Much Ado About Nothing
The Construction of Don Pedro’s Character as a Leading Figure
Don Pedro is a very important character within Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare, both within his own right and in terms of how he draws Shakespeare’s other characters together. Often referred to as “the Prince” from Aragon (“No Fear”), Don Pedro seems intelligent, encouraging, understanding, but also very gullible. He is the most social and political character in the play that works as a link between the other characters. There are a few facts that support Don Pedro as a very significant character in the story: his relationship with other characters in the play, his personal characteristics, and how he works as a tool of the author to deliver the main themes of the play.
Don Pedro works as a connection between all the characters that appear in the play. The story actually starts with Don Pedro bringing his soldiers that fought under him during the war to his old friend Leonato, who is Hero’s father and Beatrice’s uncle. As people get together, the story starts to take shape. Claudio falls in love with Hero; Don Pedro and Benedict help Claudio get to Hero. Later on, Don Pedro also plans to make Beatrice and Benedict fall in love with each other, which eventually brings all the characters together to work on a common goal. Even the antagonist, John, Don Pedro’s stepbrother, is included in the story as, who is eager to break the peace and take Don Pedro’s place. Don Pedro is the main link between the main characters of the drama. If it were not him, the main events would not have taken place.
Don Pedro is a leading figure in the play. He is a very generous, courteous, and intelligent man, but he lacks a little bit of a sturdiness to prevent himself from falling into evil. In the film version of the drama, he appears to be taller than other main characters, and he always stands in the middle of Claudio and Benedick, clearly showing that he is the leader of the group (Branagh). There are a few cases in the drama that shows his characteristics. First of all, he leads Claudio to the marriage to Hero. He tells Claudio:
They’re going to have a costume party with dancing tonight. I’ll disguise myself as you and pour out “my” feelings to Hero, taking her prisoner with the force of my love story. Then I’ll talk to her father. And in the end, she’s yours! Let’s get started right away (“No Fear”).
He also plans to help Beatrice and Benedict fall in love with one another. He says to Claudio:
Come, you shake the head at so long a breathing, but I warrant thee, Claudio, the time shall not go dully by us. I will in the interim undertake one of Hercules’ labors, which is to bring Signor Benedick and the Lady Beatrice into a mountain of affection, th’ one with th’ other. I would fain have it a match, and I doubt not but to fashion it, if you three will but minister such assistance as I shall give you direction (“No Fear”).
Don Pedro not only takes the leadership position, but also plays an important role for the author.
Don Pedro also works as the playwright’s tool to implicate the main theme of the drama. The author tries to deliver to the audience the fragility and instability of a human being through showing Don Pedro who is so quick to fall into the evil of John. John, Don Pedro’s stepbrother, plans to deceive Don Pedro and Claudio by showing them Margaret and one of his soldiers having sex. Not knowing that it is not Hero but Margaret, her maid, that is with another man, the two men decides to revenge Hero. By reading this portion of the play, the audience can realize how quick a human is to believe in something that is so evil, even Don Pedro, the man of knowledge and leading.
“The Prince, Don Pedro is a notable character in the drama, Much Ado About Nothing (“No Fear”). Most significantly, his role links the main characters. He also has enough traits of a leader, and therefore takes a leadership position in the story. He literally leads the story by planning major events. Last, but not least, Shakespeare uses this character as a means to deliver a message to the audience. By showing Don Pedro fall into John’s trickery, the playwright implies that all human beings are the same, big or small, they are susceptible to be deceived by evil.
Branagh, Kenneth, director. Much Ado About Nothing. Renaissance Films, 1993.
“No Fear Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing.” No Fear Shakespeare, SparkNotes, 2017, nfs.sparknotes.com/muchado/page_2.html.
Female Characters in Their Differences in the Much Ado About Nothing
A central theme in “Much Ado about Nothing” is that of the literary tradition of a heroine within the social conventions surrounding women. The literary tradition of the time (and indeed, in many cases, up to the present day) bestows the conventional heroine with beauty, modesty and etiquette, submissive and obedient to men’s will. Literary convention also presents the heroine with a variety of obstacles which, through no fault of her own, she is forced to overcome. Ultimately, she prevails and the Shakespearean tale typically ends with a joyful marriage ceremony, often an alliance between two families. However, modern literary tradition breeds the unconventional heroine, an independent, assertive and articulate young woman, overcoming prejudice and injustice. In “Much Ado About Nothing”, Shakespeare presents us with both the Elizabethan conventional and (the more modern) unconventional heroine in Hero and Beatrice, using a variety of effective literary methods, to demonstrate the extreme differences in character.
Social expectations of women in Elizabethan society were that they should submit to their fathers’ will, marry men of their fathers’ choosing, often as a way of forming propitious family alliances, and remain submissive to their husbands. They had no role or autonomy in their own right, only within the contexts of their menfolk. Expected to be beautiful, modest and chaste, “fair” Hero, at the beginning of the play, fits the role perfectly.
Claudio has effectively been chosen as her husband by her father, with Hero submitting uncomplainingly to her duty to “be ruled by your father”, thus matching the social norm of the time. Indeed, she had originally believed herself to be wooed by Don Pedro, and yet, when Claudio was presented as the actual wooer, had no apparent misgivings in switching to accept his suit – she is simply at the disposal of her father. The discussions between Don Pedro and Claudio about the proxy wooing reveal no suggestion whatsoever that Claudio’s suit could be rejected by Hero; the thought that she might have any free will does not even loom as a possibility: “I’ll unclasp my heart……And the conclusion is, she shall be thine”.
Shakespeare gives Hero virtually no speeches in the first act, although she is central to much that is happening, and she is early presented merely as a chattel to be discussed and “allocated”. The traditional female modesty is clearly portrayed; on her wedding eve, her virginal anxiety shows through all of her fussing over her clothes, and in answer to a ribald statement of Margaret’s, her modesty, even in private, is such that she exclaims “Fie upon thee! Art not ashamed?”. Even Hero’s fainting away at the altar on her wedding day, when her honour is besmirched, seems not only a dramatic device, but also a literary tool to demonstrate her female modesty and sensitivity. (One can scarcely imagine Beatrice reacting in such a way.) Moreover, the later continued feigning of death is not the idea of Hero, which would have shown her to be taking control of her own fate, but instead is the idea of yet another man, the Friar: “Publish it that she is dead indeed”. Thus, even at the moment when her reputation, indeed her entire future is under threat, Hero remains passive, at the disposal of men.
The deathlike faint, essential to Shakespeare’s plot, is possibly the ultimate in female submissiveness.
Throughout the play, Hero is presented as the archetypal traditional heroine, the romantic ideal. The language used in descriptions of her are flowery and tender: “jewel”, the object of “soft and delicate desires”, “the sweetest lady that ever I looked on”. Moreover, for such a pivotal character, her actual speeches of any substances are few, usually only speaking when spoken to, and almost always in blank verse – traditional feminine reticence is clearly shown throughout.
However, the Elizabethan tradition of submissive and meek women was being breached by Queen Elizabeth I herself. A strong, confrontational, independent and clever woman, the queen was challenging the contemporary perceptions of women and their place in society. Such a woman was Beatrice.
At the opposite pole from Hero, and completely in contrast to the traditional heroine, Shakespeare presents us, in Beatrice, with a heroine we are more familiar in seeing in modern drama. Shakespeare gives us a heroine capable of two different interpretations. Either we can see a jaded, aging, cynical and embittered spinster, who uses her wit and repartee defensively to gain attention, or we see Beatrice as an independent and feisty woman, courageous and loyal, determined not to fall into the expected role of submissive wife.
“He that is more than a youth is not for me and he that is less than a man, I am not for him.”
The Beatrice that I find in “Much Ado” is the strong, independent atypical woman. It is interesting that this play is one of the few comedies in which none of the leading female characters dress up as a man in order to speak forthrightly or bluntly. The character of Beatrice has been written in such a way that this is her usual manner of speech. In her first interchange with Benedick, we see a woman who could not be more different from the reticent and passive Hero. We are given a woman who wants to dominate the conversation, who is witty, aggressive: “he wears his faith but as the fashion of his hat; it ever changes with the next block”. Indeed, throughout the play, she is so direct as to be sometimes bawdy, with many references to stuffing and horns, allusions usually restricted to men. This provides a stark contrast to Hero’s prudishness discussed earlier. Similarly, in what is usually a masculine conversational style, Beatrice makes many hunting allusions – “I will requite you, taming my wild heart to thy loving hand.” (a falconry allusion).
