I finally got to see the Catherine Tate & David Tennant production of Much Ado About Nothing! It was a great deal of fun; I'm glad they filmed the performance so those of us who aren't within reach of the London West End could enjoy it too. I have gifs and a little meta to share. I rambled excitedly on my Tumblr tag, and this is really me picking out the more worthwhile things to carry over (and expand a bit) here.
Someone was talking about all the handporn in this scene -- and it is truly epic. I loved it, especially this moment, with its fierceness, its violence. Beatrice is about to say she would eat Claudio's heart in the market-place and mean it. And I'm glad that she gets this moment. It's important for her as a character, and really important for my favorite theme of the play.
It's a comedy, but it's got a lot to say about wars and violence. And that really fascinates me. To begin with, the “battle of the sexes” is positioned as a merry, harmless war that contrasts with the fatal conflict the men have returned from. The story appears to be about domestic life coming up after violence. After all the fighting and dying, you get thee a wife so the world is “peopled” for the next bout of killing and dying.
We see that contrast in Benedick, when he confesses that he didn’t think he’d live long enough to have to worry about marrying and having to recant his diatribes against marriage. His proud bachelorhood is partly about him making the best of things… making a virtue of not having what he did not think he could have. He carps on about domesticity and women because of the wedge driven in by war and violence.
We’re meant to think that the women are at a remove from that, but then the violence falls down on Hero quite cruelly — she doesn’t actually die, but the men in the church on her wedding day murder her as a person in society as much as if they’d brought knives and stabbed her. They went about destroying her as viciously as they could, on the word of other men.
And, in fact, Hero is a casualty of the war between two men, the prince and his brother.
The feminine sphere is not an escape from violent and terrifying war, it’s just another kind of war. Another theater of conflict. Once which can be just as cruel in its silenced way, one where people live and die at the hands of others. This is particularly emphasized by the domestic violence that Claudio and Hero’s father enact upon her after she’s accused of sexual immorality. The director definitely wants us to see that violence is here, too.
And that’s where the violence of *this* scene comes in — because the men can deny among themselves the horror of what was done to Hero, the fact that men may kill each other with sharp blades, but words are all it takes to kill a woman like Beatrice or Hero.
And that’s what Beatrice is doing with Benedick. Things like victim blaming and erasure are used to make it seem like the domestic world isn’t a place of cruelty, and she’s stripping that away with her words. She’s showing him the violence he wants to deny or dismiss. He isn’t into victim blaming—at least, he *believes* Hero is virtuous, so he stands between her and the men trying to hit her—but he doubts whether Claudio really is Beatrice’s enemy. She’s talking in terms of violence and revenge and battle and on some level he’s doubting whether those things actually belong to her, whether her world is truly that serious. And she intends to let him know that this *is* serious. It’s life and death and Claudio *is* her enemy, as much as any man Benedick faced in battle was his.
It’s really quite brilliant. Because we’ve got the choices the director of this adaptation and the actors are making playing in so well with Shakespeare’s dialogue — Beatrice is a woman, but she has the heart and stomach of a soldier in this scene (to snatch some words attributed to Elizabeth I). She *would* eat Claudio’s heart in the market-place if she could. And she would be justified.
There’s no doubt there.
Life is a war for her, too. And as much as Benedick’s antagonisms toward marriage come from his experience of death and terror, so too hers are grounded in what *she* knows to be true of this world that she fights to live in. An orphan child maintained at the sufferance of her aunt and uncle, a brainy woman in a world that has no place for such ridiculous oddities.
The world, and Benedick, and the story thought that love was some soothing balm, the thing that comes *after* violence. But it’s all the same, the divisive rupture which creates these twin battlegrounds being the same bloody thing.
And so to love with his hands is to use them to kill Claudio. Benedick swears by his hand that he loves Beatrice. And she grabs his hands and shows him something else — look at what Claudio did, taking dear Hero by the hand in the promise of love and killing her as surely as if he’d struck her dead. She’s portraying violence and letting him know that there’s no room here for petty words; what she needs is a comrade in her fight and if he can’t be that, what’s his love worth? Then Benedick gently clasps her hands, and kisses them, and swears to use his hands for something “better” than swearing by them.
It’s just really, really, really a perfect use of the symbol of hands as a ((flail)) meeting place for the two spheres and their different kinds of violence. It’s all the same hands. And the important thing for me is that Benedick is willing to acknowledge what Beatrice shows him: he recognizes that her fight is real, her enemy is real, and joins with her.
That’s… more to me than any professions of love, as the story intends it to be. They can frolic together all day long, but he’s not worth the pain and risk of marriage if he can’t be on her side in the battle of her life. And… well, yes, a man doing violence for the love of a woman is not a terribly new idea. EXCEPT. Usually women are passive victims in the male violence scenarios who are passively rescued and then Ever So Grateful. Not so with Beatrice. Hero is the passive victim; Beatrice is a freaking general issuing commands, a soldier in her heart even if this world doesn’t allow someone of her gender to do justifiable violence to Claudio via a duel. And Benedick is turning against the male dominated culture of his buddies to do the work a woman has given him. He’s defecting to the enemy camp in the “battle of the sexes,” and putting a “ho” before his bros.
Because he listened to Beatrice when she said his bros are fucking despicable nightmares. And also he’s in love. lol.
Another thing that this scene does is establish firmly that Beatrice and Benedick are not just evenly matched in wit -- they're matched in fierceness, too. If the world were a place where women had to go off and fight, Beatrice would have acquitted herself as well as Benedick, or perhaps even better (she seems to have more of a thirst for blood, tbh). One imagines that Benedick would have used his wits to carve a life for himself in the Bizarro World matriarchy, too. But I don't care about that as much as the fact that we've got textual evidence that Beatrice has serious guts, yo. ((nods firmly)) *g*
So… I fucking love this play. And this production. But especially the handporn. :D
This entry was originally posted at http://mswyrr.dreamwidth.org/350733.htm