Never came trouble to my house… – MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, I i

After two solid weeks of travel which involved no small amount of crashing in the houses of kind friends and family, and weather fluctuations from blizzard to unpleasantly warm 75 degrees (in February? In Massachusetts?! We broke it; sorry, kids), I’m at last in the range of 66-75% done with annotating the summer scripts for Kentucky Shakespeare and, as always, primed for self-distraction. My mind is a wanderer. This time I can at least trace the path:

– The Wife and I are thrilled to be able to say out loud now that we’re taking on Beatrice and Benedick this summer (come on down; we guarantee a good time);

-the only time we’ve approached these roles before was in a reading of Davenant’s The Law Against Lovers, his 1662 adaptation/squishing-together of Measure for Measure and Much Ado About Nothing, a weird little thing that I can see the reasons for, MfM being such a dark piece except for the randy people, who quickly became socially inappropriate for squeamish theatregoers. There’s a company in Louisville, Savage Rose, that alongside its regular season hosts readings of such under-heard classics as this and has for years now. Lots of fun to partake of.

-this squishing-together of Much Ado and some other thing popped into my head during the Much Ado editorial process (which I’m still during-ing and instead of finishing, writing this) when I came across two exchanges, one spurring a notion, the other cementing it. Hear me out…

Act One, Scene One. Soldiers show up looking to crash on the abundant sofa of Leonato and the Prince who leads them enters and says to his host:

          Good Signior Leonato, you are come to meet your trouble: the fashion of the world is to avoid cost, and you encounter it.

To which Leonato replies:

          Never came trouble to my house in the likeness of your grace.

Innocuous host-/guest- flattery. But it reminded me of a similar situation in a slightly less wacky play in which royalty shows up at a crashpad to declaim:

          The Love that followes us, sometime is our trouble,

          Which still we thank as Love. Herein I teach you,

          How you shall bid God-eyld us for your paines,

          And thanke us for your trouble.

And the hostess (Lady M., if you haven’t recognized Duncan’s howdy by now) responds:         

          All our service,

          In every point twice done, and then done double,

          Were poore, and single Businesse, to contend

          Against those Honors deepe, and broad,

          Wherewith your Majestie loades our House…

…and so on, fancier and more versified than Leonato (King vs. Prince and acquaintance vs. spouse’s boss certainly comes into play here), but substantially the same thing. So what happens…

…if we replace Don Pedro with Duncan…

…and leave in Leonato’s silent wife. I should explain.

In the Folio/Quarto, Leonato has a wife, Innogen, mentioned only in two stage directions in the first part of the play that call for her to enter. She has no lines and is only referred to barely in one of those “Is this your kid?” “Well, her mother says she’s mine, heh heh” bits of banter that reappear with variations in a couple of the plays. In almost all productions, she’s taken as a “ghost character” (one who is named in stage directions or Dramatis Personae but never speaks) and just written out, seeing as how actors expect to be paid and all. What if she stuck around, this silent hostess, and…

“But”, I thought, “that’s silly. Get back to work.” Which I did.

So on I went, annotating this for understanding and slightly modernizing the spelling of that for clarity and removing the odd anti-Semitic remark for crying out loud. And on another pass of the same scene, but a few dozen lines later, the Prince returned with:

          …in the meane time, good Signior Benedicke, repaire to Leonatoe’s, commend me to him, and tell him I will not faile him at supper, for indeede he hath made great preparation.

And thought I had heard such an oath to be there in time for supper before; that’s right:

          To night we hold a solemne Supper sir,

          And I’ll request your presence.

To which Banquo replies:

          Let your Highnesse

          Command upon me, to the which my duties

          Are with a most indissoluble tye

          For ever knit.

That dinner ends even worse than Hero’s first wedding, but there’s a history of thrift in Shakespeare when it comes to using funeral food for weddings, so vice versa seems legit, non?

Which brought me back to Innogen. What if we gave her some lines…made her a more complicated hostess…

…assume the comedy is either simultaneous to the tragedy or – no, wait…

…is a backstory for it…they’re soldiers after all…

…squeeze Benedick/Beatrice together with the title couple of That Other One…

…ditto the younger lovers and the Macduffs…

“But”, I thought, “that’s silly. Get back to work.” Which I did.

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