Shakespeare: Towards a Merry Protestantism

Some thoughts on Much Ado About Nothing:

Peter Leithart suggests that in understanding “Nothing” one should draw a circle. Inside the circle is “reality.” Outside the circle is anything that is possible but having not actually happened yet. In that case it is “nothing.” They are situations that do not correspond (as of yet) to reality. Benedict and Beatrice are told that the one loves the other, although this is not true. They then base their actions on these inaccurate reports.  Ironically, it ends well.

Because of this, we see that ethics follows epistemology. They are basing their actions on what they know.

The tale itself is rather delightful and the narrative is much smoother and more “natural” than Romeo and Juliet, for instance. Dogberry may be one of the most wonderful characters in all of literature.

The earthy Protestant overtones can be seen in the sexual innuendo, albeit one that usually points towards marriage.  As with true comedy, it ends in a marriage (is this not eschatology:  the wedding of the Lamb?).   It is very interesting to see that the Reformed Protestantism in which Shakespeare found his culture (leaving aside the usual Puritan frowning upon theatre) allowed this story to go in a different way from both earlier Christian narratives and tragic pagan ones:  the end of comedy is marriage, not the monastery.  The book is rife with sexual innuendo.  Michael Scott doesn’t hold a candle!  Even without the critical apparatus I knew very well what they were saying.  What is interesting, though, is that this innuendo is usually aimed towards marriage, not fornication.   We see here a Puritan delight in sexuality.

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