Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing

Discussion in 'TV & Media' started by Chris3123, Nov 30, 2012.

  1. stj

    stj Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2006
    Location:
    the real world
    The question then is whether modern dress is a genuine modernization, i.e., a meaningful one? This question applies to Shakespeare's supposed modernization as well, of course. Today we have a great deal of readily available scholarship about past costumes (and possibly a widespread hostility towards identifying with superficially different stage characters.) I still suspect that simple ignorance played a large part in modern costuming in the Elizabethan/Jacobean theater. Costumes cost money.

    If you substitute "mundane" for "modern" in the All's Well quote, the meaning comes out quite clearly. The character is arguing for belief in magic/religion, an attitude that was becoming associated in some circles with the past. The response is confused in this excerpt. What does "it" refer to? Does "rare" have another meaning in that period?

    The question is how clearly they realized that the past was different, including things like daily dress and, more to the point, social customs. I suspect that new discoveries, such as the existence of the New World and technologies, and new religions were the main reasons for regarding their world as "latter times." But these novelties could be regarded as an overlay on a timeless human nature, the false projection of today's life into the changeless past. There are people who still think that way today.

    Rural society comprised largely of illiterates probably felt this? The realization that the past is gone is not at all the same thing as a genuine grasp of the fact that the past was different, and tomorrow will be different. Quite often it seems as though the official adulation of Shakespeare is about enshrining the principle of timelessness to society, which is merely the inevitable expression of eternal human nature.

    Again, is it so certain the audience knew it was an anachronism? In what sense is an anachronism a modernization? Much Ado About Nothing is not a modern story. By your report it is not modernized in any meaningful way. The characters are just dressed well (but cheaply.) I think it is a real question whether anything in Shakespeare shows any deep understanding of how society was changing. Really a lot of Shakespeare seems to turn away from the world, to some dreamscape where the emotions run riot, given names, but not really people.

    Shakespeare's use of contemporary dress seems to me likely to have been exactly the same thing: An old fashioned story done on the cheap, no fancy costumes only some stinking nerds care about. And this doesn't matter, to people like that, because there's not really anything about the past that is fundamentally different. The past doesn't need commonplace markers like proper costumes. The social customs of the past don't change the drama, because they, like the past as a whole, isn't fundamentally different. I suppose that I have learned from this exchange that it is entirely possible that Shakespeare's use of modern dress was a problematic as modern dress in Shakespeare today. Thanks for the enlightenment!
     
  2. Captain Craig

    Captain Craig Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Dec 7, 2003
    Location:
    Nashville,TN
    Went after work and saw this at the Belcourt Theater in Nashville's Midtown yesterday. As an Indie/Retro theater they do serve a small selection of beers/wine so I had myself a brew an sat down for Much Ado About Nothing.

    I throughly enjoyed it and while I know I've seen this material covered before I've never had as much fun with it. It's not going to be for everyone and it's not going to make a killing over it's limited run but this labor of love for Whedon and the Gang gets two big thumbs up from me!!
     
  3. RoJoHen

    RoJoHen Awesome Premium Member

    Joined:
    Apr 14, 2000
    Location:
    QC, IL, USA
    Not playing anywhere near me, so that's a bummer.
     
  4. Sci

    Sci Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Mar 2, 2002
    Location:
    Montgomery County, State of Maryland
    An important thing to consider in evaluating what the fact that the Elizabethan/Jacobean theatre used contemporary dress for historical characters, and other anachronisms:

    Theatre at this point did not have a tradition of Realism/Naturalism. There was no sense that the stage should try to accurately re-create real life. Sets, costumes, staging, characterizations -- these facets of the theatrical experience were not designed in Shakespeare's era to be an accurate reproduction of the physical world, any more than music is meant to be an accurate reproduction of human speech or of the aural world.

    So the idea that there would have been any need or obligation to use period accurate dress, or to refer to accurate technology, for historical plays, just would not have occurred to them.
     
  5. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2001
    ^And of course they didn't even have sets in Shakespeare's day -- just the bare stage, with dialogue establishing the setting (e.g. "This castle hath a pleasant seat").
     
