As soon as the movie started, I could immediately see parallels between Emma and Beatrice, Mr. Knightley and Benedick, as well as Harriet and Mr. Martin as Hero and Claudio. Emma is immediately portrayed as an independent young woman who does not feel the need to be married as a means of becoming fulfilled in life, similar to Mr. Knightly. They also possess the same witty banter as Benedick and Beatrice, but not to the same extent. As we have talked about in class, it is interesting to see the gender roles and norms, and how they play out and affect the characters in the story. Both Emma and Beatrice are independent women who are not afraid to speak out and voice their opinions. On the other hand, Harriet and Hero are similar, as they do not speak much to the men that they end up with. In Much Ado, Hero barely spoke to Claudio, and at the wedding barely said anything to refute the claims made against her. Similarly, while we see Harriet speak more behind the scenes, as well as to others, she doesn’t say much to Mr. Martin that we can see.
I found it really interesting to see how the storyline of Much Ado About Nothing can be twisted in a way where it can create a new idea while keeping the themes from the original. While Emma was not completely similar to Much Ado, it was really cool to be able to see the parallels between the two pieces of work without it being too obvious. It makes me excited to see how our version of the play will come out, and how we are able to adjust the plot to our liking.
I thoroughly enjoyed watching Emma. I, however, have mixed feelings about it when it comes to applying it to our adaptation of Much Ado. I liked the concept of Beatrice (Emma) being the main character and being the driving force throughout the plot. I also liked how Emma was similar to Beatrice in the sense that she was loyal to Harriet like Beatrice was to Hero – prioritizing their (Emma and Beatrice) friend (Harriet and Hero) after a man (Mr. Knightley and Benedick) confesses their love for them. I think this would be important to keep when we do our adaptation. That being said, I don’t think this movie did enough for what we are going to try to accomplish in our rendition. I did not like how Emma’s main focus was match-making and marriage in general. I also think the fact that both Emma and Harriet getting married in the end was too predictable and did nothing to counteract gender roles/expectations. Especially since Harriet’s marriage felt like she settled just how it was with Hero and Claudio. I think this movie was good to get us to start thinking about what we want to change/keep, but I think we need to do a lot more.
In the movie Emma, the title character’s interactions with family-friend George Knightly has a strikingly similar tension to that between Benedick and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. While Emma and Mr. Knightly’s conversations lack the constant aggression that can be seen in Benedick and Beatrice’s back and forth, the freedom that both women possess to speak their minds freely when around their male counterparts is eerily similar. The fact that both women are able to speak so freely is highly irregular, especially during eras in time in which women were looked down upon for speaking their minds. However, Emma and Beatrice do so in very different ways and I found the relationships themselves to be quite different. Emma and Mr. Knightly, while they do bicker and argue, usually do so about with a certain amount of reason, usually about certain topics or problems. On the other hand, Beatrice and Benedick argue constantly and it is a continual back and forth of jabs, insults, and jokes, which is very different from Emma and Mr. Knightly. In Jason Tougaw’s article comparing Emma and Much Ado About Nothing, he mentioned that he may be searching to compare the two productions because of the seeming fact that the two couples are destined to end up together and I agree that this is probably a huge factor. While I believe the similarities between the two relationships to be somewhat stretched, there are other similarities that are evident between the two works.
One similarity in both works is that they comment on gender inequality, marriage, and the role of women. This theme is highlighted by how Hero and Harriet act as foils to Beatrice and Emma, respectively. Hero’s quiet disposition openly contrasts Beatrice’s outspoken and combative personality, while Harriet’s lack of confidence, social status, and wealth are direct opposites to Emma, who possesses all three. The demeanor and attitudes of the characters play off of each other, highlighting each one’s qualities, while also making it clear to the audience how poorly women are really being treated. While both Emma and Beatrice have high amounts of freedom and autonomy for their respective time periods, the poor treatment of Harriet and Hero make it evident that Beatrice and Emma’s behavior and freedom is not the norm for all women. Harriet’s lesser social status as an orphan makes her thoroughly unwanted by the men in the film, who desire Emma for her beauty and wealth instead, while Hero’s voice and perspective are constantly overshadowed and ignored as she is wrongfully accused of promiscuity. Furthermore, Harriet’s initial refusal of Robert Martin’s marriage proposal shocked and outraged Mr. Knightly, with him saying that Harriet had no right to refuse Robert Martin because she cannot expect anyone of higher status to marry her, insinuating that marriage only has to do with social status and wealth. This is further emphasized as Mr. Knightly and Mr. Elton were both thoroughly taken aback at the thought that they were interested in Harriet. This same problem occurs in Much Ado About Nothing, as Claudio and Hero rarely speak to each other and the promise of being the heir to Leonato’s fortune is what spurs Claudio to move the relationship forward. While both works highlight independent women, they utilize foils well to comment and highlight how women are treated more based upon class and wealth, rather than as people with thoughts, feelings, and opinions.
