(A friend of mine sends me these beautiful pictures. I don't know their origin. If anyone claims ownership, drop me an email and I'll post her or his name here)
It is becoming ever clearer that the four of plays “Much Ado About Nothing”, “MSND”, “The Tempest” and “Romeo and Juliet” are somehow interconnected in many ways. They can all be said to comprise some combination of fathers, fiancées, friars or foundlings, if foundling is an appropriate word to describe both the changeling Indian baby in “Midsummer Night’s Dream” and Caliban in “The Tempest”. It was the best I could do to keep the alliteration going!
We all know about Lord Capulet and Egeus. In “Much Ado About Nothing” we have been presented with another strict father, Leonato. His strictness is not highlighted by his insistence on a choice of husband for Hero, since she is an overly compliant and reticent daughter compared to Juliet and Hermia. She offers no resistance whatsoever. Rather his strictness is illustrated in his unwillingness to believe that Hero is innocent of the accusation against her honor. This clearly associates him with that band of cold, harsh, disciplinarian fathers. Once Leonato is led to believe that Hero’s honor is besmirched, he does not question the truth of this but says she is “foul-tainted flesh” and believes death is the best thing for her. Prospero, in The Tempest, is somewhat controlling, too, manipulating Miranda and arbitrarily demanding that Ferdinand should move logs just because he has the power to wield and make demands. Well, I do not want to get ahead of next week’s discussion. But you can see a pattern.
So when fathers make life difficult for their daughters we need a friar to come to the rescue. Like Friar Laurence in “Romeo and Juliet”, Friar Francis comes to the aid of the distressed Hero in “Much Ado About Nothing”. The appearance of friars in these plays makes one wonder how much Shakespeare was at risk of being censored since the Catholic monasteries had been dissolved in Henry VIII’s reign and Franciscan monks were not politically in favor. Both friars play a similar role summed up by Friar Laurence, when he says, “Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied/And vice sometime by action dignified.” They both try by irregular and unorthodox methods to make good come of evil. They see innocence where others do not. The relative success they each have is determined by the genre of the play they each appear in.
Fiancées? Well they abound in all the plays: Romeo and Juliet, Hermia and Lysander, Helena and Demetrius, Hero and Claudio, Beatrice and Benedick and Miranda and Ferdinand. Everything eventually ends well for all the couples except Romeo and Juliet. Hopefully those who will enjoy a wedding will have experienced some life lessons.
Finally, we come to the foundlings. In “Midsummer Night’s Dream” the Indian changeling boy represents a domestic power struggle between Oberon and Titania. Caliban in “The Tempest” is often thought to be representative of native people in a land colonized by others. So he could be considered symbolic of a power struggle between indigenous people and invading colonizing forces. In any case, the presence of both these characters leads to many questions and much discussion.
Here is another interesting connection that I’ve just “discovered” just by thinking about the 4 plays: Shakespeare gave his contemporary audience an inside joke when he has Dogberry say, "O that I had been writ down an ass." The actor Will Kempe, who played Dogberry in “Much Ado About Nothing” had actually already "been writ down an ass" since it was he who played the role of Bottom in “Midsummer Night's Dream”. He literally spoke lines written for an ass in that play…
These are a few of my thoughts regarding the interconnectedness of four of Shakespeare’s plays I read in 2015. Do you see other connections and parallels? Please join the conversation if you wish to do so..