Review of the Original Play


One of the best things about adapting films is that through adaptations different aspects of the original play or story are now made clear as they are now seen and heard from a fresh perspective. There are three major parts in this project, an introduction, a field review and finally, a case study. The source of the story being adapted is explored in the field review together with the context and themes of the original work. The case study will largely be comparative, where different scenes from both the film and the original work will be analysed closely. The adaptations context explores people’s views about the adaptation, the intentions of the director of the film and the critical reception of the adaptation.

Research questions

What are some of the similarities between the play Much Ado About Nothing by Shakespeare and its adaptation by Kenneth Branagh?

How different from the original play is the adaptation?

Which themes stand out across both the original play and the adaptation?

Field Review

The book, A Theory of Adaptation explores the different issues that theorise the process of adaptation. According to Hutcheon all media forms have an underlying commonality with respect to the roles they play in the process of adaptation and different genres reveal information about the functionality of adaptation (Hutcheon, 2012). This is the assumption that sets up her and which involves identification of text based issues that extend across varieties of media, how to go about studying them comparatively, and then teasing out the theoretical implications from different textual examples. Hutcheon discusses adaptation both as a process and as a product. As a product, there would be no way that adaptation would remain faithful entirely to its original text. Plagiarism questions would arise if that happened (Leitch, 2015).


As such, it is necessary that adaptation differs as much as possible from the original text while at the same time maintaining the fundamental ideas of the source. Hutcheon also makes a comparison of adaptation to language and states that there is no way translations could be literal because they are not taken inside the context of the original language and as such, the primary sources have both authenticity and authority. On the other hand, adaptation as a process becomes an act of appropriation and salvaging while also trying to attach fresh meanings to pieces of text. As such, adaptation draws its value from novelty. Adaptations become part of a story’s public history because they are intertextual. All previous adaptations as such become part of individual understandings of all adaptations of the future.

simple from the play—“Don Pedro is approached” and goes ahead and turns it to a movie spectacle that is quite exuberant. Don Pedro who is a noble accompanied by his soldiers gallop towards Leonato`s house who is their host. Branagh furiously cuts through the soldiers who are fast approaching as the opening credits appear and the preparations of the households. Finally, both groups are seen marching towards one another in the courtyard of Leonato with the camera being observed to rise in the air to gaze down on the scene that is resolved beautifully. This episode manages to capture all the excitement and spirit behind the single line in a visual manner and further sets the films joyful tone.

Roland Barthes argued for the separation of literary works from interpretive tyranny. There are numerous meanings and layers attached to every piece of writing. Barthes articulation of the author is a recognition of the authorship and authority of writers that is both drastic and radical

(Kritzman, 2017). Apart from just discovering the single theological meaning attached to a piece of text, they discover that in reality, writing is made up of a multi-dimensional space which cannot be possibly deciphered.

It is observed that in text alone, readers from time to time struggle with syntax, context, phrasing and vocabulary. Through film adaptations and live renditions of different plays, life is breathed into plain words, adding scenery, costumes, music and spoken word. At times, by reworking the script actors and directors at times omit or add elements of the script and also delete and even rework entire scripts with liberal artistic licence. While original texts are fixed, performances are transitory and adaptations are also fixed but have a higher likelihood of modifying the original versions for the requirements of fresh media formats. Through adaptations past prose by Shakespeare is translated into a form that can be readily appreciated by modern audiences. Unlike the performances that are transitory, operatic, musical and film adaptations fix a particular version of the text of the play into form that is new altogether. Shakespeare’s “Much Ado Nothing”, makes a suggestion that is rather ironic.

The first scene of the first act in the original Shakespeare play of “Much Ado About Nothing”, begins with Leonato preparing to welcome home his friends who are soldiers in Messina an Italian town who are just returning from battle. Among these soldiers, there is Don Pedro of Aragon who is a nobleman who is highly respected and Claudio a young soldier who is described as being very brave. Claudio had won a lot of honour in the war and is accompanied by Hero who is Leonato`s young daughter and Beatrice her cousin. Beatrice asks about the health and wellbeing of Benedick who is also a soldier in the army. In a rather clever way, Beatrice insults and mocks Benedick. Benedick is however, defended by Don Pedro`s messenger as a man who is both virtuous and honourable. Leonato however explains that Benedick and Beatrice carry on a war of wits with one another that is rather merry whenever they meet. In confirmation of Leonato`s statement, Beatrice says “four of his five wits went halting off, and now is the whole man governed with one.”

This opening scene introduces us to all the major characters of the play together with the setting of the play – the friendly house of Leonato in Messina. From here we can also deduce that the wittiest characters developed by Shakespeare are Benedick and Beatrice. From their numerous attacks on one another, one characteristic of their attacks is their abilities to extend a metaphor throughout the dialogue lines. Neither Benedick nor Beatrice lets the other to say anything without countering it with criticism or a pun. For instance, at one point, Benedick calls out Beatrice as being a rare parrot teacher and in response Beatrice says that a bird of her tongue would be better than a beast of Benedick.

