beginning with the speech of Don Pedro: “The lady Beatrice hath a quarrel to you …” (line 242); Act Two, Scene III beginning from the exit of Balthasar (line 82) to the end; Act Three, Scene I; Act Five, Scene II (beginning at the entrance of Beatrice). After you have read several scenes, see the movie again.
Another excellent idea is to assign parts to several people in the class or the family or among friends and to read various scenes, or the entire play if you can. If your family has a literary bent, this would be especially fun at family gatherings. All of the aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers can participate.
The screenplay, introduction, and notes on the making of the movie by Kenneth Branagh were published under the title Much Ado About Nothing by W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1993. There are also annotated editions of Shakespeare’s plays with explanations of the antique phrases set out in the margins or on a page facing the text. You may want to obtain a copy of one of these books from the library before reading scenes from the play.
from the Classic Version:
auspicious, canker, conscience, conveyance, detractions, discourse, disdain, ditties, enigmatic or enigmatical, feign, harpy, impediment, melancholy, mirth, orthography, pernicious, perturbed or perturbation, redemption, satire, scorn, slander, suitor, wanton, woe, “hey nonny nonny,” doth, betwixt, troth, epigram, fair (in the sense of beautiful), dotard.
LINKS TO THE INTERNET
In addition to websites that may be linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine, the following resources were consulted in the preparation of this Learning Guide:
- Much Ado About Nothing: Screenplay, Introduction, and Notes on the Making of the Movie by Kenneth Branagh, W.W. Norton, New York, 1993.