Kevin Rich points to ‘the hints in Much Ado of ‘the plays to come’, the transition to ‘his’ Middle Comedy of the last years of Elizabeth towards such plays as Twelfth Night (CSF 2019). Indeed, the evidence of a 1598 listing of Shakespeare’s plays suggests that this play was first performed that year, with the wild Will Kemp, in his last role with the company, as Dogberry, to be replaced by the more low-key humor of Robert Armin.
In a late 1598 book by Francis Meres on poetry, philosophy, music, he praises Shakespeare, particularly. Meres compares Shakespeare to Classical playwrights, directly attributing to him, for the first time, a dozen of his comedies and tragedies/histories, and his early Sonnets, as examples of his excellence across all kinds. In addition to his early and middle English Histories, and first Roman play, Titus Andronicus, six comedies are named, Two Gentlemen of Verona (CSF 2022), this year’s Comedy of Errors, Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Merchant of Venice, Love’s Labour’s Lost, and a lost play, Love’s Labour’s Won.
Meres, implying that these last two are a pair, the mystery of Love’s Labour’s Won, as a sequel, continues to intrigue.
The only other lost plays are late; why did this one disappear? Is it found among those not named by Meres, the early Taming of the Shrew or the unlisted, maybe late 1598, Much Ado? If Much Ado how might the two be connected, thematically, character-wise, in 1598?
Kevin Rich and Amanda Giguere – ‘The Wartime Setting of Much Ado, in 1598, and the Present Present’
The story of Beatrice and Benedick, and Hero and Claudio, result in the first case from a ‘merry war of wits’, and the second from the wars set in motion by misunderstandings of character, motives and intent. And, in the case of this 2023 CSF production, its setting at the end of World War I, reminds us that it was a war whose roots lay, as in the play, in the multiplicity of misunderstandings between the major powers, and, especially over both the restless multitudes among the ethnic groupings under them in Europe, and their competition on the world stage, abroad (Barbara Tuchman’s Guns of August).
Amanda Giguere in her insightful Dramaturg Note, discusses, in depth the setting for the 2023 Much Ado, in Paris in the aftermath of this first world war, ‘the war to end all wars’. But unlike the war depicted in the play, where the answer of the messenger, announcing the soldier’s arrival, to the question ‘how many have you lost’ is ‘But few of any sort, and none of name’, World War I, engaged millions all over Europe, drawing in their empires around the globe.
This 20th century war, one of static lines, at least on the Western Front, saw incredible losses, the use of poison gas, followed by a deadly worldwide Flu Pandemic that infected one fifth of the world population, killing 50 million, helping lead to revolution, and setting in motion the conditions that spawned the next world conflagration, and the Holocaust, twenty years later. No wonder, as Giguere points out, post-war Paris of the twenties saw the influx of ‘artist, thinkers and writers, Americans fleeing Prohibition, the Lost Generation’.
“Although times have changed, the patterns are palpable. War. Disease. Art. Rinse and Repeat.”
Kevin Rich echoes this. His usual practice is to rarely set a play in a specific time or place, but in this case the parallels were too relevant. He notes the triple meaning of Nothing in the title Much Ado About Nothing, noting, an Elizabethan term meaning ‘overhearing’, an Elizabethan sexual pun, and, “Peace”, much ado about the peace that follows war, but noting the ‘trauma’ which lives on.
Can art and song, “hey nonny nonny”, ‘be a balm, a way to convert pain into something beautiful.’ asks Giguere, who, as Director of CSF’s Education and Outreach, has led the Shakespeare & Violence Prevention Program, reaching 120,000 Colorado students since 2011.
‘At the time Much Ado was written, 1598-99, England was engaged in multiple military conflicts (religiously, and economically based) with Spain, in Ireland, and religious wars ravaging France and plague was an ongoing threat’ remarks Giguere. And though Shakespeare only indirectly references the plague, the Black Death, too, shaped the world he was entering, 35 years earlier, in April 1564.
Brought back with the troops from the failed expedition, led by the Earl of Warwick, to support the French in the first of their religious wars, ‘15,000 perished in London alone’ and it soon spread to the countryside, and Shakespeare’s and the Earl’s Warwickshire, itself. Periodic outbreaks in 1592-1594, at the beginning of his London career, and through James I’s reign, repeatedly closed the theaters.