While watching Emma I immediately noticed the similarities between the character of Emma and Beatrice. The two characters are both very strong-willed women in a time where there weren’t a lot of outspoken women of their nature. They both are not shy about saying what is on their mind and speak freely. A very specific trait that Emma and Beatrice share is their views on marriage. Both believing that it is not a good idea, or that there is not a man worthy of their marriage. Also, something else they both face is still dealing with the sexist and gendered issues of their time, regardless of their personality. It would be nice to see adaptations in which these characters are much more aware of the power systems in hand and to call them out. Those similarities were very striking to me while watching Emma.
However, these characters are not exactly the same, with some key differences between the two. The most glaring difference for me is Beatrice’s sarcasm. Beatrice is a lot wittier than Emma with constant jokes and sarcastic comments at the ready, whereas Emma seems to shoot it a little more straight than Beatrice and be more forward in terms of her word choice. I also think the way in which the relationships develop is a bit different to me. Personally, there was always a feeling that Beatrice and Benedick would end up together, yet the same feeling wasn’t there for Emma and Mr. Knightley. I think the differences in the way they talk may make it seem like Beatrice is more of a “flirt”, especially with Benedick, compared to Emma who seems to just tell it how it is.
I thought Emma was a very interesting adaptation to Much Ado about Nothing, especially after having watched the Shakespeare in the Park production last week. The Shakespeare in the Park production was very modernized yet true to Shakespeare’s language so I enjoyed viewing an adaptation and seeing a new story but with many similarities to Much Ado About Nothing. The biggest similarity was seen with the characters Emma and Mr. Knightley in Emma, to the characters Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing. I found Emma to remind me very much of Beatrice because I felt she was unconditionally herself and did not want to be controlled by those around her nor told what to do.
Although I did find Emma to remind me much of Beatrice, I viewed Emma as a bit more poised and calm with her words but this was strongly influenced by the actors delivery. I did not feel she was breaking the female norms at the same extreme as Beatrice seemed to. Beatrice spoke out of tone and pushed the limits whereas Emma did not. But they both had strong opinions on marriage that seemed very unnatural at the time.
Lastly, I really liked to watch the dynamics of various characters in Emma. My favorite was watching Emma and Harriet’s friendship. Emma and Harriet’s friendship faced many challenges with boys, but they were able to overcome and remain friends.
As I watched the 2020 version of Emma, I was struck by the choice to dress the orphan women in red capes with bonnets as a direct reference to The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. At first the women in crimson capes felt gauche in comparison to the rest of the costumes which can only be described as frothy. While Emma is about a rich (white) woman, who is able to choose to marry for love, because of financial freedom. Meanwhile the red capes remind the audience of a situation where women have been reduced to their reproductive abilities, rather than their worth as a human being. This juxtaposition was typified in the color palette of the film. When every other color in the movie was light pastels, and creams, the bright red was almost jarring. When one considers the intent of adaptations, the invocation of a dystopian novel was an interesting way to remind the audience of the context they are viewing. The light nature of Emma makes it easy to romanticize the time period, and get wrapped up in the genteel nature of the courtship, that the viewer begins to forget about the lack of autonomy that most women had.
Emma is in the unique position that she does not need to be married to secure her lifestyle, she is in line to inherit her fortune, and has no need for a man. For most of the other women in that movie, and time period this was not the case. The orphan women are possibly the most at risk, because of their “want of connections,” and it seems like the director is reminding us of the stark reality that most women from that time period actually faced. We see this transition toward agency within the costuming of Harriet. She begins the film in a red cape, and over time her hairstyles and clothes begin to mimic that of a high class woman, specifically Emma. As Dr. Bezio talked about in the podcast Emma and Much Ado About Nothing both ask questions about what gives women worth, and the 2020 adaptation of Emma continues that discussion of worth by bringing forward the lens of class, and social position.
It was really fun watching Emma and seeing the story line of Beatrice and Benedick from Much Ado in a new context. Emma and Mr. Knightley’s characters greatly reflected Beatrice and Benedick, especially on their views on marriage and how they ultimately ended up together. Emma, similarity to Beatrice, was not going to marry any man, he must prove himself worthy. And Mr. Knightley, like Benedick, kind of mocks the idea of marriage. I also loved the match-making efforts Emma taking throughout the movie which reminded me of Don Pedro in Much Ado.