Unlike Hero, Beatrice is not portrayed as the gift of a father to a husband. Instead, we are very aware of a woman determined to be in charge of her own destiny, disdainful of the tradition of romantic love: “I would rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me”. Indeed, the early Beatrice rejects even the idea of marriage, “Not till G-d make men of some other metal than earth”, and is again presented as the antithesis of the traditional heroine. (There is evidence that her cynicism springs from a failed earlier entanglement with Benedick, which may go towards explaining her rejection of all romantic conventions: “once before, he won it (her heart) of me with false dice”.)
If this aggressive banter and rejection of feminine wiles and aspirations were all that we saw of Beatrice, Shakespeare would have given us a very one-dimensional character, with little appeal. Instead, Beatrice appears as much more rounded. She is described as a very happy person: “There is little of the melancholy element in her” and clearly is devastated by the wrongs done to Hero. Not only is she given weaknesses such as a love of eavesdropping that Hero, Margaret and Ursula exploit in convincing her of Benedick’s “love” for her, but also we see a fierce loyalty to Hero when she is falsely accused of infidelity. Indeed, such is the depth of Beatrice’s loyalty to her cousin, that it never occurs to her to doubt Hero’s innocence, and she makes the demand of Benedick that could be seen as very unfeminine: “Kill Claudio”. She bemoans the fact that, as a woman, she cannot use force to avenge the wrong done to her cousin, and has no hesitation in using Benedick’s avowals of love as a tool in her own desire for revenge: scarcely the archetypal submissive and dependent woman. (It is also likely that in this time of her own grief, she sees the opportunity to test the nature of Benedick’s love by demanding that he puts her needs above his friendship with Claudio.) Nonetheless, one can only admire Beatrice’s total loyalty to Hero and her determination to avenge her name.
Beatrice, like all heroines, is given her own obstacles to overcome, and unlike passive Hero, who achieves her goal through the efforts of others, Beatrice struggles with herself. Having so vehemently dismissed the notion of love and marriage, refusing to “sigh hey-ho for a husband”, possibly because of an earlier hurtful rejection, she must learn to show the flexibility of a mature character in accepting the (supposed and then real) love of Benedick. At the end of scene in which Beatrice hears of Benedick’s supposed love for her, and then accepts it in her own mind, Shakespeare has her speak in blank verse (III,i) (as Hero virtually always does) rather than in the blunter prose which she usually uses. It therefore feels as though we are being shown that despite so many masculine traits shown by this unconventional heroine, she still remains at heart womanly. “Benedick, love on; I will requite thee”
It cannot have been easy for Beatrice, of all characters, to discover that she has been tricked into falling in love with the man she has constantly and publicly ridiculed, but she is strong enough to put that to one side in her attempts to use the situation to avenge the wrongs done to Hero. Such a reaction takes the courage to put friendship before oneself.
Even in her acceptance of Benedick, however, at the point of marriage, the continued verbal sparring between the two leaves us with the conviction that this is a marriage of equals and of mutual respect, not a passive submission to the expectations of society. Beatrice, one feels, retains her integrity. Can that be said of Hero?
Thus in “Much Ado about Nothing”, William Shakespeare gives us two very different versions of heroines: the conventional, submissive, passive, Elizabethan literary ideal and the independent, witty self-determining Woman. Even in his contrasting use of language, largely blank verse for Hero and prose for Beatrice, Shakespeare draws sharp contrasts. One is buffeted by forces around her, at the disposal of the whims of men, the other strives to control her own destiny, and proves able to adapt and change in a mature and self-knowing way. Hero in many ways appears little more than a two-dimensional stereotype of her time. Beatrice jumps off the page as a person both believable and worth knowing today. I prefer Beatrice.
The Homosocial Discourse in Shakespeare’s Works
Although considered light and delightful entertainment, Shakespeare’s plays of comedy often address serious issues confronting Elizabethan values of propriety and social decorum. Anti-Semitism, death and homosexuality are frequent themes woven in his plays and the latter is addressed in Much Ado About Nothing and The Merchant of Venice. In exhibiting the inherent bonds that transpire between males Shakespeare substantiates their acts of loyalty and devotion with measures that try the men’s love; it is then that the reader comprehends Bassanio and Claudio’s willingness to select their male relationships over their romantic ones. Battling through mutual experiences the men in both Much Ado About Nothing and The Merchant of Venice are bonded in ties of loyalty, devotion and love far surpassing the strength of heterosexual marriages in the plays. Shakespeare artfully designs this rift between the genders to shatter the conservatism of Elizabethan notions of propriety.
The homosocial bonds in Much Ado About Nothing are established immediately in the introduction of the play. The men are announced to the women of Messina as an arriving group of valiant gentlemen visiting from a well-fought war. War in itself is a highly masculine affair, an event where passionate and testosterone filled men battle side by side and are either slain by the sword of a man or saved by the hand of another. Blood and sweat is shed and shared, forming a glutinous bond for a fraternity in which the members are hazed in trials of pain, defeat and triumph. Don Pedro, the Prince of Aragon, is the president of his fraternity. Loyalty, deference and respect are the advantages of his alpha station and the hierarchical male structure lends order in the homosocial bonds of the play. The notion of war as a masculine activity is also prevalent in The Merchant of Venice, yet it must be considered on a smaller and subtler scale between the individual characters.
Shakespeare utilizes the images of blood, pain and money as the traits of Antonio and Shylock’s contract in The Merchant of Venice since all three characteristics are exceptionally phallic and masculine in nature. The arrangement symbolically exhibits two rudiments of homosocial bonds. The motivation for both parties involved is highly male-driven. After hearing of Shylocks’ extreme terms of collection (should a payment default occur) Antonio demonstrates his deep devotion to Bassanio when he agrees to serve as his guarantor. Whether or not Antonio’s love is of a homosexual nature is unclear, however his loyalty and strong affections may not be construed as purely platonic. At one point he claims ready to surrender to Bassanio his, “purse, my person, my extremest means. Lie all unlock’d to your occasion”(1.1.140).
Shylock’s incentive for imposing such a ruthless collection of Antonio’s flesh is motivated by his hatred for Antonio as a man, a man who has battered Shylock’s pride with his publicly slurred Anti-Semantic epithets. On account of to its bloody harshness alone itt may be assumed that Shylock would have never established such an appalling consequence on a female borrower. The pain from severing a pound of flesh is unthinkable for a woman to endure but not for a man. Antonio’s inability to recompense the debt triggers a declaration of war between Shylock and himself and assesses Bassanio’s allegiance to Antonio.
Antonio’s ability to sacrifice his flesh and blood for Bassanio’s happiness speaks volumes for his love, and his acts of loyalty are not unrequited. Bassanio’s forsaken pride in accepting Portia’s funds for the Venice excursion coupled with his willingness to leave his new bride exhibits his loyalty to Antonio. Loyalty is a priority in homosocial relationships, and at one point in the play Portia speculates if Bassanio would forfeit their love for Antonio. Subsequent to Antonio’s release from Shylock’s bond Bassanio wishes to pay Portia (garbed in a manly disguise) a fee for her legal services in freeing Antonio. Initially resistant to Portia’s request for his wedding ring claiming “there’s more depends on this than value” (4.1.439), Bassanio is ultimately persuaded by Antonio to “let him have the ring. Let his deservings and my love withal. Be valu’d ‘gainst your wife’s commandment” (4.1.454-456). In this scene Antonio clearly asserts his dominance over Portia. He successfully assures Bassanio that their love and loyalty yields precedence over Bassanio’s marriage to Portia, and that no ring is worth not paying for the services rendered in saving their homosocial relationship. Portia’s response to Bassanio’s surrender of the ring is comparable a lover scorned by infidelity; she conjures an anecdote of her own infidelity in efforts to retributively hurt his emotions. Portia’s rejoinder confirms that she is threatened by the breadth and deepness of Antonio and Bassanio’s homosocial bond. It is this loyalty between the two men that is also similarly established between Don Pedro and Claudio’s relationship in Much Ado About Nothing.
The homosocial bond between young Claudio and Don Pedro is analogous to that of a father and son, or between male siblings. Don Pedro serves as his mentor and advisor in all things regarding love and life. Don Pedro grants Claudio his approval of Hero, and provides Claudio a service by wooing the young maiden for him. Claudio, young and impressionable, is so smitten by Don Pedro that he believes the man’s advice and counsel no matter the result. As an illustration one must consider Claudio’s reaction upon hearing Don John’s accusation of Don Pedro’s endeavors to woo Hero for himself. Claudio rationalizes Don Pedro’s behavior by stating, “Friendship is constant in all other things. Save in the office and affairs of love” (2.1.153-154). However, it is interesting to note that when Claudio proclaims this he simultaneously decides to cease his attempts in acquiring Hero, in essence deferring to Don Pedro’s whim. Additionally he contradictorily selects Don Pedro’s friendship over the pursuit of Hero albeit his proclamations that love override friendships. Note as well with whom Claudio pairs himself with subsequent to learning of Hero’s supposed infidelity—it is by no coincidence that Don Pedro is the backbone that supports Claudio.
