I love this play. Beatrice and Benedick are fun characters, with witty banter. It's fun to watch them (or read the play). However, there is one major flaw in this play. Claudio and Hero's "romance" is frustrating, especially for modern audiences. I do not root for this couple at all. It is the only flaw in an otherwise amazing play.
Shakespeare's plays were meant to be watched, not read. But there's significant merit in reading the scripts -- or at least portions -- provided you have an annotated edition and plenty of time. The annotations are extremely helpful in understanding the play as they provide a translation from Shakespeare's English usage to modern usage. For example, in the first couple of pages "leagues" -- apparently a common way to speak of distance in the early 1600's -- translates as "about 3 miles"; the phrase "a kind overflow of kindness" translates as "a natural abundance of kindness"; and "He .. challenged him at bird-bolt" refers to a bow and arrow archery game using safe, blunt-headed arrows, as children might use. Apparently a common marksmanship-skill outdoor past time in those days. You can see how knowing that in advance makes the play more understandable. It can be slow going thinking about the intended meaning of all the annotations. An hour might only get you through 10 to 15 pages; but if you go slow and pay attention, it definitely makes for a fun and interesting hour. It's amazing how much the English language changes over time, and how different times are now than then. Especially man's relationship with nature. Another advange of the annotations is the interesting Textual Notes section which shows what changes have been made for clarity from the original printed edition, in this case the 1600 Quarto. "Quarto" refers to the dimensions of the original source document, roughly an oversized paperback book. These notes are fun to read too, as you may or may not agree the editorial changes are for the best. If there is a picture of a veiled lady on the paperback cover, you have the Bantam edition. That edition contains the original source text of the Matteo Bandello story that Shakespeare borrowed portions of his plot from. I sort of prefer the Folgers editions for reading Shakespeare because in those each scene is provided a short summary, lacking in the Bantam edition. But in a pinch the Bantam edition is good too.
Borrowed from the Brooklyn Public Library system. Fantastic Shakespearean comedy - which is sad at some points, but full of laughter (especially in the exchanges between Benedick and Beatrice and with Dogberry - any Shakespearean play with a drunk or a fool (or some combo of/variation on the two) is bound to have a few laughs). I read this in preparation for the new Joss Whedon adaptation of the play.
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