Much Ado About Something

I went to the theatre yesterday.

We are fortunate to live within a fairly short drive of two world-class theatre festivals, and we try to see a few plays every summer. Yesterday we drove out to see a production of Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing.

This is one of my favourite plays. In fact, I wrote a book about it, which I’ll talk about later. The interplay between Beatrice and Benedick brings to mind the arguing and sparring between Elizabeth and Darcy, and the thwarted insta-love between Hero and Claudio presages that between Jane and Bingley.

I’m certainly not the first person to have noticed this, and more scholarly pens than mine have written extensively on how Jane Austen might well have been influenced by Shakespeare when she wrote Pride and Prejudice. WSFF (William Shakespeare Fan Fiction), perhaps!

The production we saw was, for the most part, fabulous. The acting was terrific, the set and costumes gorgeous, and it was full of motion and physical humour that kept the audience laughing. But there was something that bothered me. The directors decided that Shakespeare’s words weren’t sufficient, and included two lengthy segments of newly written text. The first of these passages was a prologue that (to my untutored ears) added nothing at all to the play. The second was more problematic for me.

For those unfamiliar with the play, Claudio and Hero are engaged (the insta-love bit), but Evil Villain Don John convinces Claudio that Hero was cavorting with another man, and Claudio accuses her of this at the wedding. Hero falls down in a faint, and everyone thinks she is dead. After the truth comes out, that she was innocent, Hero’s father insists that to atone for his false accusation, Claudio marry another woman. This woman happens to actually be Hero (surprise—she’s alive), and everyone lives happily ever after.


This is troublesome to modern audiences. Claudio had just disgraced the woman he was supposed to love, and in a shocking and public manner. It’s bad enough that he believed the bad guy’s lies and never actually tried to ask Hero for her side of the story, but then he destroys her reputation in front of the whole community. And Hero still wants to marry him? This doesn’t sit well with modern sensibilities.

It also didn’t sit well with the director, hence the newly added lines at this point in the play. Here, Hero took centre stage, and took Claudio to task, not for his public humiliation of her, but for prizing her virginity over her value as a person. And Claudio’s new speeches involved him grovelling a lot and then confessing that he’s not nearly good enough for Hero and that he doesn’t deserve someone as good as her, but he’ll marry her anyway.

Now, I’m fine with rethinking the classics. I’m happy with tweaking storylines and recasting them in different lights. But I’m not sure I’m so fine with essentially changing a significant part of a classic play to line it up with what we think Shakespeare ought to have written. It might start as a bit of editing to make something more palatable, but when does this “editing” stop? Is it just a bit of fun, or the start of a slippery slope? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

For my part, if I’m not happy with how something ends, I’ll rewrite it completely, and not attribute my imaginings to the inspiration of my work. And that’s what I did. I mentioned above that I love Much Ado so much, I’d written a book based on it.

Much Ado in Meryton is a P&P variation that borrows heavily from The Bard. Lizzy and Darcy spar as vigorously as Beatrice and Benedick, and their friends resort to the same trickery as in Shakespeare’s play to get them to be nice to each other. But the bad guy is still the bad guy, and Jane and Bingley won’t have an easy time of it. That’s the joy of writing fan fiction and “inspired-by” stories. I can make things work out the way I think they should.

But I’m not messing with The Bard.

Here, for your enjoyment, is a passage from Much Ado in Meryton, where Lizzy and Darcy begin their merry war of words.


Bingley rolled his eyes, a habit Darcy had not been able to rid him of. “You are a bore indeed! I would not be as fastidious as you are for a kingdom. I have never met with so many pleasant girls in my life, and there are several of them who are uncommonly pretty.”

Perhaps there was something in Bingley’s statement, but Darcy was now set against the very idea. It was bad enough that he would have to dance with Miss Bingley later. “You,” he said at last, “were dancing with the only handsome girl in the room.”

“Oh, she is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld!” Bingley cried. Indeed, thought Darcy, not since the last ball we attended in London. Bingley was somewhat lacking in constancy. But he said nothing, and Bingley continued. “But there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty, and, I dare say, very agreeable. Her name, I believe, is Elizabeth. Do let me ask Miss Bennet to introduce you.”

Heavens! Not another Bennet sister. Was there no end to them? “Which do you mean?” he asked. He turned around and saw none other than that country girl who had turned up her nose at him earlier. A wave of anger rippled through him. That impertinent chit must learn her place. He looked again. She was sitting with a friend—Miss Lucas, if he recalled—but it was most assuredly her. Her! One of the Bennet girls. This was most unpleasant. His jaw grew tight again.

He looked at her for so long that he caught her eye, and in that moment that she returned his frank gaze, he sensed her sneer once more. He withdrew his eye and said with all the ice he could muster, “She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me.” Had she heard him? He certainly hoped so. “I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You are wasting your time with me.”

Bingley gave another great roll of his eyes and stalked off to return to Miss Bennet and her friends, and Darcy shifted his weight, the better to withstand another tedious country dance. Then, to his side, he caught a flash of motion as the annoying Bennet sister rose from her chair and walked towards him.

