As regular readers of this site know, I very much like Kenneth Branagh and very much dislike Shakespeare, who I derisively call “That Bard.” It is wrong to say that I dislike Shakespeare; it is more that I just don’t think he is all that great. If no one liked him, I would probably sing his praises. But I commonly read such ridiculous praise for him that I can’t help it. As a poet, he’s okay I guess. As a dramatist, he is pretty good at his best, mediocre most of the time, and absolute rubbish at his worst. Today, I watched Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 version of Much Ado About Nothing—twice! The first time, I watched it with the play in front of me to see how close it is to the play. It is quite close. Branagh yanks out a couple of scenes, cuts some lines (although rarely his), moves a couple of things around, and adds purely visual material that is not in the play. But all in all, it is quite close to the play and so I have a few questions for Shakespeare.
- Why do you think you can just make villains without providing any context? Why is Don John such a bastard (in both ways)? His first major speech sounds suspiciously like the opening of Richard III—a play where again we get a villain who just is a villain. (“And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover… I am determined to prove a villain”? Come on!) And while I’m on the subject of Don John, here’s a question for Kenneth Branagh: in what universe could Keanu Reeves be the half-brother of Denzel Washington?
- Why, after Don John tricks Claudio regarding Hero, does he allow himself to be tricked again?
- Why does Don John want to disgrace Hero and stop her marriage to Claudio? It is his brother, Don Pedro, who he hates.
- Benedick and Beatrice are both highly nubile. Are we to believe that they just have to be tricked into thinking the other is in love with them for them to fall passionately in love? Don’t get me wrong, the scenes with these two (whether in or out of love) are the best in the play. It is good fun. It is also, unfortunately, totally unbelievable.
- If Hero were unfaithful, Claudio and Don Pedro act disgracefully by shaming her in public. I’ll grant you that Hero is one of your air-head female characters, and so will put up with anything to get a husband. But what about the audience? Why is Benedick going to come up with some good punishment for Don John, while Claudio and Don Padro (who acted worse in many ways) live happily ever after?
These are just a few of my questions. If I held myself to the same standards of plot and characterization as Shakespeare, I’d be pumping out a novel a week.