Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Don John - "A playing, dealing villain" indeed

Don John, the bastard brother of Don Pedro, is the antagonist of Much Ado About Nothing. You can easily tell this for the fact this man is one of "few words." And of course, his title of "Bastard" does more than state that he is an illigitimate son.

John is very aware of his villanous state, and is extremely unapologetic about it. He talks to Conrad about his status in Act I, Scene 3, that he rather be a "...canker in a hedge than a rose..." and that there is nothing to alter him into a model citizen.

It sounds like he is a miserable, with a love to throw other people's lives into chaos. Mainly, he frames Hero for being unchaste and convinces the gullible Claudio of this. He even manages to fool everyone else of Hero's supposed promiscuity, causing great despair to Hero herself. But why does John do this? Is it simply because he is the "bastard" in the play? Shakespeare, the clever wordsmith, seems to imply his title alone motivates John to be nothing but a vicious, deceitful bad guy.

Or maybe John is just a lonely, vicious deceitful bad guy. How would one feel to have some drunk fellow named "Barrachio" as a minion, with a sniveling conspirator named "Conrad?" John despises his brother for the attention he gets as well as being good friends with likeable Benedick and Claudio. Does John spend any quality time with the boys in a meaningful way? Not really on any level. And that would lead him to spoil everyone's fun time.

On a historical level, being a "bastard" was not a completely bad thing, as even bastard children were usually accepted into the family. Back in the middle ages, William the Conqueror was a well known bastard. That did not stop him from storming England despite crude remarks that he smelled of the tannery, for his mother was a tanner's daughter.

Back to Much Ado About Nothing, John gets his due by having his minions, Conrad and Baracchio, apprehended by Dogberry and company. John gets apprehended at the very end of the play, with Benedick planning to punish him somehow. However, his capture is only mentioned and we are not rewarded with John ranting and raving of his plan being foiled. Guess he still gets the last laugh!

John is played by Keanu Reeves in Kenneth Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing, and I have to agree with Linda that his performance was simply a "stone faced" one. From the moment I saw him on the screen, I had to conceal a chuckle. Can you imagine John saying "Whoa, I shall go on an excellent adventure to create a horrid point break in romance just because I'm the one with the title of 'bastard?'" Reeves looked bored out of his mind and even hearing him uttering the "I am a man of few words" line was almost an unintentionally comic moment in the adaptation. Throughout the movie, Reeves acted like some angry, manipulative teenager as opposed to a sinister wedding crasher.

This is not to say that Reeves is a terrible actor, as he had appeared in a production of Hamlet in Winnipeg as the lead role, garnering positive criticism. Perhaps Reeves was simply miscast, as he had better roles in The Matrix movies, The Devil's Advocate and Point Break.

Below is a music video homage to Reeves' interpretation of Don John from 1993's Much Ado About Nothing. The video still does not help Reeves' "villanous Don John image," but particular fans will still get a kick out of it. - Kristopher

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