Benedick’s willingness to challenge Claudio to a duel in avenging Hero’s honor may appear as a female influenced decision. His disposition has radically shifted in regards to his homosocial loyalties to his crew. When Beatrice implores Benedick to kill Claudio he initially refuses and Beatrice resorts to attacking the strength of his love, stating, “I am gone though I am here. There is no love in you. —Nay, I pray you, let me go” (4.2.291). She further appeals to Benedick’s desire to “prove” his love by stating, “Use your love some other way than swearing by it.” (4.2.320). These challenges of Benedick’s declaration of love, coupled with his lusty desires for Beatrice compels Benedick to challenge his homosocial bond with Claudio. Although he might have been convinced of it at the time, it is not love that motivates the duel. The end of the play the reader discovers that Beatrice and Benedick are married out of convenience and friendship rather than out of love—which implies that love was never the cause of Benedick’s challenge to Claudio, but was his own pride that threw down the glove.
Benedick’s glove in Much Ado About Nothing represents a challenge, and in a sense one may symbolically interpret Shakespeare’s homosocial bonds as a gloved challenge thrown to conservative Elizabethan notions of marriage. Portia represents society’s image of homosexuality and homosocial tendencies—she is aware that it exists, and in her attempts to diminish the threat she casts the dilemma aside. The dilemma for Portia is Antonio himself. Although Shakespeare resolves both plays with gender appropriate unifications, one must delve deeper to unmask the motivations of each. Money and beauty joins Portia and Bassanio, duty and default marries Claudio to Hero and friendship binds Beatrice and Benedick. All these attributes are characteristics of platonic relationships. Deep affection, devotion and loyalty are the true characteristics of love, and all three exist in the homosocial bonds rather than the heterosexual ones. As a reminder of such a notion Shakespeare retains Antonio and Bassanio at the end of the play as lingering reminders that love is not limited to the enjoyment of men and women—but to men to men alike.
Problematic and Themes Raised in Much Ado About Nothing
At first glance, the reader is not likely to notice the immediate clue which presents itself in the title of William Shakespeare’s comedy, Much Ado About Nothing. If one, however, would follow the example of a Shakespearean player in Elizabethan times and pronounce the word “nothing” as “noting,” he would be introduced to a pun that is very significant because the ideas of noting, or observation, and nothing, are important themes in this story. Noting is something which motivates the characters to take actions which greatly affect the plot, and it is an idea which reflects the theme of reality versus appearance, in which reality is nothing and appearance is due to noting.
First of all, it is the characters’ noting which drives them to take actions which influence the plot. The earliest example of this is when Claudio falls in love with Hero. The relationship between these two characters plays a major role in the story, and it originates with Claudio noticing Hero – “Benedick, didst thou note the daughter of Signior Leonato?” (Act 1:1, l. 158-59) Claudio then asks the Prince to woo her for him. The important chain of events which follows – the pastime of formulating a romance between Beatrice and Benedick, the scheme of Don John, the “death of Hero” – is all on account of Claudio’s falling in love with Hero, which wouldn’t have happened, had he not noted her.
Another example is when Benedick and Beatrice fall in love with one another. The only reason this happens is because, first of all, Benedick notes the Prince, Claudio, and Leonato discussing how Beatrice is in love with him: “Come hither, Leonato. What was it you told me of today, that your niece Beatrice was in love with Signior Benedick?” (Act 2:3, l. 95-7) This, of course, is not true, but Benedick believes it, and he falls in love with Beatrice – “I will be horribly in love with her!” (Act 2:3, l. 237) Likewise, Beatrice overhears Hero and Ursula purposefully inventing Benedick’s love for her, and she falls in love with him – “I will requite thee, taming my wild heart to thy loving hand.” (Act 3:1, l. 117-18) The relationship between these two characters is important to the plot, as many events revolve around them, and it comes about only because Beatrice and Benedick note others’ conversations which falsely discuss their love for one another.
Probably the most important instance of a character’s noting affecting the plot is when Claudio observes Borachio wooing Margaret and believes her to be Hero. Thinking Hero to be disloyal, Claudio shames her publicly and refuses to marry her. This event, and the actions taken to solve the problems it creates, make up the major conflict in the plot. The characters must devise a way to prove Hero’s innocence and make Claudio feel remorse for his actions. This they do, by staging Hero’s death and uncovering her slander. None of this would have occurred, however, if Claudio had not noted Borachio wooing “Hero” and then acted on his false impression.
Two more examples of the significance of noting are when the Watch notes Borachio telling Conrad of the crime he committed by helping to slander Hero. The two men are then arrested, which is important to the plot; otherwise, they never would have been interrogated, and Hero’s innocence would never have been confirmed. The other example is when Dogberry goes to tell Leonato that he has apprehended some criminals, who happen to be Borachio and Conrad. Leonato notes Dogberry, who speaks in malapropisms, and sends him away. Had Leonato noted him further, he would have realized that it was important to interrogate the criminals right away, and he then would have been able to prevent the slander of his daughter. In this way, his failure to note Dogberry properly greatly affects the plot.
Noting does not only serve to motivate the characters – it reflects the story’s continuing theme of reality versus appearance. One aspect of this theme involves the idea that objects or affairs, when noted, are not always what they seem to be. The frequent use of masks throughout the story supports this idea. Masks create a distorted version of reality by giving a person a false appearance. The first use of masks is at the dance, where several instances of people seeming to be other than they are occur. Antonio flirts with Ursula, pretending he is not himself. The Prince woos Hero, pretending to be Claudio. Claudio pretends to be Benedick, and so allows himself to hear Don John saying that the Prince is wooing for himself. Benedick, recognizing Beatrice, who may or may not recognize him, is subjected by her to a series of harsh criticisms of himself. In the end of the story, Claudio marries Hero when she is behind a mask, not knowing her identity. All of these events take place when most of the characters are behind masks, which therefore relate to the reality versus appearance theme by giving a false appearance to a reality, and which relate to the noting theme by depriving the characters of their ability to note one another properly.
The reality versus appearance theme, which involves objects or affairs not being what they seem to be, goes to a higher level. Characters are deceived by what they note because the things they note seem to be other than they are. Then, by reacting to what they believe they noted, the characters react to what is, in reality, nothing. For example, Beatrice and Benedick fall in love because, by what they note others to say, it appears to them that each is in love with the other. They react to the false appearance that they note by actually falling in love with one another. They later discover that neither one originally loved the other, and so their reaction of falling in love was based on, in reality, nothing.
Another example of the reality versus appearance theme is when Claudio notes Margaret and Borachio and believes Margaret to be Hero, then slanders Hero, justifying himself with the idea that she appeared to be disloyal. While he shames her, he makes many references to the contrast between her appearance and what he believes her to be in reality: “Behold how like a maid she blushes here! …Would you not swear, all you that see her, that she were a maid,/ By these exterior shows? But she is none.” (Act 4:1, l. 34-40) He later makes another statement which refers again to the theme of reality versus appearance, in which he describes what she seems to be and what he thinks she is: “You seem to me as Dian in her orb/ As chaste as is the bud ere it be blown./ But you are more intemperate in your blood/ Than Venus, or those pampered animals/ That rage in savage sensuality.” (Act 4:1, l. 58-62) Thus Claudio, causing a great upheaval in the plot, accuses Hero in reaction to her appearing to be disloyal. He later discovers that she was innocent all along, and that what he noted was false. His accusations were built on nothing – she had appeared unfaithful but was, in reality, loyal.
The title, Much Ado About Nothing, summarizes the entire story. It has two meanings, each of which are significant to the plot – if it means “much ado about noting,” it describes all of the activity which takes place on account of the characters’ noting. If it means “much ado about nothing,’ it describes how all of the characters’ activities are based on nothing. The title itself, in all its cleverness and mixed meanings, is representative of the clever and complex text within. The title, then, is one of the few aspects of this play which do not have a deceitful appearance. In fact, this work is so preoccupied with the idea of deceitful appearances and such that it makes the reader wonder about his or her own life. How many times have we been deceived? How many objects or affairs in our lives currently are not what they seem to be? Also, are we, like the characters, going to be lucky enough to have the truth revealed to us? This comedy of Shakespeare is not so humorous as scary, because it provides us with questions to which we might never know the answers.
