Much Ado About Nothing Synopsis & Notes
Leonato, a kindly, respectable nobleman, lives in the idyllic Italian town of Messina. He shares his house with his lovely young daughter, Hero, his playful, clever niece, Beatrice, and his sister, Antonia. As the play begins, Leonato prepares to welcome some friends home from a war. The friends include Don Pedro, a prince who is a close friend of Leonato, and two fellow soldiers: Claudio, a well-respected young nobleman, and Benedick, a clever man who constantly makes witty jokes. Don John, Don Pedro’s illegitimate brother, is part of the crowd as well. Don John is sullen and bitter and makes trouble for the others.
When the soldiers arrive at Leonato’s home, Claudio quickly falls in love with Hero. Meanwhile, Benedick and Beatrice resume the war of witty insults that they have carried on with each other in the past. Claudio and Hero pledge their love to one another and decide to be married. To pass the time before the wedding, the lovers and their friends decide to play a game to get Beatrice and Benedick, who are clearly meant for each other, to stop arguing and fall in love. Their tricks prove successful, and Beatrice and Benedick soon fall secretly in love.
But Don John has decided to disrupt everyone’s happiness. He has his companion Borachio make love to Margaret, Hero’s serving woman, at Hero’s window at night, and he brings Don Pedro and Claudio to watch. Believing that he has seen Hero being unfaithful to him, the enraged Claudio humiliates Hero by accusing her of lechery on the day of their wedding and abandoning her at the altar. Hero’s stricken family members pretend that she died suddenly of shock and grief and hide her away while they wait for the truth about her innocence to come to light. In the aftermath of the rejection, Benedick and Beatrice finally confess their love to one another. Fortunately, the night watchmen overhear Borachio bragging about his crime. Dogberry and Verges, the heads of the local police, ultimately arrest Borachio. Everyone learns that Hero is really innocent, and Claudio, who believes she is dead, grieves for her.
Leonato tells Claudio that, as punishment, he wants Claudio to tell everyone how innocent Hero was. He also wants Claudio to marry Leonato’s “niece” – a girl who, he says, looks much like the dead Hero. Claudio goes to the church, preparing to marry the masked woman he thinks is Hero’s cousin. When Hero reveals herself, Claudio is overwhelmed with joy. Benedick then asks Beatrice if she will marry him, and after some arguing they agree. The joyful lovers all have a merry dance before they celebrate their double wedding.
— Courtesy of SparkNotes LLC
Pictured: Ann Marie Gideon and Courtney Patterson in Much Ado About Nothing. (Bill DeLoach Photography)
by Richard Garner
Part of the fun of Much Ado About Nothing is watching Beatrice and Benedick try to hide their love for each other. Oh sure, they say they don’t love each other - don’t even like each other. In fact, to hear them tell it, they detest each other. But we know better. Those cool exteriors are no match for the fiery passions that burn underneath - passions yearning, longing to burst free just like lava under Mt. Etna.
When the design team and I were discussing this story, we talked about the palpable tension that is underneath almost every scene in the play and how we could make choices that would put that tension to good storytelling use. Particularly, we looked for opposite or seemingly contradictory choices that could magnify all of that tension and give the story the feeling of bursting at the seams. When the tension finally breaks, we wanted explosions, not whimpers. Just like a good volcano.
We agreed that the play is very sexy, and the clothes should embrace that sense. We also agreed that Elizabethan England, when Shakespeare wrote the play, was not a particularly sexy time period for clothes. Or was it? What if we set the play in the Elizabeth era (admittedly a rarity for this company) but embraced the Sicilian setting where Shakespeare placed the action? What if the restrictive and bound nature of the fashion of the London day collided with the heat and dustiness of a Sicilian coastal setting? Instead of wearing their clothes comfortably, characters would be trying to break out of them as much as possible, just for comfort’s sake. That tension we talked about would naturally be there. And the sexiness.
For the scenery, we envisioned a world that is mostly lived outside (like you want to do when you’re in Sicily), allowing Nature to be more present than the hand of man. But instead of an ordered natural world obeying the confines of design, what if we combined the idea for a natural setting with the inviting climate of Sicily and ended up with a voluptuousness of plant life bursting with bloom, exploding with greenery, overflowing the restrictive confines of planters and beds like lava over the edge of a crater?
Like Beatrice and Benedick’s vows of disinterest for the other, the clothes and scenery of our world hide a palpable life force that cannot be contained or confined. Just as the planters are overcome by the explosion of natural life within them, and the clothes yield to the bodies longing for freedom within them, our two lovers’ vows of dislike will finally erupt into the passionate and heartfelt expressions of love that make this play the fun, romantic ride that it is.
Pictured: Carolyn Cook and Brad Sherrill in Love's Labour's Lost. (Jen Hofstetter Photography)