Trickery and Deception: A Dish Best Served by Shakespeare

July 14, 2019 by Essay Writer

“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 tête-à-têtes. 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.

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