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Much Ado About Nothing - William Shakespeare

I have decided to explore the characters and the nature of their love for each other in William Shakespeare’s play “Much Ado About Nothing.” I am intrigued by the play because it seems to be mainly concerned with fate and the theme of love conquers all. The characters are linked together in a net of ties between family, friends and lovers. It interested me to see how each character coped with these bonds and how it caused “Much Ado About Nothing.” I am going to look closely at the relationships between the lovers, Hero and Claudio, Beatrice and Benedick, and the effects their family and friends have on their love.

It is helpful in a play that all the text is evidently present tense; this makes the reader feel closer to the characters, as they can watch them in their most positive or negative moments. We can feel sympathy or frustration towards characters because we feel helpless when we can see everything that is brewing, while they remain ignorant.

A basic summary of the plot: The prince and his party return from the wars to spend summer with the governor of Messina and his family. Claudio falls in love with Hero, Don Pedro agrees to bring them together. The lovers decide they want to marry and Don John evilly plots the deceitful ruin of the wedding. The lovers and the other guests manipulate Benedick and Beatrice, making them realise their love for one another. On the wedding day Don Pedro and Claudio accuse Hero of adultery and promiscuous activities, she faints – they all believe she is dead. The watchmen discover Don John’s wicked plan by default and Hero’s accusers believe she has died in vain. Claudio makes a promise of tribute to Hero and an apology to Leonato – he agrees to marry a relative of Hero. At the newly arranged wedding the bride is unmasked and Claudio is delighted when he finds the woman he has married in Hero; Benedick and Beatrice marry too, making it a double-wedding. We also find out that Don John was captured trying to leave Messina.

The opening of the play allows us to form our first opinions about some of the main characters. We can determine that Leonato is Beatrice’ uncle and the humour and wit the people share – they laugh together this means they have a good relationship. We first learn of the interest Beatrice has in Benedick, and the understanding they share. Going further into act one we can determine that Hero, Beatrice’ cousin, is close to her as she understands Beatrice and her real feelings. Hero is held in confidence by Beatrice about her opinion of Benedick, this is understood when Hero immediately knows whom her cousin in asking after, when know one else understands her question to the messenger;

“I pray you, is Signior Montanto returned from the wars or no?”

It is also easily discerned from Beatrice’s sarcasm that she despairs of Benedick and holds him in contempt. Personally, I held the suspicion that Beatrice, a pillar of strength and level-headedness, was fighting to preserve her image against the confusion of emotions and her denied lust for Benedick. Her family rely on her and her father dotes on her, he takes a back seat in her life - he loves his daughter, supports her and lets her make her own choices without question. Her uncle listens to her carefully and considers her opinions important and helpful, he relies on Beatrice to guard and guide his daughter Hero, who looks up to Beatrice for support and advice. One particular exchange between the messenger delivering news of Don Pedro and his party, and Beatrice enforces her view of Signior Benedick;

Messenger “A lord to a lord, a man to a man; stuffed with all honourable virtues.”

Beatrice “It is so, indeed: he is no less than a stuffed man: but for the stuffing, well, we are all mortal.”

Signior Benedick holds Beatrice in equal measures of contempt. One cannot hear a word uttered under the breath of the other without a wicked tongue-lashing following after. I liked Benedick and Beatrice the most though because they were tough and funny but they had a sharp, quick-thinking quality about them; I admired their spirit.

Benedick, although he inclines towards being pompous and arrogant is still a likable character, when he wins us over with his humorous speeches; he can be accurately defined as a lovable rogue. Even Beatrice sees how amusing he can be: In act two, she tells a subject at the ball, which is of course the masked Signior himself , about the Benedick who is supposedly spreading his nasty influence concerning her personality:

“ …and the commendation is not is his wit but in his villainy; for he both pleaseth men and angers them, and then they laugh at him and beat him.”

We know ultimately, that he is hiding behind a wall of masculinity and bachelor’s pursuits; he does not want to be hurt or made to look a fool, in this, both he and Beatrice are determined. He contradicts himself, and loves being loved for all his selfish and idiotic ideals; he tries hard to stick to his guns, tries to be the last “whole,” singularly male being, in Messina – to be the last man standing, without, as he sees it, having his maleness ripped from him by love. Benedick is very cynical about love and believes it is like a nasty disease. He thinks it is a menace, he loses all his friends to women, when they become wrapped in a spell of love; taking pleasure in what Benedick thinks is silly, talking about their women with poetry and living in a dream world he despises. He despises love presumably because he has never had it, he has never found a woman he could form an attachment with and now he has he cannot depart with his stupid mannerisms because he is scared of being burned. When he finds Beatrice he is frightened he will lose himself and become someone else, become trapped and that he will lose his wits and change, so he will never be able to go back to his old ways.

Benedick “That a woman conceived me, I thank her; that she brought me up, I likewise give her most humble thanks; but that I will have a recheat winded in my forehead, or hang my bugle in an invisible baldrick, all women shall pardon me.”

“…prove that ever I lose more blood with love than I will get again with drinking, pick out mine eyes with a ballad-maker’s pen, and hang me up at the door of a brothel-house, for the sign of blind Cupid.”

