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How Does Shakespeare Present the Developing Relationships of the Lovers in the Play?

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Shakespeare wrote in a time of theatrical excellence, his love of language and sense of theatre aided him in the production of countless plays and poems. Much Ado About Nothing is a play of love and war, with a twist of comedy to lighten the tension ensuring the audience does not become overwhelmed with the emotions of the characters. According to the Elizabethans, a woman’s aim was to be a good wife, as their ultimate goal was marriage and their status was to be ‘seen and not heard’.

Shakespeare’s intention was to show two contrasting women, Beatrice and Hero, and to demonstrate how they deal with the pressure of a male dominated world. Because of her wit and determined outlook on life, Beatrice is accepted in the male community but is thought to be obdurate by most men. Whereas Hero, has a submissive attitude to life and this is exposed early on; Act 1 Scene 1 she does not speak throughout the entire scene until she is spoken to. Hero portrays the accepted standard of a woman of her time, which she is expected to do, as she is the daughter of the governor of Messina. During the play the men’s dominating power draws to a climax, and the men unite and condemn Hero and despite her independent outlook, Beatrice cannot express her deepest feelings. Even Hero’s father briefly rejects her because of another man’s word.

Beatrice and Benedick promulgate a hazy past between each other, consequently all they manage to do now is hurt one another. For example in Act 2 Scene 1 (line 103) Beatrice spitefully remarks:

” …The prince’s jester, a very dull fool”

The reason for her boldness and shrewd tongue is her desire to hurt Benedick as he hurt her in the past; she wants to damage him despite her feelings for him now. We can tell from Benedick’s reaction at the ball, how deeply wounded he is by Beatrice’s words; her bitter manner leaves him intensely wounded. The reason for the masked ball is to bring lovers together but in this case all is misinterpreted and it serves only in pushing the pair further apart. The masked ball also has an element of disguise, which creates confusion.

Subsequently it has the same effect on Claudio and Hero for at this ball someone is preparing a conspiracy to ruin all, but this time the juvenile, gullible, na�ve Claudio is saved by Don Pedro’s explanation before further destruction. His response in words:

” Not sad, my lord” (Act 2 Scene 1 line 219) which said in a most childish way establishing the young, immature state of his mind, but this quickly recedes when Don Pedro explains the situation. This scene has theatrical importance with regard to the rest of the play because we are introduced to Don John’s ability to rupture and shape the future of this society. To lift this sinister feeling the audience needs something to alleviate the play and so Shakespeare uses some comical characters. These humorous scenes usually follow a traumatising event, for example, after the wedding scene (act 4 Scene 1) Dogberry and Verges, our entertainers arrive in the following scene (Act 4 Scene2) they lift the shadow of calamity and divert any previous adversity with inappropriate use of language. For example when Seacoal is arresting the two villains (Borachio and Conrade) he announces on Act 3 Scene 3 line 142

” …Let us obey you to go with us.”

What he actually means is “let us order you to go with us”. Although highly amusing to me the comic characters have a sadness overshadowing them. They try their hardest to sound like men who are doing their duty for the king but in fact they are being secretly laughed at by all.

Shakespeare’s main methods are making the characters show off their language he uses repartee for characters such as Beatrice who uses a lot of quick-witted replies to defend herself:

“And a good soldier to a lady, but what is he to a lord”

(Act 1 scene 1 line 40)

This is Beatrice’s quick response to the messenger what she has done is twisted his line and used it to her advantage by being malicious towards Benedict.

In Act 3 scene 4 before Hero’s wedding is a good example of the women using humorous play on words-puns. And for the first time in the play we see that Hero is not the dull mute we see at the beginning:

“There thou prick’st her with a thistle’

Line 56

Here we see wit from Hero unbeknown to us before, she is referring to sexual insinuation between Benedick and Beatrice but its second meaning could be that Benedict is the reason for Beatrice’s illness.

