The greatest challenge of learning how to speak William Shakespeare's poetic dialogue "trippingly on the tongue" was learning exactly what each line meant, said Rebecca Hough, a senior at Salina Central High School.

Hough, who is playing the iconic role of Beatrice in Shakespeare's comedy "Much Ado About Nothing," found that actually learning the lines — even though full of archaic phrases and unfamiliar words — was relatively easy.

"The words are so distinct from each other, and there are a bunch of key words that stick out," she said. "The hardest part is learning what the lines mean, so hopefully the audience can understand too."

"Much Ado About Nothing" will be performed by students in the Salina Central drama department Thursday and Saturday in the school auditorium.

When Salina Central drama teacher Chad Nulik decided to tackle a Shakespeare play for the department's fall production, he knew two things: it should be a comedy accessible to most audiences, and that he co-direct the show with English teacher Bryce Jones.

"The biggest advantage I have with this show is Bryce being an English teacher," Nulik said. "You can see his love and passion for teaching Shakespeare. I think we balance each other's strengths with this show, and it's been a great learning experience for both of us."

Jones, who previously directed productions of "Almost, Maine" and "Arsenic and Old Lace" at the school, said he, Nulik and the cast spent 12 days just reading and talking about the play, which was invaluable to understanding it.

"We would spend a lot of time reading it, then put it on its feet," he said. "We're now at a point where its beginning to pay dividends. The students are absorbing it well, and we're starting to get good feedback from them. They're taking ownership of what's going on in the play."

"Much Ado About Nothing" is full of comedy staples such as mistaken identities and misunderstandings. It tells the tale of young Count Claudio, who falls in love with a young maiden, Hero, while Hero's cousin Beatrice — a beautiful caustic, witty spinster — is duped by her waiting women into believing caustic, witty confirmed bachelor Benedict is in love with her, and she with him, even though all they do is bicker whenever they see each other.

Claudio is deceived by a malicious plot and denounces Hero as unchaste just before they marry. She passes out and is believed dead but ends up recovering after she is proven innocent by a chance discovery. Benedict wins Beatrice's love while defending her cousin's honor, and Claudio is reunited with Hero, just in time for a dance and a wedding.

Hough said portraying Beatrice has been a great experience.

"For the time, she's a very independent woman — sassy, witty and extremely intelligent," she said. "That's why she and Benedict work so well together, and against each other. She's not a polite maiden, but very blunt. She's ahead of her time."

Spencer Angell, a sophomore who plays Benedict, said Beatrice and Benedict are a great illustration of how "opposites attract."

"Benedict is a ladies' man who has never settled down, who is cynical about romance," he said. "He doesn't want to commit himself. The back and forth we have together has been a lot of fun."

Angell said the biggest challenge in acting Shakespeare has been getting used to speaking in iambic pentameter and "talking on the beat." That 's why it's been valuable to have both Nulik and Jones direct the show, he said.

"Without Mr. Jones, it would have taken longer to understand everything," Angell said.