Par Isabelle Schwartz-Gastine et Kiki Lindell
Publication en ligne le 20 février 2022

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1Despite the fact that the present volume belongs to a series that has its seat and origin in France (Cahiers Shakespeare en Devenir was founded by Pascale Drouet, University of Poitiers, France), this special-issue branch of its pedigree can be traced to a far more northern clime: it was prompted by a symposium on “Much Ado About Nothing in Performance” at Lund University, Sweden, in June 2017, arranged by Isabelle Schwartz-Gastine (University of Caen-Normandie, France) and Kiki Lindell (Lund University). The symposium brought together an international group of Shakespeare scholars, educationalists and practitioners for three days of enthusiastic wallowing in all things Will: lectures and discussions; a workshop on teaching the plays through performance – facetiously entitled “Taking the Ache out of Shachespeare” and run by Bridget Escolme, Kiki Lindell and Mette Sjölin); rehearsals, and a student performance of Much Ado (at which the photographs liberally studding these pages were taken; it was a promenade performance, taking the audience through the beautiful gardens and historical buildings of Lund’s Open-Air Museum of Cultural History ( We were fortunate and proud to secure as our keynotes the very best representatives of all three fields – research, education and stage: Professor Michael Dobson, Director of the Shakespeare Institute, Stratford-upon-Avon; Jacqui O’Hanlon, Director of Education at the Royal Shakespeare Company; and Lars Romann Engel, Artistic Director of HamletScenen and the Shakespeare Festival at Kronborg Castle, Elsinore. While the first two are represented in this volume by the papers they gave at the symposium, Lars Romann Engel instead of giving a paper generously opened his Elsinore rehearsal room to us, allowing us to sit in on his work directing the first ever in-house English-language Hamlet for the 2017 HamletScenen season (URL).

2A few words on the background of the student performance mentioned above, since it encapsulated the ethos of Shakespeare in Performance as taught at Lund University. For almost two decades now, English Studies at Lund has been offering an elective course based on the simple premise that drama is a genre of literature which is not primarily meant to be read, but rather to be seen, heard and experienced in performance. The course (called ‘Drama in Practice – Shakespeare on Stage’) combines the academic study of one of Shakespeare’s plays (through continuous lectures and papers to be handed in, etcetera) with a more hands-on approach: the students are given a part, rehearse (with Kiki Lindell as their lecturer-director), and finally perform the chosen play (abridged to somewhere between two hours and an hour and a half), in English, in period costume, before an audience of friends, family, fellow students, die-hard Shakespeare zealots as well as complete theatre novices. This full-on performance constitutes the students’ ‘oral exam’, although the actual grading is based on their written work in the academic part of the course. Teaching Shakespeare through performance in this way, turning the seminar room into a rehearsal room (to adopt and adapt a phrase from Jacqui O’Hanlon’s paper), has resulted in the students engaging with the material with astonishing urgency and commitment (as well as a keen sense of fun), in the process making the play so entirely their own that they (by their own admission) are still quoting it years later.

3Needless to say, working with the plays in performance yields new insights (and a generous share of the aforementioned fun) for the teacher-cum-director, too. The case of Innogen (whose silent presence in the play is discussed in this volume by both Cedric Watts and Michael Dobson) may perhaps serve as an example. Hanging on to Innogen for our student production was an entirely pragmatic choice, allowing a female actor to double in one male and one female part (just as Shakespeare himself would surely have been ruthlessly ready to discard or keep Innogen in the play, depending on what worked best on stage). However, the fact that Innogen was present in the ‘rotten orange’ scene (Act IV, scene 1) suddenly made it clear to us all that Hero, pleading her innocence to her father (rather than to her parents), did so because she knew, not only that her mother already believed her and was on her side, but also that in spite of this she would be utterly powerless to help Hero. While Beatrice has license to speak up, contradicting Leonato, defending Hero, all Innogen could do was quietly comfort her daughter, trying to shield her from what could at any moment turn into physical violence. Read like this, the presence of a silent ‘ghost’ Innogen made the scene even more shocking, more dangerously volatile, and in its wake, we originally rehearsed the final scene of the play with Leonato and Innogen estranged, rigidly unable to bridge the gap created by previous events; a logical (if harsh) conclusion to their story arc. Nevertheless, when the actors subsequently came to wish to play the final scene as though it had in fact been preceded by an off-stage reconciliation between the two of them, this change was gladly granted by the director. Gladly, not because of the happier ending to the play – but because seeing students claim ownership of their characters and of the play, enthusiastically twining together, for the first time, the three strands of page, stage, and learning, is the happiest ending of all to the teacher of Shakespeare in Performance.

