It is often said that Shakespeare meant Claudio to be the hero of the play as the climax of the play (the court scene) revolves around his love story and he finally achieves his beloved in the denouement. However, as the play progresses Claudio fails to live up to the expectation of being a hero and is barely tolerable through the course of the play.
Claudio is a young Florentine and serves as Don Pedro’s right hand man. The very first impression that the audience gets of him is very deceptive just as the rest of the play is. He is said to have achieved ‘the feats of a lion in the figure of a lamb’. As the exposition scene progresses, Claudio reveals his feelings regarding Hero to Don Pedro. However, this impacts Claudio’s image negatively as he allows Don Pedro to woo Hero in his place. His manliness is put to question as he is not even brave enough to declare love to the person he loves.
‘The prince woos in Claudio’s name’ and discloses Claudio’s feelings to Leonato. In the meanwhile, Claudio acting like a fool is deceived by Don John into believing that Don Pedro has wooed for himself. Claudio appears to be a gullible character as he is deceived by the very devil into mistrusting his dearest friend. He is a brave person and a likeable man but his exasperating credulity takes the merits from all these qualities away and leaves Claudio hinging between a smart and a petty character.
Though foolish and naïve in judgement, Claudio is still loved and trusted by his friends. Claudio plays a crucial role in the gull of Benedick as he becomes the via media of information from Hero about Beatrice’s love for Benedick. His presence in the scene makes it more believable and thus Claudio becomes an important character in the development of the plot in the story.
The play progresses and Borachio and Don John approach Don Pedro and Claudio to carry out their master plan. On hearing, what Don John has to say, Claudio reacts impulsively without giving the situation a second thought. He believes in what Don John is saying and aggressively declares ‘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’s gullibility is again showcased as he believes Don John that the person he loves is disloyal Moreover this is the person who’s compared to Diana for her virtues and Claudio readily believes her to be disloyal because the villain says so.
It is in Act 4 scene 1 that all hell breaks loose and Claudio loses all respect in the eyes of the audience. Claudio openly slanders Hero. He appears to be a petty man who is only capable of judging people superficially and incapable of reacting in a calm and mature manner. He mirrors a typical Elizabethan man who is very misogynistic in his attitude. Shakespeare critics the chivalric notion of honour through Claudio and shows the co-existence of the two paradoxical notions of chivalry and misogyny.
Claudio’s self-deception of being righteous and his lack of true judgement leaves the audience disgusted at him after the court scene. This feeling of disgust is heightened as Claudio fails to show any signs of guilt in his behaviour and looks for entertainment from Benedick. Even when he is informed of Hero’s death by Leonato, he doesn’t even show an iota of remorse.
However, when the truth comes to light, he agrees upon repenting for his mistakes. So far so that, he doesn’t even protest taking Antoni’s daughter’s hand in marriage. This reflect upon his superficial love and how he never felt any love but was simply attracted towards Hero. His behaviour again undergoes a complete volte-face as he discovers that Hero is not dead and instantly falls in love with her again. These incidents lead us to believe that Claudio is a loosely basted character who’s behaviour is everchanging and is easily gullible and extremely impulsive in nature.
Shakespeare gives to Claudio the affluence of vitality, which necessarily creates an extenuating perspective for his conduct. This makes the worst of his aberrations tolerable and thus slightly likeable. Also, Claudio’s presence in the play gives us a contrast between courtly love and true, deep-rooted love. His fall from grace gives a contrast to Benedick’s character as Benedick continuously grows from being a bit of a nonsensical character as to being a man of morals and solidarity. It is Claudio’s fall from grace and Benedick’s rise to manliness that bring about the main developments in the plot during the course of the play.