1: words, words, words!
One of the themes that stood out to me this time was gender and the power of words. The thing about the first wedding scene is that, along with the violence against Hero's person by the trusted men in her life, there's the fact that none of them listen to her. Her word means nothing. She means nothing. Her own father believes the slander very quickly and launches into a tirade of disgust against her -- it's like all along he's been barely restraining his hate for women and he just needed the slightest pretext to unleash it on her; considering that practically his first words in the play are about questioning her paternity and the word of her mother that doesn't seem too far-fetched. He kicks at her, tries to strike her -- one imagines only Benedick's interference prevents the scene from becoming a beating. And it's only when Benedick says no, hey, wait! I can't believe this is true that Hero's father bothers to listen. But only long enough to reply: bosh! Claudio and the princes wouldn't lie! though. Of course, they *did* lie. But his own daughter's word is worthless to him compared to the words of men, particularly men of their situation. Witness the violence inherent in the freaking system! Ugh.
But this ugliness is connected to something very positive and interesting elsewhere. And that's the fact that the turning of the whole story is based on Beatrice speaking her truth and Benedick listening to her. Her words matter to him. They are what turn him against his own friends and comrades! The same men he, in this version, tried not to offend earlier on by pretending to leave with them when they marched out of the church. He's trying to keep his rep up with his bros. But her words alone are enough to work such a change in him that he can give that up, renounce his commission, and swear to kill his friend.
This is not without precedent either, not some recent thing brought about by the love that's been stirred up by their friends/family's deceit. Her words have always meant something to him, that's why their game of merry verbal war was such a diversion, such a pleasure.
2: our lady disdain
People focused on the humor, but I thought Catherine Tate did superb work with the drama as well, and I hate to see that diminished at all. I read an interview where she talked about approaching the role with an awareness of Beatrice's tenuous position as an orphan being maintained by her aunt and uncle. And then kore pointed out that her Beatrice has a hell of a lot of edge to her -- there's almost a desperation at times.
For instance, in the scene where she says that it would grieve a woman to "be overmastered by a bit of wayward marl," -- that didn't just feel like her exercising her wit. I got the sense from the way that the actors played it that this is one of those family conversations that happens over and over and over again throughout the years.
To quote kore "they all looked kind of bored/uncomfortable/irritated, not like she's just being funny."
Everyone's tired of it, but Beatrice most of all. She's been doubtlessly prodded on this point for years, and it pains her. Deep down inside she's angry over her uncle being all ONE DAY HONEY YOU'LL BE FITTED WITH THE MARRIAGE YOKE and never listening to her, no matter how many times and in how many beautiful, well-spoken ways she articulates her deep problems with marriage (and the entire freaking patriarchy she's trying to survive in with some dignity).
There's an undercurrent of awareness of the tenuousness of her situation, which I attribute to Tate and their awesome director Josie Rourke, who explicitly mentioned in an interview with the Guardian that she was thinking about Beatrice and Second Wave feminism. The thing is, Beatrice can't direct her anger at her uncle or aunt, the most she can do is encourage Hero to not submit entirely to their rule, so instead she directs her witty barbs at the institution of marriage itself, at men, at Benedick.
Truly, her position has such pathos in it. She's fighting for her life armed only with her wit and her words. And what Benedick represents, happily, is someone from the enemy camp choosing to become her ally when she and her dear cousin are at their most beaten. She's found someone who isn't trying to overmaster her.
Beatrice is one of my favorite female characters ever, and I am so thankful that they cast Catherine Tate to rock the role so hardcore.
