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Shakespeare’s Presentation of Men in “Much Ado About Nothing”

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Shakespeare presents the men in many different ways and as the play unveils itself his portrayal of them changes. At the time of writing the play, men were considered to be the jokers, soldiers and respected people of the era and we see these characteristics portrayed in characters such as, Claudio, Benedick and Leonato. There was a definite hierarchy where the men were ranked and their mistresses or wives were ranked by the ranking of their father or husband. The men had the power to do everything and it all rested on their ranking in society which rested on their wealth. Shakespeare portrays the men as loyal to their friends but only to their own close friendship groups rather than to their lesser friends.

We see a change in the characters as the play unfolds which shows us another side of their character. This different perspective of the characters takes time to come through due to the complexity of the men.

Benedick is very versatile as we find out later on in the play, due to the way that by the end of the play Shakespeare has portrayed his character inside out. At first although we are given to understand that, “He hath done good service” in the wars, but shortly after his arrival we see his comical side emerge, “You always end with a jade’s trick.” Beatrice and Benedick jest with each other and the undertones are usually to do with how they can, “love none.” Benedick wants to make sure that everyone believes him, when says that he will never love a woman, “I will live a bachelor” (13). In trying to make sure that everyone believes him he exaggerates his case and people realise that he is bluffing. The same goes for Beatrice who is portrayed as being a little uncouth for a lady of the time. Beatrice and Benedick are portrayed as playing the same game as each other, liking each other but trying their hardest to cover it up.

The relationship between Benedick and Beatrice is very important to the comical value of the play as these two characters bicker with each other almost to the end and even when Benedick and Beatrice allow each other to express their feelings they find it very hard. Rather than propose to Beatrice Benedick confesses his love for her, “I do love nothing in the world so well as you, is not that strange?” (115)I can imagine Benedick jumbling these words as they are not in the normal order, this is because he is not proposing to Beatrice in the normal way. This is all to do with the way that Benedick is portrayed as the joker and similarly to Beatrice as being, “so self-endeared” (67).

We realise Benedick’s affection towards Beatrice are for real when he confronts the acclaimed fighter, Claudio on Beatrice’s behalf. This brings forward Benedick’s fighting character and his undisputable bravery, which is so often concealed by his humorous personality. He shows his loyalty to his woman and goes to fight his friend Claudio, this is very strange behaviour but it must be put down to love as Claudio said, “Friendship is constant in all other things, Save in the office and affairs of love” (35). It is ironic that it was Claudio that said this earlier in the play and now it has proven true with Benedick rather than with Don Pedro whom he had thought it true earlier.

We see that Benedick owes his allegiance to Don Pedro, “I charge thee on thy allegiance,” (13) because he is questioned by Don Pedro about his conversation with Claudio. We know from other sources that at this time allegiances were important also when Benedick challenged Claudio to fight he told him and Don Pedro, “I must discontinue your company,” (139) so Benedick must have truly been in love.

Claudio is more of a young fighting ambitious man, often ridiculed for his age by older jealous men, “Lord Lack-beard.” (139) Claudio is portrayed as a fighter from the start of the play, “He hath borne himself beyond the promise of his age, doing in the figure of a lamb the feats of a lion,” (3) but this image changes as the play continues, although he never loses his youth. We don’t see any of Claudio’s great feats because very soon after he arrives in Messina he falls in love with Hero and, “Dedicates his behaviours to love,” thereafter.

There are a few close friendship groups in the play which generally overlap with each other to form a large group of friends. Claudio’s close group of friends is Don Pedro, Benedick and Leonato, all totally different men. As one friendship group they are portrayed as having between them all the characteristics of a good man. On the other hand is Don Pedro’s brother’s friends, who together seem similar to each other in one objective, to make trouble. Shakespeare portrays the good men in a far better light and goes in to detail about showing us each persons character.

