Reading with My Daughter: Much Ado About Something (#11 in 52)

About a month ago, I committed myself to reading one book a week for a year: the 52 in 52 projectI’d like to change the title of the initiative to 52 in 62. Why? Dave Astor explains in his receng blog, Finding Time to Read More Novels:

There are 24 hours in a day. Perhaps you spend eight hours at a job, seven hours sleeping, three hours with family or friends, two hours commuting, two hours freelancing, and five hours watching TV, emailing, “social media-ing,” exercising, doing errands, etc. Grand total: 27 hours.

Yup, that’s the problem. There aren’t enough hours in a day — or in a weekday, at least. So how do you cram in the pleasure of reading great (and not-so-great) novels? This is one person’s tale of how I managed to carve out time for literature.

Well, yes, time is of the essence. One of ways I’m finding time is, with my children, reading the literature that they are assigned in their high school and elementary English classes.  Part of the reason I am doing this is to teach them how to read for meaning, how to think deeply, how to connect to the written word. I want them to experience sharing their thoughts about what they read; I want them to use fiction as a way to express their feelings; I want them to learn how to enrich their lives by reading the lived experiences that an artist transforms into fiction. I believe that this is one of the greatest gifts that I can give both of my children.

And so it was, last week, that I read Much Ado About Nothing with my daughter, Lauren. The question she was asked in her Grade 9 English class was to define which of the two relationships in Shakespeare’s play could be termed ideal. We read, we talked and this is what she came up with. Please welcome my daughter as this week’s guest blogger at Learning the Now.

Much Ado About Nothing, as with most of Shakespeare’s comedies, deals with the theme of love. The story takes place in the idyllic Italian town of Messina and follows four main characters as they fall in love in completely different fashions. The paths to love that the two couples follow are very unique and reflect the two different attitudes that they havetowards courtship and romance.  Beatrice and Benedick develop a relationship that is centered on playful and witty exchanges that often lead to funny put-downs between the two. The other relationship, the one between Claudio and Hero, is a love affair that follows a more traditionally romantic course that could be viewed as classically romantic. Although their courtships are different and although the couples display different attitudes towards love, each relationship is ideal because both couples, in the end of the play, wind up being happily married.

Beatrice and Bendick are two characters that share similar personality traits. Although a generous and loving woman, Beatrice has a very sharp tongue and continually mocks others with her witty jokes and clever puns. She is independent and appears content never to marry. Benedick displays a similar wit, sarcasm and personality and like Beatrice vows that marriage is not in his plans. He engages with Beatrice in a playful competition to outwit, outsmart and out-insult each other. Despite appearing hardened and sharp, Beatrice and Benedick begin to unknowingly fall in love with each other. They open themselves to the sensitivities and weaknesses of love and realize their feelings for each other. Beatrice and Benedick both seemed content with never marrying, but their thoughts change towards the end of the story. Once Beatrice and Benedick fall in love, marriage becomes inevitable because their love is based on a respect of each other’s wit and intelligence.

Beatrice and Benedick insult each other to love in a “if a boy bugs you it means he likes you” fashion, where as the romance between Hero and Claudio is reflective of a much more traditional love affair.  Hero is a beautiful young woman who is gentle and kind. Her heart is open to everyone and her love awaits the perfect man. Claudio is a handsome young man with a caring and sensitive personality, but he is also strong and courageous. When Hero and Claudio are introduced to each other Claudio immediately falls in love with her in the classic “love at first sight” way. As the story progresses, he is the perfect gentleman to Hero and treats her as a princess. Claudio sweeps Hero off her feet and she in turn falls in love with him. Their relationship falters when another character plays a nasty trick on the two, accusing Hero of cheating on Claudio. However, the issue resolves itself, the two reunite and eventually marry.

Beatrice and Benedick and Hero and Claudio: both represent ideal couples although each experience radically different courtships. Although different, each courtship works for their particular characters. Beatrice and Benedick became the perfect match for each other because they shared the same fun, witty attitude and therefore were able to relate to each other. They found joy and happiness in similar ways and in similar things. Their sarcasm and wit served to draw them together in appreciation of each other’s minds. In discovering that they were intellectual equals, their love for each other was discovered and grew. Hero and Claudio also became ideal for one another because of the mutual feeling of love and commitment in their relationship. If Benedick and Beatrice are a reflection of love developing through the mind, Hero and Claudio represent a connection through the heart. Both Hero and Claudio cared deeply for one another and therefore demonstrated kindness and compassionate in all they did. Beatrice and Benedick’s path to true love was exciting and humorous but Hero and Claudio’s kind and loving romantic journey was more like a fairytale. Two different attitudes towards love became like watching two different genres of a love story. Perhaps Shakespeare was showing us that there are many ways to fall in love and each of them can be equal in their intensity.

Is love a connection of intellectual equals or is it simply a question of the heart?  Maybe Shakespeare, in his title, is saying that in asking which courtship is more satisfying, in making an “ado” over this issue, we are really making a fuss over something that is a non-issue. Does it really matter how people connect? Isn’t the bigger “ado” about the fact that people do fall and stay in love like these four characters? Beatrice and Bendick challenge the traditional way to find true love. Hero and Claudio find love in the “traditional,” fairytale way. True love is evident in both relationships and it has the same wonderful results, even though each couple found it differently. Which relationship is more ideal or satisfying? Well, perhaps the question is much ado about nothing.