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Shakespeare’s Presentation of Relationships in Messina

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Shakespeare produced the comedy ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ in Seventeenth century England. The play is set in Messina, Sicily and follows the story of two young lovers-Hero and Claudio, and also the more complex relationship of Beatrice and Benedick. We can see that relationships are of central aspect to the play, whether it be of romance, family or friendship. The setting of the play is described as ‘A lively, sociable world presented through its etiquettes and enjoyments, and framed in a context of companionable localities. (i) We know that the play is a comedy, which is most likely why the play is set in such a happy, warm and entertaining place-to set the right atmosphere.

There are many themes shown throughout the play, Love being of foremost importance and significance, and also Deception, Marriage and Society, Honour and Slander. The play opens with the discussion between the messenger and Leonato of the outcome of the war. However we can immediately notice that the war isn’t really affecting those in Messina as they are talking about the issue as though it has no relevance to their lives.

‘But few of any sort, and none of name. Shakespeare has also chosen to open the play with the reading of a letter, something which was popularly used by Shakespeare in many of his plays. It also lets us know a bit about the world outside Messina, where the war is going on, showing us that bad things are happening, yet in Messina everyone continues to be happy and carefree. Hero and Claudio’s relationship is by far the most inevitable and traditional relationship of Love within the play. Shakespeare used these two shy characters to portray what seems like a fairytale relationship at first between two people who barely know eachother.

Claudio plays the role of the corny, romantic boy who falls in love with Hero at first sight. This type of character is found in many of Shakespeare’s plays, eg: Romeo in Romeo and Juliet. Claudio is portrayed as quite a serious character, whereas on the other hand, his friend Benedick is loud and witty. Shakespeare has made their characters so contrasting to show how Claudio is so conventional and lacks wit, whereas Benedick plays an alternative role showing sharp wit, humour and cynicism.

It has been said that the relationship of Hero and Claudio is the spine of the play, and the arising love between Benedick and Beatrice neatly compliments the story and shows the diversity of different types of relationships set in Messina. Claudio obviously regards Benedick highly as he asks for his opinion of Hero when he first sees her. ‘Benedick, didst thou note the daughter of Signor Leonato? ‘ Noting is also an underlying theme throughout the play and is used often. Its meaning is literal of the word, simply meaning taking notice of something by spying or eavesdropping.

This holds importance because noting happens the whole way through the play, and is sometimes the cause of major events, such as when Claudio sees what he thinks is Hero with another man when he spies on her through her window. This in turn leads to him making a fool of her at the wedding ceremony and causing their dramatized break up at the altar. If he was not noting her through the window he would most likely have married her instead of openly slandering her at the altar. They do however, in the end get married due to other events; Shakespeare may have done this to show the gullible side of Claudio, that he believes whatever he is told.

There is sufficient evidence for this throughout the play. Eg: in Act 2 Scene1 Claudio believes Don John when he tells him of Don Pedro trying to win Hero’s heart. He also believes Don John later in the play when he tells him of Hero supposedly sleeping with another man. ‘If I see anything tonight, why I should not marry her tomorrow in the congregation, where I should wed, there will I shame her’ Claudio puts Hero’s character on a pedestal in the beginning, ‘Can the world buy such a beauty? ‘, but by the end, just based on accusation he pulls her down as if she is below him.

His character changes for the worse after this scene, he becomes jealous and this results in him destructing his relationship with Hero. He could also be compared to another of Shakespeare’s characters; Othello, whose jealousy becomes his greatest downfall. Claudio’s jealous side is also seen by the audience at the ball, when he notes Don Pedro trying to woo Hero. Shakespeare has shown Hero’s character as being gentle reserved and quiet- these were things that women in Elizabethan times were supposed to be like. This brings in the themes of gender and men and women’s hierarchal roles of society.

Shakespeare may have been trying to satirize the roles of men and women in society by using Hero and Claudio as the conventional man and woman in Elizabethan times. We can see that men hold superiority to women throughout the play, eg; Leonato dismisses Hero without even hearing her out after he hears Claudio tell of her supposed adultery. Shakespeare has shown the characters speak differently when in various social contexts, so their use of language may vary when speaking to somebody of lower social class. ‘The distinction between verse and prose sometimes reflects social difference and sometimes does not. (ii)

For example, in Act 3 Scene 3 when Dogberry is chatting with others, prose is used to show that they are of a lower social status than the Soldier Men (Claudio, Benedick and Don Pedro). However the soldier men tend to use both prose and verse throughout the play, maybe to show variation and to keep the audience attention from slipping away by repeating the same type of language. The language used between Hero and Claudio is quite aptly verse, again contrasting that of Benedick and Beatrice who seem to mainly use prose during their wars of wits.