The Establishment of Antagonistic Relations Between Benedick and Beatrice
Although set in Messina, Italy, the conventions in Much Ado About Nothing are those of Elizabethan England, where marriage was seen as a business transaction and family stability was vital. This idea is explored through the fate of Hero, who has little say in who she marries because her life is dictated by her father, Leonato, “It is my cousin’s duty to make curtsy, and say, father, as it please you” (Beatrice – Act2, Sc1, L39). Shakespeare also makes his views on courtly love clear – Claudio falls in love with Hero without saying a word to her but is permitted to wed her by Leonato, only for Claudio to leave Hero at the alter because he mistakenly thinks that she has been unfaithful. Beatrice on the other hand, is subject to no such conventions: she is a rebel. Her uncle, Leonato, says “By my troth, niece, thou will never get thee a husband if thou be so shrewd of they tongue”. She is the opposite of her cousin and best friend, Hero. These are characteristics which make her relationship with Benedick fiery and very unusual for the time. As it is a play, the opening scene needs to draw the audience in, hence the quick introduction of this entertaining relationship. Beatrice and Benedick’s past is intriguing and the audience is forced to keep watching in order to find out what happened, as not all is revealed at first. Their banter is fast, furious and comical, making the opening scene a great start to the play.
The first clue to their relationship and Beatrice’s first line comes very early in Act 1, Scene 1, by line 23. A messenger has come to inform the people of Messina of the arrival of Don Pedro of Arragon, who has just won a war fought against his brother, Don John, over their inheritance. Don Pedro is portrayed as the “goody” and Don John quickly emerges as the antagonist of the play, as the illegitimate son. Leonato and the Messenger are discussing Claudio’s feats in the war, when Beatrice interrupts, again showing how unconventional and bold she is, “I pray you, is Signor Mountanto returned from the wars or no?” The “Signor Mountanto” she refers to, is Benedick, another soldier who fought in the war. She uses “Signor Mountanto”, meaning “fencer”, in a sarcastic way but the fact that Beatrice enquires about him and uses this nickname shows her possible affection for Benedick and that there is some sort of past between them. His nickname also reveals how she views him, perhaps as sharp and potentially dangerous.
Beatrice continues to ask after Benedick, “How many hath he killed? – for indeed I promised to eat all of his killing” Even though she is mocking him, Shakespeare is showing that she is thinking about him a lot. The word “promised” suggests that they have met before and at least spoken. The messenger defends Benedick, saying that Benedick is a good soldier, to which Beatrice responds: “And a good soldier to a lady, but what is he to a lord?” This implies that Benedick is good with women but not at fighting. The way Beatrice delivers the line suggests that she finds the way Benedick is with women disgraceful and that she may have been victim of this in the past.
We see early signs of Beatrice’s quick wit when she challenges the messenger over Benedick and again how she does not fit the mould of an Elizabethan woman, something which could result from the absence of her parents. On line 45, Leonato tells the messenger that the verbal fighting between his niece, Beatrice and Benedick is a “Merry war”. This is an oxymoron that hints that their fighting is good-natured and not too serious.
Don Pedro, Claudio, Benedick and John first appear at line 70 of Act 1, Scene 1. Don Pedro and Leonato – the governor of Messina – greet each other like old friends and it appears that Don John has been forgiven as he is welcomed into Leonato’s home. Don Pedro sees Hero and asks Leonato, “I think this is your daughter?” to which Leonato responds, “Her mother hath many times told me so,” but Benedick then interrupts: “Were you in doubt, sir, that you asked her?” Leonato says: “Signor Benedick, no, for then you were a child”. His interruption of the governor and the Prince in their conversation shows how cheeky Benedick is and the governor’s response backs-up what Beatrice has hinted at about him being a “ladies man”.
This is when Benedick and Beatrice launch into the first bout of their “merry war”. Benedick calls Beatrice “Lady Disdain” which is obviously unkind and disrespectful but can also be seen as a nickname that Benedick has for Beatrice, similar to Beatrice calling him “Signor Mountanto”. What follows is a kind of tennis match of insults, the words going back and forth between Benedick and Beatrice. They mirror each other’s language and use lots of metaphors, particularly relating to animals. For example, Benedick says, “You are a rare parrot-teacher” which could be a sexual stereotype, suggesting she talks a lot. Beatrice responds: “A bird of my tongue is better than a beast of yours”, meaning she would rather be a bird than an animal like him. Benedick retorts – continuing the use of animal imagery – “I would my horse had the speed of your tongue, and so a good continuer: but keep your way a God’s name. I have done.” Benedick is saying that he wishes that his horse was as fast as Beatrice’s tongue, he then says he is done. “You always end with a jade’s trick: I know you of old,” says Beatrice, “I know you of old” confirming the two have a history. In my opinion, the way that they bicker appears to be practiced and familiar, they seem to do it out of habit and it seems like a routine, which is, in a way, like many already-married couples.
Shakespeare scaffolds Benedick and Beatrice’s relationship from the start by incorporating hints as to their views on love and marriage, Benedick says, “If I do (fall in love) hang me in a bottle like a cat, and shoot at me, and he that hits me, let him be clapped on the shoulder, and called Adam”. Benedick’s conversation with Claudio in Act 1, Scene 1 is then mirrored in Act 2, Scene 1, when Beatrice outlines her ideal man. Both talk of how they will never fall in love and never get married, creating dramatic irony because the audience knows that Benedick and Beatrice are well suited. These clues successfully lead the audience into believing that Beatrice and Benedick will be together by the end of the play.
Even after Act 1, Scene 1, the comedy in Benedick and Beatrice’s relationship continues. For example, at the masked ball, Beatrice is talking to the masked Benedick and tells him, “Why is he the Prince’s Jester, a very dull fool.” She seems to take pleasure from Benedick’s reaction, as though her insults have had the desired effect. He believes that she does not know she was talking to him and Benedick tells the Prince that he is hurt by her words; “every stab wounds.” If he did not care for her then he would be less insulted by her insults.
Also in Act 2, Scene 1, Don Pedro asks Beatrice to be his wife. Beatrice responds, “No, my lord, unless I might have another for working-days, your grace is too costly to wear every day” showing that Beatrice thinks the Prince is too good for her but also that she may be waiting someone else, to ask her maybe Benedick. It would be very unusual for a woman at this time to turn down the offer of marriage from a Prince, especially if the Prince is the seemingly perfect Don Pedro. However, her reason is legitimate. Just before the proposal, she confirms that she and Benedick used to be together. She says, “He lent me it (Benedick’s heart) for a while, and I gave him use for it”. This implies that the couple once used to share each other’s hearts but the use of the word “lent” suggests that it was something that did not last long.
Benedick and Beatrice do eventually confess their love for one another, in Act 4, Scene 1, and while this is slightly predictable, it is a welcome turn of happiness for the audience who have recently seen Claudio tricked, Hero’s reputation destroyed “Sweet Hero, she is wronged, she is slandered, she is undone” (Beatrice), and Don John’s plan become a success. However, whilst resolving the issue of Beatrice and Benedick’s love, this scene raises another problem: Beatrice tells Benedick that in order to prove his love for her, he must “Kill Claudio”. After some convincing, he reluctantly agrees, “Enough, I am engaged, I will challenge”, revealing his devotion and love for Beatrice. Beatrice asking Benedick to kill Claudio shows that she is strongly against the masculine solidarity which can so easily destroy a woman’s reputation and also that she trusts Benedick completely.
In Act 1, Scene 1, when Claudio first confesses his “love” for Hero, he uses the idea of Petrarchan conceit when he says “Can the world buy such a jewel?” This is a Petrarchan cliché such as “Hairs like golden wires,” that Shakespeare shows he is opposed to through the success of the relationship of Benedick and Beatrice, and through Sonnet 130, that tell us that true love can see beyond faults whereas courtly love, which can lead to superficial unions that can be destroyed with something as simple a small trick, as seen through the story of Hero and Claudio.
In conclusion, Beatrice and Benedick’s antagonistic relationship is a very successful way to open the play as their bickering is witty and comical, and their past is mysterious. Shakespeare successfully layers what will happen to Beatrice and Benedick by engaging the audience in dramatic irony, where they know Beatrice and Benedick will end up together but the characters themselves do not. The title can describe Beatrice and Benedick’s relationship, in the end it has been “much ado about nothing,” because they have fought for the whole play but eventually end up together and married. The title also has a double meaning, “Nothing” at the time of the play sounded very similar to “Noting” and when Claudio and Benedick discuss Hero in Act 1, Scene 1, both men talk of observing or noting her. Much of the play is based around “mis-notings” as well as “nothings”. Shakespeare suggests that the most successful relationships are based on compatibility and spark, a concept that seems decidedly modern.
