, Research Paper
Much Ado about Nothing
Much Ado About Nothing illustrates a kind of deliberately puzzling title that
seems to have been popular in the late 1590s (ex “As You Like It”). Indeed, the play is
about nothing; it follows the relationships of Claudio and Hero (which is constantly
hampered by plots to disrupt it), and in the end, the play culminates in the two other main
characters falling in love (Beatrice and Bena*censored*), which, because it was an event that
was quite predictable, proves to be “much ado about nothing”.
The pronunciation of the word “nothing” would, in the late 16th Century, have
been “noting,” and so the title also apparently suggests a pun on the word, “noting,” and
on the use of the word “note” as an expression of music. In Act two, scene two ,Balthasar
is encouraged to sing, but declines, saying, “note this before my notes; there’s not a note
of mine that’s worth the noting.” (53-54) However, Don Pedro retorts, “Note notes,
forsooth, and nothing,” playing on Balthasar’s words, and also demanding that he pay
attention to his music and nothing else. In addition, much of the play is dedicated to
people “noting” (or observing) the actions of others (such as the trick played on Beatrice
and Bene*censored* by Leonato, Hero and Claudio); they often observe and overhear one
another, and consequently make a great deal out of very little.
The political and cultural events of the 15 century had a large influence on
Shakespeare’s work. In Much Ado About Nothing, Don Pedro, Prince of Arragon, Don
John, his brother, Borachio his servant, Bene*censored*, a young lord, and Claudio his best
friend are all returning from war, and have been invited to stay with Leonato for a month.
Shakespeare’s antagonist Don John, bears much resemblance to Don John of Austria, the
illegitimate son of Charles V, half-brother to the King of Aragon who defeated the Turks
at Lepanto and returned to Messina after his victory in October of 1571. Don John of
Austria had many of the qualities that Shakespeare’s Don John did, he was not on good
terms with his brother, and although he tried with much effort to gain status, he was
frequently humiliated in attempts to bring himself fame. Shakespeare was known to draw
parallels between his characters and actual historical figures, in an attempt to produce a
sort abstract history of the times (ex Henry V).
Also at that time, Europe was going through the renaissance, with Italy at it’s
center. Everywhere else in Europe, Italy was considered to be very high class. This
attitude is reflected in Shakespeare’s plays. For example, in Much Ado About Nothing,
many f the characters have Italian names (Borachio, Claudio, etc.). This is also true of
some of Shakespeare’s others plays such as The Taming of the Shrew, and Romeo and
One of the major themes in Much Ado About Nothing centers around the
question and battle between deception and reality. One first notices of the image of
deception as we witness the masking and unmasking at the masquerade. In the play,
most overhear discussions are deceptions. It is through eavesdropping that we see the
true battle between deception and reality as we look at the subplots of Bene*censored* and
Beatrice, Hero and Claudio, as well as the comedy of Dogberry and his crew.
The relationship between Bene*censored* and Beatrice is one manufactured completely
through deception on the behalf of their friends. Though the plot to unite them was
planned, many of the problems that arose were because of things that were overheard
accidentally or on purpose. In Act II, Scene 3 Bene*censored* is deceived into thinking that
Beatrice loves him because of the speech in the garden between Leonato, Claudio, and
Don Pedro. Beatrice is sent to fetch Bene*censored* for dinner, and Bene*censored* notes “some
marks of love in her[Beatrice],” (240-241) and he decides to take pity upon her and return
her love. In Act III, Scene 1 Beatrice is deceived as she overhears Hero and Ursula talk
of Bene*censored*’s affection for her. Beatrice then decides to allow herself to be tamed by
Bene*censored*’s “loving hand,” and return his love. Beatrice and Bene*censored* are made to fall in
love through the deception of those around them, and ironically find happiness more
readily than Claudio and Hero.
The idea of “noting” is also continued throughout the play, and is particularly
exemplified by the changing relationship between Beatrice and Bene*censored*. They play
games with each other’s wit, which in the end amounts to nothing because they fall in
love. At one point, Bene*censored* surreptitiously notes, “I do spy some marks of love in her
[Beatrice],” while Claudio also observes Margaret speaking with Balthasar, but
mistakenly notes that Margaret is Hero, and Don John purposely mistakes the masked
Claudio for Beni*censored*. These three examples of noting continue the play’s theme of false
In addition, there is a strong theme of music and dance running through the play.
Balthasar introduces the first piece of singing to the performance: ” Be you blithe and
bonny, / Converting all your sounds of woe / Into hey, nonny, nonny.” (74-76) The
characters all dance several times throughout the play; in the late 16th Century, organized
dancing such as that portrayed here was perceived to be a sign of sophistication. In this
way, the idea of the word “nothing” meaning music and dance implies the important
connotation that the play’s characters are of a high social status.