We can see from Claudio’s treatment of Hero prior to Act 4 that he is good to women and respectful in the fat that he doesn’t tempt or try to bed her prior to the planned marriage. When it is hinted at by Leonato that it was he who had sex with Hero prior to the marriage he goes berserk as he obviously feels offended that someone would think that he would do that. We see from his outburst here that he loves Hero deeply and feels so hurt by what he saw, that his only reaction can be uncontrollable rage. This shows his affectionate side in a darker light as he is angry but it shows that he is an emotional man enforcing the fact that men are also emotional, including even young, strong fighting men. I think that Shakespeare wanted to show through Claudio that all humans can have emotions, even the strong young soldier who may be considered immune.

We can tell that he is quite an inexperienced man as he is often looking to one of his close associates for help and advice, “Is she not a modest young lady?” (11) At the planned wedding Claudio seems far more independent than he did earlier as he speaks against everybody alone without the help of Don Pedro or anyone else, “Sweet Prince, why speak not you?” (103) At the wedding ceremony Shakespeare uses Claudio’s rage as dramatic irony as the audience know that he can’t marry Hero whereas most of the characters on stage don’t. This keeps the audience amused and it makes them feel as though they are part of the play, which keeps them interested.

Claudio is very respectful to Leonato in an ironic fashion because at the same time as cussing his daughter and bringing down her reputation as well as Leonato’s he still talks to him with great respect, “And by that fatherly and kindly power.” (105) This is due to the difference in their ages, with Claudio being the younger, so it is right that he shows respect. Shakespeare uses these two characters to show the hierarchy in men depends on age also. Claudio didn’t stop at offending Hero as she is a young women but no one felt sure enough of themselves to insult Leonato directly, “Hath no man’s dagger here a point for me?” he moans.(105)

Leonato looks for support against the raging Claudio by going to the well respected bachelor Prince, Don Pedro, “Sweet Prince, why speak not you?” (103) This shows that Leonato wanted the marriage to go ahead with Claudio but that he couldn’t understand his sudden change of heart. He is looking to the Prince to stop Claudio because he obviously believes that he has some control over Claudio that he hasn’t got. This could be paralleled to a child asking a teacher to get his toy back from a bigger boy because he assumes that the bigger child will listen to the teacher more than he would to him.

Don Pedro is a bit like Claudio’s big brother in the sense that Claudio looks up to him and admires him. There is a mutual respect for each other, probably due to the feats that Don Pedro has done and, the promise that Don Pedro can see in Claudio. We know that Don Pedro is a good fighter because we hear of his great victory at the start of the play, “A victory is twice itself, when the achiever brings home full numbers.” (3) He seems fair in the way that he “hath bestowed much honour on a young Florentine called Claudio.” (3)This shows that he rewards good work and seems noble in praising someone else as highly as he does, “Doing in the figure of a lamb the feats of a lion.”(3)

Don Pedro portrays a very noble man because although he is lonely he hooks up Claudio and Hero, in the knowledge that he shall see Claudio less when he is married. We know that he is lonely because he is a middle aged bachelor who would go without a woman but when he sees that Beatrice wants a husband he asks her in a light hearted manner, “Will you have me lady?” (41) Although he said this light heartedly he would have made it serious if she wanted him to. Beatrice re-enforces the fact that Don Pedro is an affluent man, “Your grace is too costly to wear every day.” (41) This is a light hearted bit of flirting going on between Beatrice and Don Pedro portraying that single people dislike being single and try to find partners.

Don Pedro is very mild mannered and wise, portraying the gentlemanly aspect of men. Being middle aged he has seen a lot in his life making him possibly the wisest in his close group of friends although he is still fooled by his brother and Borachio in their plot to ruin Claudio’s wedding. He is trusting in his brother showing that he is forgiven for his last evil deeds against him but then Don John goes against him again by trying to ruin his friends wedding. Shakespeare portrays Don Pedro as a kind, forgiving figure who has a good reputation as an honourable man, “Upon mine honour,” (105) and “I stand dishonoured.” (103) He feels guilty for linking Hero with Claudio his dear friend so he then does what any honourable man would do and he sticks by his friend through the rest of the play.

