Identify and explain dramatic conventions used to construct meaning in Much Ado About Nothing.Give specific examples.

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The dramatic conventions of Much Ado About Nothing, would have, when the play was written, conformed to the rules of performance that were common in Elizabethan England.  In fact, these dramatic conventions were the structure that helped "construct meaning" no matter which play of Shakespeare's you might discuss.

The point here is that it is important to understand that dramatic conventions are not created for individual plays.  A director of the play, no matter when and where he/she lives and works, will create a unique staging of Much Ado, but he/she will follow a set of dramatic conventions or theatrical rules that exists for him/her in the theatrical world in which he/she works.

Some of the dramatic conventions in place during Shakespeare's day that helped him to construct meaning are:

  • All actors were men or boys.  In Much Ado, this is interesting when considering a rather aggressive and somewhat "masculine" character like Beatrice.  It is also important to remember the irony of a line like "Oh, that I were a man," which is spoken by Beatrice after Hero is shamed by Claudio.  This line can be seen much more ironically when Beatrice actually is a man.
  • There was no "fourth wall," or imaginary division between actors and audience.  Light came from the sun and fell on actors and audience alike, which implies that no one pretended that the actors were somehow "alone" in the play.  So, when Claudio asks everyone at the wedding to look at Hero and condemn her false-ness with him, he literally meant everyone, including the audience.  In this way, the audience is implicated in the scene along with the characters onstage.
  • Clowns in a comedy provide some much needed low-brow humor.  Dogberry, Verges, and the Watch were the clowns of the play, a staple of Elizabethan comedy that audiences expected.  Not only was their humor found in the text, but they would have used a great deal of physical comedy as well.  This, today, cannot be seen in the words on the page, but is often re-created by theatrical companies presenting the play.

So, dramatic conventions that Shakespeare used definitely came into play and had an effect on Much Ado About Nothing in his day and time, but, today, it is the specific staging of an individual production of the play that will have the most impact upon "constructing meaning" in the play.


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