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

Beyond the plot the changes so far detailed concern

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Beyond the plot The changes so far detailed concern for the most part matters of character, of Shakespeare's expansion of the psychological scope of his source materials chiefly by means of the manipulation of details of status. Don Pedro, for example, is transformed from a mere mention in Bandello to a type of deus ex machina, one of the 'only love-gods' (2.1.357), as well as a potentially melancholic fig- ure isolated by his very privilege, 'too costly', in Beatrice's terms, to be worn in the workaday world of bourgeois marriage (2.1.302). He is in the party, but not of it, participating in disguise as a suitor, but not ultimately one of the final festive company: 'Prince, thou art sad - get thee a wife' (5.4.120). We still however are work- ing within an understanding of source as referring to the origins of plot, and thus have yet to address the existence of Benedick, Beatrice or the Watch. If we are to account for these other ele- ments, we need to move to a broader understanding of the cultural resources and generic exigencies that go into shaping an author's decisions. The intention is not to discount Shakespeare's 22
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Introduction originality, but better to illuminate the nature of his invention by comparison with shared cultural and dramatic assumptions that serve as foils to his own compositional choices. Denouement Certainly the presence of the Watch can be in part attributed to the representational requirements of drama. Unlike a novella or a poem, a play (unless it is The Winter's Tale) usually cannot wait a year (or even Bandello's week) for the remorse of the villain to effect a denouement. In Shakespeare, indeed, it is not clear whether the villain does repent - although Borachio is contrite, Don John flees, and Claudio's own acknowledgement of culpabil- ity is potentially graceless and unlikely to provoke much in the way of reparation without further prompting. Furthermore, this play's peculiar emotional tenor, of a comedy whose rewards are hard won, depends upon the pleasurable frustrations of a villainy only slowly apprehended. Hence the utility of the Watch as the agent of revelation: their inadvertent discovery of the deception nearly as soon as it has occurred helps to build a sense of comic providence, while the subsequent failure of Dogberry to commu- nicate this information in a timely fashion helps to make possible the broadening of the play's emotional register (to include pain) that distinguishes this particular comic resolution. A subplot of Pasaqualigo's // Fedele, and Munday's Fedele and Fortunio, involves an interception by the police, and Lyly's Endymion (1591) includes a similarly simple-minded watch. The inept quality of the police force in Much Ado may indeed owe more to the realities of Elizabethan policing than to any other source. For instance, the contradictions, and difficulties, of ordinary citizens policing their betters in a hierarchical soci- ety - 'If you meet the prince in the night you may stay him . . .
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