FILM AND M
Shakespeare, W - Much Ado About Nothing (Arden, 2006).pdf

3 introduction building a play sources and contexts

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Introduction BUILDING A PLAY: SOURCES AND CONTEXTS The usual definition of a Shakespearean source is the work to which a play's plot is indebted. In Much Ado About Nothing Shakespeare portrays the unions of two couples. Only one of these pairs, however - Hero and Claudio - has what is conventionally considered a literary source, in the sense of a storyline already available elsewhere at the time of the play's composition. Traditional thinking about this play's debt to source material has thus tended to identify the Beatrice and Benedick material, as well as the Watch, as Shakespeare's original inventions, grafted on as comic relief to the oft-told backbone story of the slandered woman and her deceived betrothed. This vision of the play's relation to its sources locates the divergent natures of the two different love plots in their respective origins: Hero and Claudio's pairing, based on pre-existing narratives, represents 'conventional' romance, whereas the unprecedented Beatrice and Benedick plot represents something more unusual in both style and substance, a product of Shakespeare's genius, his comment on convention itself. This discrimination usually comes with the reminder that the Hero-Claudio plot is the 'main' plot, and the other, despite its tendency to upstage it, the mere subplot. On the other hand, revisions of this account of origins and originalities point out that, despite the apparent autonomy of the Beatrice and Benedick plot from the story of the slandered woman, both plots, in fact, turn on staged scenes and on fabricated accounts of love (of Don Pedro for Hero, Hero for Borachio, or Benedick for Beatrice, and she for him). Thus in this light the Benedick and Beatrice plot also derives from the calumny material. This remains nonetheless a plot-derived account of literary indebtedness, with Shakespeare doubling the offerings of his source (much as The Comedy of Errors multiplies Plautus' one set of twins) in order to multiply comic possibilities. 4
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Introduction The usual suspects: Ariosto and Bandello The plot-centred notion of a source gets us far with this play. The tale of the unjustly slandered woman was indeed a popular one in Renaissance literature (see Bullough). It appeared in many genres - tragedy, farce, romance and homily - and served as a vehicle for various meditations: on evidence, on love, on the powers of the senses, the rashness of the passions and the madcap complications of marital intrigue. Sexual slander was also a real concern of sixteenth-century courts (see Sharpe; Kaplan, Culture). The story's most ancient analogue was the fifth-century Greek romance of Chariton, Chaereas and Kallirrhoe, although more recent renditions lay behind Shakespeare's. Of these there were at least seventeen versions (both narrative and dramatic) extant at the time of the composition of Much Ado. The fifth Canto of Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando Furioso was perhaps the most prominent instance, itself probably based on the fifteenth- century Spanish Tirant lo Blanco by Juan Martorell.
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