Much Ado About Nothing
Much Ado about Nothing by Shakespeare Essay
At first sight, Much Ado About Nothing, a play written by Shakespeare, seems to be an ordinary tale about the life of high society with its intrigues, gossips, and love affairs. However, the writer would not have written this comedy unless he had wanted to disclose human vices and satirize the upper class’s passion for deceit and conspiracy. This paper will give a summary of the play and discuss the points that make this literary work outstanding and worth reading.
The setting of the book is an Italian city of Messina in the days of Shakespeare, which is the 16th-17th century. Don Pedro, Claudio, and Benedick return from war and stay at the house of Leonato, a governor of the city. Claudio falls in love with Leonato’s daughter, and Benedick has verbal skirmishes with Beatrice, the governor’s niece. Don John, a brother of Don Pedro, learns about Claudio’s feelings for Hero and decides to convince him that she is unfaithful. Meanwhile, Don Pedro wants to arrange a marriage between Benedick and Beatrice as he thinks they secretly love each other. Thus, there are two men, each with his companions, who plot to decide the fate of the couples.
After a while, Don John says to Claudio that Hero, his wife-to-be, has another man. He asks Margaret, Hero’s maid, to dress like her mistress and pretend to declare her love for someone. As Claudio sees it, he has no doubt it is accurate and rejects Hero the next day at their wedding. After this, Leonato is advised to fake his daughter’s death. In the meantime, Benedick overhears his friends’ conversation, during which they say that Beatrice loves him. Beatrice hears the same dialog between Ursula and Hero and learns that Benedick has affection for her. Both of them admit to themselves that they have feelings for each other.
However, the plot against Hero is uncovered after the Watch arrests Don John’s companions, who confess to lying about the girl’s infidelity. Claudio is desperate and agrees to marry a woman who is supposed to look like Hero and is the daughter of Leonato’s brother. On their wedding day, Claudio is surprised to see his beloved bride whom he considered dead. The play has a happy conclusion: Benedick asks Beatrice to marry her, and she agrees, and a messenger reports that Don John has been arrested.
Perhaps, the most remarkable characters of the book are Benedick and Beatrice. They behave as if they were proud and self-sufficient, but in fact, they are afraid of admitting their feelings not only to others but also to themselves. They exchange sarcastic remarks only to hide what they truly experience. Both of them seem to oppose marriage as it may be concluded from their conversations. While discussing Beatrice, Benedick says, “I would not marry her though she were endowed with all that Adam had left him before he transgressed.”1 Beatrice despises the whole idea of marrying as she considers men unworthy: “Would it not grieve a woman to be overmastered with a piece of valiant dust?”2 However, they change their views as soon as they realize that their feelings are mutual. It means that their arrogant behavior was just a defense protecting them from being hurt.
Another couple of characters, Claudio and Hero, are entirely different. They do not hide their feelings; on the contrary, they make others aware of their love and plan their wedding. However, they are not exceptionally positive characters, at least Claudio. Due to his gullibility and lack of critical thinking, their enemies managed to disrupt their nuptials.3 As for Hero, she is a pure woman whose reputation was unfairly soiled by some evil people. Luckily for her, the truth was revealed, and she redeemed her good name.
Two more personages worth mentioning are Don Pedro and Don John, brothers representing good and evil, respectively. In the play, they have one thing in common: both of them want to determine the fate of others. However, Don Pedro’s actions lead to an arranged marriage, while Don John’s conspiracy causes a wedding disruption. Don John is the only purely negative character in the play because he has evil intentions and incites his companions to realize his plan.
The play touches upon several themes, such as gender roles, deceit, and gossip. Shakespeare shows the social pressure placed on women to make them live according to the established pattern: be pure, obey a husband, and spend time at home4 In the play, Hero represents a person who conforms to this standard behavior, while Beatrice is an example of a woman who decides to beat gender stereotypes. However, society overcomes Beatrice’s persistent desire to be independent and urges her to agree to a marriage.
Deception is one of the central problems of the play because most events it are based on lies. For example, Claudio is deceived at least two times: when Don John convinces him that his bride is unfaithful and when Leonato tells him Hero is dead. Benedick and Beatrice happen to overhear conversations by deceit as well. In the play, Don John’s conspiracy is uncovered by accident because the Watch happens to hear his companions’ talk5 However, regardless of deception being white lies or malevolent trickery, there is always a chance that it will be exposed.
The theme of gossip is concealed in the headline of the comedy since, in Shakespeare’s times, the word nothing sounded like noting, which means rumors. Indeed, the characters of the book make a fuss about things that they do not know for sure but hear from sources that may be untrustworthy. They not only believe gossips but also create them by involving in such activities as eavesdropping and surveillance.
Despite all infamies and vides of high society, Shakespeare shows that they are capable of love. Benedick and Beatrice, incorrigible opponents of marriage, can no longer maintain their position after they become aware of their affection for each other. Hero and Claudio’s storyline is also dedicated to the theme of love. Finally, Don Pedro seems to be seeking a beloved wife, but he is not lucky at it. Thus, the play reveals that love is essential for anybody, and it can change a person’s attitude toward life.
To sum up, this Shakespeare’s comedy makes readers or a theatre audience think about the role of women in the society, especially the pressure exerted on them as to their proper behavior and relationships with men. Besides, the play shows that excessive gullibility and believing every single word without verifying it may lead to deplorable consequences. Eventually, the book allows readers to keep track of the storylines of two couples and see that love comes even for those who do not expect it.
Cartmell, Deborah, and Peter J. Smith, eds. Much Ado About Nothing: A Critical Reader. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2018.
Morini, Massimiliano. “‘Out on Thee, Seeming!’ Fashioning Plots in Much Ado About Nothing.” Prophecy and Conspiracy in Early Modern England (2017): 17-26.