And both France and England, among the nations of Europe were experiencing ‘civil’ wars, both internal political wars, and religious wars at home. The latter, religious conflicts were outgrowths of those that began with the Reformation, 50 years before. These wars were particularly exacerbated in England and France by the presence of a split between the majority Catholic population and their rulers in the former, and, in France, the sizable Protestant Huguenot merchant-based minority in the smaller towns, and the majority Catholics, particularly strong in Paris.
How might this have set the framework for Much Ado? And we might, ask why should we be interested, and do things ever change?
Love’s Labour’s Lost, Love’s Labour’s Won – The French Connection and the 1598 Setting of War
Love’s Labour’s Lost, one of Shakespeare’s early comedies, dated around early 1594, four years earlier than Much Ado, was one of three (Taming of the Shrew, and possibly A Midsummer Night’s Dream) that our author wrote in his early years in London. In June 1594 he assumed his first steady job as chief dramatist to the newly formed Lord Chamberlain’s Men that would remain his company for the next twenty years.
By then, besides these 3 comedies, Shakespeare had in his ‘playbook’ satchel, his two long, highly popular, classically based poems (13 and 9 editions, respectively), dedicated to the young future Earl of Southampton, his early Sonnets, the four English Histories, the 3 Henry VI plays and Richard III, his first Roman play, Titus Andronicus, already indicating the broad sweep of his reading into history and the classics.
And for a play, long undiscovered, The Play of Sir Thomas More, never to grace the stage, a speech, “The Stranger’s Case”, our only sample of writing in his own hand, makes a plea that could double as a winning Supreme Court brief for immigrant rights.
For one so characterized as a borrower (and adapter) of other men’s plots, the early Comedies, particularly, (set in three different countries, LLL in contemporary France, Shrew in non-descript time Italy, and Dream in Theseus’ and the Amazon Queen, Hippolyta’s ancient Athens) are notable in their originality as the only ones, other than The Tempest, to have no known borrowed main source plots.
These comedies, might they show an insight, and a decision, to move beyond? For all the other of his early plays deal with war, foreign adventures turned into civil conflicts, but here in the comedies, and their humor, does our author recognize that the conflicts in society ultimately reflect, in origin, those in the family, and between husband and wife? And does he portray how those conflicts suggest a pattern for resolving those in the larger society?
Interestingly, both Much Ado and Love’s Labour’s Lost appear to have strong correspondences as to character, theme, and a WW I performance connection
Character and Theme – Of the several couples that inhabit these two plays, Love’s Labour’s Lost, and Much Ado/Love’s Labour’s Won, the two matching pairs, Berowne and Rosaline in LLL, and later Beatrice and Benedick, by far imbibe the liveliest of the witty wars and love matches that inhabit their respective plays.
Set in early 1590’s France, the French king’s double Navarre (Henry of Navarre, Henry IV of France), announces his court an academy of learning, wherein his three friends Berowne, Dumaine, and Longueville, ‘swear for three years’ term’ to ‘forgo the huge army of the world’s desires’, in study night and day. ‘Abjuring sleep’, they are ‘not to see a woman in that term.’ All agree but Berowne, who in skeptical ironical Benedick style, objects to the practicality of the sleepless, foodless, womenless regimen, and especially that ‘no woman will come within three miles of the court’.
And almost immediately after the French Princess arrives with her coterie of three ladies at the opening of Act II, Navarre relents ‘how can these noble ladies possibly be forced to lodge in the field.’ To which Berowne declares in fulfillment of his prediction, “Necessity will make us all foresworn”.
From this point the four lords immediately fall victim to the beauty reflected in women’s eyes. Everything is turned upside down by the end of the play. Love conquers study, language is parodied, the air is full of Sonnets and the ladies are in control, especially in a masked dancing with mistaked pairings of the couples, seeming paralleled in Much Ado.