The Relevance of the Subplots
The Oxford English Dictionary defines the prefix “sub-” to be “of something immaterial, a quality, state, etc,” listing the root word “plot” as a term often associated with this definition. Therefore, to be a subplot means to be an immaterial plot, in light of this interpretation. This however is not the case with Shakespeare’s plays. In Shakespeare’s eyes, the subplot does not subvert, undermine, or remain immaterial to the principal plot, but rather it is wholly connected with and emphasizes it. Although for theatrical performances, they serve a practical purpose for costume changes and explanation of the plot, Shakespeare’s subplots serve a much higher calling. Throughout his historical, comedic, and tragic plays, Shakespeare manipulates the subplot not only to reflect the principle plot but also to attest to a greater truth-he illustrates that although the deeds are essentially the identical, the motivations behind those actions make the deed itself honorable or dishonorable. The Henry V principle and subplot focus on the theme of and corruption behind waging war, revealed in the contrast between King Henry V’s actions in war versus those of Bardolph, Nym, and Pistol. Likewise, Much Ado about Nothing reveals that the art of deception can also be slanted for good or evil purposes, as revealed in the scheme against Beatrice and Benedict and the conspiracy against Hero and Claudio, respectively. King Lear also reveals that the motivation determines the morality of a deed, depicted in the daughters’ goals in obtaining Lear’s land by fighting among each other. Although the principle plot and subplots are identical in deed, they are skewed by the motivation behind the actual act.
Just war. Moral war. These phrases are staples in political vocabulary in modern days. Shakespeare himself dealt with these concepts while writing Henry V. What does it mean to fight a moral war? Can there ever really be morality in war? Is “war crime” just a redundant phrase? In examining the actions of several characters in this play concerning England’s war with France, the concept of morality and war come to light. King Henry V, the former roguish Prince Hal, seems to approach this war with every aim of maintaining justice. Although he is duped by the Archbishop into the actual pursuit of the war, he tries his best to verify that he has just cause by pointedly asking the evidence to support his aim. Furthermore, Henry establishes a very strict code of honor for his men to follow: the French citizens and their property are to be treated with complete respect. Although he conquers and takes control of land that does not belong to him, he does so with at least some semblance of respect for the French. Lower down on the military hierarchy exists Bardolph, Nym, and Pistol-all former companions/lackeys of Falstaff and pub dwellers in Eastcheap. These individuals also approach this war as a means to add to their material wealth, but unlike Henry, Bardolph and Nym do so in a disrespectful manner. They proceed to pillage the conquered lands, taking advantage of individual property owners, rather than the government. They, unlike Henry, remain fully aware that their deeds are inappropriate and unfounded morally, even within the context of war. Remaining loyal to his decree and aim for justice, Henry puts these offenders to death for their crimes, thus perpetuating his image as a just conqueror. The subplot of this trio serves to emphasize the fact that there can be both injustice and justice in war-it all depends on the motivation in the pursuit of that war.
Little white lies are the bane of every child’s first encounter with morality lessons. Is it ever justified to lie? What if the lie is intended to help people or to shelter their emotions? Much Ado about Nothing bases much of its storyline on the methods of deception through many vehicles: wordplay, sarcasm, disguises, and flat out misinformation. Whether the actual deed of this deception is appropriate or not depends entirely on the motivation behind the telling of the lie. Furthermore, determining the principle plot from the subplot remains quite subjective; regardless, one exhibits pure intent and therefore excusable trickery whereas the other arises from malicious intent and therefore deplorable deception. Throughout the first couple of scenes, there appears to be a battle of wits between Beatrice and Benedick-whether the underlying emotion is fondness or hatred remains subjective as well. Led by Don Pedro, their friends and family lovingly plot to produce affection from their superficial hate. In telling both characters that the other confesses undying love for them, the conspirers knowingly instigate a lie. Because their pure aim is to bring together two strong personalities in love, their deed is forgiven and in fact encouraged by the audience. Conversely, the other plot reveals Don John deviously scheming as to how he can bring an end to the merriment in Messina. In an effort to bring ruin to Claudio, Don John deceives Claudio into believing that his fiancÃ©e Hero has taken a lover the night before their wedding. Unlike the plot of Don Pedro, Don John’s trick aims to bring tragedy, discord and unhappiness. Although both characters spread lies about innocent people, the intention behind these lies makes Don Pedro’s forgivable and Don John’s condemnable.
Inheritance is a touchy subject, especially when the parent dispensing his possessions is still alive and asking his heirs to compete for his belongings. Fighting among one’s siblings for family property is an undesirable situation to say the least. After having “earned” their halves of Lear’s land by falsely confessing their love for him, Goneril and Regan remain discontent with their portion. They begin to fight over every aspect of their lives ranging from a man whom they both love to one another’s property. Their greatest desire is to acquire more and more wealth. This intrafamily feud produces a disdain for these women and their morals. The motivation behind their warring is improper and disrespectful. In contrast, Cordelia, now the queen of France, chooses to honestly convey her love for her father by saying she loves him only to the extent that she should. Offended by this, Lear banishes her from the kingdom and divides his property between Goneril and Regan. Because of her loyalty to her father coupled with her suspicion of her sisters, Cordelia remains in contact with Lear’s servants. Upon hearing of her father’s mistreatment, Cordelia wages war against her sisters. Although succumbing to sibling rivalry, her goal in conquering their land is to redeem her father and rightfully restore his land to him. Because Goneril and Regan’s methods employ dishonesty and greed, their rivalry and hostility is immoral. Because Cordelia acts out of honesty and loyalty, her conflict with her siblings is justified and admirable.
Through the examination of these subplots and their relevance to the principle plot, Shakespeare obviously intended to reveal an insight into human nature through their integration in each play. Shakespeare never seems to condone black or white interpretation of people, events, ideas, or actions. The juxtaposition of principle plots and subplots further substantiates this position. King Henry V’s revelation of the two different conquests of France, Much Ado’s theme of deception and King Lear’s sibling rivalry reveal two very Shakespearean outlooks on life: 1) that nothing can be classified in simple “good” or “bad” terms without deeper analysis and 2) that the initial intention coupled with end may very well justify the means. War, deception, and rivalry can be either forgivable or inexcusable depending upon the intentions supporting the actions.
Benedick: an Outsider Who Is Here to Entertain
Benedick as an Entertaining Outsider
One of Much Ado About Nothing’s most beloved characters is Benedick, a willful and theatrical lord who vows to never be married. Throughout the play he demonstrates himself to be an entertainer to such an extent that it is difficult for the audience to discern whether he has been in love with Beatrice all along or if he has suddenly fallen for her at some point in the play. Also remarkable about this character is that as he develops, he switches allegiances, effectively reversing his role as an outsider.
We are first introduced to Benedick’s wit by way of his first line in response to Leonato’s assertion that Hero’s mother claims she is his daughter: “Were you in doubt, sir, that you asked her?” (1.1.104). He continues to demonstrate his rhetorical prowess and quick wit through his flytings with Beatrice, even when confessing his love to her in Act 4, scene 1. These characteristics present him as a thoroughly comic figure in the play, not only to the audience but to his companions as well. At the masquerade, Beatrice’s antagonistic description of him gives rise to his display of a tendency toward hyperbolic drama:
Why, he is the Prince’s jester, a very dull fool; only his gift is in devising impossible slanders. None but libertines delight in him, and the commendation is not in his wit but in his villainy, for he both pleases men and angers them, and then they laugh at him and beat him. I am sure he is in the fleet. I would he had boarded me. (2.1.135–141)
When relaying this insult to his brother-in-arms, Benedick grossly exaggerates it:
…She told me, not thinking I had been myself, that I was the Prince’s jester, that I was duller than a great thaw, huddling jest upon jest with such impossible conveyance upon me that I stood like a man at a mark with a whole army shooting at me. (2.1.239–244)
These excerpts show that he is not only an entertainer, but an outsider, one at whom to be laughed. Yet this perception of Benedick seems to change halfway through the play.
In the beginning, Benedick is a bachelor with a distinct fear of cuckoldry. This is clearly marked by the way he speaks of married men, notably in his lines “hath not the world one man but he will wear his cap with suspicion?” (1.1.193) and, with reference to marriage as being yoked, “if ever the sensible Benedick bear it, pluck off the bull’s horns and set them in my forehead” (1.1.257–59); he also states that he will trust no woman (1.1.234–242). His vow to remain unmarried is distinctly an outsider aspect, and his transformation from one who will not love to one who does, or at least pretends to do so, places him within the inner circle. Benedick contemplates the fact that a man (Claudio), who scorns the idea of love, may make a hypocrite of himself by falling in love, and proceeds to worry that the same might happen to him (2.3.6–36). It is a premonition that comes true later, after Benedick overhears the deceitful conversation amongst Leonato, Claudio, and the Prince. He justifies his sudden change of heart by declaring to himself that “When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married” (2.3.245–46). Thus Benedick plays another outsider character, the husband.
