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Much Ado about Nothing: why there’s no right or wrong way to interpret this play

Jacqui O’Hanlon is Director of Education at the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and lead educator on the free online course, “Much Ado about Nothing: in Performance.” Here, she explains why involving actors and directors in the development of the course, including those from the RSC’s current production, was key to interpreting the play.

Two actors from the RSC current production of Much Ado about Nothing aka Love's Labour's Won
Michelle Terry as Beatrice and Edward Bennett as Benedick in the RSC’s current production of “Much Ado about Nothing” (also known as “Love’s Labour’s Won”). Photo by Manuel Harlan, courtesy of the RSC.

In collaboration with the University of Birmingham’s Shakespeare Institute and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, the RSC is working on its first free online course. We’ve chosen to base it around “Much Ado about Nothing.” It’s a fantastic play that we know connects with audiences of all ages, but we’ve chosen to aim our course primarily at 16-19 year olds.

Sharing the creative choices made in the rehearsal room

For the RSC, the critical thing about the work we do with young people is that it is rooted in the real world work of our rehearsal rooms. We want to share the creative practice of actors and directors – the people who explore the interpretive possibilities of the plays everyday, making discoveries about and connections between Shakespeare’s world, the world of the plays and the world we live in today. So they were our starting point for this course.

One of the hardest things to convey to anyone outside of the rehearsal room is the process of interpretive choice. We run workshops on Shakespeare’s plays every day either in Stratford, somewhere in the UK or around the world. What all of them have in common is a desire to explore and open up the different possible interpretations of the plays.

I don’t run many workshops now, but when I did, the one question I got asked most was: “But which way is the right way?” And if I was working on “Romeo and Juliet,” the most common question was: “But which is the scene with the fish tank?”

The most interesting interpretations of Much Ado…

Our course draws on the fantastic expertise of our partners in the Shakespeare Institute and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust to explore “Much Ado About Nothing” in performance. The course takes us into the social and historical context of the time that Shakespeare was writing, as well as exploring some of the most interesting interpretations of the play over the course of the RSC’s history.

We’ll be joined by Edward Bennett and Michelle Terry (pictured above), who play Beatrice and Benedick in our current production. They’ll share insights into the creative choices they made alongside Director, Christopher Luscombe.

We’re just in the process of editing all of the filmed content that is going to feature in the course. This includes scenes from our current production and specially commissioned interviews, as well as an array of images from past productions that all illustrate just how different the play can be in the hands of different creative teams.

Over 3,500 people have signed up for the course so far; I’m looking forward to the conversation as we explore the dark and light elements of the play, and discover what it means for us today.

You can join the free online course “Much Ado about Nothing: in Performance” now or join the conversation at #FLmuchado.

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