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The Effectiveness of Act I, Scene I as the Opening Scene of “Much Ado About Nothing”

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An audience have expectations that the opening scene offers them the chance of escapism and to enter the play’s illusion of plots, setting, characters and themes. To do this effectively in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ Shakespeare has compelled audiences with emotional engagement enhanced with a hint of quirky humour to soften the more tragic aspects of the play.

Shakespeare had the ability to verbalise the main issues he wished to convey to the audience and then firmly root them in the foundation of the plots with imaginative stagecraft. Much Ado About Nothing is centered around three main plots and throughout the exposition of the opneing scene effectively prepares the audience to understand the later complexities to come.

In ‘Kenneth Branagh’s’ ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ I believe that the opening credits serve as an exhilirating interpretation of one line in the play, ‘Don Pedro arrives’ ( from war ). This is an exciting visual play that thrives on the audience interacting with the excitement and passion of the characters.

The story is primarily about love, however its opening scene is ironically based on the aftermath of war, the underlying continuation of ‘battlement’ is obvious from the language such as ‘encounter’ which Don Pedro refers to which is used as an effective military metaphor. Maybe the use of the military styled language was to prepare the audience for forthcoming events involving conspiracy and deception which are main elements of war; Shakespeare is drip-feeding us the essence of the dark side to prepare the audience for the plot involving the antagonist ‘Don John’. Another plausible reason for Shakespeare’s usage of the darker side of humanity to open the scene is to emphasize the opposition which would be the play’s foundation, ‘love’.

The conventional lovers, ‘Hero and Claudio’ are weaved into a plot involving the ettiquettes of society and strict social costums. Shakespeare has effectively used this plot to demonstrate the convenient and eloborated love that is constructed due to society pressure. The concept of idealised love in the Elizabethan era appealed to the majority of the audience at the time. Due to ‘love at first sight’ being a popular occurence in the Elizabethan era Claudio decides to comply and fall for Hero in the opening scene. Shakespeare has introduced Caludio instantly falling in love with hero to exemplify his nature of being fickle and complying with the fashion of love. To further demonstrate this capricious nature this occurs in the opening scene of the play which means it’s the first interaction the audience has with this character and his love for Hero and due to this occurence happening so quickly we question the genuinity. The plot also effectively thickens and drives the play by being able to effectively introduce other characters such as ‘Leonato’ and ‘Don Pedro’ as they act as the fatherly figures helping to ‘construct’ the marriage between the two idealised lovers.

In contrast to the conventional lovers, we have ‘Beatrice and Benedick’ who are involved in a plot which thrives on the ‘merry war of wit’. This wit would bring humour into the play and soften the effects of war and melt the constraints of convention and this would provide light hearted banter for the audience to be entertained by. These characters would relate to the majority of the audience as they speak without much fancy phrasemaking and do not comply with courtly euphuism which would seem too eloborated. Each are established as witty scorners of the oppostite sex and both are first to deflate the pompous atmoshere and therefore the quick tempo of skirmish wit will be language which the audience would be able to relate to and react in humour with. The plot of ‘Beatrice and Benedick’ reflects opposingly to ‘Hero and Claudio’ and allows Shakespeare to devwl into the variations of love and their consequences. Shakespeare has effectively introduced the main strands of the plot into the play and has enabled the audience to incorporate themelves by hinting and questioning the characters and their foreshadowed agendas within the plots. The language is richly varied from the courtly and artificial to the blank and course. The wit of the prolific repartee between Beatrice and Benedick , with its constant pun, hints at deception of appearances and power of illusion.

Shakespeare has designed the characters from ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ so that they are in balanced groups of twos and threes. The symmetry of the plot structure is suggestive of a masquerade or a dance, appropiate in a play dominated by spying and deception. The opening scene in which Claudio reveals his love to his friend and patron , who promises to promote it, is followed by two scenes in which spies misreport that confession to thier patrons. Shakespeare has decided to construct it in this way as the opening scene enables the audience to engage with Claudio’s revelance of passion. We are transported deeper into the plot due to the interest from the misconception of the issue, as the audience we have the superiourity over knowing the consequences of the misconstruied slander and Shakespeare has enabled us so we can view the development of this dramatic irony on stage.

Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatists such as Shakespeare emphasized the steamy, seamy side of Italian life. This is what the audience loves to hate. Other plays also attemps to play on the secrecy of Italian life such as Romeo and Juliet; drugs and damnation, poison and passion, dubious friars were all interpretations of Italian life. Italy excited the theatrical imagination and therefore was an ideal location for depraviaty and Elizabthan audiences liked to laugh at Italian courtiers and hiss Italian villians and within the first scene we are given these variables which contribute to a successful play. Italy itself represented a poisoned fountain, at which audiences queued up to try to forfill an unquenchable thirst for the exotic, exciting and entertaining.

In particular Messinese society is a cocktail mix of politics, nationality, backgrounds and age of Renaissance Italy which all contribute to the rich flavour of this exhilirating lifestyle. Shakespeare heightens Messinese society theatrically and exemplifies a rigid hierachy. The parochial society of Messina is obviously concerned with a ‘pedigree profile’ as an audience of the opening scene would learn that the members of this insular community are not interested to hear the fatality and survival that are ‘few of any sort, and none of name’. As the audience are exposed to this in the opening scene of the play Shakespeare has effectively carved a deep rooted notion of this society only being concerned in the importance of the ‘breeding’ of a person. I believe that Shakespeare has exemplified this notion so to enable the audeince to understand later complexities which involve the issue of hierachy. The society depends on ‘bestowed honour’ in order to gain a reputable title to be recognised as a worthy member of this porochial community. Much honour is devoted to ‘a young Florentine called Claudio’ in the opening scene and the audience are wooed by the facade of ‘figure of a lamb, feats of a lion’. Shakespeare has effectively introduced this character through high society here’say and in doing so heightens the mystery and accomplishment of this young man. Just as the other characters, the audience are wooed by this eloborated military figure of florentine as it lends the fashionable exotic to spice the lives and plots of the play.

Fashions of the time also meant arranged marriages and female subserveince which enabled the male to be the dominant figure in society. Being introduced to this type of society early in the opening scene allows the audeince to understand the coventional roles each character should follow, for instance we gain a direct contrast between the coyness of Hero and brashiness of Beatrice. Beatrice is rebelling against the conventional role of women and this helps to reflect the characters personality. Shakespeare has used the roles of women of the times to emphasise their compliance or rebellion against convention to allow the audience to understand character’s motives and personality at a higher level. ‘The masked ball’ not only serves to illustrate the complications of society, but also a strictly parachial society as Don Pedro acts as a fatherly figure to help woo Hero in the construction of the marriage between her and Claudio.

Due to coventional ettiqueetes structuring Messinese society the formalities are emphasised by Shakespeare especially in the opening scene so that the audience gain a taste of what the nature of the community is like. The language is immediately eloborate and artificial. The imitation of courty manners and style of address is overly sophosticated by using extensive balanced sentencing and metaphor, prasing Claudio, who ‘hath borne himself……….lion’. The characters respond with elaborate sentimentality. The whole elevation of conversation seems premedtaited and overly rehersed. It does not strike the audience as genuine so we get a sense of Messinese society artifice. We also learn from the opening scene that Claudio’s uncle wept with the news of his success: ‘how much better it is to weep at joy then to joy at weeping’. This information leads the audience to believe that you must show your inner emotions on the outside for them to be truly real, so we learn the Messinese are a very superficial society that tend to judge on appearance. This is effectively introduced in the opening scene to again allow the audience to understand the type of society it is plus it prepares us significantly to understand the reactions and nature of the characters in later complex situations.

