Much Ado About Nothing: The Expression of a Mood

Like Shakespeare? Read this post. Hate Shakespeare? Read this post. Think Shakespeare is only for pretentious nerds and weirdo theater people? Read this post. 🙂

As children, my siblings and I watched Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing multiple times. The movie delighted us, although the Shakespearean language was certainly “greek” to us, all subtle (or not-so-subtle) innuendos flying straight over our intrigued heads. In determining why we loved the movie so, I picked out at least three aspects that overcame our language and context barriers.

First, the music, composed by Patrick Doyle, evokes a simple, sleepy feel, at times swelling to climaxes of ridiculously heroic proportions. Second, the scenery matches the score’s mood perfectly, showcasing vineyards in quiet, sunny afternoons, the gardeners all dressed in simple garb and perfectly happy in their work. Most of all, though, we felt the mood of Shakespeare, a mood expressed through Branagh’s supplementation of a particular scene. The scene that really sticks out comes right after Benedick and Beatrice have each been fooled into thinking the other is desperately in love with them.

We, as viewers, have left Benedick in the garden with a huge grin on his face, and have switched to Beatrice’s reconciliation with the idea. More than reconciliation, Beatrice expresses her ecstasy by grabbing a garden swing and flying back and forth in the sunlight. Then, as the music swells, we see Benedick, still in his part of the garden, splashing around the once-sleepy, green fountain. The fountain pool is frothy now, churned into a lively blue, as Benedick kicks and flings the water out of its container. There are no words, the characters having talked incessantly up to this point, and what remains is their pure, exuberant joy. We see Beatrice smile up into the sun, her simple white dress glowing; and at the same time we see Benedick practically dancing around the fountain pool, getting his uniform sopping wet—gloriously wet. The music crescendos, signaling to the mature viewer that this, not the misunderstanding between Hero and Claudio, is the focus of the movie. While Benedick and Beatrice’s situation is still a misunderstanding, it is a happy one, and more worthy of our attention.

I suppose what impresses me most, now that I’ve grown and read Shakespeare for myself, is how Branagh deepens our understanding of the characters through non-verbal action. Shakespeare did a wonderful job of conveying the slightly-ridiculous relationship between two overly-clever individuals, and yet it is easy, if one is not careful, to read Benedick and Beatrice’s lines and imagine only two talking heads—two awfully-witty people who always have something to say.

To think that there might come a moment where they have no more words, where they can only act out their happiness, whether on a swing or in a fountain, lends the characters a weight of being that might not be there otherwise. Suddenly, Beatrice and Benedick are not just the witty couple with a steady supply of wisecracks, but are fragile, hopeful humans who find they have been wrong, and are delighted by the discovery.

Perhaps this last observation is no surprise to Shakespeare enthusiasts, but for Branagh to have made clear the mood, even to young, bewildered children like my siblings and myself, is quite a feat. If nothing else, seeing the movie fueled my interest in the real play, and neither has disappointed me since.


A Month Til

Today, I have taken a nap, woken up to the realization that a large assignment (one I’ve had two years to work on) is due in a month, and mentally screamed hOLY SMOkes I will never sleep again. It’s the sort of panic that can only come from two years of putting something important on hold (even if it was to do other important somethings). You might think that, since I am now blogging about it, it can’t be that pressing, or that I must not be too concerned about this HUGE ASSIGNMENT thing.

I’m pretty concerned.

We’re going for “concerned” here though, not “anxious,” or “worried,” or “in denial,” or “defining my own self-worth by whether I actually complete the assignment and get a good grade.”

I’m trying not to fret. And I think there’s all the difference in the world. Fretting is what I’ve done, periodically, over the past two years, where I realize the deadline is approaching, worry a bunch over it, but don’t actually do anything about it. Fretting involves checking Facebook a lot.

I want to be genuinely concerned that I have been so lazy in this (and so much of it has been laziness). I want to teach my mind the discipline of thinking through a problem or a theoretical discussion without wanting to punch things, and without making the lazy transition over to the newsfeed of which puppy my friends are petting now, and what the celebrity did latest, and what Disney character is really my soul mate.

I want to think of worthwhile things and do an earnest job with assignments this semester so that when I am finished, I can go be with friends with an easy mind. I don’t want to fret anymore, because I want to know that I have given my best in all that I do. When I do go home, I want to be all there instead of constantly feeling I’m missing out on something more exciting.

What could be more exciting than the situation God’s placed me in, right now, at this moment? Where would I rather be?

