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The Theme of Honour in Shakespeare’s “Much Ado about Nothing”

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In Shakespearean times, honour was a very crucial aspect of everyday life, especially among families of high status. In his “Much Ado about Nothing”, Shakespeare shows us just how circumstantial honour was taken to be, by a proud and prestigious family.

In Act 4 Scene 1 and act 5 scene 4, from the very beginning we can find examples of this:

“Let my counsel sway you in this case” (Friar)

This shows that the people of that era considered that Friar to be a wise and holy man. Everyone, in this great dilemma, listened to his advice, as he was much respected. This also shows that religion was a very serious aspect of Shakespearean life.

“And if sort not well, you may conceal her” (Friar)

The extreme measures taken to regain a family’s honour can be seen here. The friar is suggesting to hide Hero, if all turns out to be not so well. For just supposedly committing a sin, this seems to be a very harsh punishment to receive. However, this was just how social matters were dealt with at that time.

“What shall become of this? What will this do?” (Leonato)

Leonato speaks this phrase almost in a hurried fashion, to show his desperation. The two questions, one followed by the other, show that he is helpless and vulnerable. This is all caused by Claudio’s shaming of Leonato’s daughter (Hero) and by doing so, destroying the family’s honour. The loss of honour here has led to desperation and calamity.

“Yet, by mine honour, I will deal with this as secretly…” (Benedick)

Here, Benedick promises to keep the Friar’s plan a secret. However, this means that he has to be against the Prince and Claudio, whom are his dear friends. Benedict maintains his honour here by doing what he thinks is just, rather than agreeing with his friends. Also, it is not noble and honourable to betray someone whom you know, especially if it is a respectable man, much like the Friar and Leonato.

“By my sword, Beatrice, thou lovest me” (Benedick)

The use of “sword” here shows how men are expected to uphold their honour through physical combat. Also, there is another meaning: a reference to religion can be made here, as the sword can also be taken for a cross, since they resemble in appearance.

“But manhood is melted into curtsies, valour into compliment” (Beatrice)

Here Beatrice challenges a man’s honour, by calling him polite and sweet, much like a lady. This also shows the differing standards set for men at that era. Men were to lead and settle things physically, where as ladies were for the laughs parties and curtsies. By using this contrast and sarcasm, Beatrice mocks men.

“I can not be a man with wishing, therefore I will die a woman with grieving” (Beatrice)

Beatrice is very desperate here. She is furious at Claudio, and wants to challenge him- however, she has no right to do so, since she is a woman. This shows that men came superior to women during that era.

“But Margaret was in some fault in this…” (Leonato)

Leonato speaks of Margaret committing the sin hero was accused for. However, he does not shame her very much, can there is no chock from the other characters upon the realisation of this news. This can easily be explained: as Margaret was a servant, much inferior to Hero, she was therefore expected of such standards, showing that along with gender, honour also varies with one’s status.

Overall, Shakespeare’s “Much Ado about Nothing” portrays how honour and respect varied during that era, depending on one’s gender and their status within the society. TO the likes of today, a great change can be seen: in most places, we are indeed treated in equity.

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