4As befits a symposium with a strong pedagogical bias, the opening paper is the contribution by the Director of Education at the RSC, Jacqui O’Hanlon, entitled “The Classroom as Rehearsal Room: an Evidence Informed Approach to Teaching Shakespeare”. O’Hanlon has been the leading force of several programmes linking the RSC with a network of primary and secondary schools in the UK and in English-speaking countries, now called the Associate Schools Programme, and has developed a very innovative teaching pedagogy centred on theatrical practice. Inspired by the techniques used by actors during rehearsal, she asks the children to experience the text (slightly abridged) of Shakespeare physically. This approach has proved extremely beneficial even for very young children from deprived areas, not only for their ability to acquire a wider range of expression but also for the impact on their personality. As they realize that they can tackle difficult words and phrases while enjoying the process, they will be more prone to engage in demanding activities in their daily lives in the present and in the future. Indeed, the surveys have shown that as they grow older, the children who have been on the programme since their early days will achieve far more than their contemporaries: this rehearsal-room approach has far-reaching effects way beyond the scope of the texts of Shakespeare.

5Recently the ghost character of Innogen, Leonato’s wife, who is included in the dramatis personae of the play in the Quarto and in the Folio but has not been given any lines by Shakespeare, is becoming the focus of attention from academics and theatre directors alike.

6For Michael Dobson, this silent character is one of the many issues that a modern director has to face when staging this play. This and other concerns are explored in Dobson’s essay “Costume Drama: Margaret, Innogen, and the Problem of Much Ado About Nothing in Modern Performance”. The first difficulty is that modern audiences do not react to the depiction of the sexual mores which prevail in the play, making it challenging to use a modern setting. However, by choosing a non-referenced past whatever its picturesque qualities, the director turns “the perils of the patriarchal system” which are at the core of the play into “a piece of harmless and perhaps even nostalgic escapism”. Hero is castigated on the mere suspicion of sexual misdemeanour; yet, as Dobson points out, little notice has been taken of the quick and easy way Margaret is re-integrated in the family circle, even though she is the one who is responsible for the defamation of her mistress. Pursuing his analysis of apparently minor female characters who have a pivotal role in a plot (like Mariana in Measure for Measure, see his paper delivered in Caen in 2013: URL), Dobson considers some modern attempts at portraying Innogen, after the appraisal of the character by recent editors of the play (Peter Holland and David Bevington , 2005; Anna Kamaralli , 2017). In Josie Rourke’s productions (Crucible, Sheffield, 2005 and London, 2007), some female performers were employed for parts written as male roles: Innogen became Antonio, Leonato’s brother, and so was given his lines; the watch was female too. However, for Dobson, this regendering, much ahead of the practice of British professional theatres, created more problems in a play devoid of any cross-gendering.

7Cedric Watts also discusses the part of Innogen in “Much Ado About Nothing: Save Innogen, and banish the sentimentalists’ Claudio!”, stressing the fact that she has been traditionally excluded from the text by editors who, he reminds us, happen to be mostly male. Thinking they are clearing the text, they are in fact extending “into the real world the play’s thematic concern with the ruthless manipulation of women by men”, Watts argues, and thus illustrating the paradigm at stake in the play: male chauvinism. For Watts, Innogen has a pivotal role as an appropriately passive mother who sees how her daughter is abused without being able to defend her or voice her own pain and anger. In his edition of the play (Wordsworth, 2003), Watts made sure to restore Innogen arguing that many mute male characters are allowed to remain on stage in many plays and, unlike Michael Dobson who doubts that any performer would accept a mute part, he argues that a mute character can be extremely eloquent, especially when played by a good performer.

