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'To show our simple skill': scripts and performances in Shakespearian comedy

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Publication details

JournalShakespeare Survey
DatePublished - 2003
Volume56, 'Shakespeare and Comedy'
Number of pages16
Pages (from-to)167-183
Original languageEnglish


In 1982 the actor Derek Jacobi was in Stratford-upon-Avon to play three roles – Prospero, Benedick and Peer Gynt – for the Royal Shakespeare Company. During that summer he had several abrasive encounters with academics, who criticized some of the line-readings he used as Benedick. One disliked his almost trademark habit of elongating selected vowel sounds and told him that this trait was more appropriate to a stand-up comic than a leading Shakespearian actor. Another regretted a moment in Benedick’s Act 2 soliloquy, as he absorbs the news that a love-lorn Beatrice is allegedly pining away for him. In modernized texts the words in question (Much Ado About Nothing 2.3, 212–13) characteristically read as follows: ‘Love me? Why, it must be requited’. Which Jacobi had the temerity to convert into: ‘Love me! Why? It must be requited’. So the disagreement hinged on whether a single three-letter word, ‘why’, should here be regarded as an interjection-cum-exclamation or an interrogative – an issue less trivial than might at first appear, since contrary judgements about it can generate radically different performances of the soliloquy.

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