Much Ado is one of the most brilliantly crafted works in the English language. When I have taught Shakespeare to drama students I have used Much Ado as an example of how accomplished Shakespeare had become by 1598–99 as a dramatist, and I am very keen to express this theatrically.
I am also keen to dispel what a I regard as an academic canard that Beatrice and Benedick are witty people who meet wittily, argue wittily, fall in love wittily, and get married wittily at the end; my experience of watching the play, of playing Benedick, and of directing it once before tells me this is not what Shakespeare presents on the stage, and that to do so is to deny the very different journeys those two characters go on.
Much Ado seems to me to be a play about how we know things and how we can be deceived when we use our faculties too glibly, too obviously. It tells us as much about the serious things in daily life as any of the tragedies. Although hilariously funny, it has a dark underbelly and a suggestion of et in arcadia, ego, while still allowing the audience the confidence that the lunacies of a Dogberry will make everything all right in the end.
I have set the play in post-World War II England, with the Leonato household being an English country house and Don Pedro’s returning army, American officers. I think this will allow for a society affected by, but not destroyed by war, and also provide an opportunity to explore the clash of two friendly, allied cultures. It will also be a great period for the dance scene, with a vivid mix of staid English and vibrant American music.
In Much Ado, Shakespeare allows neither the characters nor the audience to relax. Just when you think you are going to be presented with one thing, you get another; just as the characters think they know where they stand, the rug is pulled out from under them. He is a mercurial writer, and it requires deftness, fleetness of thought and serious wit to carry this play off. I really look forward to trying that at the Folger with an audience who expect no less from their Shakespeare.