Off-Stage and On-Screen

As I view some of the videos of Much Ado About Nothing, I’m noticing something interesting. In the text of the play, the Borachio/Margaret assignation occurs off-stage, set up by scenes between Don John and Borachio, as well as John with his brother Pedro and Claudio, then reported by Borachio to Conrade in Act Three, Scene Three.

And in the video versions that are more stage-y (in other words, tied to traditional presentation like the BBC Complete Works version or the document of the Joseph Papp Shakespeare in the Park production), this remains the case.

However, in more cinematic versions–in both the Branagh and Whedon film adaptations (as well as the video document of the star-driven, Josie Rourke-directed West End production)–the faked Hero-ic sex scene is presented on-screen. In the Branagh film, Don John takes Pedro and Claudio to the window in the midst of his lie to show them the “evidence”; in the Whedon film, we seen the “amiable encounter” (III.iii.150) as a kind of flashback as Borachio tells Conrad of the lechery. The stage production with David Tennant as Benedick and Catherine Tate as Beatrice almost gets to play it both ways: in a long, dialogue-free sequence taking place at the respective bachelor and bachelorette parties, we see the act in the darkness of the corner of a dance club, after John predicts it and before Borachio admits it.

The question is this: why is there this temptation to show the act?

Titillation? That seems too easy, and not strong enough of a reason, especially given that we see very little (if any) flesh.

Might it be because working in a more visual medium or in a more visual era, when being an audience is less about hearing, and more about seeing, means there’s no confidence in the viewer understanding what is said but not seen? Maybe.

Or is it because the director doesn’t feel the dialogue between the “arrant knaves” (III.v.30) overheard by the watch is not dramatic enough? Possibly.

Possibly, but problematic as we shall see next month (ooh, foreshadowing!).

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