There are any number of upsetting things about the play Much Ado About Nothing. Joss Whedon’s interpretation is likable, even though its weird visual homage to Fellini is distracting. What strikes me hardest is that Shakespeare’s insights are still painfully relevant. Here we are, centuries later, still making a huge deal about fucking virginity. About reputation. About the zero-sum mentality of entitled men.
When Claudio, lovesick douchebag, is told his penance will be to marry Leonato’s niece — a woman who looks the very image of Hero, and will inherit the sum of two households — you find yourself thinking: It’s perfect, really. He’ll get twice the bounty, and already couldn’t tell the difference between Hero and a woman who looked like her. If you only see a woman in terms of virginity, what difference does anything else about her make? She could be anyone so long as she’s virtuous, right?
What I love about the play — more, even, than Beatrice — is Dogberry. Shakespeare understood that a fool could unravel the absurdity of this position: A woman’s life forfeit at the merest suspicion. A woman’s life forfeit over nothing.
Beatrice reminds us that women have needed men to seek justice on their behalf. Shakespeare reminds us that women have always been at the mercy of men’s interpretations of justice and virtue. But we’re all better now, right? Post-feminist and happily ever after. No longer at the mercy of the misguided puritanical dogma of powerful, naive men.