Shakespeare uses the character Claudio to effectively comment on the ungenuine facade soceity decide to take on and the niavety of believing that this is the true way to be due to the current vogue. He is the idealistic fashionable lover of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ and contrasts and clashes comically with Benedick, the scorner of women. By introducing him in the opening scene the audience question his motive as he hints at the idea of deception by asking, ‘Hath Leanato any son?’ before persuing ‘soft and delicate desires’, the audience could judge him as coldly mercenary or merely circumspect, either way Shakeapeare is allowing the audience to enter the conspiracy and question the possible motives. Because Claudio’s language when referring to Hero such as, ‘I looked upon her with a soldier’s eye’ sounds convincingly premeditated the relationship doesn’t relate to the audience as it’s beyond easy understanding. Maybe Shakespeare used the relationship of these two lovers to demonstrate how words cannot equivicote to what you as a human feel inside and when a person such as Claudio attempts at expressing them with an endless parade of exagerated sentimentality it causes an audience to question his love as genuine. Shakespeare has also decided to write much of Claudio’s description of Hero through blank verse which causes his description of his love to become ever more so poetic and even to the point of ad nauseum which again may be an emotion that he wanted audiences to feel due to the over romanticising of love.

Although ironically, Benedick condemns true love and the deliberation of marriage the audience are genreally more warmed to his character than Claudio as he is perceived as the genuine article. Although on the contrary from, ‘do you…..sex’ from the opening scene it can be argued that Benedick is hinting that his misogyny is a pose. The fact that Shakespeare has made Benedick such a formidale character and because of his stance against the constraints of marriage and monogymy he interests the audience at a higher level because he doesn’t express what he feels in hyperbole fashion and therefore remains unconqured by love. As an audience to see Benedick fall in love would be more satisfying then Hero and Claudio falling in love because as an audience we know of their predictable future due to how society operates.

Beatrice and Benedick in the opening scene lock ‘horns’ and to the audience this would be an interesting relationship as the woman is equivocating to the man’s status and rebelling against convention and this would be new and refreshing for an audience to watch. Although both scorners of the opposite sex we as an audience view a development of understanding their relationship from the opening scene with Beatrice’s, ‘I know you of old’. This information allows the audience to view a genuine love or past love which gives depth to the characters and make them more believable. As an audience we are intrigued to learn more about their relationship and whether a spark will rekindle their love for one another. Beatrice’s belligerent wit sometimes hides a deeper darker side such as her denigration of male pretensions in the opening scene which anticipates her bloodthirsty attack upon Claudio due to later events. The audience are subjected to a hint of this nature as if it was to ‘come out of the blue’ later in the play it may not seem believable to the audience as we have had no intereatction with this side of the character before. Shakespeare has effectively and subtely introduced this side of Beatrice in the opening scene in order for the audience to be aware; he is drip feeding us hints in order to prepare us for later complexities.

The complexities unravel into a complicated tangle of love and deceit which the audiece have been prepared for. The play deals with many issues such as ‘noting’ which is yet to be fully introduced, although the foundations have been put in place for them to succeed. The main issue which ties everything together in the opening scene is that of love. The play explores the nature of true love, both realistically and critically. Ironically its romantic lovers are flawed and lack charm, its cynics compelling and charismatic.

The opening scene introduces love. Shakespeare effectively manipulates love and verbalises the issues of the subject well in order to create plots and imaginative characters. I believe that from the opening scene a member from the audience could suggest that Shakespeare was commenting on the superficiality of Messinese society and how they believed that words equivocated to true feelings especially when regarding Hero and Claudio. An Elizabethan audience would of been able to understand the concept of using vocabulary to generate the emotion they felt because at the time the vogue was to send poems to your loved ones with elevated language. As Shakespeare mocks Hero and Claudio’s love for one another due to ungenuine fancy phrasemaking and congratulates the love of Beatrice and Benedick by characterising them in complimentary light allows an audience to believe that ‘real’ love never has to be sustained by the amount and variation of vocabulary you could use and attempt to equivocate.

I believe that Shakespeare has effectively introduced plot, setting, characters and theme into the opening scene and in such a creative and imaginative style as so to keep the audience interested and entertained. The opening is energetic and engaging and both audiences from the Elzabthan era and audiences today can understand why. The magic and romance of renaissance Italy and the blend of culture and politics provided a breeding ground for a sucessful play. The fact that love was intertwined into two of the plots throughout the play increased the play’s intensity for passion and when performed well to an audience they would really engage with the emtional heartache and society facade ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ would allow them to experience.

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