Pifer, Stacy. “Fallen Angels, New Women, and Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing: Modern Stereotypes in the Elizabethan Era.” Monarch Review 3 (2016): 3-7.
Shakespeare, William. Much Ado about Nothing. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
- William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 25.
- Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing, 19.
- Massimiliano Morini, “‘Out on thee, seeming!’ Fashioning Plots in Much Ado About Nothing,” Prophecy and Conspiracy in Early Modern England (2017): 24.
- Stacy Pifer, “Fallen Angels, New Women, and Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing: Modern Stereotypes in the Elizabethan Era,” Monarch Review 3 (2016): 7.
- Deborah Cartmell and Peter J. Smith, eds., Much Ado About Nothing: A Critical Reader (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2018), 1.
How is the antagonistic yet potentially loving relationship between Beatrice and Benedick quickly established in Much Ado About Nothing?
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.
Trickery and Deception: A Dish Best Served by Shakespeare
“Though those that are betrayed Do feel the treason sharply, yet the traitor Stands in worse case of woe” (Cymbeline, III.iv). Shakespeare’s carefully crafted world of deception and trickery within Much Ado About Nothing thrives on deceitful characters-both malicious and virtuous-whose manipulation of information affords them control and power that they would otherwise not enjoy. While hidden identities and meanings are achieved through trickery by nearly all of the principle characters, the motivations behind these deceptions vary from Claudio’s search for love to Don John’s evil plot to gain a fortune. Benedick and Beatrice’s beguiling courtship based on false statements, Claudio and Hero’s betrothal founded initially on a falsehood, and Don Pedro’s plot to prevent said marriage through trickery allows Shakespeare to demonstrate the role of deceit in the world of play and comment on theater in general. Benedick and Beatrice conceal their true feelings for one another by hiding behind masks of witty banter and stinging insults. Even when Benedick is not nearby, Beatrice takes refugee in her criticism of him, remarking to a messenger that Benedick “will hang upon [Claudio] like a disease” costing “him a thousand pound ere a’ be cured” (I.i). This verbal bombardment is described by Leonato as “a kind of merry war betwixt Signior Benedick and her,” introducing the reader to the idea that perhaps the stinging taunts tossed between the two are indicative of something else (I.i). The first exchange that occurs between Beatrice and Benedick takes place when Benedick believes the mask he is wearing hides his identity. Beatrice, who is aware of his identity regardless of his deceit, attacks the unsuspecting Benedick with a barrage of scathing indictments, claiming “he is a prince’s jester” and “a very dull fool” (II.i). Because both characters find comfort in their own deceit, it is impossible for either to consider the hidden meaning of their verbal tÃªte-Ã -tÃªtes. Ironically, it is only through the masterful scheming and trickery of Claudio, Hero, and their accomplices that Benedick and Beatrice become aware of their true feelings for each other. Shakespeare’s dual and conflicting uses of deception-both keeping apart and brining together Benedick and Beatrice-create subtle intricacies that give the world of the play a decidedly richer feel. More generally, however, Shakespeare uses these same motifs to comment on the contradictions of theater in general. The courtship of Benedick and Beatrice, hindered and enabled by concealment, is, therefore, a parallel to theater in general.The fate of Claudio and Hero eerily mirrors that of Benedick and Beatrice. While Claudio does not hide himself behind a mask of insults and slander, he instead settles on a literal mask in the form of Don Pedro. After mischievous scheming, Don Pedro devises a plan to present himself “in some disguise” and “take her hearing prisoner with the force And strong encounter of my amorous tale” (I.i). Claudio’s inability to woo in his own name means he must turn to Don Pedro to aid in his deception. While Don Pedro’s alluring charm and grace, prompting him to command Hero “Speak low, if you speak love” wins her heart for Claudio, this glorious feat is accomplished through presumably unnecessary deception (II.i). Claudio, posing as Benedick, is incorrectly informed through Don John and Borachio that Don Pedro wooed Hero for his own purposes, prompting him to declare in despair to “trust no agent; for beauty is a witch Against whose charms faith melteth into blood” (II.i). Trickery wins Hero’s heart for Benedick and also convinces him of Don Pedro’s betrayal. As with Benedick and Beatrice’s relationship, Shakespeare uses deception to both bring Claudio and Hero together as well as convince Claudio of the impossibility of their union. The dramatic irony created when the audience knows the hidden truths of the affair adds to the suspense of the play. Once again, subtle irony is inherent within the seeming contradictions between the expectations of the characters and reality. While Claudio uses deceit to bring him Hero, and therefore happiness, the trickery and treachery of Don John prevents him from immediately enjoying that same happiness. Shakespeare creates this paradox within the relationship of Claudio and Hero to show that true happiness must be gained through honest relationships.Unlike the two couples in the play, Don John uses misinformation and treachery to destroy happiness, not create it. For his own selfish reasons, he goes to incredible lengths to prevent the union of Claudio and Hero, even going so far as to enlist Borachio and the unknowing Margaret. By using her as a decoy to convince Claudio of Hero’s infidelity, Don John believes “there shall appear such seeming truth of Hero’s disloyalty that jealousy shall be called assurance and all the preparation overthrown” (II.ii). Up until this point, the countless moments of deception have not been accompanied by sinister undertones. The successful completion of this plan, naturally, leads to the dissolution of the intended nuptials between Claudio and Hero. Ironically, however, it is only through further deception that this is partially remedied. After Claudio brutally leaves Hero at the altar, only Friar Francis’s quickly produced plan for deceit prevents complete tragedy. “Your daughter here the princes left for dead: Let her awhile be secretly kept in, And publish it that she is dead indeed” (IV.i). By pretending that the innocent Hero died of shame, the possibility remains for her still to find the happiness initially denied to her. Once Hero’s name is cleared through the discovery of Don John’s evil plot, she is reintroduced to Claudio as a niece of her father. While this deception is short lived-only a few moments after their greeting Claudio exclaims with happiness “Another Hero!”-it is necessary to the marriage of the pair (V.iv). As with the other examples throughout the play, Shakespeare again portrays deception and treachery as a double-edged sword capable of causing both bliss and sorrow. This duality mirrors the world of theater where actors must hide their identities to achieve the proper character while still allowing for their pure emotion to be displayed. While trickery and deceit are integral to the plot and meaning of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, the consequences of characters’ manipulation of information has varied outcomes from happily ever after for Benedick and Beatrice to presumed imprisonment for Don John. This inconsistency allows Shakespeare to use deceit as a plot device to affect the world of the play in such a way as to comment on theater in general. Although Shakespeare did not conclude that treachery and trickery has the greatest consequences for the traitor within the dialogue of this play, his belief is nevertheless mirrored through the plot and characters.
