As you’ll know if you’ve seen my Twitter updates, I spent the last week at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon. My friend and fellow writer Penny Williamson and I have been going to OSF together for years. We spend a lot of time discussing and analyzing the plays. Over dinner the last night of our trip, we found ourselves discussing the plays we’d seen and, in particular, the heroes of two of them and the transformations they undergo.
Benedick begins Much Ado About Nothing tossing off clever repartee and exchanging witty insults with Beatrice. Then, in the midst of the play, after Benedick has been tricked into admitting to himself his love for Beatrice and she hers for him, the story takes a dark turn. Beatrice’s cousin Hero is falsely accused of infidelity on her wedding day. Benedick’s friends, Claudio (Hero’s fiancé) and the Prince, Don Pedro, believe the story without question, turning Hero and Claudio’s wedding into tragedy. Even Hero’s father condemns her at first. Of the major male characters, only Benedick questions the truth of what has happened. Eventually, he trusts Beatrice’s faith in Hero’s innocence enough that he challenges Claudio to a duel and discontinues his service to the Prince. When Claudio and the Prince try to joke with him later in the play, it’s Benedick who reminds them of the gravity of the situation. Benedick shows his mettle and the strength of his commitment in the second half of the play. In the end, when he and Beatrice—still bantering—are betrothed, you truly believe the marriage will work.
Harold Hill in The Music Man also undergoes a transformation. He beings to woo librarian Marian Paroo under the mistaken impression that she’s a “sadder’ but wiser girl,” planning to skip town before the residents of River City can discover that he’s incapable of leading the boys’ band he’s sold them on. But even as Harold transforms starchy River City (wonderful evoked on the OSF production by the costumes changing from shades of gray to vibrant color), he is also transformed. When he realizes Marian has fallen in love with him, knowing full well that he is an impostor, he becomes the man she believes him to be. Watching the OSF production Saturday, I was struck by the amazing emotional shifts Harold undergoes in the latter part of the story. From realizing Marian loves him but thinking she’ll hate him when she knows the truth, to his wonder at the reveatlion she loves him for who he really is, to his realization that with this he loves her and can’t run. In the end Harold stays in River City to face the music (which at that point looks as though it will be decidedly unpleasant), a moment beautifully captured in the OSF production when Harold holds out his hands to be handcuffed. And then there’s his stunned amazement when Marian hands him a baton to lead the boys—and girls in the OSF production-band and the young musicians manage to scrape together enough notes to delight their parents.
Beneidick’s and Harold’s emotional arcs were brilliantly catpured in the OSF productions by David E. Kelly (as Benedick) and Michael Ellich (as Harold). The audience saw both men grow and change over the course of the play, and in that growth made the endings to both plays ring with heart-warming truth. Do you have favorite characters, in plays or books or movies, who change and earn a hard-won happy ending? What makes the change particularly believable?
This week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is a letter from David to Charles, giving David’s take on the events Simon wrote about last week.