Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sigh No More

During some downtime at rehearsal for a play I'm in, I got to talking with a friend about Shakespeare. We talked about our favorite plays--mine is Twelfth Night--hers is a tie between Henry the Fifth and Much Ado About Nothing. In the middle of our painting a set, she stopped what she was doing and recited the following:
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into Hey nonny, nonny!
It's from "Much Ado About Nothing", and appears in the opening scene for the 1993 version directed by Kenneth Branagh. I agree with my friend that it's probably one of the most beautiful opening scenes of a film I have ever seen.

The scene suggests a feeling of ease and merriment, without a care in the world. It's funny because, although it's very pretty and all, it's really about how dishonest and flighty men can be, and that women shouldn't dwell on it so much. Women are instructed to remain "blithe and bonny", to dismiss the "dumps so dull and heavy", and to replace "woe" with more light and cheerful feelings. To me, the song is like an inverted message in "Comedy of Errors", when Adriana tells Antipholus that she understands men's expected behavior, in regards to adultery. Here, it is a piece of advice to women on the same subject: It's a sort of surrender, that boys will be boys, and that a woman cannot, nor should not, do anything about it. I told my friend about this and she agreed, expanding a bit more about Beatrice's relationship with Benedick. 

From what I gathered when I talked to her, Beatrice is like Kate, because they are somewhat strong women who have a command of language, often using their words to challenge the wits of men--Benedick and Petrucchio respectively. My friend said that these women are commonly mistaken for feminists, and that they cannot be labeled as such, because they betray themselves in the pursuit of love. My friend says that the reason why Beatrice and Kate are the way they are, is because their experiences in life have hardened them. For a good example of a feminist in Shakespearean Literature, she told me to watch out for Portia in "Merchant of Venice", and I will. I'm curious to see if Shakespeare has alleviated his misogyny, and has written a more respectable female character.

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