Act 1 Scene 1 again of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ by William Shakespeare
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Through studying Shakespeare’s play ‘Much Ado about nothing’ It quickly becomes apparent that Shakespeare has written the play with three main themes in mind. These themes are love, honour and deception and these form and underpin the entire basis of the play. Throughout the play much of the problems that arise are due primarily to deception of some degree whereas Honour directly ties into the patriarchal society that we are dealing with in Shakespeare’s time and the suggestion of ‘male honour and pride.’ Love is shown throughout the play through inter-character relationships however in very different forms for each. It could be argued that in the play some forms of love shown seam to be more genuine than others. We will explore how these three themes actually link together and affect each other in different ways.
The first insight we get into a major theme included in the play comes extremely early on. It is in fact hidden in the title ‘Much Ado about Nothing.’ We can study this title and extract many different meanings which in a way shows strand of an Appearance versus reality situation. This is because we could look at the title simply how it appears and take it’s meaning at face value or we could look at it as a pun. The word nothing could be subdivided into ‘no’ and ‘thing’ meaning the title of the play would read in theory ‘Much Ado about women.’
This Appearance versus reality or deception theme is then firstly picked up at beginning of act one when a messenger is talking of the count Claudio of Florence who we will meet later in the play. The messenger states:
“..doing in the figure of a lamb the feats of a lion.”
This is a subtle hint on Shakespeare’s behalf suggesting the aforementioned appearance versus reality circumstance. Claudio of Florence appears harmless through what he says and how he presents himself not just physically but in every way, but is actually the opposite. This theory is furthered later in the play when Claudio speaks lovingly of Hero and states quite hyperbolically that he would do anything for that love but this is proved later on to be a deception as honour gets between the appearance of him and his reality, maybe suggesting his reality is due to honour.
In a way Claudio is deceptive because he appears that he should be good and fair as he is in a position of substantial power being companion of the Prince, Don Pedro. This is deception. Claudio merely appears this way, his actions, or in other words the reality of the situation in relation to the scene later in the play is quite different. In this scene Claudio publicly and indeed angrily broaches Hero on the subject of infidelity and allows her no say concerning her side of the story:
“What man was he talked with you yesternight
Out at your window betwixt twelve and one?”
Before even hearing Hero’s side of story the males have already sentenced her and sealed her fate. Don Pedro sums why the situation turns out having the consequences it does, the reason being honour.:
“I stand dishonoured, that have gone about
To link my dear friend to a common stale.”
Claudio reacts in the way he does because of honour. He feels a sense of male honour that is inherent within most of the male characters in the play.
Another aspect of the theme of deception that is initiated in the first scene of act one by Shakespeare is the nature of Beatrice and Benedick’s relationship. The way in which Beatrice speaks of and about Benedick superficially shows a different opinion of him than she has in reality. When we first meet Beatrice the very first comment she makes is in relation to Benedick:
“I pray you, is Signor Mountanto returned from the wars or no?”
Here she inquires about Benedick’s safety but disguises it in sarcasm using the comment ‘Signor Mountanto’ who is a fencer or dualist and she uses this reference to aid her sarcasm. Again this is in a way an appearance versus reality situation. All the way through even the first act Beatrice is making very vicious and sadistic comments concerning Benedick:
“, Lord, he will hang upon him like a disease. He is sooner caught than the pestilence.”
This particular comment implies that Benedick is a disease and is very clingy.
Beatrice portrays the image that she doesn’t care for Benedick but the reality of the situation is that when she is tricked by the other characters into believing that Benedick loves her she doesn’t take the information in the way in which we would expect her as if she didn’t care for Benedick. The way in which both Benedick and Beatrice are both tricked later in the play is deception also.
Beatrice and Benedict’s relationship also in a way shows a form of love and this theory is further proved later in the play when both parties finally realise the presence of this love. Deception is shown firstly by Shakespeare when Beatrice and Benedick are first in conversation in act one scene one. The exchange begins with Benedick talking to Leonato and Don Pedro but they appear not to be listening for Beatrice then states:
“I wonder that you will still be talking, Signor Benedick; nobody marks you.”
By her saying this she means that no one is listening to Benedick and she means to make Benedick feel embarrassment. Benedick returns with just as hurtful a comment:
“What my dear lady disdain! Are you yet living?”
The banter continues in the same manner getting more vicious, sadistic and essentially very witty:
“Is it possible disdain should die while she hath such meet food to feed it as Signor Benedick?”
Beatrice’s reply is witty as she immediately retorts with her own equally as cruel comment. After this we can see the main exchange of interest when concerning deception. Benedick firstly declares:
“But it is certain I am loved of all ladies, only you excepted.”
He then continues to say:
“..truly I love none.”
“A dear happiness to women; they would else have been troubled with a pernicious suitor!”
“I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me.”
This is firstly somewhat ironic considering the events that follow these statements but also displays a classic example of deception used throughout the play. Perhaps the reasons behind Benedick’s reluctance to participant in the act of love lies within his sense of honour and a paranoia that love may threaten his honour and pride:
“I will have a recheat winded in my forehead, or hang my bugle in an invisible baldrick, all women shall pardon me. Because I will not do them the wrong to mistrust any, I will do myself the right to trust none.”
This is the first suggestion we get at the topic of cuckolds which is a continued imagery throughout Benedick’s character. In this speech made by Benedick he shows an insecurity and fear of perhaps becoming cuckolded and he feels that by being with a women he will be unable to trust them fully not to be unfaithful and therefore he feels that he does not want to do women this kind of wrong.