Shakespeare presents Don Pedro as being loyal to Claudio because once he has seen the alleged Hero with another man he becomes ruthless with her and calls her, “A common stale.” (105) He defends Claudio against an angry Leonato, “You say not right, old man.” (133) In Act 5 Scene 1 we see the peaceful side of two great fighters, Claudio and Don Pedro, “My hand meant nothing to my sword.” (131) They were being jeered at by two old men who would have been easily beaten by them both but they would rather have had peace, showing their honour and peacefulness. They are both proud and feel it meaningless to fight two old men whom were their friends.

Claudio and Don Pedro are both respectful and polite to Antonio and Leonato even though they are being challenged, “Nay do not quarrel with us, good old man.” (131) Shakespeare is showing that the men are respectful of the elderly no matter what although to diffuse the situation, Claudio has to interrupt Leonato, “Away, I will not have to do with you.” (133)

Leonato wants to fight with Don Pedro and Claudio because he feels that he is, “Forced to lay,” his “Reverence by,” (133) and therefore must fight them due to the fact that he feels that they have wronged him by belying his daughter Hero. This shows that Leonato loves his daughter dearly and is a loving father, forced to defend his family and her reputation by putting his life on the line. He also defends his daughter against his friends with whom he has been very hospitable with which shows his utter devotion to her. Also Antonio, his brother, is right behind him in his efforts to fight Claudio, as they are family. This shows their loyalty to each other and to Hero, whom they feel they have to defend because not only is she a woman but because she is younger. Leonato’s intentions to fight Claudio show that he is vengeful which seems a trait in the men at the time because Don John wants revenge on his brother. Shakespeare portrays Leonato as the loving old man but he definitely has his faults in not seeing his own mistakes. He forgives himself for wishing Hero dead but is angry at Claudio who said something far less deadly. In Leonato’s lines from 114-136 (107) he mentions himself a staggering amount of times considering that it was his daughter in trouble, but he can’t stop thinking about himself. He wishes her dead so that her sins which he doesn’t disbelieve die with her to leave him less tainted by the whole event.

The men in general are portrayed as being witty especially when they are in the company of Benedick. Wit was considered a blessing, hence the name of Benedick which means ‘he who is blessed’ with wit. As wit was considered a noble trait and an asset, Leonato and most of the men of money and position had wit because it is a trait that goes with money as does vitality with youth.

Although we don’t know why, we know that Leonato is rich, which makes Hero appear far more attractive to prospective suitors due to the wealth that she is heir to. Leonato and Antonio know this and when they feel that Claudio does still love Hero in Act5 Scene 1 they make her the heir to both of them to make sure that Claudio says yes. We can see that the money does mean something to Claudio because he asks Don Pedro, “Hath Leonato any son, my lord?” (17) He feels that he must stay true to his feelings if they are true, because he feels that, “God forbid my passion change not shortly, God forbid it should be otherwise.” (13) He does not want to offend the powerful Leonato who we know has, “Ability in means, and choice of friends.” (111) We can see that Leonato’s money makes him powerful but also his friends. Shakespeare is trying to show that allegiance is important and that men make money but money is men.

In general all of the men have similar traits depending on their rank in society and their age. I can predict that Claudio will be a wise old man similar to Leonato in rank, when he gets to his age because Don Pedro thinks that “He hath borne himself beyond the promise of his age,” (3) already, which shows that he has abundant potential.

We can see from Shakespeare’s portrayal of Benedick and Don Pedro that it would be ideal for them both to have wives as with all men. There are also difference in the way the two men go about this fact, Benedick pretends that he doesn’t want a wife and Don Pedro doesn’t mention it very much.

The main characteristics in the men that Shakespeare portrays are, wit, kindness, affection and allegiance. In the men in general Shakespeare shows that there is a hierarchy and using Don John that there are good men and bad men with the good men in control, as they have the power to forgive as Don John has been, “Reconciled to the Prince.” (9)

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