Saturday, August 13, 2011

Much ado about...infidelity?

This afternoon we took the boys to another Shakespeare play in the Park--Portland has no less than five Shakespeare plays running this summer, most of them free and in the parks. This time it was "Much Ado About Nothing" by the Portland Actors Ensemble.

Much Ado has long been one of my favorite of Shakespeare's plays, mostly because of the wonderful Kenneth Branagh-Emma Thompson movie, in which they played Benedick and Beatrice (and were married at the time). Emma Thompson is one of my favorite actors.

Thompson and Branagh as Beatrice and Benedick
It had been awhile since I had seen the play, though, and what struck me most of all was the sexism of the plot, which of course is glossed over because it's a Shakespeare comedy.

The innocent maiden Hero (played by Kate Beckinsale in the movie) is slandered on her wedding day, all for the sake of a joke. A ne'er-do-well (the "bastard" brother of Don Pedro, her fiance Claudio's commanding officer) plots a scene in which Hero is seduced by another man. (In fact, it is not Hero but her lady in waiting, Margaret, who is seduced.) Claudio refuses to marry Hero and humiliates her at the wedding. Her father, Leonato, disowns her and threatens to kill her himself. The only ones who believe Hero's innocence are her cousin Beatrice and the friar who was to conduct the wedding.

Beckinsale's Hero
Being Shakespeare, all is righted in the end and Hero marries Claudio (after the family exacts justice by pretending that Hero is dead and tricking Claudio into marrying a veiled and hidden Hero, only to discover her true identity and bring on the happy ending). But I found the play to be yet another reminder of the powerlessness of women in Shakespeare's era (and many other eras). Hero had no way to defend herself and her honor, because no one believed her. Had they not been able to prove her innocence, her father would have cast her out and she would have lived an unhappy existence for the rest of her life.

Of course what I loved most about the movie (and the play itself, still) was the incredibly strong-willed, independent character of Beatrice. She's one of my favorite characters in Shakespeare. This reminds me a bit of the recent "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie, in which we had a strong and feisty female character (Angelica) contrasted with the evil mermaids.

As I was following along with the play, I noted a few places that the script was changed. "If I do not love her, I am a Jew" was changed to "If I do not love her I am a fool." And when Leonato asks if he has changed his mind about marrying his "other" niece (actually the veiled Hero), Claudio is supposed to respond, "I'll hold my mind, were she an Ethiope," but instead just says "I'll hold my mind."

So we can change Shakespeare to suit our contemporary, enlightened minds about ethnicity, but to make his plays less sexist? You'd have to rewrite them completely. Not that I want to rewrite Shakespeare, mind you, but it makes me mindful of how far we have come.

For every Hero we still have, we have twice as many Beatrices. And we have more Benedicks, who love and value strong women. I'm glad I found my own Benedick.

1 comment:

  1. hearty <3
    really helped me with my homework thankyou (: