“A star danced, and under that I was born.”

One of my favorite of Shakespeare’s lines is Beatrice’s “…a start danced, and under that I was born.” And so began the second month in my Year of the Bard challenge, with ‘Much Ado About Nothing.’ Appropriately for Valentine’s month I chose plays about love: Much Ado and Romeo and Juliet. But, to not entirely wear out Cupid’s bow, I also added Henry XIII to my reading list. Here’s my impressions:

Much Ado About Nothing – Did women not have spines during Shakespeare’s time? I’m not taking about the average, poorer woman–most of whom were dependent on marriage to have a roof over their head and food in their stomach. I mean the more well-off women that Shakespeare wrote about. Case in point: Hero, the governor’s daughter in “Much Ado.” She is falsely slandered (actually called a whore) by her beloved, Claudio, at her wedding. She’s not only left at the alter, but through deception on her father’s part to make Claudio feel some sympathy (which he  doesn’t), she’s left for dead. Yet, she gladly marries him in the end of the play after he realizes he was set up to believe those things of her. On the other hand, the story of Beatrice and Benedick unwillingly falling in love–with their sharp wit and tongues–stole the show. Much Ado is a really fun play and perfect for Valentine’s. It shows that love isn’t always perfect and takes many forms.

Romeo & Juliet – What’s there to say about R&J, except there is a reason it has endured for so long and is Shakespeare’s most well-known play. I picture it as the John Hughes or Cameron Crowe hit of its time. Teenage angst, young love, parental  misunderstanding… It screams “Say Anything, ” but instead of Lloyd Dobler declaring his love for Diane by holding up a boom box outside her window, it’s Romeo declaring himself with sonnet under Juliet’s balcony. It makes you remember what it was like to be a teenager, jumping from one crush to the next as Romeo does, romping around with with friends like Mercutio and Benvolio, thinking no one in the world understands you. Shakespeare could easily have been writing about any teenager in the past 450 years. It’s no wonder R&J has stood the test of time.

Henry XIII – I love reading about King Henry XIII, his many wives and his mischief. But, I have to say, I just didn’t enjoy this play. I was really looking forward to reading it, thinking the subject matter would resonate since I’ve read about this part of English history a lot (as well as seen numerous film productions depicting the king). But, the play seemed allover the place, with too many characters and too much going on. I wonder if this is because the play was written by one or more people, aside from Shakespeare, as historians speculate. The story of how Anne Boleyn came to power and her quick demise was never told. Now, I would have enjoyed reading Shakespeare’s tale of that woe.