Hell has frozen over, and I am returned. Another Fat Tuesday come and gone, and here I am facing another 40 days/nights of blogging. Should be a good time. Let’s get started.
William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing happens to by my favorite comedy by the Bard. Its witty, doesn’t rely too much on ludicrous plot devices and deus ex machinas to resolve the ending. And there’s not a fairy named Mustardseed in sight. it’s a polished comedy, laced with innuendo, and did I mention witty? That and it was made into an excellent 1993 Kenneth Branagh film (but that’s a review for another day).
Vitriolic lovers and their merry quarrels aside, there is something that’s been bugging me about the play. The setting is Messina, which is on the island of Sicily. Don Pedro and his bastard brother John are both from Aragon, Benedick is from Padua, and the meathead Claudio is from Florence. Padua and Florence are both on the Italian mainland, and Aragon is in northern Spain. What exactly are these people doing together on Sicily?
Well, I don’t feel like digging into textbook after textbook at this time, so a little snooping on Wikipedia has yielded some results. Shakespeare wrote in the late 1500s-early 1600s. The kingdoms of Aragon and Castile were united in 1492 by Ferdinand & Isabella, who celebrated the newly forged Kingdom of Spain by sending Columbus off to accidentally discover the West Indies. So, by this, Don Pedro, prince of Aragon, is not entirely an independent prince, or the setting of the play is before 1492. Now, what’s an Aragonnese prince doing in Italy?
Turns out Sicily was conquered by Aragon in 1282 after a local revolt (the Sicilian Vespers) against France. Aragon controlled Sicily until 1479, whereby it was ruled by Spain. So that’s a good chunk of time under Aragon. So that explains why Don Pedro acts like he owns the place. He does. Leonato’s welcoming of the Prince and his posse begins to make sense.
Claudio and Benedick’s presence is a little more nebulous. This is Renaissance Italy we’re looking at, so it was not uncommon for professional soldiers and nobles to be crawling all over the place looking for business and booty. Well, this is a comedy, so its focused on the booty aspect. Well, there’s not much that can be discerned about Claudio and Benedick. They are the Princes companions, but the do not have titles like he does, yet are described as “young nobles.” They have to be younger sons because of primogeniture (the 1st son inherits all the family holdings) and signed up with the Prince because Sicily is a perennial battleground and there’s plenty of glory and riches in warfare. They are very close to the Prince. Personal friends in fact. They don’t act like gruff mercenaries so they must have signed on with the Prince for their living and through service become good friends. I guess that’s possible with mercenaries, but still, it doesn’t really fit the tone of the play.
And what of Don John? Well, he’s a bastard. And an asshole.