8By the same token, Watts then turns his attention to the way many editors have modified the character of Claudio by attributing the valedictory poem to him and not to an anonymous “Lord”. In so doing they have allowed the character to feel remorse and show sadness at the loss of Hero. Far from being minor, this change shows that these editors transfer their own sentimentalist tendency to their portrayal of Claudio: Watts argues that Shakespeare created a far more cruel and selfish character through the few lines that he gave him.

9If we turn from the stage to the screen, undoubtedly the most famous interpretation of Much Ado is Kenneth Branagh’s ground-breaking film released in 1993. Branagh transposed the action from Sicily to Tuscany to benefit from a beautiful natural setting, lush and luxuriant, and virtually untouched by civilization.

10For Pascale Drouet this surrounding is a living image of the horn of plenty, an Eden before the fall, where the characters freely enjoy the pleasures of the flesh in an atmosphere of happy liberation. In her article, “Bodily Exultation on Screen: Branagh’s Aesthetics of Sensuality in Much Ado About Nothing”, Drouet develops the idea that the varied techniques used by Branagh diffuse a “dynamics of desire”. Brisk movement and slow motion alternate to build up the mood of expectation between the outside world (the arrival of the soldiers) and the inside world (the bustling of the women); close-ups and wide-angle shots create a “haptic” space to use Gilles Deleuze’s and Felix Guattari’s phrase: “a tactile space that the eye invites us to touch and feel” when the film shows the “adverse parties” getting ready, a sequence which Drouet describes as “a prelude to the amorous parade to come”; crosscuttings and dissolves enhance the opposition and eventual reunion of Beatrice and Benedick.

11Drouet also points out that Branagh uses a paradigm of his own, not to be found in Shakespeare: the image of water, a symbol of “purification and renewal”, which pervades the baroque spirit of the film and provides most spectacular filmic images. She examines various artistic echoes: the conjunction of water and happiness is bound to recall Singing in the Rain; the seduction on a swing can be found in an 18th-century painting, Fragonard’s Happy Accidents of the Swing, or in a 19th-century light opera, Véronique. However, she reminds the reader that “bodily exultation” only lasts an instant, a motif that Branagh develops with the recurrence of the song “Sigh no more, ladies”, with which his film opens and closes.

12In her essay “’Into hey nonny, nonny’: Much Ado About Nothing, Merry-Go-Round Comedy and Swirling Worlds in Kenneth Branagh’s and Joss Whedon’s Screen Version”, Anne-Marie Costantini-Cornède also starts from Kenneth Branagh’s film and compares it to the more recent black and white version of the play filmed by Joss Whedon in 2012. Along with Michael Hattaway, she argues that transposing a comedy on screen is no easy matter, and especially Much Ado About Nothing, which has been so successful on stage from the start. This play has been analysed as a “festive romantic comedy” by many scholars, including Northrop Frye, Cesar L. Barber, and Michael Edwards, with the latter expounding the concept of “comedy of wonder” which develops according to a musical symphonic pattern: the allegro or the mood of the merry, the semi-tragic vein of the “comedy of evil”, and last the return of mirth and moral order thanks to a providential event. This concept, Costantini-Cornède argues, fits Branagh’s film perfectly, with its obvious borrowings of Hollywood tropes capturing the mood of the merry war, the conventions of the screwball comedies of the 30s, the slapstick and the comic gags.