This also suggests the irony and artificiality of Hero and Claudio’s relationship, for they are talking in verse romantically yet they break up, whereas Benedick and Beatrice’s use of prose tells us of the realism of their relationship. The relationship between Benedick and Beatrice is shown to be far more complex than that of Hero and Claudio. Throughout the play they hide their real feelings for eachother behind humorous joking, poking fun at eachother with their wit.

From the beginning of the play the audience can see that there are hidden feelings between Beatrice and Benedick. Shakespeare has also taken care to collocate their names, Beatrice meaning ‘she who blesses’ and Benedick ‘to be blessed’. Benedicks character is actually mentioned by Beatrice before he is even introduced to the audience. She twists the messenger’s words in Act 1 Scene 1 to make a fool out of Benedick, also using figurative language to mock him. ‘I wonder why you will still be talking, Signor Benedick, nobody marks you. ‘

The audience can immediately notice that by saying this, she had to have been listening to him in the first place, indicating that maybe she does like to hear what he has to say and that there is something much deeper between them than just a war of wits. Beatrice’s character shows many aspects of a modern woman, she talks of never needing a man and being independent- in contrast to Hero who epitomizes women of Elizabethan times. Shakespeare has also shown a modern outlook on love and relationships, but also maintains a traditional element by hiding their feelings for eachother.

Shakespeare has shown a very widely held belief about love by showing Benedick and Beatrice ending up together, that if two people are meant to be together they will, he has also shown this with Hero and Claudio, after all they go through they still end up married in the end. One feature of language common in the conversations between Benedick and Beatrice is their use of puns. They make plays on words, eg; ‘note this before my notes’, the word has been repeated with a different meaning, and Elizabethan audiences would have found this hilarious, it is a common feature of Shakespearean language and helps in making the play more comical.

Through the play Benedick shows he isn’t a fan of women, yet he claims he is adored by many of them, with the exception of Beatrice. In Act 2 Scene 1 Benedick is overly upset about Benedick bad mouthing him to his face at the masked ball. ‘I would not marry her, though she were endowed with all that Adam had left him before he transgressed. ‘ What he has said implies that he really does care about what Beatrice thinks of him, and he doesn’t want her to think he is horrible and dull. Again the audience can see that their relationship is progressing, whereby we can tell that Benedick wants Beatrice to like him.

Beatrice’s character changes somewhat dramatically in Act 3 Scene 1, where Ursula and Hero trick her into thinking that Benedick is in love with her. Rhetoric is used throughout the scene, and it is spoken in verse, giving it maybe a more serious, poetic feel. There is also strong imagery throughout with talk of birds and fishing (nature), and trapping things, which fits in nicely with what Hero and Ursula are doing, as they are trying to trap her and capture her into thinking of Benedick in a romantic way.

The scene holds dramatic irony, as the audience knows that they are thinking Beatrice, but she doesn’t have a clue. Beatrice’s speech at the end of the scene shows her willingness to change herself for a man, which is ironic and hypocritical, as before she was opposed to women changing for men, and she said she didn’t want to get married. ‘For others say thou dost deserve and I believe it better than reportingly. ‘ Benedick has also been fooled by Claudio and Don Pedro in the same way Beatrice has, into thinking she is in love with him.

His scene, however, is in Prose, this may have been done just to show a change of scene, or it could have been done because women and seen as more poetic and passive which is why Beatrice’s scene was written is prose. ‘Here comes Beatrice: by this day, she’s a fair lady, I do spy some marks of love in her. ‘ It seems all they needed was for their friends to deceive them into thinking pone was in love with the other, when deep down they knew their feelings all along.

Shakespeare’s representation of their relationship shows complexity and how love can rise from friendship. Aside from romantic relationships there are various other types of relationship explored in Much Ado About Nothing. Shakespeare has shown contrasting sibling relationships between Hero and Beatrice and that of Don Pedro and Don John. Don John and Don Pedro are brothers who seem to hold strong hatred towards eachother; this is shown by them not talking to eachother, and Don John being shown as a villain, whereas Don Pedro is seen as an honorable soldier man.

On the other hand we see Hero and Beatrice, who are cousins, and they hold a strong bond with eachother. They are shown to care for eachother very much; Elizabethan society would have thought this conventional, that the girls get along very well. There are various other family relationships shown throughout the play, an obvious one being that of Leonato and his daughter Hero. Gender and hierarchy between men and women would have been a big issue in Elizabethan times, as is shown in this father daughter relationship.

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