The Theme of Deceit in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing
Lying, it seems to be a common phenomenon in human’s daily lives. In a recent study made by the University of Massachusetts, it found that 60% of adults can not have a ten minute conversation without lying at least once. The more common lies that are told in present day include “I like your hair today” or “I am leaving in 5 minutes”. In William Shakespeare’s play Much Ado About Nothing, a common theme followed is deceit.
Much Ado About Nothing takes place in the late 1500s and follows the story of soldiers going to Leonato’s home in Messina. Some of the soldiers end up falling in love with the women at Messina and all hell breaks loose due to the deceit caused by some of the characters. Most of the lies in the play are more major than the lies that current humans tell on a day to day basis. Although that does not mean that they are not still committed for the same reasons. People in the play and in real life often lie to commit an evil act, to help in their/others love life, or to conceal one’s own feelings. The most noticeable theme in Shakespeare’s play Much Ado About Nothing is deceit and is caused for the purpose of evil, love and to conceal one’s feelings, which are also reasons as to why present day humans lie as well.
One of the reasons that causes deceit in the play is for the purpose of evil. The most villainous character in the play is Don John, the illegitimate brother of Don Pedro. Don John devices a scheme to ruin Claudio and Hero’s wedding by having one of his men, Borachio, have sexual intercourse with Margaret on the balcony, and make it appear as if Hero is having an affair with another man. As Borachio takes Margaret to the balcony, Don John tells Claudio, “Go but with me tonight, you shall see her / chamber window entered, even the night before her / wedding day. If you love her then, tomorrow wed / her. But it would better fit your honor to change / your mind” (3.2. 98-102). Don John’s plan works and causes a massive fight at the wedding. This was Don John’s goal all along, to deceive Claudio and do something evil. This example of deceit is used to break apart relationships in an evil way. Similarly, this example of evil in the play can connect to life in general whenever a person lies to spread an untruth about another human being.
Another example on how deciet is used in the play and connects to evil is when Margaret did not come out at the wedding about her sexual experience with Borachio while everyone was slandering Hero’s name. At the wedding when all the accusations were being thrown towards Hero, Claudio said, “What man was he talk’d with you yesternight / Out at your window betwixt twelve and one? / Now, if you are a maid, answer to this” (4.1.82-84). This quote was enough for Margaret to realize that she was the one who was at the balcony at that time with Borachio, and prove that Hero is innocent. Although, Margaret had no intent to stop the accusations against Hero, and instead let her take the blame for an action that she did not commit. This example of evil in the play can connect to life in general whenever a person does not stand up for their actions and lets others take the blame.
As shown, these two examples of deceit were used to spread evil in Messina, and eventually failed. Claudio and Hero got married, Don John was arrested and Margaret’s secret was revealed to everyone. These outcomes show that whenever people lie in the name of evil, they ultimately fail and pay the price for it.
A second reason that causes deceit in the play is for the purpose of love. An example of when this occurs is when Don Pedro devices a plan to get Benedick and Beatrice together by talking loudly about how Beatrice “loves” Benedick, when in reality it is not true. Benedick overhears Don Pedro, Leonato and Claudio’s conversation and then says, “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” (2.3.220-224). Hero and Ursula also are in the plan and they also talk about how much Benedick “loves” Beatrice. Similar to Benedick, Beatrice overhears Hero and Ursula and proclaims her love to Benedick. This example of deceit in the play is used to get two people together by making up friendly lies about one another. People in the present day do this all the time.
Another example where deceit is used for love is when “a deceased” Hero pretends to be her cousin in order to marry Claudio. After everyone figures out Don John deceived everyone, Claudio regrets his actions and Leonato figures out a way to get Claudio and Hero married whilst giving Hero a proper apology. As Leonato is telling Claudio what his revenge is he states, “Possess the people in Messina here / How innocent she died. And if your love / Can labor ought in sad invention, / Hang her an epitaph upon her tomb / And sing it to her bones. Sing it tonight. / Tomorrow morning come you to my house, / And since you could not be my son-in-law, / Be yet my nephew. My brother hath a daughter, / Almost the copy of my child that’s dead, / And she alone is heir to both of us. / Give her the right you should have given her cousin, / And so dies my revenge” (5.1.274-285). Leonato has now deceived Claudio in order to restore Hero’s good name and to get them both married for good. Claudio follows Leonato’s order and ends in an amazing wedding between the two. Once again this example of deceit in the play is used to get two people together.
As shown, these two examples of deceit were used to spread love in Messina, and succeeded. Benedick and Beatrice got a wedding alongside Claudio and Hero. These outcomes show that whenever people lie in the name of love, they ultimately succeed and live a joyous life.
A third reason that causes deceit in the play is for the purpose of concealing one’s own feelings. An example of when this type of deceit occurs in the play is when Beatrice and Benedick have the battle of wits to conceal their true feelings for each other. The first thing that they say to each other in the play is, Beatrice: I wonder that you will still be talking, Signor / Benedick; Nobody marks you. Benedick: What, my dear Lady Disdain! Are you yet living? Beatrice: Is it possible disdain should die while she hath such / meet food to feed it as Signor Benedick? Courtesy / itself must convert to disdain if you come in her / presence. Benedick: Then is courtesy a turncoat. But it is certain I am / loved of all ladies, only you excepted. And I would I / could find in my heart that I had not a hard heart, / for truly I love none (1.1 105-115). As shown, it appears as if they have no interest in one another due their constant fighting throughout the play. We later learn that these two characters fall in love with just overhearing their affection for one another. There have had to be a foundation of love there for them to reveal their true feelings for one another. Human flirting nowadays is very similar to this example, they often tease each other to mask their true feelings.
Another example of when someone deceives someone else in order to conceal their feelings is when Don Pedro acted as Claudio to get Hero to fall in love with Claudio. Claudio felt too nervous to go and talk to Hero so Don Pedro came up with a plan to get Hero to love Claudio without Claudio having to talk to her. Don Pedro said, “I will assume thy part in some disguise, / And tell fair Hero I am Claudio. / And in her bosom I’ll unclasp my heart / And take her hearing prisoner with the force / And strong encounter of my amorous tale / (1.1.295-299). The plan ends up working and Claudio and Hero’s wedding date is placed. This example of deceit is used to allow Claudio to get married to Hero, whilst concealing his shyness towards her. Present day people now have a certain name for that, a wingman.
As shown, these two examples of deceit were used successfully to hide the character’s true feelings. Benedick and Beatrice ended their fake war amongst each other, and Claudio and Hero fell in love despite Claudio’s shyness. These outcomes show that whenever people lie to hide one’s true feelings, they ultimately succeed but it takes them a longer time than to just come out with their feelings earlier.
The most prominent topic in Shakespeare’s play Much Ado About Nothing is deceit and is caused with the end goal of malevolence, love, and to hide one’s sentiments, which are likewise reasons in the matter of why people nowadays lie. Shakespeare’s play Much Ado About Nothing demonstrates that deceiving someone for the purpose of evil always leads to failure and deceiving someone for the purpose of love mostly leads to success. In the end, deceit is not always the best thing to do, even for the purpose of love, it is always best to tell the truth as unnecessary drama will not have to occur. Remember what the bible told Moses, ‘You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16, English Standard Version).
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