The Art of Storytelling
Picasso once said, “Art is lies that tell the truth.” Art requires the suspension of reality or rather the ability to transcend the expected. In suspending that reality, however, greater truths can be addressed without the restrictions established by grounding the work within the confines of everyday existence. Throughout William Shakespeare’s comedic play Much Ado about Nothing, the art of deceit exposes pre-existing truths. Furthermore, because deceit is employed for an amiable intent and outcome, the dishonest means by which this truth is uncovered is justified. While the companions of Beatrice and Benedick contrive them into thinking the other loves them first, they are merely offering a gentle nudge to a romance that existed all along. Because Beatrice and Benedick do in fact love one another, their companions commit no wrong by spreading those rumors. Whether or not the end justifies the means is academic and too generic to be covered in that blanket statement. Rather, the focus should be that the perhaps-deceitful means are excusable when the intention and outcome result in the uncovering of a truth.Somewhat concealed amidst the sparring of wit between Benedick and Beatrice lies a true love and sense of respect for one another. Upon hearing of the soldier’s return from the war, Beatrice is quick to inquire the safety, albeit it coupled with an insult, of Benedick (MAAN.I.I.28). Her eagerness to know of his safety above all other details reveals a genuine concern for him. Additionally, Leonato reveals soon thereafter that the two have long engaged in a sort of “merry war,” thereby establishing that the two have history and therefore chemistry in their relationship (MAAN.I.I.57). Furthermore, Benedick’s love for Beatrice is slightly uncovered at the ball when she “unwittingly” tells Benedick her assessment of his character. Upon learning that Beatrice thinks him “the prince’s jester,” he becomes obsessed with learning why his “Lady Beatrice should know [him], and not know [him]” (MAAN. II.I. 131, 193-194). Had Benedick truly hated Beatrice with the passion he portrays in his dialogue, he would pay little attention to her opinion of him. Because all of these instances occur before the “setup” plot is even contrived, it becomes apparent that “Beatrice and Benedick are in love with each other without knowing it” (Goddard 276).In discovering that amorous feelings do exist between Beatrice and Benedick, the meddling actions of their friends, hoping to nurture that love, is excusable. Had Don Pedro and the others “concocted their whole plot out of nothing” their deceitful means of bringing them together “would not have been justified” (Goddard 276). Recognizing that Beatrice would be an “excellent wife for Benedick” and Benedick not being the “unhopefulest husband,” Don Pedro devises a plot with the intention of giving “nature a nudge” by contriving to have them overhear deceptive reports exposing their mutual, though feared unrequited, love (MAAN.II.II.332, 356, Goddard 276). The eagerness with which both characters receive these overheard conversations, coupled with their willingness to cast aside their former abhorrence of marriage, further supports that love is at the basis of their relationship. Throughout the exposition of the play, subtle changes in their humors and actions (such as the change in attitude toward marriage and the sonnet writing) indicate that, given the chance and proper environment, their love will grow (MAAN.III.I. 229-232, V.IV.91). Even after the lies begin to unravel at the wedding scene and Beatrice and Benedick briefly revisit their former state of being too proud for love, they are unable to fight the truth of their love. Because the deception occurred out of pure intention and resulted in a joyful outcome, the act of intentionally lying to Beatrice and Benedick is justified.Although Beatrice and Benedick have a deep love for one another from the start, their sense of pride inhibits them from expressing their emotions. The interference and meddling of their friends serve as lies that tell the truth. By removing that initial fear of weakness that comes with being the first to reveal love, neither Beatrice nor Benedick feel they are at risk of seeming inferior to the other. They are able to transcend their past reality, grounded in pride, in order to finally see the greater truth of their love for one another. Although deceit and trickery are used to “toy” with their emotions, the intention and outcome succeed in revealing a love that existed the entire time. In this particular scenario, the ends could be said to justify the means-all it took was a little artful storytelling to uncover the truth.