Shakespeare deliberately chose a two pairs of lovers that contrast. Hero and Claudio are characters that completely contrast with those of Benedick and Beatrice, although, like them they are kindred spirits. It is apparent that Claudio is very taken with Hero from the moment after their first meeting. Claudio is the young lord of Florence who acts as confidant and friend to Benedick and Don Pedro. He is cheeky, wilful and completely head over heels in love with Hero, who luckily reciprocates his attentions. I sympathised with Claudio most when he first realised his doubts were reality, his fair Hero did not love him, his dreams were shattered when he saw his love’s betrayal. I think the fact of Claudio’s bravery makes his upset about Hero’s supposed betrayal stronger; the messenger in act one speaks about his courage:

“He hath borne himself beyond the promise of his age; doing, in the figure of a lamb, the feats of a lion.”

I felt annoyed because Hero screamed and cried and made no defence against her father’s wrath and the acquisition made by Don Pedro and Claudio. I do feel pity for Hero at times but I find her difficult to stomach, she is the ultimate embodiment of fictional womanhood, which feminist society has been battling. Hero is calm, demure, virginal, and whimsical the complete opposite of her cousin. She is quite a quiet character; she just exists in the background, until the torment of the wedding. She only speaks to avoid being rude or when she has something indefinitely worthy of words. Although, Hero does have a sense of humour, proved through the assistance she gave to Don Pedro and his plot to bring together Benedick and Beatrice.

Don Pedro is the most selfless of the group; he sets out to bring Benedick and Beatrice, Hero and Claudio, together. He is successful in urging Hero and Claudio together, but they wear their hearts on their sleeves and only needed the Don to take the first step, otherwise their bashfulness would become an obstruction in the path of their love. Fortunately, swaying an eventual match between Beatrice and Benedick is no easy task and the difficulty of this provides spectators with a quantity of hilarity and glee. Don Pedro with assistance from Leonato, Claudio, Hero, and her gentlewomen, Ursula and Margaret manages to manipulate Benedick and Beatrice bringing them, “into a mountain of affection with one another.”

Don Pedro, Claudio and Leonato go to the gardens where they know Benedick is hiding. They have a conversation, for the benefit of Benedick’s inquisitive ears, about Beatrice and a false design of a secret love for Benedick. They say he is not worthy of her, this makes Benedick want to try harder and win her love, and when he thinks carefully he sees in Beatrice all the virtues the men credit her with and Benedick wants to love and have her all the more.

Benedick “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…I may chance have some on quirks and remnants of wit broken on me because I have railed so long against marriage; but doth not the appetite alter?”

The plot thickens when they send Beatrice out to usher Benedick in to dinner; Benedick sees this as sure confirmation of her love and decides to pursue her.

Hero, Margaret and Ursula also come together in the garden to ensnare Beatrice in their scheme. Hero sends Margaret to tell Beatrice how she has overheard Ursula and Hero making conversation which may interest Beatrice; Beatrice goes to the garden and eavesdrops on them. The women say Benedick is “entirely” in love with Beatrice but she should not be told because she cannot love or give affection, they talk about Benedick’s virtues and his suffering. Beatrice makes a pledge to herself, that she will “tame” her “wild heart” for him and his love. Thus, Beatrice and Benedick are infatuated with the promise of one’s love for the other, and eventually become a partnership. How could people as intelligent as Beatrice and Benedick be blind to their affection for each other and then permit themselves to be brought together by such a transparent deception if they were not already discreetly aware.

Another extremely influential force on the love between each couple is found in the character of Don John, a negative force pushing the lovers apart. Don Pedro is held in great respect by Leonato and his family and apparently by other people throughout their social circles; he is charming, polite, smart, well polished and he wears his title with grace and modesty – everyone loves him, except his brother.

Don John casts a giant cloud of impending dilemma over the characters; he is the vessel of consequence. He is illegitimate and used to receiving treatment as and acting as an inferior to Don Pedro, because of this he is a very bitter person. He searches for some way to relieve his tension and feeling of being unwelcome and unwanted, useless. His brother is everything he can’t be. He doesn’t know how Don Pedro can have the upper hand over everyone and sincerely mean every kind word or bow he gives them, he wants his brother to be hated – to feel some of his pain. He is spiteful and sly, but it is still easy to admire his endurance; although he recognised he was in the wrong and what he was doing was bad, he wanted to follow through and secure some small spark of happiness from hurting his sibling and those he loved. Don John tries to harm Claudio as way a of hurting both Claudio and Don Pedro, even though Don Pedro has reconciled with Don John and forgotten their former differences; is this proof that Don John is a singularly evil person?

To provide Don John with some release, Borachio, one of Don John’s followers suggests they lure Don John to Hero’s window where Borachio will meet his lover, who should then be mistaken for Hero. Don John tells Don Pedro and Claudio his fictional tale about Hero and her infidelities and begs them to come and be witness to her receiving her lover; though the lady at Hero’s window is Margaret and her lover.

Beatrice and Benedick’s love is tested when Beatrice bids Benedick to avenge her cousin and pronounce a duel with Claudio; even though Benedick believes his friend was simply mistaken he follows through when Beatrice declares she will withdraw her love otherwise.

In the end everyone lives happily ever after, and true love prevails. This play also presents the dangers and issues involved when we make an uneducated judgement of someone, particularly lovers. I think Shakespeare managed to capture the exact essence of each character that allows us to associate and relate to them, bringing us closer to enjoyment and understanding of the play. The whole play left me feeling that something particularly significant was overshadowing the story, a whole ideal that love is supreme and will always succeed.

For more information of the life and times of William Shakespeare have a look at the excellent book Shakespeare's World.

Morgan - 19th January 2003

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