An Analysis Of Much Ado About Nothing

Essay, Research Paper An Analysis of Much Ado About Nothing Written between 1598 and 1600 at the peak of Shakespeare’s skill in writing comedic work, Much Ado About Nothing is one of Shakespeare’s

Essay, Research Paper

An Analysis of Much Ado About Nothing

Written between 1598 and 1600 at the peak of Shakespeare’s skill in

writing comedic work, Much Ado About Nothing is one of Shakespeare’s

wittiest works. In this comedy, Shakespeare’s drama satirizes love and

human courtliness between two couples who take very different paths to

reach the same goal: making the connection between inward and outward

beauty. Much Ado About Nothing shows different ways of how people are

attracted to one another, and how their realization and definitions of

“love” relate to their perceptions of inward and outward beauty.

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. Don Pedro, Prince of Arragon, Don John, his brother,

Borachio his servant, Benedick, 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 (Richmond 51).

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 (Richmond 49).

Upon returning from war, Claudio saw a young woman named Hero that he

had seen before going to fight, and felt a strong attraction to her.

Claudio expressed to Benedick his attraction to Hero, Leonato’s

daughter, and Benedick, with a mouth as loose as oiled hinge immediately

told Don Pedro of the attraction. Don Pedro, being much closer to

Leonato than any of the other veterans were, told the governor Leonato

about Claudio, who in turn informed his daughter Hero of him, all with

the lightning speed of gossip. Claudio’s attraction to Hero is described

by Shakespeare with skill as he puts emphasis on the Claudio-Hero

relationship that is forming but at the same time keeps it in the

background. Claudio is clearly attracted to Hero’s outer beauty and

knows nothing of her inner beauty, but after conversing with his friend

Benedick and then Don Pedro he decides he will marry Hero. A possible

scheme of Claudio can be noted when after describing his attraction to

Hero to Benedick, he asks Don Pedro, “Hath Leonato any son, my lord?”

Don Pedro replies that Hero is “his only heir.”(I.i.262) An

interpretation of this might be that Claudio’s attraction to Hero was

rooted in a pursuance of the love of Hero’s wealth, masked by her

outward beauty.(Brown 79)

At this point the drama takes a twist and a sub-plot is formed as Don

Pedro talks to Claudio about Hero and assures him that he will have

Hero. Don Pedro describes to Claudio his plan of achieving this, he will

don a disguise of Claudio and woo her for him. At this the scene closes,

and Claudio and Benedick are left to wonder about Don Pedro’s

intentions. Benedick believes that Don Pedro wants Hero for himself, and

Don John and Borrachio agree with his statement. This forces Claudio to

act on his instinct and initial attraction to Hero alone and decide to

marry Hero. Don John, feeling resentful of his brother is quick to

accept his servant Borrachio’s plan of deceiving Claudio into thinking

that Hero is promiscuous, so that he can shame one of his prestigious

brother’s followers and prevent Claudio and Hero’s marriage. Borrachio’s

plan included having an amorous encounter with Margaret, Hero’s maid,

and in the middle of everything announcing Hero’s name for everyone who

might be in earshot to hear.

While Claudio describes his love of Hero, Benedick reveals his

attraction to Beatrice to Claudio, Leonato’s niece, but at the same time

profoundly states a declaration of bachelorism. Beatrice’s character is

described as a fine example of a woman in Shakespeare’s time. She has a

biting wit, and in her “high intellect and high animal spirits meet”

(Jameson 349) Benedick and Beatrice quarrel in a skirmish of wits which

is merely a facade of their underlying attraction to each other, and an

ongoing struggle of recognizing their love. Benedick and Beatrice’s

attraction and pre-existing relationship is evident, and their battle of

the sexes is followed closely. Beatrice admits her attraction to

Benedick but is reluctant to act upon it, and at the same time rejects

the idea of giving herself to a man, and jokes about her believing that

she will never find the perfect husband. Beatrice and Benedick’s

relationship is tumultuous from the start of the play because of a

previously soured relationship between the two, and from the beginning

she seems reluctant to trust him as well. Beatrice says to Don Pedro in

response of his noting that she had “lost the heart of Signior

Benedick”, “Indeed, my lord, he lent it me awhile, and I gave him use

for it-a double heart for his single one. Marry once before he won it of

me with false dice; therefore your grace may well say I have lost

it.”(II.i.249) She also says, “You always end with a jade’s trick.” “I

know you of old.”(I.i.129) Beatrice does not want to trust Benedick with

her heart, but Hero, along with Ursula and Margaret her maids, plot to

trick Benedick 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, sister of Francis I. 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 (Richmond 56).