Shakespeare’s sexual innuendoes are a major aspect of this play for example there is much talk of sexuality in Act 5 Scene 2 between Margaret and Benedick:

“… You must put in the pikes with a vice…”

Another device used by Shakespeare is dramatic irony; a prime example of this in the course of the play is Act 2 Scene 3, for we know Benedick and Beatrice have been set up by their friends. Soliloquies are an additional contrivance that Shakespeare uses; both Benedick and Beatrice use this device, which I find very interesting. Primarily because I think it shows they have more depth than Claudio and Hero as they express their feelings through words rather then actions. For example in Act 2 Scene 3 lines 7-28 Benedick gives a long speech of love and how it differentiates between different couples, also when Beatrice is on her own (act 3 scene1 line 107-116) she conveys a heart warming difference from her usual viciousness toward Benedick. It is interesting how Beatrice forfeits her future to save her cousin by asking Benedick to “Kill Claudio” it shows she has more depth than you care to consider. It seems ironic how love and destruction are mentioned on the same page as Beatrice finally declares her love for Benedick but then asks him to “kill Claudio” (Act 4 scene 1). It establishes how love and destruction are so alike which seems to be the theme of the play there is another suggestion of this from Don John as he also mentions the likeness of love and war.

Shakespeare uses all these devices to rip apart the characters in the play especially Benedick and Beatrice as they are always using witty language, puns and dramatic irony to strip each other of their dignity and really diminish one another.

Don John is Don Pedro’s bastard brother and because of this he is seen by others as inferior and therefore takes up the role as the villain in the play. Don John is devious and although this could be overlooked he is quite clever especially at devising slanderous plans to corrupt others lives. There is one word from Don John that changes the whole course of the play:

Don John- “…The lady is disloyal.”

(Act 3 Scene 2, line 76)

He is speaking of Hero and there is a significant change in the atmosphere when Don John enters this scene. It is much more sinister and he is known as the bringer of bad news. His choice of language here is extremely powerful and he is employing words about a woman he does not know. I feel this is one of the most dramatic scenes in the play for Claudio also shows he does not properly know the woman he is about to marry for he says:

“… May this be so?”

(Act 3 Scene 2, line 86)

This to me proves despite Don Johns previous attempts to destroy Claudio and Hero’s wedding, Claudio is still willing and quick to judge Hero and still ready to believe every word this man says, which also proves men’s status then, whether he is beyond the lowest of the low, men were always superior to women.

Another major aspect in Elizabethan times was class and status, within this play many are condemned for the kind of environment they grew up in. Dogberry is a police officer and as I have stated before he is not very intelligent but he is the one who shows the ordinary people in a good light and solves everything for the characters in the play, although I still feel the whole play is not complete or resolved. I feel as the play comes to the closing stages Beatrice the outspoken critic of masculine values is commanded by Benedick to be quiet:

“Peace I will stop your mouth”

Act 5 scene 4 lines 96

And she obeys without hesitation! This play has been based around men’s ability to govern women’s rights and the only women strong enough to prevail this supremacy was Beatrice and a man shatters this. You feel quite hopeless as she denies this resistance by obeying Benedick. Also this line coming from Benedick is unexpected, I would not have thought that the man that has married Beatrice for the way she is with her wit and independent attitude to “stop her mouth” so it surprises me that he tells her to be quiet and that she allows him to tell her.

Hero is governed by the public and must be seen to be faultless at all times but she is simply diminished at her own wedding for sleeping with another man. Margaret is Hero’s maid, so she is immediately thought of at a lower division, when she sleeps with a man to whom she is not wed, because she is in the lower ranks of society nobody minds. However her situation is not resolved at the end of the play, Borachio is not blamed for the circumstances simply because he is a man, and although one of Don Johns minions and known for causing trouble he is still not considered to be the one in the wrong.

I feel that in this play it takes a tragedy to bring the couples together, for after the disastrous wedding Benedick swears his undying love for Beatrice and they are finally united. Don John’s plot is discovered and Claudio and Hero are finally wed. My first feelings at the end of this play were that all was resolved and that it was a satisfactory ending after all the trauma. But then looking back if I had watched this play then walked away afterwards, I would not have wanted Beatrice to walk away from her strong beliefs and carry on in silence and I would certainly not want Hero to marry the man who shamed and condemned her to death on her wedding day. Shakespeare achieved all except female accomplishment, I feel, as the women walked away after watching that play would have felt lumbered with a sensation of apprehension and a desire to rebel against the unjust cause that this play imparts.

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