Is 'Pride and Prejudice' Jane Austen's "modern" re-telling of 'Much Ado about Nothing'?
It is a truth universally acknowledged that the most famous literary rom-com of all time must have more modern re-tellings than you can shake a stick at. Yes, Pride and Prejudice is an intelligent satire on a particular slice of Regency English life and its people (and also one of the best books ever written) but it's still a romantic comedy and the definitive example of the hate-to-love trope done properly. From Bridget Jones to Bride and Prejudice you can't really go wrong with a modern update of the story. The plot and characters are tried and tested and when the language and setting are removed it becomes accessible to everyone. Yet the Janeites will always flock too, as it's a lot of fun seeing beloved characters in a new form, spotting the nods to the original and seeing how cleverly the story has been adapted.
I've been wondering though. It was my sister who first pointed out the similarities between P&P and another famous rom-com, one that came much earlier. Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. When you think about it, there are a lot of striking similarities. Of course that could just be coincidence, but Jane Austen was a big Shakespeare fan. And if you compare the two stories, the way you would P&P to Bridget Jones, or Emma to Clueless, if you think of it as a re-telling, it's easy to spot the parallel characters and situations and there are definitely a few 'nods' back to 'the original'. Okay, you're not convinced. Jane Austen wasn't writing Shakespeare fan fiction! But Shakespeare was always drawing from earlier stories too, and modern updates can often be brilliant in their own right. Let me show you some comparisons, anyway:
Beatrice and Benedick/Lizzie and Darcy
Firstly, Elizabeth Bennet has a lot in common with Beatrice. They're both a lot of fun, everyone comments on how witty they are, they're determined not to marry unless deeply in love and are particularly set against Darcy/Benedick due to wounded pride. Benedick is not much like Darcy 'in essentials' - but Darcy and Elizabeth definitely have lots of back and forth flirtatious sparring going on (on his side it's flirtatious, she just hates him...) Also in a possible parallell to the proposal scene, Benedick gets a knock-back when Beatrice tells him what she really thinks of him while he's in disguise at the masquerade. Then just as you start to think they're starting to like each other, her female relative is plunged into disgrace and he must prove his love by going after the guy that did it and playing his part in making him marry her. Sound familiar? Oh and at one point he has a big speech about his ideal woman...
"...but till all graces be in one woman, one woman shall not come in my grace. Rich she shall be, that's certain. Wise, or i'll none, virtuous, or i'll never cheapen her, fair or i'll ever look on her, mild, or come not near me, noble, or not I for an angel, of good discourse, an excellent musician, and her hair shall be what colour it please God."
Hero and Claudio/Jane and Bingley
The secondary couples in both stories. She's sweet and kind and pure and innocent. He seems perfect for her but turns out to be dim and easily manipulated - convinced that the woman he loves feels nothing for him by third parties who obviously have ulterior motives. (Bingley is much nicer than horrible Claudio obviously.) He abandons her, convinced of her indifference/betrayal only to return later when he finds out the truth. She takes him back and they get married!
Beatrice and Hero's relationship/Lizzie and Jane's
Elizabeth loves and is protective of her sweet sister Jane, who everyone thinks is beautiful and we all know is also kind and innocent (although mercenary motives are ascribed to her by others.) Beatrice loves and is protective of her sweet cousin Hero, who everyone thinks is beautiful and we know is kind and innocent despite accusations. When Jane/Hero gets jilted, Lizzie/Beatrice is (rightly) fuming and takes it out on Darcy/Benedick. In the end it's all wrapped up neatly with a marriage.
The Lydia and Wickham scenario/ Don John and the plot
Villain with a grudge against one the good guys. A soldier. Lower social class than the main characters (Wickham son of old Darcy's steward, grew up with him, Don Jon the Prince's bastard brother) but tolerated until he crosses too many lines. The cause of an innocent young relative of the heroine to be disgraced, but the hero helps sort things out after a tearful scene with the heroine (Beatrice and Benedick in the chapel, Lizzie and Darcy after she get the letter about the elopement.) The girl gets married and respectability is (sort of) restored? Villain basically just creating drama for drama's sake.
The Prince/Colonel Fitzwilliam
So maybe this is pushing it. But Colonel Fitzwilliam is a close friend of Darcy's who kinda likes Elizabeth and half-heartedly tells her so (he hints he would propose if he wasn't a younger son.) He seems like he'd be a better fit for her in a lot of ways - he's fun, handsome, they get on well. But that's all there is to it so she's not too bothered. The Prince, Benedick's close friend, fun, handsome, quite likes Beatrice and sort of not-entirely-seriously asks her to marry him. She seems to realise its kind of spur of the moment for him and brushes him off kindly. We know he's not the one either - although the chemistry between Emma Thompson and Denzel Washington almost says otherwise...
That near-the-end scene where they talk about when and why they fell in love with each other
Benedick: ...Now tell me, for which of my bad parts did'st thou first fall in love with me?
Beatrice: For them all together, which maintained so politic a state of evil that they will not admit any good part to intermingle. But for which of my good parts did you first suffer love for me?
Benedick: Suffer love! A good epithet! I do suffer love indeed, for I love thee against my will.
- Much Ado about Nothing
...Elizabeth's spirits soon rising to playfulness again, she wanted Mr. Darcy to account for his having ever fallen in love with her. "How could you begin?" said she. "I can comprehend you going on charmingly, when once you had made a beginning: but what could set you off in the first place?"
"I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look, or the words which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew i had begun."
- Pride and Prejudice
Okay so I was watching the film of Much Ado about Nothing yesterday, and the little scene near the end, where they've already admitted their love and are being sweet and quite relaxed around each other, reminded me a lot of the post proposal conversation between Elizabeth and Darcy (in the book) where she she's teasing him while trying to find out what made him fall in love with her. It's a great scene and I did wonder whether she was referencing the Shakespeare play - even if it was unconsciously done.
The general bantering dialogue...the presence of soldiers everywhere......Benedick/Darcy being dismissive of Hero/Jane when called on by Claudio/Bingley to acknowledge her beauty ("she smiles too much") .....Benedick and Beatrice both have to overcome their Pride and Prejudice to see they're perfect for each other - oh and there's a bit where she refuses to dance with him!
So what do you think? A straight up modernised re-telling? A favourite play lovingly referenced or uncconsciously influencing her writing? Or is it all coincidence, because they both just have all the ingredients for a great rom-com? Ever noticed any other similarities?