Much Ado About Nothing (2015)

Much Ado About Nothing (2015)

Jun 5-9, 2015

Much Ado About Nothing (2015)

"I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me." —Act 1, Scene 1
Romantic, raucous and razor-sharp, the Hamlet of Shakespeare comedies strikes hilarious chords even as it reveals timeless truths about love, change and acceptance. The men have returned victorious from war, but the merry sparring — and sparks — between Benedick the stubborn bachelor and self-assured Beatrice have just begun. A war of weapons followed by a witty war of words, Much Ado balances ingeniously on the knife edge between comedy and tragedy.
Directed by Jim Helsinger, producing artistic director, Orlando Shakespeare Festival
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Director's Notes

So says Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare’s celebration of love. At the top of the story, the war is over. The troops are coming home and young men and women are beginning to think of love and marriage. We are in romantic Sicily, in the home and gardens of Leonato—sun-drenched and warm, full of romance and wine.

The dark and light sides of romance are seen throughout the play: the “trick” played on Beatrice and Benedick is full of fun and delight, but the one played on claudio and Hero has dark, tragic results. While we delight in the “warring love” of Beatrice and Benedick, their gibes, cuts, verbal thrusts and parries, the play is also full of secrets, spying, masks and mischief.

For this production, we have transported the play to the Victorian 1840s, the time of the Brontë sisters’ Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, Charles Dickens and Alexandre Dumas. in this age, love has joyful triumphs but it is also entwined with drama and secrets that must come to light.

Shakespeare’s morals are never spelled out for us, but to me Much Ado says that when you are in love, misunderstanding will follow, so trust and forgive each other. the alternative is loneliness.

“Therefore play, music! Prince, thou art sad; get thee a wife, get thee a wife!”
— Act 5, Scene 4

—Jim Helsinger, director


Don Pedro has been victorious in battle against his illegitimate brother Don John, and arrives at the home of Leonato with his soldiers and his defeated brother. Claudio reveals his love for Hero, Leonato’s only daughter, and Don Pedro offers to speak to Hero on Claudio’s behalf. Don John hears of this and plans to use the information to seek revenge against his brother.
During a masquerade, Don John convinces Claudio that Don Pedro has wooed Hero for himself. Don Pedro clears up this confusion and Hero accepts Claudio’s proposal of marriage. Don Pedro concocts a plot to bring Beatrice and Benedick together. Benedick overhears Don Pedro, Claudio and Leonato speaking very loudly about beatrice’s unrequited love for him. benedick vows to change his affections and fall in love with beatrice.
Meanwhile, Hero allows Beatrice to overhear a conversation where she relates Benedick’s love for her. Alone, Beatrice promises to return his affection. Don John tells Claudio that Hero has been unfaithful. Claudio refuses to believe him and Don John offers to show him Hero in the act. Don John’s henchmen assist in the “bed trick,” where one of them lies with Hero’s maid. They brag loudly about the success of the trick and are arrested.
Claudio believes Don John’s trick and humiliates Hero by exposing her infidelity at the wedding. Confident in her cousin’s innocence, Beatrice convinces Leonato to pretend that Hero has died from shock to bring out the truth.
Don John’s henchmen’s confessions reveal his plot. Claudio is distraught to learn that Hero was innocent and laments her death. Leonato asks Claudio to marry an unnamed niece, who happens to look a lot like Hero. At the wedding, the bride is revealed to be Hero, alive and well. Beatrice and Benedick publicly declare their love for one another.
—Sarah Johnson, dramaturg

In its very title, Much Ado About Nothing explores the nature of misunderstanding and the power of misrepresentation. The word “nothing” would carry multiple meanings for an Elizabethan audience, all of them relevant to the story. Depending on which meaning you focus on, the title can highlight very different aspects of the play.

Our contemporary understanding of “nothing” seems to dismiss the seriousness of the story, suggesting the characters are making a big deal out of nothing. But in Elizabethan England, the word would have been pronounced, “noting,” giving it a double meaning. it could mean to notice something or someone, similar to the modern phrase, “take note.” Noting also was used to mean rumor or gossip, a key plot device in the play. Most lost to contemporary speakers of english was the use of “nothing” as a bawdy euphemism for a woman’s privates. This layered meaning allows the title to simultaneously claim that the characters are making a fuss over nothing, observations, rumors and relations between the genders.

Shakespeare often relied on outside sources for the plots of his plays, and Much Ado About Nothing is no exception. Claudio and Hero’s storyline most likely was drawn from both an italian poem and novella. Beatrice and Benedick’s romance, however, appears to be an entirely Shakespearean invention. This comedic sparring of wits and reversal from rivalry to romance is a compelling addition to a story that has brought audiences back to this play over the centuries.

While traditionally considered a comedy, Much Ado About Nothing uses its parallel storylines of the two sets of lovers to find balance between the dramatic and the comedic. Claudio and Hero’s story is one of deception and misunderstanding that nearly leads to tragedy, while Beatrice and Benedick’s uses the same tools for comedy and mischief. These two narratives foil each other and show how quickly rumors and falsehoods spoken in jest can turn to humiliation and heartbreak. The play is often considered one of Shakespeare’s finest comedies precisely because of its position on the knife’s edge between comedy and tragedy.

The “merry war” between Beatrice and Benedick comes on the heels of an actual war, fought with weapons instead of words. Shakespeare’s deft handling of genre in this play leaves us in a delightful comedy always treading on the edge of tragedy.

—Sarah Johnson, dramaturg


Casey Andree


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Elise Collins

Ensemble / Understudy

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Sean Scrutchins*

Friar Francis

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