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Second Chances

Alisha Huber is excited to return to Pigeon Creek for her fourth production. Alisha directed PCSC's Julius Caesar in 2009, Romeo and Juliet in 2012, and The Duchess of Malfi in 2016. Alisha also frequently directs for Eastern Mennonite University, Bridgewater College, and other theaters in western Virginia. Alisha holds an MFA in directing from Mary Baldwin College in conjunction with the American Shakespeare Center.

Sometimes, I imagine Shakespeare as the kind of person who had to ask for forgiveness a lot. So often, his central characters are people in desperate need of second chances. He gives more of those than they deserve. He makes them work for it, sometimes. Some have to wait through long years of regret, grief, and self-loathing. Others have to go on long journeys by sea and land, get mauled by lions, be drugged and fooled and turned around until they come again to themselves. Some second chances come and are ignored. Some are sent and delayed, reaching their destination too late. Some are hinted in a line here or there. Some are, frankly, undeserved.

One surprise of Much Ado is how many characters screw up. Some are obvious. Claudio's devastating revelation turns the play's comedy inside out. Benedick was in love with Beatrice at some point before the action begins, but (if Beatrice is to be believed) he played false with her heart. Leonato turns on his daughter at the mere accusation that she has been sleeping around, and their formerly close relationship is shredded in an instant.

Other characters have more subtle references to their past, to their need to start over. Borachio drags his girlfriend into this crazy and destructive plot, but regrets it once he sobers up. Dogberry, in the midst of a long brag about how smart and handsome he is, mentions that he has "had losses." Is being put in charge of the city watch his chance to show himself a worthy citizen after whatever he lost?

Frankly, some of these second chances feel undeserved and unearned on a first pass through the script. Why does Hero forgive any of these men? Why does Beatrice give Benedick another chance to break her heart? Whose brilliant idea was it to put Dogberry in charge of anything at all?

One key for me was in looking at the way Much Ado prefigures Winter's Tale, another story of wrongful accusation and desperate grief over having screwed up so thoroughly. The audience can fully participate in Leontes' joy at his second chance because we see his deep and intense repentance. He is transformed by his regret before our eyes, becoming humble, self-aware, and unable to take his love for granted. His understanding of his own wrong transforms him into someone who is worthy of Hermione.

In trying to make all of the second chances in Much Ado acceptable, I looked for the transformative power of regret. Borachio can't complete his act of contrition until he clears Margaret's name. Benedick has to choose his love for Beatrice over his bromance with Claudio, and follow through with it. Leonato is wracked by his grief over his own response to Claudio's accusation, finally admitting, "My soul doth tell me Hero is belied," and risks his life and reputation by challenging Claudio to a duel. As for Dogberry, his evening patrol goes better than even he could have thought to hope for.

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