The differences in these entertaining figures becomes most prominent after Hero’s “death.” As a bachelor his allegiance lies with his brothers-in-arms, namely Don Pedro and Claudio; however, when in husband mode his loyalty is to Beatrice. The full transformation is seen in the first scene of Act 4, wherein Beatrice demands that Benedick kill Claudio. His first response is “Ha! Not for the wide world” (4.1.304), but when he fears that he may lose Beatrice’s heart he consents: “Enough, I am engaged. I will challenge him” (4.1.346). He proves himself to be a more serious dramatist in this role, as demonstrated in his confrontation of Claudio: “You are a villain. I jest not….You have killed a sweet lady, and her death shall fall heavy on you” (5.1.158–162). He remains theatrical in this regard, but also seems to have developed a level of maturity previously unseen in him. Until matters are reconciled at the end of the play, Benedick is torn between these two roles. As a bachelor he is an outsider to Beatrice; as a husband he is an outsider to Claudio and Don Pedro.
Despite his primary role as an entertaining outsider, Benedick reveals a deeper emotion: vulnerability. This aspect of the character is only seen when he is alone. Two of the most notable instances are in Act 2, scene 3, wherein Benedick worries he may fall in love as had Claudio, and then later in Act 5, scene 2, as he tries to write a song for Beatrice. He tries to find a way of expressing his love, but finds his poetry to be completely inadequate. This shows that Benedick is not merely a clown character whose position on marriage flips due to deception, but that he is a man who also carries self-doubt, making him multi-dimensional.
At this point it is clear to the audience that Benedick is in love and that his allegiance lies with Beatrice, reversing his position at the beginning of the play. It remains unclear, though, whether this development stems from a preexisting love for Beatrice, or whether the fall is sudden. If the latter is the case, the audience is left to wonder at which point this was, and why.
Benedick and Beatrice Relationship: a Modern View
William Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing, brimming with metaphors and figurative clowning walks the line of comedy and tragedy. As Shakespeare flexes his exemplary wit which brands his work as so signature and formulaic; he brings probably the most memorable characters in the play; Beatrice and Benedick as well as their own volatile and flippant relationship to life. A modern audience find their relationship partially satisfactory. Shakespeare’s use of structural and linguistic devices enables the audience to believe in the relationship between Benedick and Beatrice. These features, taken in the context created by Shakespeare, further establish their credibility, especially when taken in relation to Claudio and Hero.
A Shakespearean audience would have viewed Beatrice’s actions and behavior as outrageous. This is largely due to her outspoken nature and position within a strongly patriarchal hierarchy. Shakespeare places her alongside other characters in order to emphasize certain characteristics which ultimately make her more suitable for a marriage with Benedick. Beatrice’s vulgar mouth and coarse persona when discussing the prospects of marriage initially seemed shocking; “I had rather hear a dog bark at a crow than a man swear he love me” Beatrice objectifies men here and places them amongst the likes of crows and dogs to demonstrate their insignificance. She thereby revealed how she doesn’t need the love of any man to be validated as a woman. Typically a patriarchal society was quick to objectify women and see them as an ‘item’ of which to be seen rather than heard. This is demonstrated by Benedick who professes himself “A professed tyrant of their sex”. Therefore in the early stages of the play we view the couple as mutually incompatible, but by the end they can be perceived as more viable because Benedick softens his position towards her as evidenced by the sonnet “fashioned by his own pure hand”. Benedick demonstrates he is willing to step out of the patriarchal hierarchy in order to show his love and admiration for Beatrice despite the fact he will be mocked by his male friends “In time the savage bull doth bear the yoke”. At several occasions in the play relationships are rendered as wild and unpredictable through their explicit comparison with animals, however both Benedick and Beatrice put aside this and reveal how they are willing to endure this for the love of one another.
Throughout the play as the two share a war of words and as the story unfolds the relationship of the two fickle lovers can be perceived as questionable for various reasons. Beatrice’s integral existence appears to oppose this entirely. Beatrice is often used as a pawn of euphemism within the narrative and her role here can be viewed as ambiguous in its meaning to the play. Beatrice’s early use of innuendo allows the audience to comprehend the genre of the play as comic reflects; “I am sure he is in the fleet. I would he had board me”. The double meaning and sexual connotations of the language Beatrice uses portrays her as a comic and sharp figure within the plot and as well as setting her aside from the dull and bland likes of women who are seen and not heard such as Hero, her suggestion that she yearns for an intimate relationship with Benedick reveal how she knows he is a good lover due a past relationship. Further emphasized by her praise of Benedick; “And a good soldier to a lady, but is he to a lord?”. The literature devices such as Antanaclasis and Acutezza as well as her repetitive use of; antonomasia; “I pray you, is Signor Mountanto returned” throughout highlights how Beatrice isn’t marginalized like other women within the play whilst properly establishing comic aspects which are able to root much ado in this genre. Due to this clarity, it is also possible that the relationship between Benedick and Beatrice can be deemed more viable for this very reason as a traditional comic genre is traditionally known to end happily. A contemporary audience is more likely to be satisfied as Beatrice’s power as a woman is accepted as norm in modern society and the dynamic of the relationship is deemed much more palatable.
In addition, Shakespeare further proposes that Benedick and Beatrice are realistic and are ultimately supposed to be together through the familiarization of the audience to the context of their past relationship “indeed my lord, he lent me awhile, and I gave him use for it, a double heart for a single one”. This clearly highlights how the pair have had a previously relationship meaning their two hearts are already bonded by history and love. Despite the negative connotations and the circumstances that may have occurred; the context of their relationship with one another being set over a number of years instead of compressed into the pressurized space of a few days and being juxtaposed to the likes of Claudio and Hero allow the audience to deem their love as genuine and that they are indeed supposed to be together. They have found each other again. Likewise, being set in such a gloriously unflawed and picture perfect place as Messina also adds to the viability of Benedick and Beatrice’s relationship being successful and their squabbles and harsh exchanges being resolved by the end of the play. The audience; as soon as they’re introduced to such a smudge less and remote ambience, are under the impression all shall come to a happy and satisfying resolution. This is further reinforced by Leonato announcing “Never came trouble to my house in the likeness of your grace”. The euphemistic title, fully rooting Much Ado in a comic light, also seems to lend viability to the possibility of happiness with the explicit suggestion that “nothing” will go wrong and despite any conflict all shall be resolved in a positive way.
Shakespeare through structure seems to subtly hint that Benedick and Beatrice’s relationship is meant to be and that by the end of the play they will end up together. Several parallels emerge between the two characters for instance the introduction of deception as a foundation of the plot which drives key events forward. For instance both characters find themselves in a situation where they are being deceived by friends in terms of one another’s feelings towards each other, the accessibility to both events via dramatic irony allow the audience to view the characters as intertwined and destined for one another. Both are consecutively referred to as animals through these scenes; “Bait the hook well this fish will bite” and “greedily devour the treacherous bait”. The similarities and lexical field revealed here to fishing and the repetition of bait; suggest how the pair are clueless and have been lured in so easily by something that seems appealing, such as the promise of love, emphasizing how the two, despite their denial, are actually longing for love but it is in fact a harmless deception on which they are both hooked. Moreover to this, Benedick makes it clear that he does indeed long for Beatrice’s affection in place of her ‘disdain’; “She speaks poniards and every word stabs”. The use of a metaphor to describe such a violent and painful act reveals the effect of the words upon Benedick highlighting his vulnerability. Although at first sight it may seem as such encounters tear the two further apart, Benedick immense hurt and care for Beatrice’s opinion emphasizes his concealed love for her thus bringing them closer together.
Shakespeare uses devices in order to draw attention to the two characters mutual compatibility and inevitable love for one another, portraying the characters as ‘giving into the love’. “And Benedick love on. I will requite thee, taming my wild heart to thy loving hand”. This explicit moment of self-realization highlights how she has always loved Benedick but is willing to ‘tame’ her animalistic and savage heart in an effort to return his love. The use of iambic-pentameter implies the immense significance of Beatrice’s soliloquy and highlights her smoldering love for Benedick and how she will give into it despite her earlier disdain for marriage. Further reinforcing the feasibility of their love coming to a satisfying conclusion.