13Costantini-Cornède shows that Joss Whedon’s approach deploys a more distant interpretative mode verging on the film noir genre (Gilles Deleuze), with its focus on close ups and non-realistic filmic images composing beautiful “cine poems”. Branagh’s film may respond to the festive mood more powerfully thanks to the Hollywood impetus while Whedon’s cinematic achievement seems more effective, with its brilliant cinematography, but both films take into account all the complexity of the plot.

14If Much Ado About Nothing was rarely chosen by film directors in the West, as the previous articles have pointed out, this was not the case behind the iron curtain where four films of this comedy were shot in four decades: three in Russia, Mnogo Shuma Iz Nichego (Zamkovoy’s Vakhtangov Theatre production with Yuri Lyubimov, 1956; Samsonov’s Black Sea version with comedian Konstantin Rajkin, 1973), and Tatyana Berezantseva’s abridged version Lyubovyu Za Lyubov (1983), and one in East Germany, Martin Hellborg’s Viel Lärm Um Nichts (1964). Ronan Paterson explores the reasons for this choice in his contribution “Whistling in the Graveyard? Or why did the Communists make four Films of one Shakespeare Play in four Decades?” Among the plays, the comedies were popular even during Stalin’s terror, given as examples of “gay heroes and lovely heroines” (Gorky); moreover, the comedies can easily be charged with “Aesopian meaning”, a technique of reading through the lines which oppressed people can master wonderfully. The film industry, first used for mass propaganda, was also considered a perfect medium for entertainment which, being mute, could be exported, without dubbing, to the farthest corners of that vast territory. When the talking films reached the Soviet Bloc, later than in the West, the choice of plays was limited by censorship. Paterson argues that Much Ado was allowed because the text is devoid of controversial themes: no twins of opposed sexes as in Twelfth Night, no usurpers, dissidents or gender fluidity as in As You Like It, no leisurely aristocrats as in Love’s Labour’s Lost, no fairies as in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but includes good parts for star actors and is bound to be enjoyed by large potential audiences.

15In her paper “Appropriations of Comic and Tragic Elements in Rourke’s and Whedon’s Productions of Much Ado About Nothing”, Evrim Dogan Adanur also engages with films. Echoing David Bevington, Dogan Adanur underlines the fact that the plot of Much Ado does not contain an “outer and immediate threat to thwart the union of the young”. Rather, the sole hindrance lies in the “immanent gender rules and norms, and acute rivalry in a hierarchical society”, and as Dogan Adanur further point outs, the fact that Hero, Leonato’s sole heir, is referred to as a “commodity”, with some words pertaining of rating (“worth”) and purchasing (“buy”). So tragic elements undermine the spirit of mirth which pervades the play.

16In Much Ado, spying and eavesdropping is employed for comical effects (as in the gulling scene) as well as in a darker context (Claudio and Don Pedro spying on ‘Hero’ and Borachio at Don John’s behest). Joss Whedon taps into this tragic vein with shadowy, subdued shots and enclosed spaces, whereas Josie Rourke brings Beatrice in full view of the spectators, hardly hidden from her female counterparts, thus forming a sequence full of good humour. Whedon composes a film noir whose suspense is generated by the sharp camera angles; Rourke’s film is full of colours in a theatrical setting, the atmosphere is much lighter, comedy prevails. With Innogen taking the part of Antonio, this production shows a light-hearted female world in which the merry mood dominates.

17Both films, Dogan Adanur contends, are concerned with sexuality, and imply that Benedick and Beatrice had a relationship before the war. In this context of open sexuality, the accusation towards Hero seems unconvincing.

18If both films stress that conflict has tragic consequences, the closing note is completely opposed. In Whedon’s film the resolution does not change the male hierarchical code which dominates, whereas in Rourke’s film, the happy ending is celebrated by singing and dancing merrily.

