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The Literary Devices and Technique’s in Much Ado About Nothing

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‘Much Ado About Nothing’ is one of Shakespeare’s less complex plays in terms of deep thinking and ideas, but what it lacks in this sort of substance it makes up for in grand, witty and intricate speech. This essay will explore the literary devices that Shakespeare employs in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ during Act II Scene III and Act III Scene I and what effect this has on the audience. These two scenes run almost in tandem in terms of plot as we see, in Act II Scene III, Benedick being coaxed into believing that Beatrice is in love with him and Beatrice tricked into thinking the same of Benedick in Act III Scene I. Shakespeare uses metaphors to different effect, but in these scenes they are used to drive the plot and to better understand the characters. When Hero speaks about Beatrice in Act III Scene I, the metaphors she uses depict how harsh of tongue she can be, ‘If fair-faced, She would swear the gentleman should be her sister; If black, why, Nature, drawing of an-antic, Made a foul blot; if tall, a lance ill-headed; If low, an agate very vilely cut; If speaking, why, a vane blown with all winds; If silent, why, a block moved with none.’

These metaphors also describe how she would behave towards Benedick if she knew of his ‘love’ and fuel the reverse psychology being used against her. Claudio repeats a phrase three times when he knows Benedick is listening ‘she says she will die, if he love her not; and she will die, ere she make her love known; and she will die if he woo her’ this overly dramatic portrayal of Beatrice reinforced with the repetition drum this image into his mind and fuel the reverse psychology being used against him. The imagery that Shakespeare uses in both scenes is very animalistic and the animals described enable us to gauge a sense of their behaviour. The power struggle in Beatrice and Benedick’s war of words is also reflected in the animal imagery, as is the sexual nature of the characters’ own animal intuition. Beatrice is likened to bird on more than one occasion, ‘her spirits are as coy and wild as haggards of the rock’. The birds she is described as are not grand and elegant, like a swan for example, but proud, wild and hard to contain. ‘Stalk on, stalk on the fowl sits’.

These metaphors and recurring motifs represent the intrinsic nature of Beatrice and, as she overhears this analysis of herself, helps her to consider her own possible flaws and aids her changing opinion on marriage and love in her soliloquy. Beatrice is also described as fish ‘angling to see the fish, cut with her golden oars the silver stream, and greedily devour the treacherous bait’, and the bait is deceptive gossip. This imagery suggests that she can be caught and tamed, but also that she is being hunted as part of this trick, ‘bait the hook well the fish will bite’. The heroic couplet that Hero uses at the end of their ploy also links back to this imagery, ‘If prove so, then loving goes by haps; Some Cupid kills with arrows, some with traps’. Shakespeare also uses this rhyming couplet to signify the end of their scheme and mark a dramatic moment. The representation of a tamed savage animal perhaps signifies the social taming that must happen for both feral souls to be ready to surrender themselves to marriage. Beatrice vows to submit to Benedick by ‘taming my wild heart to thy loving hand’ suggesting that Benedick is to become Beatrice’s commander.

The deception of Beatrice and Benedick from Hero and Claudio assists the end their own self-deception for their apathy for love. In both their soliloquies we see that they quickly announce to requite each other’s love without a second thought, as Benedick states, ‘Why, it must be requited…’ and Beatrice, ‘I will requite thee’ This implies that their strong beliefs regarding finding love may not have been entirely honest. This double deception is reinforced by central images of fishing, and hunting; both popular pastimes in the Shakespearean era they link with the fun of the trick being played. Their two names are very similar; starting with the letter ‘B’ and containing the same total of syllables. The parallel plots, conclusions and lengths of these two scenes also illustrate more similarities between the witty Beatrice and Benedick, enticing the audience to believe they are destined for each other. However, by looking further into their soliloquies we are reminded of the variations between them.

Benedick’s speech is written in prose and his thoughts are presented much more sporadically than those of Beatrice. This lack of structure may represent his temperament and his more pragmatic approach to the news of Beatrice’s love. He asks himself many questions, maybe doubting the truth or his own judgment and undergoing an internal struggle after being hoodwinked, ‘Love me?’…’but doth not the appetite alter?’ Alliterating ‘appetite’ and ‘alter’ also emphasises his changing opinion. This metaphor for hunger along with the line, ‘A man loves the meat in his youth that cannot endure in his age’ is highly suggestive towards sexual desire and appetite. He also hints that he now appreciates his faults and would be willing to change for her, ‘happy are they that hear their detractions and can put them to mending’ and even justifies and twists his old way of thinking to himself, ‘When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married.’ However up until this point in the play Beatrice and Benedick’s relationship has been purely centred on a war of wits, a constant competition. In his soliloquy, Benedick states that he ‘will be horribly in love with her’.

The use of the word ‘horribly’ implies that he would like to have the upper hand in the contest of love by outdoing her affection for him but also indicates his inner struggle with accepting his new sentiment. Beatrice’s speech is a lot shorter and uses more poetic, romantic devices. It is only ten lines long and is written in verse suggesting that she, perhaps as a woman, can organise her thoughts and feelings more eloquently. The interlocking rhyme is also an appropriate close to the end of both scenes as both plots interlock with each other and it also completes the end of the drama pleasantly. Shakespeare often uses alternate rhymes in passages of sententious moralising as seen in this soliloquy when Beatrice questions her own behaviour and her stance on the news that Benedick is in love with her, ‘stand I condemned for pride and scorn so much?’ The words at the ends of the rhyming quatrains words also accentuate and reflect on the meaning of the scene, ‘Taming my wild heart to thy loving hand…To bind our loves up in a holy band.’ The use of the words ‘hand’ and ‘band’ evoke an image of her thoughts of marriage to Benedick.

Within this blank verse, Shakespeare also deviates twice from the perfect iambic line. In doing this he gives us an indication that there has been a change in Beatrice’s feelings and thoughts. ‘And Benedick, love on; I will requite thee’, ‘If thou dost love, my kindness shall incite thee.’ These two hypermetric lines emphasise the extra syllable and in this case the word ‘thee’, alluding, perhaps, that she previously has been self engrossed but is now engulfed with thoughts of Benedick. The word ‘thee’ could also be seen as quite a passive, not strident, word also indicating her softening of character. Beatrice’s wit is her overriding linguistic attribute and her use of verse at the end of this scene supports the idea that her comic character also has a serious side when dealing with the subject of love. Language not only alters the stubborn heart of the individuals, but it also reveals their true nature. The affects of the language techniques that Shakespeare expertly employs in these two scenes signify a change in the characters temperament. In these two scenes the change of speech patterns and pace.

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