In conclusion, the romanticized dreamy setting in which the play is set, along with the genre of the play and the foundations the plot is set upon lends a very real possibility that the audience can be satisfied in the portrayal of the dynamic relationship of Beatrice and Benedick. As stated above, the juxtaposition of Claudio and Hero also offers a helping hand to this, as the audience is given great insight into two extremes of relationships. One being extremely unrealistic and paper-thin, whilst the other is brimming with hidden passion and love driven squabbles. Contextualizing Beatrice and Benedick’s relationship in this fashion truly lets the audience see past their struggles and past, allowing the pair to be viewed as a flawed yet vastly realistic couple.
The Character Of Dogberry In William Shakespeare’S Play “Much Ado About Nothing”
Dogberry is a secondary character found in William Shakespeare’s comedic yet dark play Much Ado About Nothing. His character may be easy to overlook along with his comedic blubbering as simply another method of Shakespeare’s to provide relief in a play that rolls downhill as it leads up to its final acts, but that is not all that he is. Dogberry’s character is complex in that he may resemble an ordinary member of society but Shakespeare employs him as a foil to several of the primary characters and as the one to uncover the culprits behind Hero’s ruined reputation and “death.”
A constable was a caricature that resembled a peace officer, in that it had limited training and power that resulted in a lack of respect from the citizens of the small town they were employed in. At least in the case of Dogberry, who was the constable of the town of Messina located in Sicily. Dogberry may have had little training but his knowledge of the law is not as inadequate as it seems. When considering his choice of deputies he makes sure to pick those who can read and write, asks them, “Are you good men and true?” and advises them to, “keep your fellows’ counsel and your own.”
While Dogberry is not a professional in his line of work he does understand that he is responsible for keeping trouble out of his small town and assures his men that to wake him for any “matter of weight” is more than acceptable. The text alludes to the possibility that Dogberry is illiterate, unable to read or write through the repeated lines “write that down” which would normally be considered a problem in this line of work but is not for Dogberry, as his deputies and the Sexton take down the charges and testimonies of prisoners.
One problem that Dogberry does have is his poor memory for the nature of words, although he is aware of what they signify. Dogberry suffers from what is known as malapropism, or the mistaken use of a word in place of a similar sounding one, which often results in an unintentionally amusing effect. Dogberry’s linguistic performance or rather incompetence is what reveals Shakespeare’s brilliant manipulation of language through the maiming of said constable’s lines.
The humor that Dogberry brings to the storyline through his careless use of words is different from that of Benedick’s and Beatrice, who are in their own way humorous with their sophisticated puns, play on words and wit. It differs from Claudio and his purposeful, wrath filled words that are intent on destroying Hero. Dogberry’s humor is one that comes from a character who simply has trouble conveying his thoughts because he mixes up his words.
One scene in particular demonstrates Dogberry’s unintentional hilarity and transformation from a man who “would not hang a dog by my will, much more a man that hath any honesty in him”, into a man with a strong character, unwilling to keep quiet when a villian dare call him an ass. Dogberry, Verges and the Sexton prepare to examine Borachio and Conrade who have been accused of being “false knaves”, an accusation they deny. The watchmen who witnessed Borachio’s and Conrade’s crime, present their accusation and details of what they overheard but Dogberry does not seem to understand the importance of this.
Fortunately, the Sexton realizes what the three watchmen are implying and comes to the conclusion that they have stumbled upon a treacherous plot that Borachio and Conrade are key players in. The Sexton orders Dogberry and Verges to tie up the villains so that they may be taken to Leonato and then departs, however, when Dogberry attempts to lay his hands on Conrade, he dismisses them calling Verges a fool. Dogberry wishes the Sexton would have been there to write down the insult which prompts Conrade to declare, “Away! You are an ass, you are an ass”.
Dogberry takes great offence and speaks what is recognized as one of the greatest comedic yet dramatic speeches in literature, full of malapropisms that add to the effect. “Dost thou not suspect my place?,” he asks, “Dost thou not suspect my years?” Dogberry is regretful of the lack of the Sexton’s presence and skill to, “write me down an ass!” and take a written account of him denouncing a villain who is “full of piety”. Nonetheless, with or without the Sexton and his job to record, Dogberry assures himself and the villains that there crime will be “proved upon thee by good witness”.
Dogberry refuses to be labeled an ass and continues on to defend and simultaneously celebrate his honor:I am a wise fellow; and which is more, an officer; and which is more, a householder; and which is more, as pretty a piece of flesh as any is in Messina, and one that knows the law, go to! and a rich fellow enough, go to! and a fellow that hath had losses; and one that hath two gowns and everything handsome about him. Bring him away. O that I had been writ down an ass! He mistakenly misuses “suspect” in place of “respect” and “piety” instead of “impiety”, which is just one way that he contributes to his own slander, that and his continuous wishing that the Sexton were around to be “writ down an ass.”
No matter, Dogberry becomes alite with passion in his own defense! He perceives Conrade’s comment as a critique on his class and while Dogberry is not a nobleman, he owns his own home, is a possessor of two gowns and a law abiding citizen. In fighting for his own honor, Dogberry makes himself look like an ass. Dogberry and Verges do not keep to themselves the newly found information that they have obtained. With the villains in tow they seek out Don Pedro and Claudio who recognize the men as henchmen who worked for Don John, the mastermind behind the entire affair, who ran off like a coward. Wondering what the men could have committed in order to be restrained, Dogberry attempts to explain their roles in all that has transpired.
Unfortunately, Dogberry’s explanation is unclear and Don Pedro asks Borachio what he has done. Borachio confesses his wrong doing and outs Don John for the conniving man that he is. Dogberry interrupts the scene by ordering the accused away but not without mistakenly calling them “plaintiffs.” He informs the men that the Sexton went searching for Leonato to share their discoveries. As the villains are being taken Dogberry says, “when time and place shall serve, do not forget that I am an ass.” Dogberry is adding to the list of the villains crimes by informing the men that they called him an ass, he considers this just as much of a crime compared to the scandal and wrongful death they have caused.
Much Ado About Nothing is a comedic play with a dark plot written by William Shakespeare, that is brimming with linguistic performances. In the case of Dogberry, the constable, there was much “ado” to keep up with the linguistic sophistication that the primary characters were fluent in. His lack of finesse with language did not stop him from being a key secondary character throughout the play that was essential in discovering the treacherous plotting of Don John, Borachio and Conrade. He may be an ass to some but he is more than that, he is an underappreciated constable with a unique way of bringing to light what has been hidden in the dark.
Conventional and Unconventional Relationships and Emotional Instability
Much Ado about Nothing focuses on the emotional development of two relationships that endure various levels of deception. Although both couples marry at the end of the play, the deception that occurs during the play exploits the emotional instability of Benedick and Claudio: “One deception leads to social peace, to marriage, to the end of deceit. The other deception breeds conflict and distrust and leads even Beatrice to desire the heart of Claudio in the market place” (Henze 188). Many critics discuss the emotional flaws of the male characters and suggest that the trickery is necessary in order to expose their true feelings. For example, Benedick must be deceived in order to admit his true love for Beatrice; on the other hand, when Claudio is deceived, his “love” for Hero is revealed as superficial and destroyed. Moreover, critics argue that the Claudio/Hero relationship is conventional compared to the Benedick/Beatrice relationship; yet, as the deception establishes, the Benedick/Beatrice relationship is based on true love while the Claudio/Hero relationship is not. By doing this, not only is the emotional instability of men exploited, but Shakespeare may have also intended to criticize the conventional nature of marriage between strangers and the distrust and paranoia it creates compared to marriages based on true love.
Benedick demonstrates an emotional instability because he refuses to admit his true feelings for Beatrice until he is deceived by his friends. When the soldiers return to Messina, the audience witnesses the first encounter between Beatrice and Benedick. During this exchange, sharp words are delivered by both sides; in fact, Benedick first addresses Beatrice in a hateful manner: “What, my dear Lady Disdain! Are you yet / living?” (Shakespeare 1.1.112-113). Benedick questions the life of Beatrice and continues to insult her as she insults him. Although their conversation is strained, Benedick later reveals his true feelings for Beatrice to Claudio. Benedick disagrees with Claudio’s perspective of Hero; instead, he describes the physicality of Beatrice: “There’s her cousin, an she were not / possessed with a fury, exceeds her as much in beauty as / the first of May doth the last of December” (1.1.180-182). Although Beatrice has a wicked tongue, Benedick admires her physical beauty, but before the audience can speculate on his romantic feelings towards Beatrice, he quickly changes the subject to his love for bachelorhood. He claims he does not want to marry and denies any future love in his life, for “not to love at all is an anti-social and anti-romantic vow that matches Beatrice’s assertion that she would rather not listen to a man say that he loves her” (Henze 189). Benedick demonstrates his emotional instability by denying his true feelings for Beatrice because he is afraid of rejection. He verbalizes his true feelings for Beatrice to Claudio; yet his insecurities cause him to suppress his sentimentality.