  6. stj

    stj Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2006
    Location:
    the real world
    I find this more plausible than the certainty that Shakespeare was modernizing the stories by setting them in contemporary dress. But I have been authoritatively assured that this was so. Further, the reverence for Shakespeare is most commonly held to be precisely his realism about humanity, albeit of a timeless variety. I don't actually believe in a timeless humanity, so the reverence is confusing.

    Notions of realism or naturalism, not our modern ones of course, but something ancestral to it was the trend of the whole period. In some respects the Elizabethan stage was a naturalistic revulsion against the morality play. At this time, prose dialogue instead of poetry was cutting edge naturalism. Moving away from stylized gestures, makeup and costuming to contemporary dress was a minor part of this perhaps.
     
  7. Sci

    Sci Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Mar 2, 2002
    Location:
    Montgomery County, State of Maryland
    I suppose one might argue that the effect of using contemporary garb was to "modernize" historical characters, even if this was not the intent. But I think it's far more plausible to presume that theatrical companies of the era just didn't put that much thought into it one way or the other, given their lack of a Realist/Naturalist tradition. They just did not care about anachronisms.

    Which, either way, does make the presence of anachronisms appropriate for a Shakespeare adaptation set in modern times. These anachronisms might not have registered as such for an Elizabethan audience, but they were certainly present, and it seems quite appropriate that we can encounter anachronisms our current productions, if only to "mirror" the anachronisms present in the original productions.

    *shrugs* I like Shakespeare a lot; I think he was a great writer with amazing insights into humanity. I also think he was a man of his age, and that the prejudices of his era clearly show in his work. I also think he was a popular entertainer who lived in a dictatorial police state, and that sometimes his works functioned as political propaganda.

    I think that Shakespeare may be an amazing writer, but that we in the English-speaking world have a habit of setting him up on a pedestal and engaging in "Bardolotry." Yes, this is the man who wrote the sophisticated characters of Hamlet and Macbeth; this is also the man who created the ridiculous cartoon characters of Pistol, Nym, and Bardolph from Henry V, whose sexism shines throughout The Taming of the Shrew, whose idea of a typical working-class man can be seen in The Tempest's Stephano or in The Winter's Tale's Clown and Autolycus. The same man who wrote "To be or not to be" was not above dirty jokes about the word "cunt" in Henry V, or above absurd physical comedy in Midsummer Night's Dream.

    Shakespeare was amazing, but he wasn't this perfect, idealized writer people think of him as. Were he alive today, the guy would probably be working in TV or movies, making stuff that alternates between easy laughs and sophistication.... sort of like Joss Whedon.
     
  8. stj

    stj Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2006
    Location:
    the real world
    Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, by Harold Bloom is the sort of official context I'm thinking about. With the number of books with Bloom's name on them, I don't think he can be dismissed as a crank. And this "Bardolatry" long precedes us. Henry James wrote The Birthplace long ago.
    Esthetically speaking, Shakespeare is the equivalent of the flag, Mom and apple pie. Only the perverse and tasteless are less than enthusiastic.

    I think it's ironic that the official status assigned to Shakespeare seems to interfere with a genuine appreciation of his comedies. Comedy is always underrated but in Shakespeare the need to falsely elevate the tragedies and histories leads this to near criminal underestimation of his remarkable range and depth in the comedies.

    However, I do not think any contemporary figure can be compared with Shakespeare. An essential aspect of Shakespeare is not his stagecraft or witty dialogue or blank verse, but his borrowing. Modern notions about originality forbid anyone to operate as Shakespeare did. Shakespeare appears to me to have made his real money as a partner in a theater. Certainly no other playwright seems to have been able to make himself rich, although a couple, Marlowe and Kyd managed to make themselves dead. Shakespeare was the kind of man who thrived in a despotism. I think that the kind of man he was also comes out in his plays.

    PS It occurred to me that while you appreciate the sophisticated character of Macbeth, I can't forget that the real Macbeth was nothing like that, that in fact the real Macbeth ruled for about seventeen years. Incidentally, the second season of the Canadian series Slings & Arrows covers the production of Macbeth, and has some interesting things to say. The comments of the Nigerian janitor to the play's director are especially provocative. Also, buried amongst the hugger-mugger in Anonymous is a set piece scene about the play Henry V, which dramatizes the excitement or joy of enthralling an audience. (As you know, any resemblance to any genuine human beings in Anonymous is more or less accidental.)