While watching this movie, I thought about how we get to decolonize Much Ado. There were many ideas about taking different perspectives and after watching this movie which is centered around Emma, I think Beatrice would be a really interesting perspective to see. Beatrice would make the play more witty and also offer a more feminist take on the play. Through Beatrice’s perspective we could create lines about her thoughts on situations and also positive advise she could give to Hero, especially if we are planning on her not marrying Claudio.
In my own experience, Shakespeare has always been a bit intimidating to me. Especially as a black actress, I feel like I have always really struggled to forge a “relationship” with Shakespeare and his work as the typical conventions for his works are often felt rather strict and set in stone (which is part of the reason why I was so excited to take this course). Today, after watching the 2019 all-black cast performing Much Ado About Nothing at the Public Theatre, I feel closer to Shakespeare than ever before. I was surprised, yet reassured to see black people reimagining what this play can do to modernize and make this play relevant to a wide range of audience members. From the choreography (incorporating African dance and hip hop), to the songs/music (many that were orginially performed by black artists), to the modern-day attire, to the co-signing and other demonstrations of black popular culture, this production blew me away.
What I found most intriguing was the play’s use of language. Although the majority of the text mirrored the version we read in class, there were many moments when actors made the text their own, or co-signed or responded in ways that reflect modern black culture. This helped me make sense of the text through a completely different lens. I felt like I was watching my cousins have a conversation! This language, accompanied by the quick-paced movement pattern that actors traced as they navigated the stage, fulfilled conventions of Shakespeare’s time and our current commercial theatre methods, all the while maintaining the historical and cultural integrity of black theatre, rendering a show many people (for many different reasons) would not choose to see accessible. I can’t wait to get the chance to discuss this further in class.
Watching the 2019 live performance of Much Ado About Nothing reminded me how unique live performance is. The audience gets to see everything happening in real-time, and the cast gets to see the audience reacting to it. You can see the cast enjoying themselves as they’re onstage, even in dramatic or sad scenes. It reminded me of when I was in high school and performed in theater. Getting to work hard on something and present it live is a special experience. I particularly liked how they staged to production for the cast to interact with the audience. As opposed to a filmed movie or television show, a play is more honest about the fact that it is not real. There are visible crew members, an obvious stage, and cast members clearly going backstage. I like how this production leaned into that, by having cast members go out into the audience. Rather than take away from the story, it just makes the audience feel like they’re a part of the story.
I also appreciated how they modernized the play without changing any lines. They just focused on delivery. For example, Beatrice really emphasizes the second half of Benedick’s name when she first addresses him, though that particular epithet was not common in Shakespeare’s day. Benedick also shouts “Kobe!” (RIP) when he jumps behind a pillar to avoid being seen by Claudio and Leonato. It reminds the audience that the play is set in a different time without altering Shakespeare’s words. The addition of music and dance has a similar effect, making it clear that this is a specific interpretation that may not have the same exact meaning as Shakespeare’s original play. The protest signs set against the backdrop of an election are eerily prescient of the nationwide protests we have seen in 2020. While these factors do not directly change or impact the story itself, it alters how the audience interprets and reacts to the story. It gives the idea that there is more at stake, especially with how the play ends. In a way, the ‘happy ending’ of Much Ado is not a truly happy ending; the soldiers must return to war. Though this family has found their happy ending, they still have battles they must fight together.
In the film adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing, Hero is a different character than I imagined her to be on text. When reading the play I found Hero to be frustrating, because she was submissive, spoke very few words, and played into the gender stereotypes of her time. This frustrated me because it was a stark contrast to her cousin, Beatrice, who was “modern” for her time, at least at the beginning of the play. My textual understanding of Hero had led me to believe she only cared about marrying the correct man and finding “happiness” through that. For these reasons I found her to be rather bothersome.
My understanding of Hero from the reading was not how I perceived her on screen. While she was delivering the same lines, the way in which she came to life in the Shakespeare in The Park adaptation was intriguing. On-screen, Hero seemed to be more independent, confident, and outspoken than I had imagined her to be. For example, at her second wedding to Claudio, she slaps him in the face after he realizes it is her. This action gave her more of a personality because it showed her emotion towards the situation. It was small moments like this throughout the Shakespeare in the Park adaptation that changed my opinion of Hero. Although her happiness continued to hinge upon her relationship with Claudio, she had more emotions and opinions than I had previously thought.
I thoroughly enjoyed this adaptation of the play, it was very interesting to see the characters come to life and observe the artistic freedom these actors and the director took!