She stopped in her path and pivoted to glare at him directly. Her dark eyes flashed and her chin thrust forward as she scrutinised him in the manner of a distasteful piece of meat left out in the sun for too long. Then she stated in clipped syllables, “How fortunate it is that I have no interest in dancing with you. Any lady of quality must have her standards, and I only dance with gentlemen. And you, sir, despite your airs and wealth, are no gentleman.” With which, she turned her back on him and melted into the crowd, her friend scurrying behind her.

Miss Elizabeth Bennet, so it seemed, had just declared war.

You can read the rest of the tale, and find out what happens with Jane and Bingley, through your favourite on-line bookseller:

14 responses to “Much Ado About Something”

  1. Alice Spaulding Taylor McVeigh Avatar

    Absolutely agree. In fact I think productions, as we say in the UK, should “do what they say on the tin”. It’s immoral, illegal and probably fattening to shove into Shakespeare – widely acknowledged as the greatest writer to have ever lived – words scribbled by somebody – anybody – else. MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING should never be tampered with. The poor guy is rotating madly in his grave at the very thought!!! You can put it in any period, country or universe you like, and act it in whatever accent you like, but to put in new text is beyond the pale. Which might sound funny from people who write Austen-inspired novels, but we don’t call our books PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen and publish them as such. If I walked in on a MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING and found new text inserted, I’d have walked right out again. Ouch!!!

    1. Riana Everly Avatar

      It really was a pity, because the rest of the production was so good.
      I think that Fan Fic writers–who do it deliberately and openly–start with an absolute respect for the original text. We might change it in our stories, and add or subtract characters, and give them all very different paths, but at the base of it all, we have an absolute respect for the original and would never claim our own words as those of the author.

  2. Glynis Avatar

    I totally agree! If they didn’t want to call it something else they should have at least billed it as ‘based on Much Ado About Nothing’ that way theatre goers would not expect it to adhere to the original exactly.
    I love the banter between ODC in your book! Yet another one due for a reread!

    1. Riana Everly Avatar

      Thanks for your lovely comments about my book.
      I agree with you – I clearly have no problem tinkering with the classics, but I always claim full responsibility for any damage!

  3. Regina Jeffers Avatar

    Much Ado About Nothing has always been one of my favs, and I often have D & E repeating some of the lines within my stories. I agree with those above. What kind of lesson did Claudio learn? He is supposed to be young and impetuous. Our stories are called “variations” for a reason. One someone asks me to describe JAFF, I always say, the author changes one or more aspects of the story and then must find his/her way to the same conclusion.

    1. Riana Everly Avatar

      This is part of what bothered me about the additions to the play. One the one hand, they were completely superfluous, but on the other, they Bowlderised the play. It was a bit insulting to assume the audience couldn’t make up our own minds about what happens next with Claudio and Hero.

  4. Ginna Avatar

    They’re doing it to Roald Dahl and Dr. Seuss, too.

    1. Riana Everly Avatar

      And Agatha Christie and Georgette Heyer… I’m trying not to get too political, but I do wish we would give more credit to people who read and enjoy art when it comes to uncomfortable material.

  5. cindie snyder Avatar
    cindie snyder

    Loved your post! I agree some things should be left in their original form, no new text! I wonder what Shakespeare would think? I loved the excerpt! Lizzy and Darcy always make for good plot material!lol

    1. Riana Everly Avatar

      I definitely had fun pitching up the squabble between Lizzy and Darcy. And, of course, the heightened antagonism made their reconciliation all that much sweeter! I hope you enjoy this story.

  6. jeanstillman Avatar

    I adore classics! And I have no problem with a variation of any one of them, as long as it is forewarned as a variation. I have read read tons of variations to Pride and Prejudice and love what all of you very gifted writers do to tweak my favorite of the classics!

    1. Riana Everly Avatar

      I love variations too. It’s such fun seeing how different paths and different circumstances can lead the characters along. But as you say, don’t try to pretend that a variation is “fixing” the original.

  7. Kirstin Odegaard Avatar

    You raise a great topic. I see your point about not wanting to change the words of great literature, but I also feel with the director that we have to stop letting sexism dangle without comment. Casual sexism left unremarked gives the message to our daughters–and sons–that it’s okay, best left ignored, permissible because it’s in the past and Shakespeare was a great writer. I’ve yet to see a remake of Taming of the Shrew that does not leave me feeling deeply uncomfortable. Maybe the director’s solution wasn’t best. What do you think we should do instead? We can’t do nothing–because that’s how we reproduce the society we already have.

    1. Riana Everly Avatar

      You raise some excellent points, and we’ve been talking about this at home. Shrew is hugely problematic, I agree. I’ve seen versions where Kate makes her final speech while giving a big “As if” wink to the audience, and I’ve seen a version where she’s in tears. I think a lot can be done with physical stage business, props, expression and emotion, etc, that doesn’t involve changing the text.
      Much Ado is interesting because you’ve got the juxtaposition of these two couples, and Beatrice is anything but a meek and mild character. And despite the sweet and sappy insta-love between Hero and Claudio, you know that Beatrice and Benedick will ultimately have the happier marriage. And that, I think, is part of what the play is about.
      Thanks for raising some excellent points.

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