“Ask Philippa”: MUCH ADO edition

Photo by Jay Yamada.

Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg for Cal Shakes, shares her thoughts on our 2010 productions.

In Jonathan Moscone’s enchanting and stunningly beautiful production of Much Ado About Nothing, we see and feel a musical elasticity of mood (Shakespeare’s own version of “notes”, or “noting”.) There is the merry banter of the opening; the hopefulness of the wooing scene; the hilarity of mistaken identity played out in the dance; and the calamitous consequences of a misanthropic plot against the marriage of two young lovers. After intermission you’ll see mayhem released as the play veers dangerously toward tragedy. Yet somehow, as if by magic, the disastrous events are harmonized in the beautiful simplicty of a plea for redemption and the general joy of a double wedding.

Have you seen our production of Much Ado About Nothing yet? Do you have questions or comments about the production’s themes, creative choices, or anything else? Please leave them in the comments, and I’ll be sure to respond.

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23 Responses to “Ask Philippa”: MUCH ADO edition

  1. agperl says:

    >hi philippathank you for your wonderful grove talk … the play was an absolute delight … and i am wondering about your opinion on one matter about much ado … as you discussed, there are strong hints of tragedy in this play … strong intimations of othello like endings … i am wondering if you think that when shakespeare started writing this play, he knew that it was going to be a comedy … or it possible that, based on different possible factors, the play might have ended up being a tragedy, just as it appeared to those watching the play that it could have ended up being a tragedy ??? i looked forward to hearing your opinion on thisalso … the scene in which hero is so harshly slandered publicly and so strongly defended by beatrice was frighteningly reminiscent to me of the movie … "The Stoning of Soraya M." … i am wondering if you might have any comment on thisthanks again … alan

  2. Philippa says:

    >Dear Alan,Thank you for this really interesting question about the comic/tragic proportions. I know that Shakespeare's son, Hamnet, died just two years before this play hit the boards, in 1596 – so I wonder whether this tragic event made it difficult for him to secure the play on the rails of comedy? It repeatedly looks like it is going to veer off into tragedy and then it gets pulled back again to the comedic structure – and Shakespeare would have been grieving terribly during the time in which the play was conceived. As for the movie, 'The Stoning of Soraya M', I haven't seen it – but this suspicion of a bride/wife was a motif that Shakespeare repeatedly used in his plays. It precipitated a loss/apparent death in a number of plays, and while, for example, in this one and A Winter's Tale the wife is restored with the groom's/husband's redemption, in the case of Othello the wife is sacrificed fully to death. Thank you for writing.Philippa

  3. Dennis says:

    >We enjoyed last night's "Much ado…" As a musician I was especially affected by the music used in the production. I didn't find any reference to who wrote the songs and the beautiful chamber music.

  4. Philippa says:

    >Hello Dennis,The music was designed by our wonderful sound designer, Andre Pluess. So glad you enjoyed the production. Were you the Australian compatriate I met last night?Philippa

  5. Dennis says:

    >Hello Phillipa,Yes, Cath and I are the Australians although in my case I have duel citizenship – US/Australian. We are in San Francisco for a year finishing at the end of December. We are off soon via AMTRAK to the east coast for a few weeks. We will be seeing Henry VIII at the Folger. Dennis

  6. George says:

    >Why didn't Shakes give Don Juansome motivation for doing evil?

  7. Rachel K says:

    >Hi Philippa –As always, your grove talk richly enhanced our appreciation of this wonderful play! Dominique Lozano was a marvel — she had a lightness and warmth that was a joy to behold — really born to play the role! Forgive me for being greedy, but might you be willing to share your "actor's packet" for this play as you so generously offered for "Macbeth"? Specifically, I was interested in the Italian? term you mentioned that meant "proper behaviour for a courtier"? And am also interested in information about Shakespeare's possible affiliation with Catholicism? Appreciatively –Rachel K

  8. Joanham says:

    >Philippa, at the grove talk on Saturday, you mentioned that you were doing a lecture series in Lafayette this fall, but we did catch the details. Where can I find more info on this. Sounds interesting!

  9. >Joanham, information on Philippa's fall lecture series can be found on the Cal Shakes web page, specifically at http://www.calshakes.org/v4/educ/classes.html#3.

