Producer: Kenneth Branagh, David Parfitt
Director: Kenneth Branagh
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING/Intro by Russell Baker
Tonight we go to Italy, land of warlike men, passionate women and sensuous delights.
Our stars are Kenneth Branagh -- the distinguished actor, director, producer -- and his equally distinguished wife, the Academy-Award-winning actress Emma Thompson.
For the script we also have a pretty fair writer, though he hasn't won an Academy Award -- William Shakespeare.
And -- surprisingly in a cast packed with British Shakespearean actors -- three major roles will be played by performers familiar to American moviegoers: Denzel Washington, Michael Keaton, and Keanu Reeves.
Our show is one of Shakespeare's most joyous and silliest comedies. There is a war without casualties, a villain without a cause and a heroine named Hero. In this light-hearted spirit Kenneth Branagh's cameras treat us to an opening spectacle Shakepeare couldn't possibly have staged in the tiny Globe Theatre -- a mass bathing scene.
Now, William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING/Extro by Russell Baker
It's fascinating to see Shakespeare brush aside story-telling conventions in Much Ado About Nothing.
For instance, you're probably wondering what's behind the villainy of Don John that makes him such a rotten human being. The answer is, there's nothing behind it. Shakespeare needed a deep-dyed villain for plot purposes, so he simply set one down on stage -- a wooden villain, as it were -- and gave him a mane. No playwright nowadays would be allowed to get away with such cavalier indifference to convention.
He'd have to explore psychology, history and motivation and, in the process, probably lose track of the comedy.
Shakespeare also pays little attention to plausibility. When Claudio denounces Hero at the altar, for instance, we want to say, Oh come on now.
In that court where everybody knows everybody else and even bathes together, for heaven's sake, is it conceivable that a dozen witnesses didn't know what Hero was really doing at the time of the window scene?
Would any sensible man of the world really believe Hero died of humiliation?
Shakespeare serenely ignores all these silly questions that bother us, and gets away with it, I think, because he instinctively knows that silliness is at the heart of comedy.
And more than that, he knows that worrying too much about the conventions might result in just another conventional play destined to close next week.
By 1999, Much Ado About Nothing will have been running four hundred years.
For Masterpiece Theatre, I'm Russell Baker. Goodnight.
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