Appropriations of Comic and Tragic Elements in Rourke’s and Whedon’s Productions of Much Ado About Nothing

Par Evrim Dogan Adanur
Publication en ligne le 11 décembre 2018


Much Ado About Nothing, in its display of the “merry war” between the sexes, alters in tone shifting between comedy and tragedy. The play brings together two sets of lovers in an aristocratic, elegant setting and the main action is regulated by masking, acting, eavesdropping, and spying. The conventional romantic relationship between Hero and Claudio is unsatisfactory to modern audiences with its submissive and slandered female character reconciling with her patriarchal fiancé without providing a proper denouement. The relationship between Beatrice and Benedick, marked by wit and satire, is more relevant to modern audiences, in its display of unconventional discussions of love and marriage. Tragic potential surfaces in a hierarchical society with gender injustice in the face of male sexual jealousy. Two relatively recent productions, Josie Rourke’s theatre production filmed live at Wyndham’s Theatre (2011) and Joss Whedon’s 2012 film production, offer different readings of the potential controversy in the play. While both productions rely on the tragic elements inherent in the play, Rourke’s production promotes the lighter elements of the play in a more festive atmosphere while Whedon’s dwells on its darker sides. This paper evaluates the ways in which these two productions appropriate the comic and tragic aspects of Much Ado About Nothing.


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1Written around 1598-1599, Much Ado About Nothing belongs to a time in Shakespeare’s career after he wrote exclusively comedies and histories for ten years, and throughout the next decade his subject matter tended to be darker and more complex. The comedies of the first era range from the classical to the fantastic; Much Ado About Nothing is mostly grouped together with Shakespeare’s romantic comedies like As You Like It and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Nonetheless, Much Ado About Nothing comprises many of the darker elements found in Shakespeare’s later plays, especially in its inclusion of serious tragic potential and unresolved discussions of social issues. In this manner, it shares many aspects with the later plays and problem comedies, from a seeming death and resurrection to slander and public humiliation, from villainy and illegitimacy to intentional and unintentional disguise, and from an acute class consciousness to problems raised by designated social roles. In its presentation of the “merry war” between the sexes, the play alters in tone, shifting between comedy and tragedy. Its intricate composition can result in productions which are very different in tone and quality, changing the overall meanings of the play, depending on the aspect of the text whichis emphasized. Josie Rourke’s 2011 production (captured live at Wyndham’s Theatre in September of that year) features David Tennant and Catherine Tate as Benedick and Beatrice. Both were celebrated for their recent stint as the Doctor and his companion in the popular television series Doctor Who, in which they had a similar chemistry. The actors amplified the comic, festive elements in a significantly 80s atmosphere, with all the optimism it entailed, according to the director Josie Rourke.1 In his 2012 film, shot in twelve days at his Santa Monica residence, Joss Whedon also chose some actors mostly known for their popular roles (Nathan Fillion as Dogberry, Amy Acker as Beatrice, Clark Gregg as Leonato, Alexis Denisof as Benedick), but he dwells on the darker perspectives of the play. Indeed, capturing the entire film in black and white, with low-key lighting, he made use of the tragic potential in a mafia/corporation background.2

2These two films are very different in form and style. In his influential Shakespeare on Film, Jack Jorgens defines three categories ofShakespearean films: the theatrical, the realist, and the filmic. Theatrical films, for Jorgens, are films that are “demonstrative, articulate, and continuous,” including filmed stage plays that “stress the durational quality of time” where “meaning is generated through words and gestures of the actors.”3 The “realist” films prefer showing, relying on the ability of the eye of the camera for this end, rather than telling (Jorgens gives Zeffirelli’s and Branagh’s Shakespeare films as examples). The last category, filmic, Jorgens describes as “the mode of the film poet” like Welles’s and Kurosawa’s adaptations.4 Rourke’s filmed production falls into the category which Jorgens classifies as a “theatrical” Shakespearean film, while Whedon’s is a “realist” one.5 I find it particularly relevant to look for appropriations of the tragic and comic aspects in these two films that belong to two of the different categories defined by Jorgens.

