It seemed like a match made in heaven, or at least in Messina. Count Claudio and Lady Hero survived villainy, slander, mistaken identity, infidelity, and deception to marry and, ostensibly, live happy ever after. (At least that’s what we were led to believe in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing). A short three months later, however, the marriage is coming apart at the seams. It turns out that Claudio has anger and trust issues, accusing Hero of cheating on him. When he’s not smoking cigars and drinking martinis, he’s reading her emails and text messages. Hero, on the other hand, possibly after watching one too many episodes of The Kardashians, spends her days shopping at the Messina Mall and indulging in mani-pedis and Botox. Can this marriage be saved?
The Shakespeare Theatre brought in the best legal minds in the nation to hear the case. Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Elena Kagan, and Samuel Alito, took time out from pondering weighty issues like health care and immigration, to rule on the domestic issues of divorce, alimony, and dowries. Judicial wit and humor were on full display as the trio, joined by four other jurists, heard arguments in the mock trail, what has become an annual sold out event.
Counsel for Count Claudio, Reid H. Weingarten, of Steptoe & Johnson LLP, delivered a forceful, if somewhat cliché-ridden, argument for the sanctity of marriage. “All you need is love,” he intoned, saying that Claudio felt from the beginning that Hero was “the sweetest thing my eyes have ever seen.” Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, questioned whether Hero returned those feelings. “She’s just not that into you,” he said, quoting from a less-than-Shakespearean tome.
Claudio, of course, was loathe to see the dissolution of the marriage, trying to avoid a lifetime of alimony payments and the return of a very generous dowry from Hero’s father, Leonato. Justice Ginsberg saw right through Weingarten’s smokescreen, observing that Hero is Leonato’s only heir, so that Claudio had a strong, financial motive for staying married. Weingarten admitted that Leonarto, the wealthiest man in Messina, was definitely in the 1%.
Justice Alito ran the numbers, calculating that Hero’s monthly alimony payment of 30,000 florin would today amount to $5.6 million a month in U.S. dollars. Still, he questioned whether Hero could survive without alimony. “What else could she do?” he asked. “They have filled all the roles of The Real Housewives of Messina.”
Justice Kagan pressed the point, asking Ain what his client did all day. Wandering around Loehman’s was described as her daily routine. In Hero’s defense, it was argued that she helps to keep Messina’s fashion industry afloat and keeps the unemployment rate low by hiring numerous footmen. (Justice Kagan also revealed her affinity for the suit’s supporting cast, inquiring several times about the fate of Beatrice and Benedick. She was assured that the couple was still together).
While the justices retired to consider the verdict, the audience voted, placing in a basket a red token to side with Claudio, a blue token for Hero. The tokens, weighed on a brass judicial scale, tipped in Claudio’s favor.
The justices, however, were unanimous in finding for Hero. “The marriage is irretrievably broken,” said Justice Ginsberg. But the justices also agreed that Hero was not entitled to alimony. “She’s young and she has no kids,” Justice GInsberg said, confident that Hero could still find her life’s calling.
Judge Merrick B. Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, led the dissent, saying that “Claudio is a cad and should be punished. I would award alimony.”
In the end, the court, counsel, and audience retired to the lobby for Champagne to toast the ex-bride and groom.