((flails happily)) ALL MY LOVE
3: regarding our hero
I really love DT's Benedick. I love how silly he is without being unbelievable as a person. In a review I quote below (points outside the cut tag), he was described as a "clown," but I really don't think that's fair. He's someone who's aware of folly in himself and others. We can see that most clearly in his summing up of the whole situation at the end of the play: "man is a giddy thing" he says, fully aware of all the foolishness, including his own. He, and Shakespeare through him, is commenting on the comic indignity of all humankind. That's potent stuff -- and his frivolity is not a separate thing from that perceptiveness; rather it's all part of a piece, the one informing the other. He sees the giddiness and prefers to make light of it and be merry. But once he's engaged in a serious matter, he is "in earnest" as Claudio and Don Pedro describe him when he resigns his commission with Don Pedro (and all the political and monetary benefits that would have brought him!) and challenges Claudio. Most terrible earnest. kore noted how dignified and cold he is in that scene, and it really is striking. I get a notion from that of the kind of soldier he must have been -- at the beginning Beatrice doubts whether he was much use in battle, as cutting jest and also perhaps because she can't imagine the man she knows to be a very excellent soldier. But by the end he becomes a soldier for her, betraying his former camp and giving his allegiance to her cause, and he proves himself a very fine one indeed. In light of that, his silliness seems like the way he handles stress?
I think the silliness worked for his character in other ways as well. I LOVELOVELOVE the scene where he's jubilant about learning of Beatrice's love for him. I liked that DT was willing to be shamelessly ridiculous there, because it gave me the sense that Benedick has been more than half in love with Beatrice for years and all his heart needed was the slightest pretext of reason to hope in order to be fully convinced. He's just all. over. that. and it's wonderful. It matches so nicely with the way CT played her reaction -- the two scenes are paralleled visually and in the behavior of the characters, and the consequence is the same: they jump at the bald lies they're told because they want it so much.
As far as his opinions on marriage and women -- I saw him called a misogynist elsewhere? And I certainly won't argue that he's without sexism! LOL That would be absurd. But, as I mentioned in the previous point, I love him dearly for really listening to Beatrice and giving weight to her words. He believes in the importance of sexual chastity for upper class women (and not men), as was common at the time, but, unlike the other men, he's willing to listen to women. He values Beatrice's moral judgment & when she articulates her pain, even though it pains him to consider what she wants him to do, he's ultimately convinced.
Let me emphasize how important Don Pedro and Claudio have been to him as his comrades in arms. And how important the political influence of a man like Don Pedro could be to him going forward... yet, once he hears Beatrice out and makes up his mind about what the right thing to do is, he does it, despite that.
That's damn impressive.
kore pointed out his grave dignity in the moment where he hands Don Pedro the letter resigning his position -- and I heartily agree. He's beautiful in that moment, and I don't think the beauty is solely a product of his love. I think he always had that in him, and that we and Beatrice had merely not been given the opportunity to see it before.
3: such a merry war
The acting choices make their war here very merry indeed. At the beginning, when they see each other again and exchange sallies about Lady Disdain, after a good barb they toast each other with their beers. It's like watching a fencing match where the opponents are absolutely delighted to have such a clever opponent.
And then there's the way DT and CT played the scene where they confess their love -- that complicity carries into it! It's adorable: they're laughing together over how ridiculous it is that they are saying these words to each other. They're all giggly! And sending each other speaking looks of astonishment -- it's like they're in the moment but also standing back from it a touch. They're confessing their love and retaining their amusement at the whole genre of love confessions and being in love.
Beatrice: Believe me not! Yet I lie not. SWEET JESUS I CAN'T BELIEVE THE WORDS COMING OUT OF MY MOUTH RIGHT NOW WHAT IS THIS LOL
Benedick: IRK IT'S LIKE WE'RE SUDDENLY IN A COURTLY LOVE POEM. WAIT 'TIL YOU HEAR WHAT I'M ABOUT TO SAY -- HERE IT COMES -- Bid me do anything for thee! (GRINS) GET A LOAD OF THAT!
Beatrice: LOL!! WHAT IF I ASKED YOU TO JOUST FOR MY HAND OR SOMETHING?
Benedick: FRANKLY, I'M SO FAR GONE I'D PROBABLY HIRE A HORSE AND DO MY DAMNEDEST FOR YOU, LADY
Beatrice: LOL WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO US
Benedick: I DON'T KNOW ISN'T IT HILARIOUS (PAUSE) AND KIND OF WONDERFUL TOO?