19In her article, “Adaptation from Screen to Stage? Branagh’s Olive Groves, Puskás’s Orangery and Shakespearean Rhizomatics”, Gabriella Reuss analyses the reception of the play directed by Tamás Puskás in his Centrál Theatre (Budapest) that opened in 2015 and is still running in 2018 in repertoire due to its lasting popularity. Far from attempting to experiment with “new theatricality”, as has been the trend in Centrál Theatre, Puskás’s production “reached and mostly satisfied its target playgoers” with a remediation of Branagh’s film. On the stage, the echoes of the film are numerous. Even the cast consists of actors looking like their film counterparts although thanks to their acting skills, they do not parody but “credibly recycle” the gestures of the film actors. However, the movements and picturesque bird’s-eye view takes could not be reproduced on a small stage; the film’s “joyful physicality” is reduced to mere flat playacting. The sole unconventional, successful innovation of the director is the treatment of Dogberry, played by a famous comedian (Attila Magyar) who addresses the audience with updated languages jokes.

20After a close survey of reviews and chat forums, Reuss infers that most enthusiastic supporters identify the play, not with the text, but with the film considered as the “Shakespearean original”. She concludes that this production partakes of a syndrome of “hybridity” (Zoltán Márkus) or “Shakespearean rhizomatics” (Douglas Lanier), twice removed from the original, which developed from a filmic transposition granted the status of canonicity by some fans who have passed on their enthusiasm to their descendants.

21In her essay entitled “Much Ado about a Spider”, Sabina Laskowska-Hinz interrogates the meaning of the theatre poster designed by the visual artist Lex Drewinski for the play of Much Ado that Wybrzeże Theatre (Gdańsk, Poland) staged in 2008. A theatre poster may sometimes be considered as a minor by-product of theatrical production, but in Poland, it appears to have acquired the status of a work of art, and, as such, represents an interpretation which, she contends, can rate among the various critical approaches to the text and the production. At first sight the poster is a very puzzling image with its black spider located in the bottom left corner against a blood-red background, and a very thought-provoking one as it seems to point to the darker sides of the play. However, it quickly captures the attention and imagination of the viewer, forming a symbolic “stage picture” that requires interpretation. In an attempt to interpret it, Laskowska-Hinz turns to Classical mythology, and especially to the myth of Arachne, present in Ovid and Dante, Shakespeare’s favourite sources, to explore the spider motif in the characters of Beatrice, Don Pedro and Don John. The younger viewers will perhaps decode the image through more contemporary references: Tolkien’s rapacious Shelob, J. K. Rowling’s evil creature Aragog, or Spiderman (for the character of Claudio). The range of interpretation is left to the imagination and knowledge of each viewer.

22The last article of this volume, “Britain, India, Shakespeare, and the Nightwatch Constabulary”, by Varsha Panjwani, analyses the reviews of two RSC productions of Much Ado by John Barton (1976) and Iqbal Khan (2012), which transposed the action to India.

23Panjwani contends that very few reviewers (a vast majority of them being white males) reacted to the racial discrimination that pervades the productions.

24John Barton’s staging was set at the time of the British Raj in 19th-century India, with Leonato presiding over a British household during the colonial period. Dogberry, portrayed as a “babu”, was played by British actor John Woodvine, with brown-face make-up, turban, and Indian accent. Audiences and reviewers alike enjoyed the language mistakes of the character and his servile manners, while only one reviewer “found this racial joke offensive” and another one alluded to the critical reaction of “a lady in a saari” sitting near him.

25Thirty-six years later, Iqbal Khan employed a cast of “Brasians” [British Asians] and set his play in an undetermined place in contemporary India. The actors, put on various Indian accents, the Shakespearean text was peppered with Punjabi, Urdu and Hindi words, Simon Nagra as Dogberry appeared even before the play to forbid the audience to take pictures, this being said in broken English with a strong Indian accent. This diversity of accents that Khan himself might have experienced in the Indian diaspora of Birmingham gave rise to remarks in many reviews questioning the mastery of English of the Brasian actors but overlooking the meaningful plurality of the Indians presented on stage and showing their ignorance of some of the Bollywood conventions used in the production.

26Panjwani’s final contention is that it is high time for a diversity of reviewers.

