Much Ado About Nothing.
Act Two.
Scene One.
Alas, poor Benedick.
Imagine. You show up at your friend Leonato’s house after serving in the army and Leonato’s daughter immediately falls for your best friend. So your future just changed from beers in the man cave to a studio apartment and a cat. Leonato’s neice, whom you may or may not have spurned a while back (you know, it was really unclear) insults you more wittily than you insulted her in front of all your friends, and then you try to chat with her at the big masquerade party to smooth things over, and she tells you nobody likes you to your face. Well, your masked face. She may not have known it was you. Like you said, unclear.
Meanwhile, Beatrice (that’s the niece) hasn’t had a cakewalk either. The man who trampled on her heart has come back and the only thing she has to protect herself this time is her razor-sharp wit. But imagine: the person you want to see least and most comes home from war and while their lord stays with his friend your uncle, your cousin-who’s-more-like-a-sister falls in love with your worse nightmare’s best friend.
I mean, you can deal with it. But man, all you want to do is let Benedick have it. Verbally.
Luckily for the reluctant lovers, Act Two, Scene Three is on its way! Their friends know hatred is but one step from love, and as friends they have decided to take matters into their own hands. They conspire to speak in raised voices about how they “heard” a certain Lady Disdain and Signiore Mountanto professing their true, secret love for the other. That way, their targets can “overhear” and fall in love for real.
Shakespeare relished plot devices such as this, and truth be told it’s not even his flimsiest. The scene does, however, lend itself extremely well to visual comedy, and each adaptation or staging of the Much Ado About Nothing finds a new way to depict this encounter.
More challenging, however, is a the song that appears right before the antics begin, entitled “The Song.” Benedick’s friends have just arrived, gleefully anticipating their trick. While waiting for everyone to be in place, they ask for some music. Shakespeare, rather than writing stage directions to exit, pursued by a clarinet, goes one step further and writes the lyrics to the song they sing.
Interesting, how no director of a major production chose to simply eliminate the song. Instead, each found a way to incorporate it into their interpretation of the play, including whatever fresh twists they took with the source material. Perhaps the lyrics proved too topical or relevant to cut:
Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more.
    Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea, and one on shore,
    To one thing constant never.
Then sigh not so,
but let them go,
    And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
    Into hey nonny, nonny.
Sing no more ditties, sing no more
    Of dumps so dull and heavy.
The fraud of men was ever so
    Since summer first was leafy.
Then sigh not so,
but let them go,
    And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
    Into hey, nonny, nonny.
—Much Ado About Nothing 2.3.62-75
 Nonny, an Elizabethan nonsense expression frequently used in the refrains of songs, seems particularly necessary in a story entitled “Much Ado About Nothing.” Here are three productions’ approach to the song’s inclusion:

1.) The 1993 Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson Film:

Branagh, reliably traditionalist, brings great focus onto the song. The film opens with a voiceover from Beatrice reading the first verse, and the song itself occurs at the exact moment it does in the play, its melody minstrel-like and calm. He takes this moment to create a long panning shot of all the characters, allowing his audience to reflect on the meaning the poem has for everyone.
much-ado-about-nothing-kb-song
A more celebratory reprise comes with all the wins and weddings at the end of the play, but the essence of the song remains traditional:
much-ado-about-nothing-final-song

2.) Joss Wheadon’s 2012 Film

Joss Wheadon took a different approach and moved the song up to play as the score for Act Two, Scene One: the masquerade scene. Perhaps he felt that a song break would not fit with his black-and-white, modern, and more serious interpretation. Perhaps he wanted to save time and budget, since the film was more a side project than anything. Or perhaps he decided the lyrics gave a good introduction to a scene in which characters’ hearts are deceived and mended and broken. In any case, Maurissa Tancharoen’s voice gives us a smooth, coffeehouse kind of croon to set the mood for the rest of the story to come.

3.) Josie Rourke’s 2011 West End Production Starring David Tennant and Catherine Tate:

Technically speaking, Much Ado About Nothing’s 2011 run in London’s West End isn’t an adaptation. It’s a filmed recording of a live show (thus, still a play) in Wyndham Theater, and it is hilarious.
However, the production did take liberties with the script. As far as “Sigh No More” goes, though, Rourke changed very little, only starting the song a bit earlier so Benedick can quip about sheeps’ guts haling souls out of men’s bodies while his friends are singing and pretending they don’t know he’s around, rather than before the antics begin.
In general, though, the show achieved an entirely different feel from Branagh’s more traditional interpretation. Perhaps the most obvious difference between the two is the difference in setting between Shakespeare’s original Sicily and 1980’s Gibraltar. However, tone is the more noteworthy uniqueness of this production. West End, thanks to its leads, truly put the “com” in rom-com. The song isn’t so much the focus as Benedick’s reactions, and that’s how all the characters see it.

Bonus:

Much like Branagh’s film, a more jubilant reprise of the song grooves at the show’s curtain call/finale. It’s got a mad “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” vibe to it. Check it out:

Which version do you think fit best (or worst) with the story? Which do you think Shakespeare would have enjoyed? What nonny was your favorite?

Sources:

     Shakespeare, William. New York: Penguin Signet Classics, 1964. Print.
Photo:
     BBC Films