This refusal to love ceases after Don Pedro deceives Benedick into believing Beatrice loves him. Again, Benedick discusses the positive qualities of Beatrice in a loving way:
They say the lady is fair
– tis a truth, I can bear them witness. And virtuous –
tis so, I cannot reprove it. And wise, but for loving
me. By my troth, it is no addition to her wit – nor no
great argument of her folly, for I will be horribly in
love with her. (Shakespeare 2.3.222-227)
Although Benedick has already mentioned the endearing attributes of Beatrice, he reiterates these qualities because he is able to admit his love openly now. He becomes secure with his love for Beatrice because he is deceived into believing she is suffering due to her love for him (similar to the way he has suffered loving her without being able to tell her). Furthermore, Benedick attempts to deceive the audience into thinking that his love for Beatrice develops only because she has been exposed by Hero. Yet Don Pedro’s trick would not have been possible if Benedick did not harbor real feelings for Beatrice: “To say that [Benedick and Beatrice] are duped into loving one another by false representations or appearances is surely insufficient. More to the point is the notion that the plotters, creating appearances, spoke the truth about the artificially masked emotions of the pair”(Babula 12). Benedick tries to portray his love for Beatrice as coincidental, but without underlying feelings, the deception would not have been successful. Although this provides another example of emotional instability because Benedick refuses to admit his initial feelings for Beatrice, the relationship progresses as both characters finally voice their love for each other. At this point, Benedick is finally able to emotionally develop because he is no longer constraining his love for Beatrice; instead, he is expressing his affection openly.
On the other hand, Claudio proclaims his love for Hero based solely on appearances and social ideologies. He does not understand the complexities of love; yet, he openly discusses his “deep” feelings for Hero with the other male characters. Unlike Benedick, who refuses to admit his love, Claudio is willing to share his feelings, but his feelings have no foundation: “[Claudio] had not yet met [Hero]. He had seen her from a distance, so he is familiar only with her outer appearance” (Scheff 161). Claudio has not had verbal contact with Hero; yet, he is infatuated with her. When discussing Hero with Don Pedro, he expresses his infatuation as a real emotion: “That I love her, I feel” (1.9.214). Claudio’s superficiality is problematic because he is confusing his infatuation of Hero with actual feelings. Moreover, Claudio enlists the help of Don Pedro in order to woo her. Claudio’s avoidance to pursue the woman he “loves” illustrates his emotional insecurity because he claims to have a real emotional connection to Hero and wants to marry her, but he is afraid to approach her.
Due to his reluctance to speak with Hero and his emotional instability, Claudio becomes the perfect target for Don John’s trickery. The first instance occurs at the masquerade party. Although Claudio had enlisted the help of Don Pedro earlier in the play, Don John is able to manipulate Claudio’s emotionality because his love is superficial. After Claudio is deceived into believing Don Pedro is interested in Hero, he abandons his initial feelings: “This is an accident of hourly proof / Which I mistrusted not. Farewell, therefore, Hero!” (Shakespeare 2.1.166-167). Rather than approach Hero and profess his love, he deserts his sentimentality concerning her. This sudden change illustrates another example of Claudio’s emotional instability, for in contrast to true love “Infatuation… involved little or no knowledge of the other” (Scheff 162). Since Claudio has had no verbal contact with Hero, he knows little about her aside from the information provided by others. This leaves him vulnerable to the outside influences of others – such as Don John – because he is exposed as a superficial, unstable man. Claudio’s avoidance parallels Benedick’s refusal to love due to fear of rejection; yet, Claudio openly discusses his “love” for Hero with no previous knowledge of her other than her social standing and outward appearance. Benedick denies his love because he fears ridicule and rejection from Beatrice, but his fear is based on his belief that she despises him – perhaps due to a previous, unhappy experience. Similarly, Claudio abandons his “love” for Hero, but he has no knowledge of Hero’s desires, illustrating his superficiality and emotional confusion.
This emotional conflict continues even after this problem is resolved. Claudio makes no attempt to contact Hero; instead, he proclaims to Don Pedro that he wants to marry immediately: “Tomorrow, my lord. Time goes on crutches till / Love have all his rites” (Shakespeare 2.1.329-330). Rather than learn about Hero and develop his relationship, Claudio decides he wants to be married to a stranger: “Claudio does not know his Lady’s inner qualities and obviously feels no need to discover them through discourse of reason; significantly, he neither suspects nor expects his lady to be wise. Rather he simply assumes that the fair exterior connotes and images forth her inner beauty and virtue” (Lewalski 247). Claudio’s refusal to gain knowledge of the woman he “loves” keeps his relationship in a vulnerable position, because his only perspective of Hero is of a superficial nature. Without any further knowledge of her personality, wants, desires, etc., Claudio can only make assumptions and listen to outside sources. Again, Don John acts as an outside source and attacks Claudio’s insecurities by deceiving him into believing Hero is lecherous. Then, Claudio responds by publicly shaming and “killing” the woman he “loves.” Unlike Benedick, whose love progresses as he is deceived, Claudio’s superficiality is exploited because Claudio humiliates a woman he claimed to have deep feelings without ever asking for her perspective. Rather than discuss what he saw with Hero (similar to the issue at the masque), Claudio quickly jumps to an unfair conclusion and slanders an innocent woman. Since his “love” is based on infatuation, as discussed earlier, he is vulnerable to deception and lies, and he illustrates his idealization of Hero through his obsession with her sexual honor. Claudio is exposed again as an insecure man because he does not trust the woman he claims to love; instead, he feels justified “killing” her for her unfaithfulness: “Claudio effectively shows what happens when superficial romance and selfish, suspicious social concern are combined” (Henze 193). Even though he is married to Hero at the end of the play, Claudio exemplifies the difference between the stability of love and the erratic, uninformed nature of infatuation.
Compared to Beatrice and Benedick, Claudio and Hero are agreed to be the “conventional” couple by many critics due to the arrangement of their marriage; yet, as demonstrated through the previous discussion, Claudio’s emotions are superficially based while Benedick has true feelings for Beatrice. Although he cannot describe his motives to the present audience of Much Ado, through these relationships, Shakespeare may have intended to criticize the typical, emotionally detached relationship compared to a relationship based on love. When discussing the public shaming of Hero, many critics claim that Claudio’s actions would not be uncommon in the historical context of the play: “[Claudio’s] rejection of Hero would not have seemed as cruel as it seems to us; his acceptance of another marriage partner would not grate on an Elizabethan audience accustomed to a businesslike attitude towards marriage” (Babula 13). Shakespeare provides his audience with a “typical” male reaction and response to such matters as sexual honor and chastity; yet, by doing this, he exposes the harshness and injustice that can result due to a man’s insecurities and emotional instability.
Furthermore, Shakespeare illustrates an interesting contrast between love and infatuation through Benedick and Claudio. From the beginning of the play, Claudio claims that he loves Hero; yet, as he is deceived, he is exposed as a superficial man who bases his emotions on the physicality and chastity of women. Since Claudio refuses to speak with Hero about his concerns, he allows his distrust and paranoia to increase. Although they are married at the end of the play, the relationship is still based on superficial ideals. This type of marriage is conventional for the arranged marriages of Shakespeare’s society and is clearly one of Shakespeare’s targets. By portraying Claudio as superficial – unlike Benedick, who is exposed as having true feelings for Beatrice and developing their relationship based on love – Shakespeare criticizes the conventions of his society and the basis of “typical” relationships.
Overall, through his male characters and their relationships, Shakespeare may have intended to criticize the conventions of male sentimentality and arranged marriages. Benedick’s character illustrates the male insecurity of admitting true love, yet once he is deceived, he accepts his feelings and develops a relationship with Beatrice based on real emotion. On the other hand, Claudio’s character demonstrates the superficial ideals of men and their lack of sentimentality. Claudio’s eventual marriage to a woman he barely knows, but claims to love, mocks the conventions of arranged marriage. By providing a comparison of these males and their relationships, Shakespeare criticizes man’s emotional depth and the values of love in a relationship.
Babula, William. “Much Ado about Nothing and the Spectator.” South Atlantic Bulletin 41.1 (1976): 9-15.
Henze, Richard. “Deception in Much Ado about Nothing.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 11.2 (1971): 187-201.
Lewalski, B. K. “Love, Appearance and Reality: Much Ado about Something.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 8.2 (1968): 235-251.
Scheff, Thomas J. “Gender Wars: Emotions in Much Ado about Nothing.” Sociological Perspectives 36.2 (1993): 149-166.
Shakespeare, William. Much Ado About Nothing. Ed. Claire McEachern. London: Thomson Learning, 2006.