Dr. Metablog is the nom de blague of Vivian de St. Vrain, the pen name of a resident of the mountain west who writes about language, books, politics, or whatever else comes to mind. Under the name Otto Onions (Oh NIGH uns), Vivian de St. Vrain is the author of "The Big Book of False Etymologies" (Oxford, 1978) and, writing as Amber Feldhammer, is editor of the classic anthology of confessional poetry, "My Underwear" (Virago, 1997).
The new Much Ado is a charming, understated success. The actors are not trained Shakespeareans; they're tv series folk, and they say the lines conversationally and casually, paying scant attention to the verse or to the mannered prose rhythms. It works, on the whole, although some of the great lines are delivered so unemphatically that they're swallowed and lost. Whoever would imagine that Benedick's "the world must be peopled' could slip by an audience without e'en a giggle. The text is judiciously pruned -- the only major omission the nighttime ceremony for presumably dead Hero -- but that's a scene that has always made me uncomfortable so I wasn't sorry to see it go. The Dogberry-Verges sequence is a brilliant deadpan triumph. There's very little added business, thank you, but what there is. is choice. The actress who plays Beatrice (Amy Acker) has borrowed so much from Emma Thompson's delivery (in the last filmed Much Ado) that if you were to close your eyes, you'd think that you'd time-traveled back to 1993.The director, whom I had never heard of but is apparently famous, is Joss Whedon. Thanks, Joss.
I've seen many many modern films in which hero and heroine don't get on at first but little-by-little find themselves in love and in marriage. But Shakespeare was there first. Beatrice and Benedick are the mom and pop of a half-a-zillion subsequent comedies. It's good to see them as alive and thriving as they are in this realization.
Some years ago, I was doing time at a world-famous research library. One of the other inmates posed a problem to the assembled denizens. A Frenchman, he was translating an American novel into his native tongue and there was a passage in the book that he could not understand. He thought it might be a joke but he couldn't make heads nor tails of it. He read us the passage. "Two men are in a bar. The first man asks, 'What do you do with a giraffe who has three balls on him.' The second man answers, 'Walk him and pitch to the elephant.'"
As I remember, everyone in the room "got it," but no one could suggest a good solution to the translation problem. Word-for-word wouldn't do and an equivalent was impossible to indentify. I don't know what the poor fellow decided. Something elegant, I hope.