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Much Ado About Nothing – Is the title, “A Merry War” a Suitable Alternative Title for the Play?

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‘Much Ado About Nothing’ is one of William Shakespeare’s classic comedies, described by others as a “timeless classic, written in true Shakespearian style”. The popular theme of mistaken identities runs through out the play. The original title ” Much Ado About Nothing ” really does describe the play well, as many people become upset over misinterpreting the situation, or by being tricked by the other characters. The Title “A Merry War” is in itself an oxymoron. The two sides of the title are very different and show that the play has two definite contrasting sections. The antithetical phrase ” A Merry War ” portrays the love-hate relationship between Beatrice and Benedick really well. It also gives an insight into the darker elements of the play, such as Don John’s constant war with his brother Don Pedro. To conclude if the title “A Merry War” is appropriate as an alternative title for the play, there are many things to take into consideration.

Beatrice and Benedick play two very comical characters. They constantly insult each other throughout the length of the play. Their constant sparring is often very witty and comical. It had been announced, before Benedick had returned from the war , that he and Beatrice “never meet but there’s a skirmish of wit between them”. We see that this is in fact true as even before Benedick had arrived at Don Pedro’s house Beatrice has already started mocking him by referring to him, in a derogatory manner, as “Signor Montano”. They secretly enjoy tormenting each other; it’s now like a game to them. Just like in tennis they throw insults at each other, and get insults thrown at them in return. This definitely is a “merry war”, and therefore the new alternative title would apply here.

However, as their “merry War” continues, we are made aware that there is a deeper layer to their relationship. Beatrice is conversing with Don Pedro about the relationship that her and Benedick once shared “(Beatrice) – a double heart for his single one: marry once he won it of me”. But Beatrice also says that she has been hurt badly by him before “I should prove the mother of all fools”. They both seem to enjoy the witty banter, but at certain times in the play you can see they have both been hurt by what the other has said. In Kenneth Branagh’s film version of the play, the sketch between Beatrice and Benedick at the masked ball is directed in such a way that we are made aware of the hurt Benedick feels after Beatrice says “he is the prince’s jester, a very dull fool”, he lifts his mask so that we can see the pain in his eyes “and every word stabs”. These events show the harsher side of the “war of words” between Benedick and Beatrice. This does not support the alternative title of “a merry war”, as there is no lighter side to their arguments.

Don Pedro then decides that he will match make Beatrice and Benedick as he thinks they are very well suited, despite the fact that they have both protested profusely to marriage. He comes up with a cunning plan to make each one think that the other is in love with them. Beatrice and Benedick, surprisingly, don’t need much convincing and quickly fall in love with each other. This is the more merry side of the play. Everyone is happy that they have finally found each other and also know that the humorous “war of words” will continue.

The more comical side of the play is where Don Pedro gets both Beatrice and Benedick to overhear conversations spoken by their friends. The staging for Benedick could add a lot of humour as one way of staging it would be to have Benedick stuck behind a bush, constantly bobbing up and down as he hears of Beatrice’s love for him, and also the staging of Leonato and the other conspirators blatantly leaning over to him and whispering as loudly a possible in the direction of where Benedick is hiding, this creates a maximum comical affect making the audience more engaged with the characters in the scene. This is also another of the “merry” sides to the play.

However, the happiness is short lived. Beatrice demands that Benedick must fight Claudio to protect Hero’s (her cousin’s) honour. This is an excruciating task for Benedick to carry out, as he and Claudio have been good friends for a long time. Benedick refuses to challenge Claudio, and this causes pain for both Benedick and Beatrice. This brings more emphasis to the war side of “a merry War”.

In the end, however, the play ends on a happy note, with the two weddings (Claudio and Hero, Benedick and Beatrice), also the villains (Don John and his friends) get taken away. This makes sure that there is a merry beginning and a merry ending. This makes quite an impact, as it seems to very much counteract all of the negative, war-like features of the play.

As well as the comedy that Beatrice and Benedick bring to play, there is a more sinister and darker side that is introduced with the character of Don John. Don John causes much pain for many of the other characters. He is at war with his brother, Don Pedro, and he creates sinister plans to hurt Don Pedro’s friends. This is anything but “a merry war”.

Don John’s first plan is to make Claudio believe that Don Pedro is trying to woo Hero for himself. This causes Claudio much pain, but is quickly resolved, although it does show Don John that Claudio has a very gullible side, this is what he probably takes into consideration when setting up his second deception. This is not a ” merry war” but it is not one of the really serious actions either. This leaves Don John dissatisfied, so he concocts another malicious plan.

His second plan, however, causes a lot of hurt to many people. Hero feels betrayed by her father, as he does not instantly believe her, she is also very hurt that anyone would believe such allegations about her; Claudio gets upset as he thinks the woman that he loves and he is to marry is cheating on him. Claudio’s love for Hero is destroyed, after hearing of her being with another man. He then shames her in front of all her wedding guests and she is inevitably left heartbroken. In Shakespearian time a women’s honour was sacred, one of the hugely important aspect of her honour was her virginity. If a woman had had sexual relations before a marriage she would loose all respect and she would even loose her “social standing”. This is why Hero being accused of infidelity was such a huge ordeal. Her father, Leonato, is horrified that ” her honour has fallen into a pit of ink”, he knows not what to believe and is torn between his own daughter and the prince (Don Pedro). At the wedding Hero falls to her knees and faints, and for the sake of her honour is later pronounced dead. This upsets Beatrice immensely as she is Hero’s cousin and they have been friends for a long time.

All hope is not lost though; Leonato discovers the truth of his daughter and tries to get her back with Claudio. Claudio, after hearing of the death of his fianc�e, agrees to marry Leonato’s ” niece”. Don John’s plan is then exposed to all the people around him and he is sent away to be punished. The story ends with a happy scenario, with a joint wedding and many celebrations. This also adds emphasis on the merry side of the “war”.

In conclusion, despite the malicious actions of Don John and his associates (Borachio and Conrade), I think that the title ” a merry war” would be a suitable alternative title for the play, as it really does describe the love-hate relationship of Beatrice and Benedick. It also does refer to some of the dark elements as it mentions war.

Overall I feel that the play definitely is a merry war as it is described as a romantic comedy. It starts happily and ends with a ‘happy ever after’ scenario and that counteracts the quite serious events that take place in the middle, where Claudio, Hero, Beatrice and Leonato are severely hurt due to the trickery of the evil Don John. The end scene really does bring back the merry element as the star-crossed lovers finally get together, and the “villains” are taken away.

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