  10. Philippa says:

    >Hello George,Shakespeare makes Don John an inheritance of the medieval Vice figure – a figure who embodies misanthropy who can further the plot through his machinations. Later, he would create Iago, who is fully fleshed out as a character of psychological interest. BUT having said this, he does in fact give Don John some thinly sketched-out motivations.Firstly, Don John is a bastard and therefore has not inherited any of the rights of primogeniture (rulership of Aragon, land) that belong to his brother Don Pedro.But it also seems that the war that Leonato's soldiers have been fighting (just prior to the start of he play) on Don Pedro's behalf has been AGAINST Don John. Conrade says to Don John: 'You have of late stood out against your brother, and he hath ta'en you newly into his grace,' and then a little later on, Borachio mentions to Don John the impending wedding involving 'your brother's right hand' – i.e. the hand of the soldier who has just been the principal soldier in the battle fought on Don Pedro's behalf. All the more reason for Don John to want to destroy Claudio! (And, indeed, Don John refers a few lines further on to his glee at destroying Claudio, who has had, in battle, 'all the glory of MY overthrow.')

  11. Philippa says:

    >Dear Rachel,Of course I'm delighted to share the actors' packet with you. Can you send me your email address? pkelly@calshakes.org

  12. >I would like to probe deeper into your quote from Thomas Browne about the similarity of the brains of humans and animals. This would be a strong complement to some research I am conducting. Religio Medici, to which you directed me, is full of good stuff, but I can't find the particular statement you brought up in your pre-play talk last Friday. Can you elaborate?

  13. Anonymous says:

    >Having seen Much Ado just last night and reading your program notes, it struck me how much "out of step" with his times and his society Shakespeare was in creating the character of Beatrice. Such a woman was unheard of in those days (or classified as a shrew, I suppose).Do you think Bill was that far ahead of his time in this creation, what do you think his motives might have been to offer a role so anathema to his audience? Was he noted as a proponent of women's lib?Life is so much more interesting lived with challenging equals rather than doormats. Men have been and are most stupid when opting for the latter.

  14. Philippa says:

    >Here we go, Douglas (the Browne quote):“for in the brain, which we term the seat of reason, there is not anything of moment more than I can discover in the crany of a beast. …Thus we are men, and we know not how ….'all the best with your work

  15. Philippa says:

    >Hello dear anonymous,I was very glad to get your comment and would love to respond. I think Shakespeare was something of a magpie. He understood (and was also a product of) the patriarchal system of his times, but he saw the dramatic opportunities to be drawn from the gross social imbalance between women and men. Women were seen (and the Puritans encouraged this) as giddy and prone to being swayed this way and that by the slightest wind. They were also believed to lead men into wrongdoing through their wantonness. This kind of suspicion of women was encouraged by the fact that inheritance depended on women's chastity – there were no DNA tests available then! But Shakespeare's wife is herself believed to have been very intelligent – and, being eight years older than he was, she was also probably the source of much wisdom for him. He also saw the opportunities to be gained by exploring women's buried powers. This is why he so often took away the mothers in his plays – freed from the constraining influence that mothers exercised in upper class society, his heroines (played by boys!) could blossom and really take the stage, exchanging witty repartee and also (as we saw with young Juliet last year) speaking wisdom. Wy don't you come to my class at the Lafayette Library, starting tonight at 7 in the Arts and Discovery room? Class Three will be all about women.warm wishesPhilippa

  16. Philippa says:

    >from Rachel in our Literary Society class:Hi Philippa –Thanks for a terrific election night class! It is so incredibly instructive to experience current-day politics juxtaposed against the Roman-Shakespearean context. During class, you'd asked me to locate the quote where Volumnia refers to her anger — we didn't quite get to it, though, so I thought I'd pass it on via email. (talking with Menenius after giving the senators a piece of her mind following Coriolanus' banishment; Menenius asks her, "You'll sup with me?")Volumnia:Anger's my meat; I sup upon myself,And so shall starve with feeding.4.2.50-51Such a concise and rich remark grounded in the overarching theme/metaphor of the "body politic" — the very act of eating is supposed to connect us with both the community and with the larger web of life. We dine in company, and we ingest life forms external to us. Her deep pathology of isolation and arrogance has her "eating herself up". A few lines earlier, she acknowledges that she wishes she could "unclog heart / Of what lies heavy to't." But she chooses to reject Menenius' offer of physical and emotional sustenance; and to substitute for her grief a lonely self-consuming feast of rage. Her comment also hearkens back to the "key-note" allegory that Menenius offers in the beginning of the play: "There was a time when all the body's members / Rebelled against the belly" 1.1.100+. The body's members learn that they cannot survive without their connection to the belly, the "storehouse and the shop of the whole body" — similarly Volumnia and her son invite emotional and psychic starvation by metaphorically refusing their place at the community table.For next week, did you want us to read "As You Like It"? Or just look over the sonnets?Thanks,Rachel

