I focused on Beatrice and Benedick, as it’s their interplay between that holds the play together; if anyone tries to argue that Hero and Claudio are the central couple then they’ve missed the point.
When I read Much Ado, I have to admit I never paid much attention to Benedick, apart from as a foil to Beatrice. She was the one who interested me, and he was just there for her to banter with. Shakespeare’s women are not always easy reading, but Beatrice is my second-favourite heroine (Rosalind from As You Like It has to take the crown).
And that’s where things fell down for me. Beatrice and Benedick are equals, that’s the whole point. It’s inevitable they’ll end up together because they balance each other out: no-one else could match them. But this Beatrice was no match for Benedick.
He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man; and he that is more than a youth is not for me, and he that is less than a man, I am not for him. (II,i)
That’s what she says, but in this production, I didn’t believe her. This is a woman born under a “dancing star”, full of wit and sarcasm, with a sharp tongue and a great love of life. The way she was played at the Globe was flat; why is Benedick so entranced by this whining, boring woman?
There was a glimmer of passion after her cousin, Hero, was slandered, humiliated and dumped at the altar – her anger and frustration at being unable to take revenge herself, on account of being a woman, felt raw and real. But by the time she asked Benedick to duel with Claudio it had died down.
Beatrice’s usual sparkling wit played out more like my whiney requests to my other half to go out and get more milk because I’ve already taken my shoes off and it’s raining but I want tea now, than a spirited request to avenge her cousin’s honour and prove his love. By this stage I think it would have been reasonable for Benedick to ask Beatrice to prove her love for him.
There’s so much in this play to, well, play with. I’d love to see a 10 things I hate about you-style remake of Much Ado. And if this remake wants my full attention on Beatrice this time, they should cast Cobie Smulders. Who would you cast for your perfect Beatrice and Benedick?