This is part of a weekly series here at TSS: Early Modern and Open Access regularly showcases peer reviewed articles (or other resources) of interest to early modernists that are freely available in open access formats.
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This article centers on the oft-criticized and baffling laughter elicited by Beatrice’s ‘Kill Claudio’ in Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing. Although many productions take pains to avoid this laughter response, the tensions built in the aborted wedding of Hero and Claudio require release. In his theory of relief, Freud posits that laughter is the means by which psychic tension is released. Laughter in the moments up to and including Beatrice’s order does not carry the same emotional tension as that elicited by Dogberry’s malapropisms, the early witty banter between Beatrice and Benedick, nor the farce or slapstick of other Shakespearean plays. Instead, the laughter in this moment is a byproduct of an audience’s desire to expel the tension amassed at the scathing dismissal and fall of Hero, to return to the comic tone of earlier scenes, and most importantly to return to safety. Rather than avoiding this audience reaction, productions should recognize the laughter’s role as a communal emotional response.