  17. Philippa says:

    >Dear Rachel,Thanks for this fabulous insight – the play just reeks of metaphors of bodies in revole, bodies corrupted, bodies eating up their own organs, starving in the very act of feeding (like Volumnia's ambition – it feeds her and starves her)Let's take a quick look at As You Like It next week, and then the sonnets. We could really run these classes every week of the year!Philippa

  18. Nancy says:

    >From Nancy in Literary Society class:How about Sonnet 20, or any other where the ambiguous play with gender roles may link to the 'women in Shakespeare's time' discussion?

  19. Philippa says:

    >Hello Nancy,This is a great idea! I've spent the morning sitting in Peets and preparing material for the class – I'll post the other sonnets once I have finalized the material. But for now, I'll paste sonnet 20 hereSonnet 20A woman's face with Nature's own hand painted 
Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion; 
A woman's gentle heart, but not acquainted 
With shifting change, as is false women's fashion;
An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth; 
A man in hue, all 'hues' in his controlling,
Much steals men's eyes and women's souls amazeth.
And for a woman wert thou first created; 
Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting,
And by addition me of thee defeated, 
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
But since she prick'd thee out for women's pleasure,
Mine be thy love and thy love's use their treasure.

  20. Philippa says:

    >SONNETS FOR 11/8 LITERARY SOCIETYSonnet 116Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark 
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks 
Within his bending sickle's compass come: 
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, 
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
 If this be error and upon me proved,
 I never writ, nor no man ever loved.Sonnet 73That time of year thou mayst in me beholdWhen yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.In me thou seest the twilight of such dayAs after sunset fadest in the west,Which by and by black night doth take away,Death ‘s second self, that seals up all in rest.In me thou seeest the glowing of such fire,That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,As the death-bed whereon it must expire,Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by. This thou perceiv’st which makes thy love more strong, To love that well which thou must leave ere long:Sonnet 18Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?Thou art more lovely and more temperate. 
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, 
And summer's lease hath all too short a date. 
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines, 
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd; 
And every fair from fair sometime declines, 
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd; 
But thy eternal summer shall not fade 
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st; 
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade, 
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st: 
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, 
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee. Sonnet 20A woman's face with Nature's own hand painted 
Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion; 
A woman's gentle heart, but not acquainted 
With shifting change, as is false women's fashion;
An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth; 
A man in hue, all 'hues' in his controlling,
Much steals men's eyes and women's souls amazeth.
And for a woman wert thou first created; 
Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting,
And by addition me of thee defeated, 
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
But since she prick'd thee out for women's pleasure,
Mine be thy love and thy love's use their treasure.

  21. Philippa says:

    >1st TWO SONNETS FOR 11/8 LITERARY SOCIETYSonnet 116Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark 
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks 
Within his bending sickle's compass come: 
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, 
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
 If this be error and upon me proved,
 I never writ, nor no man ever loved.Sonnet 73That time of year thou mayst in me beholdWhen yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.In me thou seest the twilight of such dayAs after sunset fadest in the west,Which by and by black night doth take away,Death ‘s second self, that seals up all in rest.In me thou seeest the glowing of such fire,That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,As the death-bed whereon it must expire,Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by. This thou perceiv’st which makes thy love more strong, To love that well which thou must leave ere long:

  22. Philippa says:

    >2nd TWO SONNETS FOR LITERARY SOCIETY (THE OTHER POST WAS TOO LONG IF I ENCLOSED ALL FOUR!)Sonnet 18Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?Thou art more lovely and more temperate. 
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, 
And summer's lease hath all too short a date. 
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines, 
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd; 
And every fair from fair sometime declines, 
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd; 
But thy eternal summer shall not fade 
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st; 
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade, 
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st: 
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, 
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee. Sonnet 20A woman's face with Nature's own hand painted 
Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion; 
A woman's gentle heart, but not acquainted 
With shifting change, as is false women's fashion;
An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth; 
A man in hue, all 'hues' in his controlling,
Much steals men's eyes and women's souls amazeth.
And for a woman wert thou first created; 
Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting,
And by addition me of thee defeated, 
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
But since she prick'd thee out for women's pleasure,
Mine be thy love and thy love's use their treasure.

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