First off, Hey, Nonny Nonny.
The phrase “Heigh, heigh a nonny-no,” appears in other songs and poems of the Early Modern period. It is present in English, Irish, and Scottish folk songs. It’s silly and trivial.
Why should I pay attention?
Act 2.3 is Balthasar’s performance of “Sign No More, Ladies.” Arguably, you can find major themes of the play hidden in this gem of a number. An ideal wife, let’s say Hero for example, shouldn’t express dissatisfaction towards marriage. An early modern wife should “be you blithe and bonny, converting all her sounds of woe, into hey nonny, nonny.” She should consider the “fraud of men,” or accept that “guys will be guys.”
BUT WHY, Shakespeare?
Was Shakespeare really trying to promote ‘ideal’ gender roles? He might have been trying to criticize it. These lyrics juxtaposed against the characters of Beatrice and Benedick suggest a more poignant meaning. Men mistreating women isn’t a new phenomena. Shakespeare utilizes Beatrice and Benedick to invite an alternative perspective on what the ideal romance should entail.
Hero’s fate is embedded in Benedick’s reaction. Shakespeare uses him to criticize the song and its meaning by calling Balthasar a “howling dog.” Benedick prays that “God his bad voice bode no mischief,” asking that his performance won’t cause damage. Regardless of Balthasar’s performance, Hero’s tragic fate is sealed.
In the 1993 film, Beatrice recites the song like a poem for the opening credits, which fades into a pastoral scene. She’s reading it aloud ironically to her laughing group of friends. The film’s adaptation maybe trying to express that Beatrice’s voice is a vessel of authority.
You can hear our production’s rendition of “Hey Nonny Nonny” by Michael Kiley in our trailer. Click here.