27The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘miscellany’ as a mixture or a group of different items, without any unity of purpose; seen in that light, our choice of name for this special issue on Much Ado About Nothing in Performance may seem little more than a euphemism for a random ragbag or a motley crew. Nevertheless, the reader will presumably find it easy to perceive the rhizomatic relationship (to borrow a concept from one of the essays) between these papers, as we move from posters to page to stage to rehearsal room to the silver screen; Barton’s Beatrice to Branagh’s Benedick; from minor characters to major motion pictures; and from Hollywood to Bollywood by way of costume drama and Communist comedy. It is our hope that, unlike Dogberry, these pages will not prove too cunning to be understood, but that – first, sixth and lastly, and to conclude – they may contribute something to the understanding of Much Ado About Nothing in Performance.

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The audience gathering for the first scene

Crédits : Kiki Lindell

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Don John flirts with a female Conrade (I.3) – in our version, she was a disgruntled minor member of Leonato’s household, restless and more than ready for a dalliance with the handsome bad boy Don John

Crédits : Mikael Nilsson

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Beatrice bids Benedick come in to dinner (II.3)

Crédits : Kiki Lindell

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Don Pedro and Don John, attending Hero’s and Claudio’s wedding (IV.1)

Crédits : Kiki Lindell

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Hero swoons, surrounded by Beatrice, Balthasar (in the background), Antonia and Innogen (IV.1)

Crédits : Kiki Lindell

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“Boys, apes, braggarts, Jacks, milksops!” Antonia is having a shout at Don Pedro and Claudio (V.1)

Crédits : Kiki Lindell

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Balthazar sings “Pardon, goddess of the night” to the accompaniment of a single violin (II.3)

Crédits : Kiki Lindell

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Claudio and Don Pedro, repentant before Hero’s tomb (V.3)

Crédits : Kiki Lindell

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Innogen and Leonato, reconciled at their daughter’s wedding (the actors got the giggles on discovering that they were actually sitting just below a painting showing Adam and Eve driven out of Paradise) (V.4)

Crédits : Kiki Lindell

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“Peace! I will stop your mouth.” Beatrice silences Benedick with a kiss (V.4)

Crédits : Mikael Nilsson

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Don Pedro, confronting his treacherous brother (V.4)

Crédits : Kiki Lindell

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The Much Ado cast (all the costumes are made by Kiki Lindell). Also present are a few extras who, having taken the ‘Shakespeare in Practice’ course one of the previous terms, are happy to come back and play with us – as servants, sheep, sailors, hellhounds, or whatever the play calls for

Crédits : Kiki Lindell


28We would like to thank Cian Duffy, Chair Professor of English Literature at Lund University, who opened the symposium prompting this special issue, and who has generously spent time proofreading the contributions published in it.

Pour citer ce document

Par Isabelle Schwartz-Gastine et Kiki Lindell, «Introduction», Shakespeare en devenir [En ligne], N°13 - 2018, Shakespeare en devenir, mis à jour le : 20/02/2022, URL :

Quelques mots à propos de :  Isabelle Schwartz-Gastine

Isabelle Schwartz-Gastine is Professor Emerita of Renaissance Studies (University of Caen-Normandy, France), a member of ERIBIA Research Centre (Caen-Normandy) and the CNRS Research Centre on Theatre and Drama (THALIM, Paris). A member of National and International Renaissance Associations (Société Française Shakespeare, European Shakespeare Research Association, International Shakespeare Association, World Shakespeare Association) she is a specialist of Shakespeare plays in performance on the F ...

Quelques mots à propos de :  Kiki Lindell

Kiki Lindell is Senior Lecturer of English Literature, Lund University, Sweden, where she also stages Shakespeare’s plays with her students. She reviews Swedish and Danish Shakespeare productions for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust research blog, and recently contributed a chapter on the history of Romeo and Juliet in Sweden to a volume on Romeo and Juliet in European Culture (2018)

Droits d'auteur

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