Beatrice is the niece of Lenato and cousin to Hero. She is a very strong-willed,
talkative, and witty character. She often interrupts or speaks her mind without much
thought to decorum. Here first few lines interrupt the conversation between Leonato and
the messenger and are loaded with sarcasm and bitterness towards Bene*censored*: “I pray you,
how many hath he [Bene*censored*] / killed and eaten in these wars? But how many hath he /
killed? For indeed I promised to eat all of his killing.” (Act I, scene 1; 40-42)Throughout
the play, she is very clever with words displaying considerable intellectual ability as well
as a natural ability for humor. And her way with words is sharpened when the target is
It is obvious that right from the beginning, Beatrice has a grudge against
Bene*censored*. It becomes apparent that she has been previously been hurt by him. It is also
apparent that even though she is still stinging from past experiences with him, that
somewhere deep inside her heart, she has feelings for him.
Bene*censored* is a young soldier in Don Pedro’ company. Bene*censored* enjoyed the
company of Beatrice sometime earlier but went away without any commitment, causing
her to harden her attitudes about men and marriage, particularly Bene*censored*. Bene*censored* is a
perfect match for Beatrice. He is witty and often sarcastic, independent in spirit, loyal to
his friends, and is not really the woman hater he appears to be. He is quite ready to
believe that Beatrice loves him and is not afraid of changing his mind, even publicly.
A young count from the city of Florence. He is the companion of Don Pedro and
have fought bravely against the war with Don Pedro’s Brother, Don John. Having
admired Hero before going off to war, on his return, he finds that he is much taken with
her. Claudio, however, has an unfortunate tendency to believe exactly what he sees.
Claudio only saw Hero for a brief moment upon returning from the war, and immediately
desires her. In the play, The only conversation Claudio and Hero had was at their
wedding when he denounced her and made public her accusation of promiscuity. This
shows that his attraction to her is purely of outward beauty and he only guesses at her
inward beauty; he trusts his eyes solely on who is to be his future wife but can also
somehow denounce her and cause her shame. He sees her outer beauty but can only guess
at her inner beauty until he learns of her innocence from ‘The Watch’, at which point her
inner beauty is revealed to him, and he believes he will never find another woman of
equal worth, and will stoop to marry an Ethiope. One could say that Claudio fell in love
at first sight, and then caught a glimpse of her inner beauty when her innocence was
revealed, but his love of her wealth cannot be overlooked either. After learning of Hero’s
innocence he agrees to marry one of Leonato’s nieces, and says that he would even have
an “Ethiope for [his] wife”. This could be interpreted as a desire of Claudio to marry into
fortune, pursuance of his love wealth obscured by beauty.
Daughter of Leonato and Claudio’s intended wife-to-be. She is quite, traditional,
obedient, and naive. She later becomes the key instrument (and unwilling victim) of Don
John’s plot to cause mischief for Claudio and Don Pedro. Hero’s loyalties and emotions
shift quite easily: first willing to accept Don Pedro’s apparent proposal, then readily
shifting to Claudio. Later, even after she has been humiliated by him, she is quite ready to
marry a repentant Claudio.
A prince of Aragon, a region of northwest Spain (hence the Spanish title “Don” in his
name). Don Pedro is a important linking character, playing key roles first in the wooing
of Hero for Claudio, then in the deception of both Beatrice and Bene*censored*, and finally as
an unwitting eyewitness to Don John’s staging of Hero’s unfaithfulness. He apparently
likes to be in control of the events around him but in fact, becomes a victim of them and
seems the lesser for being deceived. at the end of the play, he acts ashamed at being
deceived by his brother’s plot. Bene*censored* notices Don Pedro’s melancholy face and tries
to cheer him up: “….Prince [Don Pedro] thou art sad. Get thee a wife, get thee a wife!….”
(V, 4; 120)
Brother to Don Pedro. Because he was born outside of marriage, he has no official claim
to any of his family’s wealth or position. He tried to overthrow his brother in battle but
lost. Now his brother’s generosity in accepting him as part of his company grinds at Don
John’s unaccommodating personality, and he longs to get back at his brother. He devises
a scheme in which Borachio will woo Hero’s servant girl, Margret (who apparently looks
like Hero), at Hero’s window. Don John plans to have Don Pedro and Claudio witness
this and thereby ruining Claudio’s marriage.
