Costume drama: Margaret, Innogen, and the problem of Much Ado About Nothing in modern performance

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The article argues that despite Shakespeare’s skill at redeploying the familiar narrative materials which inform the main plot of Much Ado About Nothing, and despite its reputation as Shakespeare’s most well-made and thus perennially assimilable comedy, it presents three perhaps insoluble problems for modern producers. One is its depiction of sexual mores which no longer officially prevail among Western theatregoers, which has encouraged directors to set the play in a harmlessly picturesque past – a strategy which transforms the plot of Hero’s defamation from an edgy exposé of the perils of patriarchal marriage into a piece of harmless and perhaps even nostalgic escapism. Another is its handling of Margaret, the maid who agrees to dress in Hero’s clothes and speak with Borachio at Hero’s window the night before the wedding: only careful misdirection of the audience’s attention can allow audiences not to notice the inconsistency of her behaviour and the surprising willingness with which she is exonerated. The ghost character of Innogen, Hero’s non-speaking mother, only foregrounds these problems, and the article concludes by looking at one modern production which tried in some measure to reincorporate her.
Original languageEnglish
JournalShakespeare en devenir
Publication statusPublished - 18 Dec 2018


  • realism
  • William Shakespeare
  • Much Ado About Nothing
  • Margaret
  • nostalgia
  • narrative sources


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