Beatrice: YES (long pause) (suddenly serious) Kill Claudio.
That line, in the midst of their hilarious confession, falls like a hammer blow. And all the delicate framework of love story/ironic commentary falls apart.
This isn't a farce and their love is not spun sugar. This is life or death. If this love is a game, it has no place between them.
Yet they don't give up their merry war.
In the scene where they speak after Benedick has made his challenge to Claudio, they're still being merry with each other. They're just not directing the barbs at each other anymore. We've got Beatrice and her "'Then' is spoken, fare thee well!" and Benedick's grin in response.
They like playing and making merry as a way to deal with each other. It's... bonding and a form of comfort. Beatrice's uncle said they'd murder each other with words within a week if they married when Don Pedro first suggested it, but what he didn't get is that their witty words are a bridge between them. Something they can play with -- unlike wooing words, which they both fail abysmally at apparently (LOL @ their horrible poems, and Benedick tapping out tunes dismally, "not born under a rhyming planet").
They make love with their words, impressing and pleasing each other. And when it's needed, they can turn serious, really be there for each other, as they are when Benedick asks her how she fares.
I think they're going to have a marvelous life together. Because even when things are bad not only will they back each other up, but they'll share that bemusement/mocking affection for life and its follies. Man is a giddy thing, and they both know it! We are silly and beautiful and deadly and giddy and ((flail)) because of the situations they've been in Beatrice & Benedick have learned to take a certain pleasure in folly, their own as well as others, to survive.
They actually reminded me of Pride and Prejudice a bit. Remember how Darcy's sense of humor isn't quite up to Lizzy's level and that's something the text indicates she has to teach him, especially the ability to laugh at himself? In Beatrice and Benedick we have two people who don't need any tutoring in how to handle life with a laugh, even a laugh at themselves. In that sense it's as if they're both Lizzy and they can appreciate that in each other.
This ties into one of my most favorite things of all about them, which is that neither of them is the superior of the other. Their relationship isn't a teaching one on either side -- they talk and listen and make up their own damn minds. And though they're both brought into the fold of obeying the social order to marry, neither of them is put above or below the other in the final estimation. Society gets what it wants, but neither of them is made victor or vanquished in their war.
In fact, their war isn't won or lost, but instead transformed into an alliance.
The way it's done here, I don't even read "peace, I will stop thy mouth" as some kind of symbolic victory on Benedick's part over Beatrice. He's not silencing her permanently or indicating a shift in their relationship the way DT & CT played it. Instead it's them discovering something new about each other -- kissing. LOL. And then they're both like
HEY THAT WAS RILLY GOOD
WE'RE GOOD AT EVERYTHING TOGETHER AREN'T WE
HELL YES WE ARE
4: people saying clever things
The quote below and the entire blog post it's taken from are excellent and I highly rec a visit.
“Later, the scene where Beatrice and Benedick confess their love for one another is funny, sweet, romantic and audibly curdles the second Beatrice says ‘Kill Claudio’. Tate gathers the air in the room to her at that point, becoming a cold, hard point that you can’t take your eyes off. It’s the hinge the play shifts around and the entire production is pushed by those two words, Catherine Tate’s delivery and the way that Tennant responds. His chilling, still, rage-filled challenge to Claudio is another highlight and the moment he dismisses himself from the Duke’s service leaves you in no doubt that this is a man going off to fight, and kill, a good friend of his. The fact that the next time we see them Benedick is unintentionally composing ‘Green Sleeves’ on a bontempi keyboard does nothing to distract from this. Benedick is a clown, certainly, but he’s a clown with a sword and that sword is entirely at Beatrice’s disposal.”
— Home From The War: The Wyndham Theatre’s 2011 Much Ado About Nothing « Alasdair Stuart’s Blog (via theredshoes)
This entry was originally posted at http://mswyrr.dreamwidth.org/351221.htm