What I love about this play: This is the best love story in Shakespeare. Well, OK, Antony and Cleopatra is right up there, but it’s certainly the best happy love story in Shakespeare, and I’d argue that Benedick and Beatrice have the edge because they’re down-to-earth, real, and not self-absorbed. How can you not love a play in which the heroine has a cold, the hero can’t write a sonnet to save his life, and they both acknowledge that vindicating Hero is far more important than pursuing their own courtship? (“Lady Beatrice, have you wept all this while?” has my vote for the most romantic scene in the canon, in part because so much about it is aggressively unromantic.)
Also, I must gush for a moment about how much I love Benedick – his relentless skepticism (well, except about the one thing he should be skeptical about, but nobody’s perfect), his quick wit, his willingness to suspend judgment when all of the other men in the play are piling on to condemn Hero. (See, not all of my Shakespeare crushes are on villains.)
As for the women, it goes without saying that Beatrice is all kinds of awesome, but Hero has this quiet courage and faith that always gets to me. This is especially evident in her “And when I lived I was your other wife / And when you loved, you were my other husband” line – which is enigmatic, and I think intentionally so, but the general sense seems to be that she recognizes that both she and Claudio have been transformed, and she trusts their new selves enough to go through with the marriage that went so terribly awry the first time. Which is really amazing, especially in a play that is so much about trust and faith – appearances deceive, and everyone has to rely on instinct and generosity.
I also really like the subplot with Dogberry, especially the “what your wisdoms could not discover, these shallow fools have brought to light” line. This is one of the tropes of Shakespearean comedy that I always love, the clown who sees more deeply into things than the nobleman: Bottom, for example, can see fairies when none of the other mortals can even fathom their existence. It’s nice seeing these characters get their props.
Favorite memory: Watching Branagh and Thompson go through their paces in the basement of the English building when I was a freshman in college. Oh, that movie must have created a generation of Shakespeare geeks. I’m glad I was at the right age to be one of them.