Shakespeare carefully contrasts the characters of Benedick and Claudio

and allows them to play off one another. Benedick feels ever-confident

in his presentation of self and declaration of his bachelorism, and is

contrasted to Claudio in his uncertainty, and need to confide in and

look for approval from others. 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.(V.iv. 38)

Leonato offers him the hand of Hero’s look-alike, one of Leonato’s

nieces, and he accepts. When the Hero look-alike comes forth her true

identity is revealed to Claudio, and he realizes that his love for her

is true. Beatrice and Benedick are overconfident in their actions, and

as a result muddle their love affair. Claudio and Hero are not confident

in their feelings or desires, and their lack of action muddled their

relationship, and allowed trickery to step in (Brown 122). Beatrice is a

strong woman firm in her ideas of not succumbing to a man, becoming his

wife, and Benedick is as firm in his belief of not marrying a woman, and

is referred to as “being committed to a war against the ladies.” They

learn to trust their feelings more than their observations of character

and witty remarks to each other and as a result see inward beauty in

each other.

Towards the end of the play Benedick proposes to Beatrice and kisses her

before Claudio and Hero’s marriage, this shows that they had come a long

way, with a little help from their friends. Claudio sees inner beauty in

Hero when he learns of her innocence, but Shakespeare makes it seem much

less dramatic that that of Benedick and Beatrice. 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. Both couples see inward and outward beauty by the end of the

play, although they both end up learning practically opposite lessons in

love (Brown 118).

When we are not confident in our thoughts and ideas, we are hesitant and

they do not translate them into actions thus the initial spark dies and

we are blind to what could have been. Other times inner beauty is more

clear than is outer beauty, and overconfidence in our observations and

the way we present ourselves can make us blind from another perspective

as well.

a) The role of Dogberry – how does he provide comic relief?

He’s funny. He just is. Usually Shakepeare’s clowns are the wisest

characters in his plays. We laugh at Dogberry because he is ignorant and

pompous – yet he commands the respect of his underlings and knows when

to defer to those above him. In a way, his presence is a lampoon of

authority, a less serious reflection of the dark plots of Don John, who

seeks, among other things, to make fools of those who have authority

over him. Dogberry manages to be both the fool and the victim in his own

little circle. His antics allow us to laugh on the surface while

reminding us, on a deeper level, what is going on in the play proper.

: b)Don Jon – does such a villainous character have a place in the


Are you kidding? There’s got to be a villian. Without a villian, there

is no conflict. Without conflict, there is no story. Remember your

melodrama. The villian drives the plot. Also, how are we to determine

what is “good” if there is no “evil” with which to compare it? If you

want to go even farther, you could take a good hard look at Claudio and

Don John and see if you think they are really allthere is no story.


c)The supposed death of Hero – how does a potentially tragic scene –

comparable to the supposed death of Juliet become part of a comedy?

I would argue that it is a comdey. I am more apt to consider Much Ado a

problem play for exactly this reason. We don’t know what Shakespeare was

thinking when he wrote his plays, but it seems to me that a man who

would create Beatrice and put her in a play with Hero, then name Hero,

“Hero” was not writing to be understood on merely one level. Comedy at

it’s best makes us laugh when we want to cry. There is nothing funny

about Hero’s “death”. The comdey is in her triumph over the social mores

of her time, her ability to turn it around and shame Claudio later. And

that comedy is not the fast and furious comedy of Beatrice and Benedict

or the buffoonery of Dogberry, but the slightly wry, bemused sort of

comedy that makes us acknowldege that even funny situations are in some

way tragic and vice versa.

d)Beatrice and Benedick – what is their comic role?

They are the antithesis of the Hero/Claudio relationship. As Dogberry is

to Don John so Beatrice and Benedict are to Hero and Claudio. While Hero

and Claudio remind us how fragile love is and what illusion is

“perfection”. In the Hero/Claudio relationship, we have a situation of

innocents confronting the dark reality of human nature, and surviving,

emerging stronger and truer than before. Beatrice and Benedict start out

jaded, confront the same dark realities, and find something in

themselves that is innocent yet, something that is willing to trust.