The Power of Social Grace
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The importance of socialization during the Renaissance period is shown through the dialogue in the play Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare. The presence of feminine influence throughout the play displays the power and manipulation that the female characters possess. The significance of honor and the power of deception are also present through the plays content and play a major role in the demise and triumph of all of the characters. Although Beatrice and Hero come to find love in different ways their courtiers and the clever semantics that is deemed necessary when attempting to find love is the underlying source of the power of these two main characters. The play, through Hero’s engagement and repudiation scene, Beatrice’s witty banter with Benedick and the declaration of love scene between Beatrice and Benedick, argues that female power is gained through language.
I believe that it is first necessary to establish the importance of language in the play. This is because the words that are exchanged between the characters are relevant regardless of class or gender. In her analytical review, journalist Jackie Shead begins by giving a personal account of her own experience with the way the human mind comprehends things through words before what is physically presented and true. She then states “This, of course, is a major idea of Much Ado About Nothing–that what we are told profoundly influences our perceptions and judgements.” The author is referring to omnipresence of deception in the play and how through language some of the main characters were purposely deceived against their better judgment. Claudio was made to believe that Hero had defiled their engagement and her honor by participating in extramarital affairs. The influence of his words and the way he chose to publicly humiliate her and her honor suggest that even without proof, the chastity of young woman in a hierachy can be easily and quickly destroyed. Leonato and Claudio’s nearly vulgar language gives more depth to her redemption and their embarrassment in having defiled her so distastefully.
Beatrice and Benedick begin the play with a very cat-and-mouse kind of relationship. Upon every meeting their attempts to cleverly yet gracefully insult one another gives the reader a feeling that Beatrice might be a cold and bitter young woman. George Brandes describes Beatrice’s treatment of Benedick as it is later seen in the play “her behavior to Benedick, whom she cannot help perpetually twitting and teasing…” Also Benedick verbal abuse of her is not easily interpreted. Once they have both been tricked into believe that one is in love with the other, their instant change in character is seen as if it were evident from the very beginning and the supremacy of the language that Benedick begins to use to describe Beatrice and his feelings towards her.
On stance of female power, “At the play’s center stand two pairs of lovers–Hero and Claudio and Beatrice and Benedick–whose fates depend on remedying the devastation wreaked by Don John’s claim that Hero has been unfaithful to Claudio. Don John’s defamation displays a subtle knowledge of slander’s legal definition that nearly allows his scheme to succeed, while Hero’s plight exposes women’s vulnerability to sexual slander in a world where male honor dictates culture and the law” (Clegg). The sovereignty of the female characters in this play seems to be exchanged throughout the play.
First when the personalities of the characters are established it appears that Beatrice is in control of the power of language and her cousins gentle demeanor is a refreshing opposite for her feisty behavior. Then once Hero has successfully gained an engagment to Claudio, it seems that Hero’s power is greater because her potential position is gives her more clout to be proud and acknowledge. Then, once Hero’s chastity is defamed her power is stripped and the way that Beatrice’s opinion influences Benedicks reaction to the event, shows the reader that even without knowing, the female characters possess the power of persuasion. Once Beatrice is made aware of Benedick’s love for her she also becomes vulnerable and allows herself to put her guard down.