Don John as a Threat to Comedy in Much Ado About Nothing
The world presented in Much Ado About Nothing is populated mostly by noble characters: The Prince of Aragon, Lord Claudio, Lord Benedick, The Governor of Messina and his daughter and niece. These characters embody the courtly ideas of social grace and wit, qualities that drive the comedic nature of the play. The Bedford Companion to Shakespeare, by Russ MacDonald, notes other qualities driving the comedy, stating, “The characters act on their intuition that the world is good, that life is worth living, that conflict will ultimately find a positive resolution. (153) Don John, lacking grace and wit, is the antithesis of these ideas, seeing the world as awful, life as depressing, and hopeful that he can create conflicts to ensure a negative resolution. Although he is the catalyst that creates the necessary chaos from which harmony ultimately arises, his nature is so malicious that it threatens to transcend this role of catalyst and completely destroy the play’s comedy.Don John makes his first appearance as his group of men, recently victorious in war, has just made its celebratory arrival at Leonato’s residence. He wastes no time in darkening the bright and jovial atmosphere of the play. After the exchange of humorous pleasantries between Leonato and Don Pedro and witty banter between Benedick and Beatrice, his first words are an unemotional and unadorned response to Leonato’s generosity, “I thank you, I am not of many words, but I thank you.” (1.1.157-58) This abrupt shift in mood halts the pleasant momentum of conversation, leading to the departure of all but Benedick and Claudio.This cold nature, completely disharmonious with the courtly behavior of other main characters, is easily noticed. With humor that cannot mask her aversion to Don John’s personality, Beatrice comments, “I never can see him but I am heart-burn’d an hour after.” (2.1.3-4) His disposition is one of the only things about which Don John is truthful. Speaking of his brother, Don Pedro, on whom he is dependent, he fumes,”I had rather be a canker in a hedge than a rose in his grace, and it better fits my blood to be disdained of all than to fashion a carriage to rob love from any: in this, though I cannot be said to be a flattering honest man, it must not be denied but I am a plain-dealing villain. I am trusted with a muzzle and enfranchised with a clog; therefore I have decreed not to sing in my cage. If I had my mouth, I would bite; if I had my liberty, I would do my liking: in the meantime let me be that I am and seek not to alter me.” (1.3.27-37)Don John refues to abide by social customs, the same customs that will forever prevent him from becoming a fully respected member of society due to his birth as a bastard. Therefore, he spurns his friend Conrade’s suggestion that he attempt to act more cheerful around Don Pedro to retain his brother’s favor. Rather than pretend to be someone he is not in order to receive love, he chooses instead to act naturally and be disliked by all. He makes this choice knowing how it is to be disliked, comparing his existence to that of a dog that is so distrusted and restricted that it is muzzled and chained to a “clog,” or heavy block. As long as his life is so, he will not put on a show for others, or, as he puts it, “sing in my cage.”Don John’s behavior in the beginning of the play, although detracting from the merriment of others, is merely antisocial. But his admission that he is a “plain-dealing villain” is quickly confirmed after the arrival of Borachio. Immediately upon finding out about an impending marriage, an occasion that arouses joy in the hearts of the socially graceful characters, Don John wonders if information about the marriage will allow him to cause trouble. At a time when religious devotion was paramount, his subsequent comment, “If I can cross him any way, I bless myself every way,” (1.3.67-68) is quite ominous. This statement asserting that he will be blessed for causing needless misfortune accentuates the extent to which his personality conflicts with that of the other main characters.Conflict of personality soon gives way to open conflict brought upon by Don John’s self described evil tendencies and desires, as Don John proves that his bitter words are not hollow. When Borachio confirms that Claudio’s marriage can be ruined, Don John replies, “Any bar, any cross, any impediment will be med’cinable to me. I am sick in displeasure to him, and whatsoever comes athwart his affection ranges evenly with mine.” (2.2.4-7) Claudio has done nothing to offend Don John, yet the latter is sick with anger against the groom-to-be. The fact that Claudio’s life is characterized by splendor and happiness is enough to incite Don John’s hatred, accompanied by the desire to prevent the fulfillment of Claudio’s desires.Once the villainous plan concocted by Don John’s collaborator, Borachio, is in motion, Don John meets with Don Pedro and Claudio, resulting in the first dark encounter of the play in which the cheerful Prince and his friend have been involved. In an urgent manner, Don John speaks of Hero, saying, “the lady is disloyal.” (3.3.104) In doing so, he accuses the innocent and naive girl of exactly of what he, a person embodying the opposite qualities, is guilty. Don Pedro and Claudio are deceived by Don John’s lies and trickery, setting off a catastrophic chain of events.The wedding day, the play’s climax, marks the first time in the play that all of the main characters are brought from their collective happy, relatively undemanding existence to Don John’s life of pain and revenge. Even before the ceremony, Hero senses that something is awry. As she gets dressed in her wedding attire, she portentously comments to Margaret, “my heart is extremely heavy.” (3.4.34-35) Even with these feelings of anxiousness, she must never have imagined just how horribly her wedding day, usually a day of celebration and elation, would become. After Claudio, backed by Don Pedro and Don John, publicly crushes and humiliates Hero, the overwhelmed young lady loses consciousness. Claudio, Don Pedro and Don John leave in a fury, and Hero’s father, Leonato, is mortified. He laments, “O Fate! Take not away thy heavy hand, Death is the fairest cover for her shame That may be wished for.” (4.1.115-117)Leonato believes that the lascivious behavior of which Hero has been accused has shamed her beyond redemption. He would rather she die than live as an embodiment of her shame and the shame brought upon him for presenting an unchaste daughter for marriage. By feeling such emotions, he has fallen victim to the plotting of Don John, a man destined by birth to live in shame, and driven by spite to see others feel his dishonor. Shortly after, Don John succeeds similarly with Beatrice, who experiences vengefulness like his when she asks Benedick to “Kill Claudio.” (4.1.289) This serious and plainspoken utterance is uncharacteristic of both Beatrice specifically and comedy in general. For a moment, it seems as Don John may be successful in draining the play of all comedy.Don John’s plotting is eventually discovered, and the truth allows the destruction inflicted by him to give way to mending and atonement. But even in the very last portion of the play, after lighthearted and romantic teasing between Beatrice and Benedick, the mere mention of the now captured Don John’s name threatens to darken the mood. However, Benedick asks his cheery group to “think not on him,” (5.4.127) and strikes up the band. Despite his tireless efforts, Don John is not able to destroy the comedy by depriving it of an essential feature, a happy ending.