But the play is strangely open-ended; their ‘wooing doth not end like an old play’, ‘Jack hath not his Jill.’ The Lords all must do penance for ‘a year and a day’, before they can woo their ladies. And, in particular, the high flying Berowne’s lady, Rosaline, tasks him with visiting every day a hospital, to spend his time amusing the sick with laughter, Shakespeare’s inspiration for Robin William’s in the film Awakenings.
Those who might remember the 2018 CSF Love’s Labour’s Lost or seen the Kenneth Branagh film version, may remember the former begins with a lost World War I soldier wandering in, joining the cast, leaving at the end, and the latter ends with the Lord’s ‘year and a day’ banishment to the second World War, questioning their return, and in what trauma they do so.
The French Connection in 1594 and 1598
For 25 years, from 1560, under Catherine de Medici, of the great House of Medici of Florence, as Queen, and mother of two kings, Charles IX, and Henry III, France found a middle way through the religious wars following the Catholic Counter Reformation of 1563, one year before Shakespeare’s birth. Catherine and her sons supported the French Academies, whose musical interludes provided the intellectual framework, and she never allowed the Inquisition into France.
Early, in these years, Navarre’s own 1572 marriage ceremony to the French Princess, meant to bond both sides, was marred at its inception by the Massacre on that St. Bartholomew’s Day by the Catholic party led by the Duke of Guise. Seventeen years later, after the assassination of both Guise and Henry III in 1589, the now Henry IV had to find a way. Caught between the Catholic majority and the Huguenot merchant-based Protestant minority, Navarre at the advice of his supporters, and moderate Catholics, Biron, Longueville, and his former enemy De Mayenne (Dumaine), converted in the fall of 1593 to Catholicism ‘trading Catholic Paris for a Mass’.
“Necessity will make us all forsworn” Necessity was the watchword of the politiques, the moderate Catholic party that rallied around Navarre.
With France, England and the Dutch in alliance against the Spanish power, and Elizabeth, having sent and spent so many and so much to help Henry these past six years, Shakespeare’s Eliza could not have been too happy.
But France had done something, perhaps not even possible in her England, where in early 1594, a few months later, another analogue to the study group met for a private performance in Southampton House in London. The Mess is a 4 person eating group at the Lawyer’s Inns, at the so called 3rd University of England, and still today at their sisters, Cambridge, and Oxford.
Did this English Mess of fellow diners from the Inns, Southampton’s friends, and Lords, the Earls of Essex and Mountjoy, and possibly Berowne as Will S., spend the evening watching a performance of LLL? Did they entertain the host a wild group of wallpaper adventurers and literary hangers-on followers of the Court, Walter ‘Armado’ Raleigh, and the author’s Stratfordian schoolmasters and Parsons that inhabit the play?
Who knows, but maybe his Queen missing out the festivities might merit a second showing four years hence in 1588 when Navarre sent word about another imminent round of oath-breaking in early 1598.
For apparently in 1598, according to the front page of the first Quarto of LLL, ‘Newly corrected and augmented’ the first openly attributed work to the author since his early poems, played before his Queen Eliza that Christmas. And that same season, the Duc De Maisse, special ambassador from Henry IV of France, arrived to inform the English that Henry had decided, despite the Anglo-Dutch-French Alliance to negotiate a separate peace with Spain, offering Eliza and her Court the opportunity to participate.
De Maisse’s diary from the extended visit details his conferences with the Queen and doings at Court. The English decided not to join France. Henry proceeded to make peace, and grant religious freedom (Edict of Nantes, 1598), while England dealt with other problems in Ireland and the factional broils of those vying to guide England in the unwed Eliza’s last years.
Did Shakespeare deliberately present Love’s Labour’s Lost that Christmas season before his Queen and her Courtiers?
He must have been aware of the deep divisions of all the parties on the subject of the continued war with Spain since the 1588 Armada, which was not finally resolved until, 1604 under James, seven years later. Those divisions, and the necessity of dealing with the renewed rebellion in Ireland, is that what is partly behind Much Ado, if it be Love’s Labour’s Won or not?
And Shakespeare was busy with several projects trying to bring all these disputes to a sane condition, including conducting a group therapy session with his Queen’s approval, his second, with all the key members of her Court and Privy Council. But that is another story, too long, too controversial, too complicated, for another time.