So here is a resolution for me, and an encouragement to you, if you share my tendency to put hard things off: Let us redeem the time we’ve been given, not wasting it, as I have, by repeatedly clicking the refresh button on Facebook or Twitter, but, rather, honestly engaging with whatever’s next for us, whether that’s talking with friends or enjoying the outdoors or holing up with a cup of tea to finish that dang paper, and finish it well.

Whatever we do, let’s do it as if we were serving Christ, and let us do our durndest!

Thanks for reading:)

Rumination (about books and food)

We know this word, right? Ruminate? What does it make you think of? I visualize two things, mainly: first, a cow’s second or third stomach or whatever, where it chews up (again) food that’s been partially digested. I also think of stew–but I try never to visualize these two things at the same time, because that’s just nasty.

Apparently “ruminate” has other meanings–did you know, for example, that it can be an adjective describing the “endosperm of a seed?”–specifically, of a seed that “appears chewed.” Nutmeg looks like this, apparently, as does some random seed called soursop (scientific name, Annona muricata). Completely beside the point I’m trying to make.

Other than the whole chewing thing, the more common definitions have to do with “meditating, contemplating, musing, pondering,” etc. My favorite of these:”To turn over repeatedly in the mind; to meditate deeply upon.” It makes sense: If something is worth thinking about, it’s worth thinking about again. Ask any cow–I’d imagine they’d confirm this. If something is worth eating, it’s worth eating again. It’s worth ruminating over.

Imagine this blog post is a slim little paperback–hold one finger here and keep this thought handy while I skip over one chapter (cause I can’t think of a good transition). We’ll come back to this idea of rumination (at which point I suppose we’ll be ruminating). Aaaah.

I was thinking about books and how, in my favorite books, the protagonist dies, or nearly dies, anyway. No, wait, that’s not what I’m getting at–let me try again.

I was thinking about books. I was thinking about how there are all kinds of books: books that make you think, books that instruct you or improve your mind, books that entertain you, and books that distract you from problems of real life. And there are a few good books that take you deeper into real life.

It seemed sort of like different kinds of food–think of a four or five-course meal. There’s an appetizer, which may be excellent in a light, anticipatory way, but mainly serves to whet your appetite for something more filling. There are books like that.

There are also books more like salads than anything else–which are good for you but perhaps not the most delightful to devour, sometimes read as an obligation before you can get on to what you really want.

There are all sorts of dessert books: enjoyable, fluffy delights that are usually the most fun to read. They’re not always the healthiest, and sometimes they distract more than help you to think.

And there’s a main course. Think of any rich, hearty food you like–say, roast beef and potatoes, really excellently made. There is a sort of book that ought, anyway, to do most of the filling and which had better take you deeper into real life than merely help you escape it for a few hours.  I’ve been thinking of this lately: what are some books that are like that in the way they portray true life, even through fiction?

You can flip back to the place you saved in thought, where we were talking about what “ruminate” means. I mentioned early on that I think of a stew, but I didn’t explain why. I like thinking of synonyms for words I like, and one synonym for “ruminate” could be, I think, “to simmer.” I’m not sure you’ll find that in a thesaurus, but it makes sense to me to identify words like “simmer, meditate, ponder, and ruminate” with something like a slow-cooking, savory stew. One reason people always use “savory” to describe a stew is because you’ve got all these different tastes and textures in the same dish and it takes on a little of every ingredient. You taste all these elements and you can’t have one without the other.

[If you hate orange vegetables, don’t read this bit or I’ll ruin this illustration, but think of carrots by themselves versus carrots in stew. They’re not even the same vegetable anymore, because the stewed carrots have taken on eight or nine other flavors and absorbed them.]

My point is just that I’ve found some books like this, that draw on what’s been written previously and turn both works into something glorious. Some examples: Snake, by D.H. Lawrence, alluding wonderfully to Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Or Milton’s Paradise Lost, drawing in part from Spenser’s Faerie Queene. There are so many beautiful things in literature that I miss because I don’t take the time to dwell on what it’s saying or what’s been said before.

I’d forgotten how lovely a good book can be. Caught up in books of instruction (none of which are bad) and fact, I forgot how deeply a good author can probe and help me reflect earnestly on real life. Recently I read C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces, and I suddenly remembered. He’d redeemed a story I loved anyway, and made it better than before. It was a story that prompted thought, rather than suspended it. It took me this whole time to get to it, but if you haven’t read it I wholeheartedly recommend that you do.

If you have read it, or if you’ve thought, while reading this, of another especially lovely book, feel free to share those thoughts. Thanks for reading.