Man Is a Giddy Thing
At the end of the play, Benedick reflects that “…man is a giddy thing.” Referring in your answer to two or three key scenes in the play, explain why events in Messina might lead him to that conclusion.In a play that so clearly focuses on the conflict between reason and emotion, it is a relief to find that the parallels so often drawn between these traits and men and women have been discarded. Shakespeare has turned the stereotypes on their heads to deliver to the audience a play that is not only insightful into the ways in which men and women interact, but that also challenges the audiences ill-founded preconceptions. Indeed, when Benedick refers to man as a “giddy” thing, this can be regarded not only as a reference to humankind, but to men in particular. The series of events that has previously unfolded has led him to believe that men, and not women, are the species that are fickle, reactive and emotional.The world of Messina is, evidently, a self-contained one, concerned less with the outside world than the preservation of its own superficial values. In fact, the only glimpse we are given of the world outside Messina is in the opening scene, when Don Pedro and his companions return from war, and even here the main characters appear to be more concerned with the fact those lost were “none of name”. The inhabitants of the town are isolated, and thus concern and amuse themselves with fashion, leisure, wit and, importantly, courting. These activities demand of spectators little more than mere observation and this appears to be the standard way of gaining the respect of others. Whilst the men seem to attempt to win the adoration of the women through sport and use of wit, Hero can be seen as something of an ornament, and indeed this is how she is perceived. When asked by Claudio if he took note of Hero with more than a passing interest, Benedick’s response is unmistakable:”I noted her not, but I looked on her.”The emotive, instinctive action of “looking” requires no reasoning and appears to be typical of the status quo. The world of Messina has a glossy veneer, and it is this that leads the main characters to show their susceptibility to deception, as judgements founded without thought or reflection are tantamount to mere guesses. Fashion and wit are deceptive tools, and are used thus by the characters. They give first impressions, conveying an impressive appearance, but that is all, as Borachio notes, perceptively:”Seest thou…what a deformed thief this fashion is…”Indeed, reliance upon appearance and how things seem to be at first glance inevitably leads to a detachment from reality and leaves one vulnerable to misjudgement and deception. In Act 4 Scene 1 Claudio questions his own discernment, asking rhetorically:”Is this the Prince’s brother? Is this face Hero’s? Are our eyes our own?”In the world of Messina, where what is observed is assumed to be true, truth and falsity can become confused, and belief in what the characters see can become fragile. However, the men in the play seem to be less aware of this than the women and in Act 2 Scene 3 the susceptibility of Benedick is shown up and we become aware of how easily his perception can stand in the way of reality. His opinions shift dramatically from talking of marriage scornfully at the beginning of the scene, saying that, “man is a fool when he dedicates himself to love”, to only moments later exclaiming, triumphantly:”…I will be horribly in love with her.”Here Benedick shows himself to be not only fickle and unpredictable, but also remarkably inconsistent. The deception of Beatrice in Act 3 Scene 1, on the other hand, despite her expression of an apparently similar response, shows her to be consistent, steadfast and most certainly not “giddy”. She believes what she has heard “better than reportingly,” and therefore is aware of Benedick’s qualities and ability to love without needing to be told, emphasising her ability to deduce things for herself, and to disregard appearance. However, both characters are deceived, and therefore perhaps fail to use their reason, to some extent. Certainly Benedick’s response (and some might argue Beatrice’s as well) is emotional and instinctive, and we see a conflict between reason and emotion which is hugely significant throughout the play.The capacity to maintain an appropriate balance between reason and emotion appears to evade every character at some point during the play, except, I feel, Beatrice. She shows herself throughout to be steadfast, loyal and, certainly in contrast to most of the other characters, notably consistent. It is her that we look to in order to draw comparisons with other characters’ reactions and responses. In Act 4 Scene 1, she shows not only loyalty to and faith in her close friend Hero, but also certainty and credence in her own convictions. Leonato’s response to Claudio’s accusation is unambiguous and explicit, as he takes what he is told to be the truth, showing absolutely no belief in his daughter and saying:”Death is the fairest cover for her shame/ That may be wished for.”His reaction is intensely emotional, and is reinforced by awareness of his own status. Beatrice, on the other hand, shows an ability to deduce the truth through a refined balance of reason, commitment to her friend, and instinct. She is aware of the fact that, as a woman, her views are not valued in Messina (she is considered by the men, “a rare parrot-teacher” who repeats herself and talks little sense) and recognises that “were [she] a man”, this would not be the case. However, she uses her ability with words and reason against Benedick in order to get him to fulfil her wish of having Claudio killed. Through her perception and an understanding of the society she believes that the “gallant” men are mere “valiant dust”, concerned more with the status and image that goes with being a warrior than actually realising this facade. She tells Benedick bluntly:”…men are only turned into tongue, and trim ones too.”By this she is implying that, as sharp and quick witted as he may be, he is in reality all talk and no action. This scathing remark shows not only a remarkably perceptive insight into how men work, but also a capacity to use reason and intelligence in order to manipulate others, an aptitude shown by no other character in the play.In analysing the play, and when one takes note of the critical role that not only Beatrice but also Hero plays in it, it seems evident that in Messina the men are the more emotion driven of the species, and women the more reasonable. Certainly this challenges stereotypes that have existed for thousands of years in the west, and Shakespeare can be said to have been well ahead of his time. As I have already discussed, Beatrice represents the perfect amalgamation of emotion and reason, and is almost the epitome of stability, emphasising the giddiness of the other characters. But I feel that Hero, perhaps in a subtler, more understated way, plays a great part in this.Away from the vigilant eye of social expectation she shows herself, similarly to Beatrice, to be capable of manipulating language and using her reason and logic in order to persuade and influence others. She is instrumental in the planning of the efficient deception of Beatrice in Act 3 Scene 1, evidently using harsh, hard-hitting comments as a tool against her, as Beatrice wails:”What fire is in my ears?”In contrast, Don Pedro, Leonato and Claudio’s ostentatious attempt is unplanned, ad hoc and full of mistakes that would be viewed as irredeemable, were it not for the fact that the men in the play have already shown themselves to be emotive and impressionable, as can be seen when, barely moments after “noting” Hero early on in the play, Claudio proclaims:”That I love her, I feel.”Even the name Hero appears to give her parity with the supposed male heroes of the war and at the end of the play we witness her showing the qualities that are required for one to be named as such. At first glance, Hero’s acceptance of Claudio (again) appears to show ignorance and a lack of comprehension of the deficiencies of a patriarchal society in which women are willingly subservient. However, while Claudio shows that he has learned nothing from the ordeal, referring to his wife-to-be as a commodity that he must “seize upon”, it is Hero who shows composure, self-awareness and conviction. To refuse to marry Claudio would be to question the foundations and fundamental beliefs of Messina, and so her self-sacrifice can be seen not only as heroic but also as strikingly controlled, level-headed, and essentially reasonable. She makes a definite distinction between “now” and “then”, showing certainty and assurance:”And when I liv’d I was your other wife, and when you lov’d, you were my other husband.”In the final moments of the play, when Benedick proclaims his desire to marry, saying that there is “nothing to any purpose that the world can say against it” Shakespeare is seeking to convey a similar certitude and integrity developing within Benedick to that previously shown by Hero; one that has thus far been absent in the nature of any of the male characters. Benedick’s perhaps more overt heroism can be put on a par with that of Hero and is perhaps more recognised, as it is he who appears to give the play its buoyant ending by vowing to marry Beatrice, love his cousin Claudio and, regarding Don John, “devise thee brave punishments”. But it must not be forgotten that, had Hero refused Claudio’s hand in marriage, none of this would have been possible. In addition to this, the quite remarkable transformation of Benedick’s character can be attributed overwhelmingly to Beatrice, who has shown herself throughout to be unwavering, virtuous – and indeed the absolute opposite of “a giddy thing”.