Much Ado About Nothing`s plot is based upon deceptions that are deliberate, some benign and other outright malevolent. Hero is disgraced as a result of the duping of Claudio by Don Pedro. Additionally, the ruse of Hero`s death prepares her way for reconciliation and redemption with Claudio. In a vein that is more light-hearted, both Benedick and Beatrice are fooled into believing that that each is loved by the other hand eventually, they fall in love as a result of that. Both the play and film succeed in showing that deceit is not inherently evil but could also be used as a means to good ends. It really is not easy to distinguish between bad and good deception in Much Ado About Nothing (Ghose, 2017). Don Pedro offers to woo Hero for Claudio when Claudio announces his desires to woo her. Later on, Claudio begins to mistrust Don Pedro at Don John`s instigation believing that he had been deceived.

The climax of Much Ado About Nothing is that point when the wedding ceremony is aborted when Claudio rejects hero after he accuses her of infidelity and publicly shames her in front of her father. In the past, the honour of a woman was based on her chaste behaviour and virginity (Cartmell and Smith, 2018). A woman who engaged in sexual relations before getting married ended up losing her standing socially a disaster which would be hard to recover from. The loss of the woman`s honour could also poison her entire family. After Claudio has shamed Hero, Leonato rashes to entirely obliterate her. Leonato additionally speaks of Hero`s loss as a stain that is indelible that she could not be capable of distancing himself from no matter how hard he tried. For the women from that era the loss of honour was comparable to some form of annihilation.

Branagh is observed to take advantage of the visual form of the film and cuts up to half of the original script by Shakespeare by introducing characters and their different dynamics through gestures and facial expressions. While the scenes would seem wordy while on stage, through the film the text takes a fresh breath. The beautiful faces in close-up enamour the viewer’s together with the countryside that is quite lush and gardens that are decadent. Additionally, other than just shortening the scenes and re-sequencing them, Branagh decided to do away with different passages of dialogue that were lengthy and replaced them with imagery and action that was suitable for the screen.

In scene 4 of the third act, the part where Margaret and Hero talk to one another before the wedding is cut out completely. However, the decision by Banagh to cut out different dialogues does not tamper with the tone or plot of the film in any way. Even with the cutting of the dialogue, different camera techniques, music and actions are used to enhance the film in ways that the stage could not manage. For instance, the falling of Benedick in his chair while eavesdropping adds to the scenes humour and the character` overall humour. Patrick Doyle the composer makes use of music that is appropriate and that helps to set the films comedic tone that is often joyous and sometimes sombre. The cinematography of the film also adds to the films happy and whimsical tone, most notably through the long shot of Don Pedro together with his men on horseback when they finally arrive and even the zoom at the films end showing people throughout the villa being merry and dancing.

The colourful manner of speaking of the different characters that is also dense represents the ideal courtiers of Renaissance strove for in their interactions socially. The language of the original play is laden heavily with metaphors and further ornamented by rhetoric. The witty banter produced by Claudio, Benedick and Don Pedro is that which was used by courtiers to attract attention and approval in different noble households. While courtiers were expected to speak in languages that were highly contrived, they were also expected to make performances that were clever effortless. The play is observed to poke fun at the courtier’s language of love that was quite fanciful. And even though the plays young gallants appear very casual in their displays of wit, from time to time, they are seen struggling to maintain their positions socially. Claudio and Benedick really struggle to remain in the favour of Don Pedro. There is a possibility that the reason Claudio agrees to allowing Don Pedro to woo Hero for him is because he must accede to the authority of Don Pedro so that he can stay in his favour and not because he was shy. At that time Claudio discovers that he had been deceived by Don Pedro, while full of despair, he still is not able to drop his polite civility. At one point Beatrice refers to Claudio as being a civil orange punning on the Seville orange which was rather bitter. Even though he is upset, Claudio remains nearly silent only saying that he wishes Don Pedro the best with Hero.

Case study

From the onset, Branagh manages to inject a tale of transcendental love, betrayal and foolishness with an earthiness that is invigorating. While a group of soldiers on horsebacks return from war victoriously, the lust between them and their women who were waiting for them becomes palpable as they go about preparing for the palpables of the evening. Don Pedro, who is painted as being righteous manages to help Claudio his young brother in wooing Hero and Benedick who is proudly unmarried and Beatrice, a feisty young woman trade barbs and taunts with so much zest and proper skill that they eventually must become a team.

To a large extent the performance appears to be a bit distant both from the audience and one another. Washington, just like Don Pedro manages to handle the verse in a nice way and even appears to be suitably noble. The emphasis on this film seems to have gone in the creation of a film where the director painted Shakespeare as being a lover of fun.