3As Lord Byron waggishly remarks in Don Juan, “All tragedies are finish’d by a death,/ All comedies are ended by a marriage;/ The future states of both are left to faith”.6 As a genre definition, comedies move towards reunion, reconciliation, and most of the time, the happy ending is achieved through marriage. For Northrop Frye, it is in the nature of comedy to win over evil, punish the wrongdoer, and establish the social order with the young winning over the old and the good over evil, but Frye also emphasizes that comedy “[contains] potential tragedy within itself,” since tragedy is but a “prelude to comedy.”7 Shakespeare’s comedies, in relative degrees, show how the path to happiness is neither easy nor definite as the tragic potential is ever more disturbing and threatening. As Emma Smith suggests, all Shakespeare plays “combine elements we might want to consider as ‘tragic’ or ‘comic’.” 8 Whereas in Shakespearean tragedy the social affliction leads to calamity and suffering and culminates in death, in his comedies, the calamity is averted with a change in the status quo through disguise or alternate settings. Shakespeare’s drama, Frye also suggests, is “the drama of the green world, its plot being assimilated to the ritual theme of the triumph of life and love over the waste land”.9 The dangers inherent in the urban world, with the help of this green world, are evaded, its ills treated. Correspondingly, in the romantic comedies like As You Like It and A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, the tragic potential brought on by the inimical, patriarchal society is overcome by the alternative pastoral or fantastical settings and/or through the use of disguise. Much Ado stands apart from other romantic comedies in this manner with an exclusively urban setting, in which, as David Bevington suggests, there is “no journey, no heroine disguised as a man, no envious court or city contrasted with an idealized landscape.”10 In Messina’s polished society, there is a class-consciousness where “fashion wears out more apparel than the man” (III.3.1452), which is against the spirit of Shakespearean festive comedy where social hierarchy is mostly overlooked or at least reprieved for a while.11

4The plot of Much Ado is based on young love, like other Shakespearean romantic comedies. This play, however, is different from others in that there is no outer and immediate threat to thwart the union of the young. Shakespearean comedy entails the young generation overcoming the problems caused by the older generation who try to prevent the union. In Messina, there seems to be no such social hindrance for the young to come together other than immanent gender roles and norms, and acute male rivalry in a hierarchical society. The play is based on two sets of lovers: the conventionally romantic story of Hero and Claudio, which constitutes the main plot, and the unconventional relationship of Beatrice and Benedick as the underplot. The romantic relationship between Hero and Claudio is hindered by evil deception, culminating in public humiliation, only to be saved by chance or providence. The Beatrice and Benedick relationship begins with bickering, thrives with false reporting and overhearing, and culminates in a potential tragedy with Beatrice’s plea to “Kill Claudio” (IV.1.288), before reaching the conventional“happy ending.” In this community, actual eavesdropping, casual overhearing and the wearing of masks may carry tragic potential but may also bring about redemption.

5The prominence of a hierarchical society is laid out very early in the play by the news of the return of Don Pedro, who occupies the highest place in the social hierarchy, with his train of worthy men “of name” in “full numbers” (I.1.7-9). As they are victorious after a war waged against Don Pedro’s “bastard” brother Don John, the “war thoughts have left their places vacant,” to be filled with “soft and delicate desires” (I.1.273-74). Hero is wooed by Don Pedro on behalf of Claudio, which results in a misunderstanding, while Beatrice and Benedick swear to stay out of the bonds of marriage with their cynicism towards social conventions.

6While further misunderstandings caused by masking and eavesdropping bring a near-disaster to the first couple through the workings of Don John, acting and overhearing, mainly organized by Don Pedro, bring the latter couple together. Complete disaster is narrowly avoided through the intervention of the Friar and the Watch who are outsiders to the aristocratic life in Messina where “little Cupid’s crafty arrow [...] wounds by hearsay” (III.1.22-23).

7For the purpose of eavesdropping, pretending, and overhearing, Whedon’s use of a villa is appropriate since the characters easily eavesdrop or hear and misinterpret what they hear while continuously hiding under a staircase or kitchen counters or behind the French windows.


Benedick spying on his comrades’ conversation through the French windows.

© Joss Whedon, director, Much Ado About Nothing, Lionsgate, 2013.


Beatrice overhearing Benedick’s love for her under the kitchen counter.

© Joss Whedon, director, Much Ado About Nothing, Lionsgate, 2013.