Instructive, Flawed, Important: Character Analysis of Don Pedro
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.
Benedick as an Entertaining Outsider
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.
The Problem with Claudio: A Unsympathetic Character in Much Ado About Nothing
Shakespeare’s light-hearted ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ explores both the triumph and tragedy which presents itself in the love of Hero and Claudio, using the latter as an easily deceived character whose errors almost culminate in a tragic ending to the play. Claudio’s character is presented initially in a virtuous light, though his many flaws and wrongdoings surface throughout the play, thus leaving an audience with little sympathy for Claudio at the end of the play.
A primary way in which Shakespeare explores Claudio’s foibles and renders the lack of sympathy for him is by Claudio’s use of words or phrases which insult or shame another character. The most prominent of these examples is ‘But you are more intemperate in your blood / Than Venus, or those pamper’d animals / Which rage in savage sensuality,’ which is said to Hero in Act 4, Scene 1. Both the hyperbolic reference to ‘Venus’, and the harsh alliteration of ‘savage sensuality’ portray his true anger, and the inanity of the insults. Because the audience members are aware of the truth, Shakespeare deliberately uses the dramatic irony to over-exaggerate Claudio’s insults, therefore rendering sympathy for the unknowing Hero, yet not the brashness of Claudio and his denunciations. In the same scene, Claudio goes on to describe oxymoronically Hero’s ‘pure impiety, and impious purity,’ which utilises antithesis of two contrasting words – ‘pure’ and ‘impious’- to perfectly encapsulate his anger of her apparent actions, yet the dramatic irony of the scene depicts Claudio as seeming ‘impious’ himself, due to his brash accusations. His irrationality can also be seen in ‘But fare thee well, most foul, must fair! Farewell,’ which uses an oxymoron in his description of Hero as both ‘fair’ and ‘foul’, and in conjunction with the paronomasia used in the reiteration of ‘fair,’ and ‘fare,’ it brings Claudio’s foolishness and ignorance to light with his jumbled and confused sentence. So too is Claudio’s acrimony seen in his outburst to Leonato, ‘Away! I will not have to do with you,’ which uses an imperative and a caesura to portray and emphasise Claudio’s condescension to Leonato, made yet more disrespectful from the perspective of an audience, coming from the man who killed Leonato’s daughter with his accusations. Claudio’s image to an audience is yet more tarnished when he deliberately jokes in a hostile manner about Benedick’s love for Beatrice, saying, ‘Here dwells Benedick the married man,’ mocking Benedick about marriage, which undoubtedly portrays a lack of sensitivity on Claudio’s part, with the irony of his failed wedding looming over this jest.
A similarly rude and undesirable attribute which Claudio can be seen to be is his proneness to narcissistic and hypocritical behaviour. This manifests itself in Act 3, Scene 2, when Don John deceives Claudio about Hero’s infidelity. When Don John has merely told Claudio of this, the latter is quick to change his allegiance, stating ‘If I see anything tonight why I should not marry her tomorrow in the congregation,’ which shows his natural disposition to be changeable, and his love for Hero can clearly not be too strong if he immediately distrusts her. He subsequently says, ‘Where I should wed, there I should shame her,’ which portrays his selfishness, using twice the word ‘I’ rather than ‘we’, conveying his self-centred character, yet this also shows further shows his willingness to embarrass and shame people if need be, which undeniably portrays him to an audience as dishonest and false. Claudio’s tendency for selfish behaviour can so too be seen when he says, ‘Yet sinned I not, / but in mistaking,’ to Leonato, which portrays his lack of remorse or responsibility for his actions, and his ‘mistaking’ is emphasised by appearing on a new line in the spoken verse. His failure to even apologise truly conveys his selfish and somewhat immature nature, as he simply passes the blame on without accepting any responsibility himself. So too is this common nature of his seen when he proclaims at his first wedding to Hero, ‘For thee I’ll lock up the gates of love,’ which portrays his state of being broken-hearted at the wedding: an innocent theme, yet he is quick to break his word by saying ‘I do embrace your offer,’ in reply to Leonato’s proposition for him to marry Hero’s cousin, hence disproving any true love, because he would not insult Hero’s image if he did love her truly. He instead is trying to make peace with Leonato for his own sake, rather than making peace with himself for what he has done. To him, it is a duty to Leonato, rather than to Hero, proven by his words to Leonato, ‘For this I owe you.’ The word choice of ‘owe’ by Shakespeare conveys a deliberate meaning of superficial material matter over emotion and love, which imparts the dishonest nature of Claudio to the audience. Furthermore, the same issue of a lack of responsibility or remorse is seen in his epitaph, describing Hero’s death as ‘done to death by slanderous tongues,’ which perfectly epitomises Claudio’s selfishness, using generalities to describe Hero’s death, and accepting no personal responsibility even though he was the primary offender.
