Monday, July 14, 2008

Much Ado About the TSI

Today, at the Folger Teaching Institute, we began our discussion and study of Much Ado About Nothing. I first read it a couple of weeks ago, and finished a re-read this morning on the train. While I'm still a bit non-plussed about Shakespearean comedies, I must say that I enjoyed it quite a bit more than Shrew. As someone in our Socratic seminar said today, in this one, at least one couple (Benedict and Beatrice) actually seem like they are in love, and, unlike in Taming, it is the man who is (slightly) tamed, and not the woman.

I also, for some reason, really enjoyed having a villian. I guess because it reminded me of Shakespearean tragedy, which I love. Even though the Bastard John is a pretty minor character, he reminded me a lot of Iago and a bit of Claudius; I love someone to root against. Because I don't know enough Shakespearean comedies, I don't know if having a comedic villian is a common entity, and it's something I hope we explore a bit throughout the week.

The line between tragedy and comedy is something that Jay Halio spoke of in his lecture that opened the week. I was especially intrigued by the connections between Much Ado and Romeo and Juliet - the Friar with that same plan of faking death, the use of masquing as a gateway to love, an important balcony scene, etc. - but Romeo flips from a comedy to a tragedy with the death of Mercutio. But Halio's point that Much Ado could have easily been a tragedy with just a little bit of tweaking (Hero's faked death could have gone wrong, for example) was an intriguing one.

Our discussion afterwards in small groups was really intriguing. Most memorable was the discussion of the title. "Nothing" works on its own, as in, people tend to make too much of a big deal out of nothing. However, "Thing" was pretty much a universal word for a woman's private part, so that adds a new meaning to the title. In addition, "Nothing" is a pun on the word "Knotting," which, during Shakespeare's time, at least in the play Othello, is a euphemism for sex. So, our moderator queried whether the play's title actually meant Much Ado About Fucking. We chuckled about that for a while.

We were also given a lot of time today to research. Because I was shocked in how poorly Lear was treated by his daughters - and partly because my own grandmother passed away a couple of years ago of Alzheimer's Disease, which sprung up from dimentia - I was interested the perceptions of old age by people during the time of Shakespeare. Therefore, I have been searching for primary sources in the Folger Library, and it's been pretty interesting. My research is taking me in the general direction of the four humors that people beleived in during this time, and their belief that growing old caused a buildup of melancholy. I'm not yet sure how I'm going to relate it back to Lear, but the paper isn't do for another week or so.

It was more acting in the afternoon, as our instructor divided the class into two and we banged out how we would play Hastings' death scene in Richard III. I played Hastings. Unfortunately, we ran out of time, but we got out on time at 5pm, meaning I made the 5:20 MARC train back to Baltimore and have had a productive evening with a trip to the gym and the grocery store.


Mei said...

Thank you SO MUCH for posting about the TSI--I'm learning just from your comments!

Did you discuss Dogberry at all? His scenes always seem to bring the play to a screeching halt for me.

jackie said...

I'm in total agreement with mei! I love hearing about what you're learning there. I've been thinking about Lear a lot lately-- have you ever read "A Thousand Acres"?