This fact enhances the romance of the play when Benedick finally gives in to love with Beatrice which displays the attitude that love is not logical.
Don Pedro also adds to the irony of Benedick’s declaration that he will never love a woman:
“I shall see thee, ere I die, look pale with love”
This anticipates the ultimate fate of Benedick himself.
Benedick furthers this irony by progressing into saying in reply of Don Pedro:
“With anger, with sickness, or with hunger, my lord, not with love.
After additional exchange between the two men, Don Pedro refers back to the imagery of cuckolding:
“Well as time shall try:
‘In time the savage bull doth bear the yoke.'”
Benedick then cleverly returns that the savage bull Don Pedro talks about may bear the yoke meaning participate in the act of marriage, but if he himself ever does then Don Pedro can take the bulls horns and put them on Benedick’s head and then painted with the truthful words of ‘Here you may see Benedick the married man.’
Don Pedro then responds with:
“If this should ever happen, thou wouldst be horn-mad”
This exchange continues hinting about cuckolds. The fact that the image of cuckolds persists throughout the play suggests it is an important factor probably one which explains why Benedick rejects love at all costs. This is the main factor that shows that Benedick in reality is afraid of love and in a way shows a link between the theme of love and that of honour as if you become cuckolded you lose your honour.
The theme of honour is initiated at the beginning of the play when we find out the setting of the play is a period of war and the main male characters are soldiers who have taken part in the war. This sets up our theme of honour as we commonly link soldiers and the war with honour.
One of the first enquiries that is made in answer to the question regarding how many men have been lost in the war is:
“But few of any sort and none of name.”
This ties in honour with class. The theme is continued when the messenger continuingly supports Benedick against Beatrice:
“A lord to a lord, a man to a man, stuffed with all honourable virtues.”
As we know that a messenger would not dare to say anything except what the soldiers or people in charge would most want spoken of themselves we can determine that honour is a somewhat desirable quality.
We can note at this point that Beatrice immediately slanders this honour with the use of her quick wit and a sexual innuendo:
“It is so, indeed; he is no less than a stuffed man;
but for the stuffing-well we are all mortal.”
Beatrice then attempts to disprove his honour by implying he is somewhat fickle in nature as he has a new ‘sworn brother’ every month.
Finally as the messenger obtains the realisation that she and Benedick are not best of companions, he displays honour of his own position by stating that he does not want to have any disagreements with her and in a way shows he will also not speak out against Benedick:
“I will hold friends with you, lady.”
This is continued as Leonato shows honour also as he tells Don John, who has before headed a rebellion against the Prince (his brother, Don Pedro), that although he has betrayed Don Pedro on past occasions he will not judge him immediately and instead he will welcome him because he is still related to the Prince.
Claudio and Benedick share a section where upon Claudio speaks of his like of Hero, Leonato’s daughter. Claudio talks about his like of Hero and Benedick perceives it as a betrayal of his soldier honour.
When asked, Benedick states that he doesn’t like Hero:
“..that she were other than she is, she were unhandsome;
and being no other but as she is, I do not like her.”
Benedick is saying in this particular quote that although she is beautiful he does not like her.
Near the end of their conversation Benedick is shocked to find out that Claudio has intention of wedding Hero and Benedick is distressed that a soldier will give up his soldier faï¿½ade and honour to love and marriage.
The conversation shared hints at the theme of both honour and love and the thme of love is advanced with Claudio stating:
“If my passion change not shortly, God forbid it should be otherwise.”
This hints that Claudio’s love is perhaps not genuine and he is perhaps a more fickle character than we imagined. In the same conversation Claudio also says:
“That I love her, I feel”
This comment actually cements this theory.
Don Pedro then says that he knows Hero is worthy which in a way shows that males dominate the society and feel that a woman has to be worthy of them again hinting at male honour. The male must be with someone who is worthy of them to make sure they still have their honour and Claudio’s motives could be more than love alone which from a modern audience’s moral or emotional perspective makes him not worthy of Hero but because of the patriarchal society the characters exist within this is not considered. Claudio’s motives may also consist of a desire for Leonato’s wealth and power. Because Hero has no brothers, the man she marries will inherit Leonato’s wealth, riches and status.
A we progress through act one scene one we find that on line two hundred and sixty nine, Shakespeare converts from writing in prose to writing in blank verse or unrhymed iambic pentameters. This happens as Claudio and Don Pedro talk romantically of love and it is done so in order to elevate the drama and take the action away from the more relaxed conversation and into the more romantic and loving poetic talk. This love theme of a conventional variety is mainly initiated here.
If we study Claudio’s words he speaks of how he used to like her when he saw her before but he had to put himself in a soldiers frame of mind, in that which had other priorities not of love but of honour and war. He uses hard and soldier kinds of words:
“That liked but had a rougher task in hand
Than to drive liking to the name of love..”
Drive is a very hard and rough word reminiscent of a rough hard soldier’s frame of mind. However as he starts to talk about the frame of mind he can indulge in now, that frame of mind being one of love he starts to use much softer words and imagery:
Come thronging in soft and delicate desires,
All prompting me how fair young Hero is..”
Thronging and soft are both very soft and romantic words as is delicate. Shakespeare also uses an alliteration of the soft ‘d’ sound in delicate and desires.
When Don Pedro speaks he tells Claudio of how he will be able to woo her for him, being in a more powerful and influential position. The main point is when Don Pedro states:
“And thou shalt have her.”
This indicates that firstly as they are men, they have power over the women in any case and secondly because they are in powerful positions and Leonato, Hero’s father basically will dictate what Hero must do, that Hero will have no choice whether she takes Claudio or not.