Amongst Claudio’s flaws and hypocrisy, there are, especially at the beginning of the play, instances where he is illustrated as innocent and naïve, and his wrongdoings are nothing more than youthful and blameless mishaps and mistakes. This innocence can be seen when he says, ‘In mine eye, she is the sweetest lady that ever I looked on,’ which through its prose, and plain language evokes a sensitive picture of Claudio to be painted to the audience, contrasted to the grandiloquence and hyperbolic words of Benedick which came before, ‘Do you…tell us Cupid is a good hare-finder and Vulcan a rare carpenter?’ This same effect is present in Benedick’s words of, ‘Alas, poor hurt fowl!’ which portray Claudio in a sensitive light, achieved by both the monosyllables of the sentence, and the metaphor of an animal used to describe Claudio, which depicts a weak and vulnerable picture of him. Furthermore, Claudio’s naivety is seen in the easiness in which his mind or opinion is changed. This can be seen in, ‘’Tis certain so; the prince woos for himself,’ which illustrates a certain element of utter disappointment and defeat in his choice of words – ‘for himself.’ ‘Certain’ portrays a definite naivety and immaturity, since Claudio has merely Don John’s words to persuade him that Don Pedro has wooed Hero for himself. Claudio subsequently says, ‘Friendship is constant in all other things / save in the office and affairs of love,’ which conveys a broken and betrayed sense of Claudio, utilising the enjambment and ‘save’ at the beginning of the line, to truly emphasise the act of being betrayed, and with the dramatic irony of the scene, a true element of pathos is painted for the naïve Claudio.
The sense of irony is rife through the play, and it is especially used in Claudio’s character, to portray his lack of knowledge of the truth. This is seen in Claudio’s ‘farewell,’ to Hero, which is used both in Act 2, Scene 1, and Act 4, Scene 1. On both these occasions, Claudio has been deceived by Don John: the first time being that the latter had tricked Claudio into thinking that Don Pedro had taken Hero for himself, and on the second occasion, believing that Hero had been unfaithful, Claudio disgraced her at their wedding. The repeated ‘farewell,’ perfectly epitomises Claudio’s changeability and ignorance, and in conjunction with the dramatic irony of the scene, would evoke a strange sense of sympathy from the audience due to the extent of his misconception, and almost a child-like pity on the twice-deceived Claudio. Similarly, when Claudio says to Hero, ‘To make you answer truly to your name,’ it is an irony made bitter by Claudio’s usage of ‘truly,’ which again would evoke pity upon the deceived Claudio, who has been unfairly tricked, and proceeds to draw out the process of degrading Hero on falsely acquired evidence.
Claudio’s character undergoes a subtle change in the duration of the play, starting as a naïve and innocent man who is the youngest of the group, and is often left behind by Benedick’s sharp wit. His naivety leads him to be deceived twice by Don John, and both this ignorance and the way in which he is completely deceived and misled draws sympathy from the audience; yet in both his harsh words, and his hypocritical behaviour, this view shifts through the duration of the play, leaving Claudio with next to no sympathy at the end of the play, leaving darker tones in the light-hearted Shakespearean comedy.
The Couple Doth Protest Too Much: Male Maturity in “Much Ado About Nothing”
Elizabethan men are not entirely different from some modern men, especially when it comes to their views on marriage, love, and sex. Many men still continue the double standard of expecting their partners to be virginal while they themselves are free to be sexually experienced. And the concept of marriage as painful and confining is still prevalent, along with the romanticized ideals of love and its timelessness. In Much Ado About Nothing Benedick holds many of these views at the start of the play, but how he differs from the rest of the cast is his gradual shift in his views on women, and relationships, by the play’s end. Benedick shifts from playing the role of the misogynist womanizer with a silver tongue to, at the end of the play, being a love struck realist who not only respects Beatrice, but women as a whole, and proves this by agreeing to duel Claudio to “avenge” Hero and prove his loyalty to Beatrice. This fundamental change is brought about through a series of key scenes: the masked party, the staged conversation between Leonato, Claudio and Don Pedro, Claudio’s rejection of Hero at the wedding, and when Benedick vows to Beatrice that he will challenge Claudio.