8Rourke uses a revolving stage with pillars for characters to hide behind. This brings dynamism to the action, so that while in Whedon’s film, the eye of the camera focuses on different places and characters, the same effect is reached in the theatre with each turn of the stage. For the sake of originality, in Rourke’s film, we see a Beatrice who is caught on a hook used by the painters swinging up and down as she overhears Hero and Ursula and “remnants of wit [are] broken on” (II.3.228) while Benedick, covered in paint left by the same painters, is trying to “hide” in order to listen how Beatrice is hopelessly in love with him.


Benedick hiding behind the pillars. He mistakenly dips his hand in a paint bucket and smudges his face with it, when he hears about Beatrice’s love.

© Josie Rourke, director, Much Ado About Nothing, Wyndham’s Theatre, 2011.


Beatrice caught on a hook, swinging up and down while overhearing Benedick’s love for her.

© Josie Rourke, director, Much Ado About Nothing, Wyndham’s Theatre, 2011.

9In Messina, misunderstanding and clarification both come out of “noting” which is the ultimate communication device. As Bevington states, in the 16th century“Nothing” in the title would be pronounced as “noting,” a word that “suggests a pun on the idea of overhearing as well as of musical notation,” together with a “bawdy connotation”.12 Thus, already in the title, “the adverse power of communal opinion over individual identity, and the lethal seriousness of the matter of female chastity to the male imagination” are presented.13 The pun, therefore, works on all levels of meaning as “noticing,” “knowing,” and no-thing, as a “slang for the female genitalia.”14

10Much ado about no-thing offers the main conflict in the play. The seemingly happy domestic life of Messina can easily be disturbed by male jealousy towards female sexuality. Hero is valuable as Leonato’s only heir: the fact that she is “worthy” is repeated three times in the same scene, her worth referring simultaneously to her commodity status, meaning “worthy of love; honourable; wealthy”.15 Benedick asks whether Claudio wants to “buy her” since he “[inquires] after her” (I.1.72) and adds that as a “jewel,” she can be bought with “a case to put it into” (I.1.171-72). When Hero loses her reputation, she loses her value, too, becoming the “slandered woman,” a common theme within the context of comedy and romance as well as of tragedy.

11René Girard suggests that Claudio’s desire for Hero is “mimetic” in that he needs the affirmation of Hero’s beauty from his comrades: “Is she not a modest young lady?” he asks, demanding his friends’ approval of his desire (I.1.157). When Don Pedro states that Hero is “very well worthy” (I.1.207-208), he is satisfied because he does not feel entitled or even capable of desiring Hero until “the prince [sanctions] his choice.”16 Don Pedro’s wooing Hero on behalf of Claudio engenders tragic potential through misunderstanding and true and false reporting. According to Girard, Don Pedro singles Hero out and makes her an idol as the preferred object of desire – a status she then loses when it is made public that she is the object of desire of Don Pedro’s inferior, Claudio. Beatrice and Benedick’s desire, on the other hand, is positively reciprocal, in Girard’s terminology. Positive reciprocity “[demands] an inner strength that mimetic desire lacks” because “in order to love truly, one must not selfishly capitalize the desire of one’s partner.”17 Therefore, Benedick does not need social approval to find Beatrice “[exceeding Hero] as much in beauty as the first of May doth the last of December” (I.1.181-2).

12Beatrice is the quintessential spinster-to-be according to Elizabethan social norms, despite her highborn status. She is “sunburnt” (II.1.293), a “shrewd”, and “curst” (II.1.17,18) with a sharp tongue and vivacious character. She is aware of, and outspoken against, gender injustice: Claudio is “approved in the height a villain” who has “slandered, scorned, dishonoured” Hero with “public accusation, uncovered slander, unmitigated rancour” (IV.1.300-1, 303-4). However, even Beatrice is subdued in action in relation to established gender roles; she may rail against Claudio, but she knows that since she is not a man, she cannot, in fact “eat his heart in the marketplace” (IV.1.304-5). It is a great frustration for her not to be able to act out her vengeful passion but having to resort to a proxy stratagem, asking Benedick to “Kill Claudio” (IV.1.288). This appeal introduces an important tragic potential as it results in Benedick’s public challenge of his comrade-at-arms, for the sake of Hero’s honour and as a proof of love.

