I finally watched Joss Whedon’s interpretation of Much Ado About Nothing a few weeks ago. (This is what happens when my family goes away for the weekend, I order Mexican take out, and I watch movies that I know they would hate.) I really enjoyed it. Analyzing Shakespeare was probably my favorite part of my entire five year trek as an English Major, not least of which because my favorite professor, Dr. Michael Friedman, taught all of my Shakespeare courses. (Hi Dr. Friedman! If you Google yourself and this comes up, cool! Also, hi any of Dr. Friedman’s current students, the discussion questions aren’t that hard, and there will be a time when you miss them.) And Whedon took an approach that I myself have always felt fits Much Ado, that is setting it at in a vacation community. Also it ended with a dance party, which is pretty much how all Shakespearean comedies (and frankly, all movies) should end, in my opinion.
For some reason I felt like Beatrice and Benedick belonged on a beach. Is that weird?
Anyway, the go to version of Much Ado About Nothing is the 1993 film version, directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring the man himself and his then wife Emma Thompson as the lovers. Other people you might have heard of in that version? Kate Bosworth as Hero, Robert Sean Leonard as Claudio, Michael Keaton as Dogberry and two guys who never did much else names Denzel Washington and Keanu Reeves as The Prince and Don John respectively.
But I think English professors and Shakespeare nerds can rejoice, for there is a new version that we can all celebrate now.
I’ve both praised and quibbled with Joss Whedon before, but I like the man’s work, and as a theatre person I appreciate the idea of a repertory company, which is basically what he’s done with his Whedonites, and so many of the are on display at their best here.
Amy Acker and Alexis Denissoff are amazing as Beatrice and Benedick, Clark Gregg shines as Leonato and Nathan Fillion owns his small scenes as Dogberry. Others pop up too, the guy who played Andrew on Buffy, the guy who played Topher on Dollhouse. Whedon’s people will always be his people and a repertory company lends themselves well to Shakespeare. These are people that know each other inside and out, so can interact easily with what’s given to them. And Whedon’s vision is clearer than Branagh’s, even if it’s not as true to the text. (He cuts more, thankfully.)
I managed to get into the play before my CSD got the better of me. I love Much Ado. It’s my third favorite Shakespeare, behind Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the kind of statement that people who study literature fully understand.
The movie was fantastic. I loved the black and white, I loved the music and the setting. But it also made me sad.
There are days when I miss studying lit more than I can possibly explain. I miss staying up until three in the morning going over a passage for the fiftieth time trying to make sure I have the subtext right. I miss reading poorly printed journal articles that I have to squint at to fully make out. I miss trying to make heads or tails of theory that I barely understand. I miss sitting around with my friends and talking about whatever we were all working on, going through our interpretations trying to come close to what we thought our professors wanted to hear.
I miss slaving over my thesis statements, emailing them to my professors, only to hear back a few hours later, “You’re so close, but you need to specify more,” so spending a few more hours getting my quotes and outline together with a more specific thesis statement. I miss writing papers, and getting my citations just so.
I miss these things more than I miss going to bars on Thursday nights, or eating crappy food at two in the morning or taking naps all afternoon. (I miss those things too.)
I sometimes wonder if when other people leave college they miss the actual work. I couldn’t wait to get out of school. I mean, I really couldn’t, circumstances kept me in an extra year and it drove me nuts. The one thing I’m sure of, that I’ve always been sure of, it’s that if I go back to school it will be for my MBA not my MA.
But then I watch a Shakespeare adaptation, or chat with my friend Joe about the Humanities class he’s teaching and I miss theory and analysis. Don’t get me wrong, I have no interest in getting an MA in literature. I do NOT want to spend $30,000 to read Beowulf again, I’ve read it twice and that was one time too many, but I want to join a reading group for ex English majors who want to move past plot and talk about Lit theory.
Does anyone know of such a group and if it’s something I could join?