At the start of the play, Benedick is self-impressed and beloved (he claims) by all women except Beatrice. His ego is the caught up in the role he plays as that of a witty banterer, a lady-killer, a heroic soldier and distinguished nobleman. He brings this ego into every encounter he has with anyone, as evidenced by his reticence to give Claudio a straight answer as to whether Hero would make a good match; or when he banters with Beatrice upon his arrival, and defeats her in their battle of wits “with a jade’s trick” (1.1.141). So when Benedick’s ego is bruised by Beatrice at the masked ball when she says “[Benedick is] the prince’s jester, a very dull fool. Only his gift is in devising impossible slanders” (2.1.132-33) it forces him to reflect on his characteristics and then, later on in the scene he tells Don Pedro of all the insults and jokes she made at his expense. Benedick struggles here between playing his role and brushing off Beatrice’s insults or accepting that Beatrice really does despise him. His pride and possible hidden affections for Beatrice lead him to rail against her and when Don Pedro and Claudio imply he may like Beatrice he protests overtly. Benedick’s tirade against Beatrice is ironically the catalyst for his subtle shift from viewing his relationship with Beatrice as a sport, to respecting her and even loving her. Before loving Beatrice though, Benedick has to put aside his ego, his ruse of masculinity, and be vulnerable enough to face rejection. So when Leonato, Claudio and Don Pedro carry out their “accidentally” overheard conversation Benedick’s reaction to hearing of Beatrice’s love is authentic. This is the first scene he is depicted as his true self for the audience, without the guise of being chauvinistic and derisive for Beatrice’s sake. When he is alone and thinks no one else can hear him he even states “If I do not take pity of her, I am a villain; if I do not love her, I am a Jew” (2.3.255-57). Benedick may have cared for her before or may not have, but whatever his feelings before this encounter they changed because his ego was damaged enough at the masked party to enable his views to shift. So already, the man who said that he “will live a bachelor” (1.1.239) not one act before is changing his tune just because he perceives a change in Beatrice’s affections towards him. Benedick rationalizes his change in heart so he still does not seem the weaker, but the fact that Benedick is the first to change his feelings and be vulnerable may be a play on the typical gender stereotype of women being more emotional or likely to change their views or opinions. This change in his character, whatever the reason, indicates a change in his sentiments towards women. Whereas before women were just good for giving birth and spending the night with, now Benedick is at least open to the possibility of love (though not the same blind or financially inspired love as that of Claudio and Hero).
To further prove the point that Benedick is a changed man in his sentiments not only towards Beatrice, but towards all women, the wedding scene marks the third example of a shift in Benedick’s beliefs. When Don John, Claudio and Don Pedro accuse Hero of no longer being a maid, Benedick decides to stand by Hero and Beatrice instead of exiting with the three allegedly wronged men. Benedick shows open concern for Hero, asking “how doth the lady?” (4.1.111), and even going as far as to defend Hero from Leonato’s wrath when he tries to attack her. Earlier Benedick, while he may not have condoned attacking a woman, would certainly have sided with his companions when it came to the question of Hero’s virginity. But now there is a subtle shift in his behavior. He even agrees to help with the deception of Claudio by faking Hero’s death; he says “and though you know my inwardness and love is very much unto the prince and Claudio, yet by mine honor, I will deal in this as secretly and justly as your soul should with your body” (4.1.243-47). Benedick completely commits to the conspiracy between Hero, the Friar and Leonato, especially because he believed Claudio and Don Pedro to be deceived by Don John. Benedick, at this point, is a completely different character, in that his normal combative and verbally playful way of talking has been replaced by earnestness and much more to-the-point dialogue. In comparison, Claudio when Benedick encounters him later, is all banter and bravado. It is almost as if Claudio and Benedick’s personalities have shifted from one to the other. This shift in character shows Benedick is completely removed from his former façade, because he made no jokes, and had hardly any of his ego or other hubris-like characteristics from earlier in the play.
The final and most dramatic change in Benedick’s attitudes towards women comes immediately after Hero’s disgracing. When He and Beatrice are left alone he not only confesses his love for her, but also he consoles her and shows more compassion than any man towards any woman in the play. Although some may write this off as him trying to get on Beatrice’s good side, Benedick has proven in all the above examples that his views are changing and that his motives and actions are sincere. To further prove his loyalty in her, Beatrice asks Benedick to kill Claudio, and after much persuading he says “enough, I am engaged. I will challenge him. I will kiss your hand, and so I leave you. By this hand, Claudio shall render me a dear account” (4.1.330-32). This action at first glance may not seem especially heroic, but there are some details from earlier to be remembered: Claudio was said to have slain many in the wars, and the messenger in the first act could not stop bragging about his heroics and skill. Beatrice joked that Benedick must not have killed many soldiers, which must have been a jab at his lack of ability (or at least last of remarkable prowess) on the battlefield. Also to be taken into account is that Benedick and Claudio are very close friends and companions, as are the prince and Benedick, so for him to agree to challenge Claudio is not only a dangerous and possibly fatal task, but is also emotionally trying. While Benedick’s first approach is to first appease Claudio and Don Pedro, he will carry out his plan to challenge Claudio if he must. This shows the greatest change in his character, because he went from joking and sparring verbally with women, to now possibly actually sparring with his close companion to defend a woman.
The shift in Benedick’s disposition, from that of a bachelor who verbally scuffles with women to impress others and is full of himself and his own bravado, to a man who is earnest, to the point, and has very little if any ego left is interesting because his shift in character most coincides with Claudio’s shift as well. So one might argue that both men have their views of women changed, but one is positive while the other is negative. Claudio starts out being the wide eyed naïve romantic, and ends a suspicious, but married, man who is preoccupied with what others think of him. While Benedick starts out being the romance-bashing bachelor who would rather die that way than be made a “cuckold”, and then he changes into a romantic realist who respects his wife as an equal in verbal combat. This reversal of roles may indicate Shakespeare’s thoughts on male-female relationships as a whole being combative and ever changing, or may simply be a way of mirroring the beginning and end of the play.
As a whole, Benedick’s change in regards to women is a positive one. He goes from being very self-indulgent and ridiculing of women to being respecting and loving of them at the end and this shift is slow but ultimately the complete opposite of him at the start. The masked ball, coupled with his overhearing Claudio, Don Pedro, and Leonato, and his defense of Hero all served as stepping stones along the way for Benedick to change his relationship with Beatrice and in the end win her heart. His willingness to endanger himself to prove his love for Beatrice while protecting the honor of hero reveals him to be a completely different man from the beginning of the play, which mirrors the change in Claudio’s character almost exactly.
Shakespeare, William, and Sylvan Barnet. “Much Ado About Nothing.” The Complete Signet
Classic Shakespeare. General Editor: Sylvan Barnet. New York: Harcourt
Jovanovich, 1972. N. pag. Print.