13Both Claudio and Don Pedro are ready to believe the devious Don John and publicly shame Hero after the “proof”, and Leonato is too quick to believe in the accusations. For a proper denouement, the wrongful accusation of Hero must be acknowledged by the arbitrators so that absurd male sexual jealousy would not have tragic consequences again. In both productions, we are not sure if Claudio and Don John are sorry for the right reasons or whether they even understand their responsibility in the near-tragedy. Rourke’s Claudio is much more repentant than Whedon’s, in that he tries to commit suicide. Whedon’s Claudio, who is depicted as much younger and much less self-sufficient, does not seem to show any remorse or sadness after the news of Hero’s death.


Claudio and Don Pedro still feeling self-righteous after the news of Hero’s death.

© Joss Whedon, director, Much Ado About Nothing, Lionsgate, 2013.

14In Whedon’s film, in the second church scene, as Hero is “reborn” by unveiling herself, she stands elevated next to Claudio, foreshadowing her possible future dominance in the relationship, introducing a jot of hope for the future.


Hero is reborn.

© Joss Whedon, director, Much Ado About Nothing, Lionsgate, 2013.

15Further issues regarding the dark and light elements in the play are diversely appropriated in the productions in question. Rourke moves the setting from Sicily to Gibraltar, in the 1980s, with sailors instead of soldiers, probably in the aftermath of the Falkland’s conflict. In this expat community, people are “giddy” by the beach, drinking and smoking, with walkman and disco music, flip-flops and money-belts. In this laid-back environment, as the play opens, Leonato welcomes the returning sailors, adorned with his golden watch and necklace, wearing a pink shirt and holding a cigar. The seriousness of the march of the sailors is cut short by the jocular entrance of Benedick on a golf cart honking the horn. David Tennant’s Benedick is closer to a “jester” (II.1.522) than a courtier or a soldier, two options chosen in famous productions of the past (John Gielgud, 1949, Michael Redgrave, 1958). This is not only a festive but also a less patriarchal world, with Catherine Tate’s Beatrice, who is older than the actor playing Hero, continually drinking and smoking. In the masked ball, Benedick appears in transvestite clothes while Beatrice is dressed up in a Blues Brothers suit. Claudio fakes a Scottish accent to pose as David Tennant’s Benedick. As for Hero, she appears in a Lady Di mask, while Leonato wears an Elizabeth II mask.

16Rourke also eliminates Antonio, giving his lines to Innogen, Leonato’s wife, who is a ghost character in the text.18 This is ostensibly a light-hearted, female world which, while adding to the festivity of the production, makes it difficult to understand why things get so complicated since neither the strict rules for female behaviour which cause Hero’s near-tragedy, nor class consciousness, are made apparent.

17Whedon’s production offers a contemporary Californian setting in a film noir atmosphere. The film adds a prologue between Beatrice and Benedick in which they are shown the morning after a one-night-stand. Then, we are exposed to a much more serious Messina than the one in Rourke’s production. In order to make sense of the returning soldiers at the beginning, Whedon insinuates a corporate/mafia conflict with the male characters in black suits and ties under the close protection of bodyguards. The members of the losing side have their handcuffs removed before entering the villa as if they were to be held in house arrest, implying that this world would be governed by the victors of this conflict. As they pose for the photographers, the winners and losers seem to have reconciled, but this is just a pose. In fact, hierarchy in Messina is represented as a mafia chain of command.19 Although there is continuous eating, drinking, and partying against a background of soft jazz music, there is not the feeling of festivity that pervades Rourke’s production. As a matter of fact, what is farcical in the text is mostly avoided in this production for the sake of the serious; indeed, what is light and farcical would not work in such an atmosphere. Whedon’s setting reminds us that in a conflicted society, order is fragile and that if you do something wrong in this world, you would pay for it, unlike in the light-hearted, forgiving world of comedy.

18The power of the play in part comes from the polished and glamorous social life Shakespeare constructs in Messina. It is a world governed by strict power relations, where everyone answers to someone above them on the social ladder: Margaret and Ursula answer to Hero and Beatrice; Verges to Dogberry; the Watch to the Constable; Conrade and Borachio to Don John; and Claudio, Benedick, and Leonato to Don Pedro. The importance of hierarchy is explicit in Margaret’s willingness to impersonate her mistress wearing her clothes in her flirtation with Borachio. The hierarchical confusion disturbs the social stratum and admits chaos. Although she strongly resents it, Margaret is very much aware of the improbability in the change of status: “Why, shall I always keep below stairs?” (V.2.9-10) she asks Benedick, referring to the (im)possibility of her being the mistress of her own house, in command of the upstairs, through marriage to a person of higher status. For Claire McEachern, “the nub of the play’s brush with tragedy is located in these social dynamics”.20 These dynamics ignite such a conflict that the “merry war” (I.1.54) has a potential to be as catastrophic as a real war.