It is through Dogberry and his crew that most of the humor in the play takes
place. We see through Dogberry’s behavior that he tries to rise above his position in
society. He does this by not only taking his job quite seriously, but by trying to speak in a
more educated way, therefore resulting in his many malapropisms. Dogberry also adds
much of the suspense to the play as it is revealed through him of Don John’s evil slander
and deception. Without Dogberry as the middleman much of the deception within the
play would never be unraveled. This therefore making Dogberry a much more important
role than one first perceives.
Father of Hero, and gardian of his niece, Beatrice.
The serving-woman of Hero. She is tricked into helping Borachio and Don John deceive
Claudio into thinking that Hero is unfaithful to him.
Another one of Hero’s serving-women.
The servant of Don John. He is the lover of Margret, Hero’s serving-woman. He conspires
with Don John to trick Claudio and Don Pedro into thinking that Hero is unfaithful to
One of Don John’s servants.
The deputy, or chief assistant, to Dogberry, the constable (head policeman) of Messina.
Three men assigned to the night watch at Leonato’s mansion. The words and actions of
the watchmen make them seem more alert and intelligent than Dogberry and Verges. The
Watchmen overhear Don John’s plot with Borachio, report the misdeed (without
completely muddling the information), and provide testimony that convicts Borachio,
Conrade, and ultimately, Don John.
The elderly brother of Leonato, and uncle of Hero and Beatrice.
A public official who records the testimony of Borachio and Conrade in a trial.
Author’s Method of Revealing Characters
The first impression the reader gets from the beginning of the play is that Hero
and Claudio are perfectly in love with each other and they definitely would get married
sometime during the play. Bene*censored* and Beatrice are supposedly great enemies, and
everybody is waiting for some day when Beatrice would finally scratch Bene*censored*’s face.
However, as the plot develops, things change.
The roles of the main characters change by the middle of the play. The Prince,
Don Pedro, decides to make Bene*censored* and Beatrice fall in love with each other and get
married. Everyone, the characters and the readers as well, think of that idea as of the
craziest one. However, the other characters are willing to help the Prince in that big joke.
Bene*censored* “accidentally” hears that Beatrice is madly in love with him, and Beatrice, in
return, hears a conversation that Bene*censored* is in love with her, too. Of course, all those
“accidental” conversations have been planned and acted out by the Prince himself,
Claudio, Hero, and Margaret, the waiting gentlewoman to Hero. The Prince’s plan ends
up working Bene*censored* and Beatrice end up swearing their love to each other. Through this
plot by the rest of the characters, Beatrices and Bene*censored*’s true feelings for one another
Archetypal Motifs or Patterns
Hero, along with Ursula and Margaret her maids, plot to trick Bene*censored* and
Beatrice into falling in love by telling each of them of the others attraction, and ironically
they succeed in resparking a pre-existing flame. This trick that Hero and her maids pull
off is not an invention of Shakespeare, rather, he may have borrowed the theme from a
tale in a collection of stories about the French court in the Valois era written by
Margauerite de Navarre. The story, quite similar to the play, describes female courtiers
tricking a man that despised women into falling for a particular woman, catching him in
the act and ridiculing him.
What is the Occasion?
The storyline of Much Ado About Nothing occurs during several days of a visit by
Don Pedro, and his followers at the large estate of Leonato. Don Pedro has been
victorious in a small war against his own half-brother, Don Pedro, who has now
(reluctantly) joined him.
Compared to the technical theaters of today, the London public theaters in the
time of Queen Elizabeth I are very limited. The plays had to be performed during
daylight hours only and the stage scenery had to be kept very simple with just a table, a
chair, a throne, and maybe a tree to symbolize a forest. What the theater today can show
for us realistically, with massive scenery and electric lighting, Elizabethan playgoers had
to imagine. This made the playwright have to write in a vivid language so the audience
could understand the play. Not having a lighting technician to work the control panels,
Shakespeare had to indicate weather it was dawn or nightfall by using a speech rich in
metaphors and descriptive details.
A playwright had to please all members of the audience. This explains the wide
range of topics in Sharkesperian plays. Many plays included passages of subtle poetry, of
deep philosophy, and scenes of terrible violence. Shakespeare was an actor as well as a
playwright, so he new well what his audience wanted to see. The company’s offered as
many as thirty plays a season, customarily changing the programs daily. The actors thus
had to hold many parts in their heads, which may account for Elizabethan playwrights’
blank verse writing style.
Significance of Setting
The play is set in Messina, Italy, a small province facing the Straits of Messina, in
northeastern Sicily, at the estate of the governor of Messina, Leonato. Although the 1993
film of Much Ado About Nothing shows picturesque Italian countryside, the actual
setting had little influence on the play and the characters themselves. This was because in
Elizabethan times, very little was available in the way of props or scenery.
