Okay, so I used to be intimidated by Shakespeare. I had a relatively hard time with the language while I was studying W.S. in school: Romeo and Juliet at age 14, Othello at 15, and Macbeth at 16. It never occurred to me to read Shakespeare for pleasure, more’s the pity: I suppose I thought of him as the preserve of English students. This despite multiple visits to Stratford-upon-Avon, including one time when I watched almost all of a performance of King Lear by the Royal Shakespeare Company (I left early for fear of missing the last train out of Stratford).

Recently, however, I’ve had cause to contemplate re-reading Othello, viz. to help someone out who’s having their own English lit. struggles with it. And in order to prep myself, I thought I’d give Much Ado About Nothing a go. Well! As it turned out, I zoomed through it quite speedily (about 1.5 hours, interrupted by the need to transfer trains and such). The key, I suppose, was not worrying about all the archaic words. I was aided by the fact that my Penguin Popular Classic edition puts all the annotations right at the back of the book rather than on the same page, which somehow compels you to look them up on the spot. So I actually managed to get into the flow of the story, and managed to catch quite a few jokes and barbs besides.

Well, it’s not a perfect play. Beatrice and Benedick are rather too easily turned from mutual dislike to mutual adoration, and the whole thing is a bit light and fluffy. Disposable. But then it is a romantic comedy, and therefore serves a substantially different purpose from one of Shakespeare’s tragedies. John the Bastard is rather a disappointing villain compared to Iago, for instance (but then I suppose almost anyone would be disappointing compared to Iago). But I enjoyed Shakespeare, and that is rather the point. What next?

Much Ado About Nothing, being populated with such witty characters as Beatrice and Benedick, is obviously peppered with bon mots. But this is my very favourite bit, if only because I agree so heartily with Leonato.

LEONATO: Did he break out into tears?

MESSENGER: In great measure.

LEONATO: A kind overflow of kindness, there are no faces truer than those that are so wash’d. How much better is it to weep at joy, than to joy at weeping!

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