19The reason why Don John waged war against his brother and the true motive for his villainy are not clearly explained. Bastardy seems to be the only explanation given in the play, which, in early modern England, would be a sufficient motive to be “a plain-dealing villain” (I.3.29-30).21 When Leonato welcomes him in the beginning with elegant words, Don John’s reply is plain and simple, “I thank you: I am not of many words, but I thank you” (I.1.150-151), revealing a seriousness, which sets him apart from the others, who are more congenial in their exchanges. Since bastardy would not be as connotative to a modern audience as it would to an Elizabethan audience, both productions soften down the question of Don John’s bastardy and present the source of conflict as fraternal rivalry. In Rourke’s production, he is simply a malcontent, a killjoy, while in the serious context of the Whedon film, he appears as the loser of an objectionable conflict, operating secretly in scenes with low-key-lighting to underline his outcast nature.

20The tragic potential that leads to disaster in Othello is evaded in Much Ado through a comic denouement. The near-tragedy that Don John’s slander causes is partly evaded by the Friar and by the serendipitous Watch. The play’s comic resolution owes much to “these shallow fools” (V.1.224). Rourke prefers to portray the Watch as members of a group populated by low-life soldiers, expats and retirees. Dogberry is a kind of Rambo-wannabe and George Seacoal, is held in high regard due to his “Spanish-speaking” skills. Casting Nathan Fillion as Dogberry, Whedon turns the Watch into what seems like security guards/FBI agents. Farcical elements are somehow toned down in the scenes with these “vigitant” (III.3.91) characters as well, despite the malapropisms of Dogberry or coincidental scenes in the background, such as their locking the keys in the car.

21Both productions bring the Beatrice-Benedick plot to the fore. Traditionally played by older actors than the ones playing Hero-Claudio roles, among famous Beatrices and Benedicks are Hannah Pritchard and David Garrick, Ellen Terry and Henry Irving, Peggy Ashcroft and John Gielgud, Janet Suzman and Alan Howard, Judi Dench and Donald Sinden, and Sinead Cusack and Derek Jacobi. On film, Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh revived the roles in the 1993 adaptation with an ensemble cast. Branagh also focused on the Beatrice-Benedict plot with a pastoral setting reminiscent of other festive comedies.

22The Hero-Claudio union may seem unnerving and unsatisfactory to modern audiences, with its slandered, submissive female character reuniting with her easily misled, insecure fiancé, while the Beatrice-Benedick relationship, with its cynicism towards marriage and other social conventions is more relevant and intriguing to contemporary audiences. While the Hero-Claudio relationship conforms to social codes and conduct, both Beatrice and Benedick refuse to submit to the set social attitudes (until they do). Despite its flowering from socially accepted norms, the Hero-Claudio relationship seems artificial whereas, despite its artificial origin, the Beatrice and Benedick union is genuine, honest, and “better than reportingly” (III.1.116). Like other submissively obedient female characters in Shakespeare, Hero is more pathetic than comical. Beatrice, who is “odd and from all fashions” (III.1.72), relates more to other comedy heroines sharing a strength of will and wit. Whereas in moments of crisis, the conventional lovers take refuge in male solidarity, Benedick, though he is the conventional bachelor, breaks his ties with masculine solidarity, declaring himself “engaged” to fight against Claudio for Beatrice’s and Hero’s sake (IV.1.328). Moreover, whereas Claudio is ready to humiliate his beloved in public, Benedick is courageous enough to challenge his comrade. While the Hero-Claudio affair is of public concern at all times, the interaction between Beatrice and Benedick becomes private as soon as they confess their love, putting an end to the social performance of witty quarrel.