Shakespeare’s final scene brings the play to a conclusion that is rather joyous, notably drawing it away from the tragedy towards which it began. At this point, Hero and Claudio are about to get married and so as Beatrice and Benedick. Don John has been caught and brought to justice and the deception has also been revealed. Once again, everybody is friends with one another and the final dance is symbolic of the restoration of happiness and order in a world that previously was in chaos as a result of the accusations by Don John and Don Pedro and the rash actions that Claudio had taken. Don John tells Claudio that Hero had been unfaithful out of jealous.

Fast forward to this, Hero has undergone a symbolic rebirth and death that has washed away the tint of her supposed sin (Holl, 2017). The writing and further reading of an epitaph by Claudio at her tomb appears to create a sense of closure, in relation to Hero`s false accusation and her supposed death. Claudio acknowledges the error he made in accusing Hero. Hero and Claudio`s masked wedding which is filled with emotional dynamics leaves one wondering how Hero still has love for Claudio after all he did to her. Going through the story, one gets a feeling of a love story that has largely been tainted by paranoia, misunderstandings and fear but whose end was happy which would not have been expected. It is evident that Hero still loves Claudio even after all that they have been through and at the end they are very happy with their reunion.

The film also ends on a good note. Pedro and Claudio prove that they are truly sorry for what they did to Hero and a ruse is struck up such to have Hero`s twin married to Claudio. Benedick also writes a love sonnet to Beatrice in a bid to woo her but still fails. In the final scene Claudio and Hero remarry and Beatrice and Benedick also end up together.

Generally, the film by Branagh works on different levels. The actors of American accent are able to execute their parts well just like their Briton counterparts with just the right levels of restraint, comedy and passion that the script together with its characters requires.

Just like Shakespeare, Branagh had a proper understanding of the sheer importance of language within Much Ado and as such, while he dropped some passages, he kept most of the film’s original lines. Moving forward however, the focus of Branagh`s film is shifted to visual imagery in a bid to gain the attention of the audience and further shape the story`s tone. It is quite clear watching the film that Branagh had the intentions of creating an instant romance with his audiences. While to attain effect Branagh purely relies on his language, the emphasis by Branagh is on the visual elements in the creation of a thrilling film. Branagh also cleverly left all the offensive utterances that were in the original play.

Caryn James writing for the New York considers Branagh`s Much Ado About Nothing to be a glorious version of Shakespeare and the reason why it works is because it is cinematic and not because it is Shakespearean (Nguyen, 2016). He further views that the stroke of brilliance of Branagh is the way through which he manages to turn the camera into a storyteller that is quite active.

The camera keeps moving throughout the entire film and that creates an awareness among viewers of the fullness of the world of Shakespeare: filled with people who are largely schemers, eavesdroppers and mutterers. Additionally, the camera also enhances the reactions of the characters when Benedick and Beatrice finally fall in love. A plan is concocted by Don Pedro. The men knowingly allow Benedick to overhear their conversation when they say that Beatrice had been dying of love for him. The women also stage manage a conversation that is similar for Beatrice such that she ends up believing that Benedick has been pinning away. The desperation of Beatrice and Benedick to hear even more about themselves becomes apparent as Branagh films these scenes and their change in heart becomes more prominent.

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Generally people loved Branagh`s film Much Ado About Nothing. Fox (2017), says that the film has a great cast including Kenneth Branagh himself and Emma Thompson and also posits that the film has a warm feeling to it that is also lovely; set in Italy`s sunny countryside. She further argues that nobody would have fitted in the role of Benedick well the way Branagh did. Benedick was both wittily amusing, natural and fun to watch while Emma Thompson gave the film a performance that was fantastically fiery as the untamed tongue`s Beatrice and watching Beatrice and Branagh going after one another was quite fantastic.


Branagh, K., Evans, S. and Doyle, P., 2015. Much ado about nothing. Renaissance Films: BBC Films [prod.]: Entertainment in Video.

Cartmell, D. and Smith, P.J. eds., 2018. Much Ado about Nothing: A Critical Reader. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Fox, L., 2017. Much Ado About Nothing: A Skirmish of Wit(Doctoral dissertation, Regent University).

Ghose, I., 2017. Much ado about nothing: language and writing. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Holl, J., 2017. Shakespeare Fanboys and Fangirls and the Work of Play. In The Shakespeare User (pp. 109-127). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

Hutcheon, L., 2012. A theory of adaptation. Routledge.

Kritzman, L.D., 2017. Barthes's Death Sentences and the End of Literature. MLN, 132(4), pp.864-875.

Leitch, T., 2015. Back to Basics: A Meta-Foundational Approach to Adaptation Studies.

Much Ado About Nothing. (1993). [film] Directed by K. Branagh. USA: Renaissance Films, American Playhouse Theatrical Films, BBC Films.

Nguyen, S., 2016. All is Not Fair in Love and Shakespearean Comedy. Conspectus Borealis, 1(1), p.4.

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