Even though there was very little scenery, the feeling of immense emotional
tension and confusion that is present in the play. Even the costumes were unimportant,
because the actions and the words of the actors were the meat of the scene. Indignant
voices, hands thrown into the air and violent wheeling around were all examples of the
actions that could have been made by the actors. The vital characteristics of a scene are
the characters themselves. If the actors remain unseen throughout the scene, and only the
characters shine through, the true emotions and thoughts of the scene are felt by the
audience. Despite his inability to control weather patterns, Shakespeare was able to
develop emotional scenes which he displayed in his own theater, The Globe.
Role of Fate
Fate didn’t seem to play a very big role in Much ado About Nothing. The only
possible examples of fate are the two pairs of lovers; Claudio and Hero, and Beatrice and
Bene*censored*. Both pairs of lovers seemed destined to get married form the start.
Relevance of the Work to the Present Time
One of the best representatives of modern day values in any of Shakespeare’s
plays is Beatrice. Her character touches on the current social ideas that encourage greater
and self-assertiveness for women that has been traditional for women of the western
world. Beatrice’s characteristics would be greatly respected in today’s society. She is
witty, strong, straight forward, humorous, and at the same time, a genuinely nice person.
The traditional woman of the Elizabethan period, especially of Beatrice’s class, is better
represented by her cousin Hero; the naive, chaste, and quiet young woman of whom
Beatrice is extremely Beatrice is extremely protective. Beatrice is as cunning and forward
as Hero is shy.
Diction, Grammar, and Language Style
Much Ado About Nothing is a play that is big on puns. One of the most
significant puns we come across, “Note notes, forsooth, and nothing!” (II,iii,57) ‘Nothing ‘
is meant to be pronounced ‘noting’. Noting is also used to mean observe, and throughout
the play each character at sometime is required to observe and judge, and most characters
judge poorly. It is this deception which plays a large part in these misjudgments, and
therefore meaning that this story is based upon mis-noting. It is this mis-noting that
builds the idea of deception versus reality within the play.
In Much Ado About Nothing, love is the major subject discussed by the author,
which is presented to the readers. The author does not give a direct answer to this
question – he lets the reader find it and think about it from his or her own point of view.
Bene*censored*: God keep your ladyship in that mind! [Beatrice had just
sworn off getting married] So some gentleman or other shall ‘scape a
predestinate scratched face.
Beatrice: Scratching could not make it worse, an ‘twere such a face as
In this battle of words with Bena*censored*, Beatrice puts up a noble fight, even though
she is eventually put on the defense by Bene*censored*. But while Bene*censored* has the last word
this time, Beatrice ends the conversation by saying (aside), for the benefit of the
audience, that this war of words is nothing new. It’s quite obvious from the start, from
the way that they argue, that Beatrice and Bene*censored* really do love each other and will
end up getting married.
Bene*censored*: A miracle! Here’s our own hands against our hearts. Come, I
will have thee [Beatrice], but buy this light I take thee for pity.
Beatrice: I would not deny you, but by this good day, I yield upon great
persuasion, and partly to save your life, for I was told you were in a
Bene*censored* and Beatrice find out that they both learnt about their passion from
other people at the same time. Claudio first presents Beatrice with a love poem written
by Bene*censored*. Then Hero gives Bene*censored* a love poem that Beatrice wrote for him.
Bene*censored* and Beatrice realize that they both fell for the joke. They do not deny that they
love each other, but they both understand that it is not the passionate love they feel
towards each other. Beatrice says that she loves Bene*censored* “truly, but in friendly
Claudio: If I see anything tonight why I should not marry her, tomorrow in
the congregation, where I should wed, there will I shame her.
In this passage Claudio threatens that if he does see Hero in another man’s arms,
that he will publicly shame her at their wedding tomorrow. Later that evening, Claudio
witnesses the encounter between “Hero” (who is really Margret and Borachio. The day
after, Claudio publicly accuses Hero in adultery and refuses to marry her. Hero is
shocked so much that she faints during that scene. So, “the love from the first sight”,
between Claudio and Hero has been destroyed so easily; only by a scene set up by Don
John. Only selfishness is seen in this speech. Claudio publicly accuses Hero in cheating
on him without trying to talk to her first. And even if she did cheat on him, why would
he want to hurt her so much? This aspect presents the fact that he probably loves
himself, but not Hero. It’s easy then, to doubt whether the love was ever real between the
two characters characters. Why did it take so little effort to influence them?
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485-562; Houghton Miffin Company; 1999
Hieatt, A. Kent; William Shakespeare; Encarta 98; 1998
Shakespeare, William; Much Ado About Nothing; Bantam Books; New York, New York;