23In the beginning, Benedick is a “professed tyrant to [the opposite] sex” (I.1.160-61), summing up his dealings with them as the quintessential Elizabethan bachelor:

That a woman conceived me, I thank her; that she brought me up, I likewise give her most humble thanks; but that I will have a recheat winded in my forehead, or hang my bugle in an invisible baldrick, all women shall pardon me. Because I will not do them the wrong to mistrust any, I will do myself the right to trust none. And the fine is − for the which I may go the finer − I will live a bachelor. (I.1.223-230)

24He renounces his former vows after he eavesdrops on the conversation regarding how Beatrice “loves him with an enraged affection” (II.3.102-03) and justifies his new position: “When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married” (II.3.234-235). Beatrice is equally insistent on avoiding marriage as she would “rather hear [her] dog bark at a crow, than a man swear he loves [her]” (I.1.125-126). After hearing of Benedick’s love for her through false reporting, however, she immediately gives up this “disdain” (II.1.293, 294):

Contempt, farewell; and maiden pride, adieu;
No glory lives behind the back of such.

And Benedick, love on, I will requite thee,
Taming my wild heart to thy loving hand.

If thou dost love, my kindness shall incite thee
To bind our loves up in a holy band. (III.1.109-114)

25The fact that Beatrice knows Benedict “of old”—at least well enough to know that he will always “end with a jade’s trick” (I.1.139-138) —is implicit in both films. While Rourke’s production implies a former failed relationship, Whedon’s production makes it more explicit by showing the aftermath of a one-night-stand between Beatrice and Benedick, thus explaining how Benedick once “lent” his heart to Beatrice and she lost the game that was played “with false dice” (II.1.255-257). In the morning, after sitting down by the bed as if trying to figure out the right course of action, Benedick sneaks away while Beatrice is silent in the bed, pretending to be asleep, obviously disappointed by his leaving. As members of the strict hierarchical order of the mafia, it seems it is not acceptable to have sex with the niece of one of the bosses, underlining how the relationships are frightening in this world. It is only when this relationship is staged by Benedick’s hierarchical superiors that it gains acceptance and therefore is legitimized. Hearing of Benedick’s woe rehabilitates Beatrice’s “maiden pride”, taming her “wild heart” (III.1.109,112). Contrary to the play, in Whedon, Beatrice and Benedick’s bickering takes place in private, not in public. There is more emphasis on the centrality of the underplot.

26Whedon adds further sexuality in the film by showing Don John and a female Conrade in bed together, by showing Margaret explicitly flirt in the kitchen in the presence of others, and by making the onlookers watch her have sex with Borachio behind a curtain. It seems the strict rules on sexuality only apply to Hero. In Rourke’s production, the Margaret-Borachio scene is set during stag and hen parties with male and female strippers. The misunderstanding is caused by Margaret’s wearing Hero’s maiden veil. Leonato and Claudio watch it without intervening and they seem to believe everything they think they see, despite their being heavily intoxicated. Thus, both productions are placed in an environment of open sexuality where women seem to have agency. As a consequence, it is unconvincing to witness the “approved wanton”[ness] of Hero in the church scene (IV.1.43). Therefore, both in the text and more so in these productions, the standard of female chastity seems to apply only to Hero as the “jewel” and not to other female characters (I.1.171).

27Frye suggests that “[a] comedy is not a play which ends happily: it is a play in which a certain structure is present and works through to its own logical end, whether we or the cast or the author feel happy about it or not”.22 Thus, Much Ado ends with seeming reconciliation as lovers are united and misunderstandings are corrected, self-knowledge is attained and identities are reconstructed in the manner of a festive comedy, despite the fact that the author of near tragedy, Don John, does not repent publicly. The plotters are unmasked by much unexpected characters who are outside the social life of Messina, and who were not involved in the rise of the complication. The play’s assertion that conflict, either on the battlefield or between the sexes, has tragic consequences is stressed in both productions. In the end, the “happy” ending is celebrated by singing and dancing with a merrier tone in Rourke’s production. This production also promises a more sensible future when the same mistakes may not be repeated, with a visibly grown, responsible Benedick, and Don Pedro, the loser in the battle of sexes, as the lonely older man. In Whedon’s production, the mob business is likely to stay the same as it overpowers the characters and the same patriarchal system will be a threat for ever after. Whedon delays the festive atmosphere of the play for the sake of its darker aspects, emphasizing its tragic potential and injustice for the sake of what he finds to be tragic in the play, especially in its representation of gender injustice and the discontents of male rivalry. As Beatrice says, at her birth her “mother cried; but then there was a star danced” (II.1.308-9). The path to happiness in hierarchical and patriarchal societies is never easy, either in Messina, Gibraltar, or California, or in the 16th century, or in our contemporary world. In terms of appropriation, while the Rourke production shows “[h]ow much better [it is] to weep at joy,” Whedon’s production celebrates “joy at weeping” (I.1.26-27).


