Friday, October 12, 2012

Much Ado About Nothing but MacBeth

•                                                          •                                                          •

It's tempting to become an Oxfordian, ignore inconvenient dates altogether
and say the title of Much Ado About Nothing is obviously a direct reference
to MacBeth's claim that

Life's but a ...a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

In any case, the two works are obviously inverted twins of each other.  
Beatrice with her desire to be a man and her offers to eat any soldiers 
Benedict killed at war has the potential to become a second Lady MacBeth,
and Benedict like MacBeth himself is often in danger of falling into
ineffectiveness without his woman's stiffening influence.   Both women
order their men to kill.   Both men accept the charge.  Only one becomes
a murderer.

One of the most maddening tendencies in the orthodox Shakespearean 
literary criticism is to view Twelfth Night as a great comedy while viewing 
Much Ado About Nothing as a bit of fluff whose insignificance Shakespeare 
clearly trumpets in the title - as if there were anything more terrifying than 
nothingness.    Perhaps critics are thrown off by Benedict's bit of moralizing
at the end where he seems comfortable accepting all that has happened 
under the justification that "Man is a giddy thing, and this is my conclusion,"
as if that washes away all the suffering we have just witnessed.  The point-
lessness of the suffering makes it more troubling, not less so.  The energy with
which Claudio inflicts it, leaves a bad taste in the mouth and soul even after
the supposed happy ending.

Nothing makes the seriousness of Much Ado About Nothing so clear as its
clear kinship with MacBeth.   Lady MacBeth and Beatrice are both only 
unhappily consigned to the female sex.  Both express a fervent desire to be
a man and free to work within the realm of violence which is socially
open only to men.   Both get swept up in the speed with which events 
unfold,  and each tries to harness that momentum to her own ends.   

In each case, the woman must work through the man and push him to 
act, but while MacBeth gives himself over as fully as he is capable of 
to his wfe's bloody vision, Benedict complies with reluctance.  Both
plays are about speed, the rush of events with no pause to think.  

Benedict is the one exception to the rule, the one character who doesn't
automatically react.  (There is a hint he can take this caution  
sometimes too far.  Perhaps this reluctance to act is what keeps him
from committing to Beatrice and makes her so resentful of him.)  In
any case, despite the fact that Beatrice is definitely smarter than he
is - anyone denying this refuses to accept the evidence of the play that
she wins every battle of wits into which they enter - he is a more 
independent thinker.  In an early scene at a mask ball she sees the 
dance go by and says, "We must follow the leaders."  Even in this
trivial instance he can't help but qualify her statement with "In all
good things."  He is circumspection personified.  His humor is a
delaying tactic.   

Of course the other great delayer in Shakespeare is Hamlet, with
tragic results; but in the Bard's work, it's usually speed which leads
to disaster:  characters as disparate as Romeo and Hotspur both
die from the onrush of events.  

And of course so do the MacBeths, who never take a breath 
and ask themselves what the witches might be up to - as if any
answer can be given to that question beyond obviously 
nothing good.  In the end all that serparates the violence of
MacBeth from the comic ending of Much Ado is Benedict's
capacity for delay.   As for the nihilism at the heart of both
plays; laughter is all Shakespeare can offer to fend it off:
as Benedict says, "Man is a giddy thing, and that is my 

•                                                          •                                                          •

1 comment:

Iwan said...

I think your blog is exceptional, Hurt.

You are to writing what Mozart is to a symphony...

A fan always,
Iwan Jooste
Author of