1  Josie Rourke, director, Much Ado About Nothing, Wyndham’s Theatre, 2011.

2  Joss Whedon, director, Much Ado About Nothing, Lionsgate, 2013. DVD.

3  Jack Jorgens, Shakespeare on Film, Lanham, New York, London, University Press of America, [1977], 1991, p 7-8.

4  Ibid., p. 10.

5  To my knowledge, there are no films of Much Ado About Nothing that fit into the third, “filmic” mode though, despite its relying on camera angle of shooting and setting to “show,” Branagh’s film would be closest to this category.

6  Lord Byron. Selected Poems. Hertfordshire, Wordsworth Poetry Library, 2006. p. 169.

7  Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism, Princeton and Oxford, Princeton UP, 1957, p. 215.

8  Emma Smith, The Cambridge Introduction to Shakespeare, Cambridge, CUP, 2007, p. 94.

9  Northrop Frye, op, cit., p. 182.

10  William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing, David Bevington (ed.), The Necessary Shakespeare, Third Edition. New York, Pearson, 2009, p. 113.

11  William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing, Claire McEachern (ed.), Arden 3 Shakespeare, London, Bloomsbury Publ., (2005), 2006. All quotations will be taken from this edition.

12  David Bevington, op. cit., p. 113.

13  Claire McEachern, “Introduction”, in William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing, Claire McEachern (ed.), op. cit., p. 2.

14  Ibid., p. 2.

15  Ibid., p.163, 163n208.

16  Rene Girard, Theatre of Envy: William Shakespeare, Oxford, Oxford UP, 1991, p. 85.

17  Ibid., p. 81.

18  One reason why Shakespeare did not give voice to Innogen after including her in the stage directions at the start of the play (I.1 and II. 1) may be because, as Rourke’s production that includes an Innogen shows, she does not have a function as the mother of the bride. Beatrice fulfils the role of Hero’s protector and Innogen cannot stop her husband from acting insensibly in the church scene despite the fact that she is a member of the older generation; she does not have agency in the patriarchal world.

19  This manner of mafia/mob-gang appropriation is used in many other Shakespeare films such as Baz Luhrman’s R+J (1996), Geoffrey Wright’s Macbeth (2006) and most recently Michael Almereyda’s Cymbeline (2014). This appropriation seems to work well in order to describe the tragic potential in contemporary societies presented in these adaptations.

20  Claire McEachern, op. cit., p. 15.

21  B. J. Sokol and Mary Sokol in Shakespeare, Law, and Marriage state that despite the humorous references to bastardy in Shakespeare’s plays, language regarding illegitimacy is used mostly in derogatory terms (Cambridge, Cambridge UP, 2003, p. 159). In Elizabethan terms, bastardy is another threat to the social structure since it precipitates an identity problem. In Shakespeare, bastards are “social malcontents” as “[c]uckoldry leads to (and stems from) villainy, or so is the implicit moral of the anxiety”, Claire McEachern, op. cit., p. 18.

22  Northrop Frye, A Natural Perspective: The Development of Shakespearean Comedy and Romance, New York and London, Columbia University Press, 1965, p. 46.

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Par Evrim Dogan Adanur, «Appropriations of Comic and Tragic Elements in Rourke’s and Whedon’s Productions of Much Ado About Nothing», Shakespeare en devenir [En ligne], N°13 - 2018, Shakespeare en devenir, mis à jour le : 28/12/2019, URL :

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Dr. Evrim Doğan Adanur’s current research examines a range of different approaches to Shakespeare and early modern drama. She has published and presented papers on Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Kyd, together with Edward Bond, Sandra Cisneros, Maria Irene Fornes, and Turkish detective fiction. She is the editor of IDEA: Studies in English (2011) and is working on a book on Shakespearean tragedy. She is a graduate of Hacettepe University (Turkey), American University (Washington DC), and Ankara Univer ...