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The first the audience hear of the character of Claudio in ‘Much Ado about Nothing’ is from other characters discussing his heroic feats during war. Shakespeare introduces Claudio, not through his own presence and actions, but through others’ opinions of him. Don Pedro clearly thinks Claudio is an admirable character – approving of his service during the war against Don John – describing him as ‘doing in the figure of a lamb the feats of a lion’. During Claudio’s confession of his love for Hero, the prince describes Hero as ‘worthy’ of Claudio’s love, showing he holds Claudio in high regard, Shakespeare repeats this word six lines later to place emphasis on Don Pedro’s opinion.
Due to Borachio and Don Johns’ attempt to ruin the future wedding, Claudio believes that Don Pedro is in love with Hero and has betrayed him. Upon realising his friend is acting strangely, Don Pedro shows concern by asking, ‘wherefore art thou sad?’ This concern implies that he cares for Claudio.
The way in which he selflessly woos Hero for him further emphasises Don Pedro’s care for his friend’s wellbeing. He tells Claudio that, ‘as I wooed for thee to obtain her, I will join with thee to disgrace her’. This shows that the prince’s act as a matchmaker between Claudio and Hero was not for his own gains, that he wooed Hero selflessly, as he is ready to break the bond he made. Don Pedro later says, when confronted by Leonato and Antonio, ‘I doubt we would have been too young for them’, showing he believes that Claudio and himself could have matched Leonato and Antonio, despite their youth.
In the whole of Act I, Don John is the only character who does not approve of Claudio. He plans to prevent the marriage between Claudio and Hero and to ‘cross him’, his reasons being that he believes Claudio to be a ‘young start-up’ and is jealous of his relationship with Don Pedro, saying he ‘hath all the glory of my overthrow’. Using Claudio, Shakespeare creates further contrast between Don Pedro’s concern and Don John’s hatred, shown when he says, ‘I am sick in displeasure to him’. When Don John requests that Claudio should trust him, he states that ‘it would better fit your honour’, showing that, to Claudio, honour takes priority over love. In this sense, Don John’s persuasion and approach to ruining Claudio’s marriage shows the audience a less admirable side to Claudio’s character.
Benedick shares a brotherly relationship with Claudio, despite their age difference. He is the first to mark the change in Claudio due to his love for Hero and says how Claudio has become a ‘fool’ who ‘dedicates his behaviours to love’, showing he spends time with Claudio. Although Benedick’s tone is mocking, it’s clear, from Claudio’s trust in him – confessing to him his love for Hero before any other – that they are good friends. However, Benedick, unlike Leonato who believes that Hero’s death was for the best, is prepared to punish Claudio for his actions, believing he has ‘killed a sweet and innocent lady’. However, this change in Benedick can be explained, his orders have come from Beatrice, whom he loves. Benedick soon resumes his friendly attitude towards Claudio allowing him to ‘live unbruised and love my (sic) cousin’.
Beatrice initially describes Claudio as ‘noble’, showing she believes him to be admirable. However, following Claudio’s false accusation of her cousin, Beatrice asks Benedick to kill him. Although this sudden change of opinion may appear as hatred, Beatrice feels forced to do this in order to take revenge, to disgrace Claudio to the same extent as he publicly disgraced her cousin.
Act IV begins with Claudio and Hero’s marriage. Friar Francis asks Claudio if he knows of any reason why they should not be married. Leonato interrupts and says, ‘I dare make his answer none’. The way in which Leonato speaks for Claudio shows that he considers himself to be socially superior to the groom. Despite this, Leonato still views Claudio as a suitable son-in-law, shown when he gives him Hero ‘freely…as God’ gave him her. Leonato’s immediate response to the accusation that Hero is not a ‘maid’ is to accuse Claudio of vanquishing ‘the resistance of her youth’, showing he doesn’t underestimate Claudio’s hasty nature. That said, Shakespeare makes it clear that Leonato trusts Claudio’s word when he condemns his daughter to death, asking would ‘Claudio lie, who loved her so, that speaking of her foulness, washed it with tears?’ This also tells the audience that Claudio was upset by Hero’s actions and refused to marry out of disgrace, not revenge. Leonato goes to such extents to thank Claudio for his daughter’s death and proposes that ‘since’ Claudio ‘could not be my son-in-law, be yet my (sic) nephew’. Antonio’s reaction to Hero’s death is far more aggressive, shown when he mocks Claudio calling him ‘Sir Boy’. This shows that like his brother, Antonio sees Claudio as inferior, not only in years but also in social status.
Another part of a person’s character are their; thoughts, words and deeds. At no point during the play does Claudio directly address the audience, therefore his thoughts cannot be commented on. However, obviously, his words and deeds are an important part of Shakespeare’s portrayal of him. As an audience, watching theatre, characters’ first impressions are very important in your judgement of their personalities. The first words Claudio speaks on stage and the first impression he gives us of him are spoken to Benedick. He asks, ‘didst thou note the daughter of Signor Leonato?’ These words are hugely significant as they reveal to us that the first thing on his mind post returning from war is to find a wife. He asks Benedick, ‘can the world buy such a jewel?’ telling us that he’s already in love with Leonato’s daughter, Hero, and that although he’s seen her before, they haven’t spoken, showing Claudio’s characteristic hastiness. Benedick warns him to be careful concerning love and possible marriage – Claudio easily dismisses his friend’s opinion, blinded by his infatuation and instead listens to Don Pedro who offers to woo Hero for him as Claudio worries his own ‘liking might too sudden seem’. This tells us that although he may come across as slightly foolhardy, unlike many young men, he seems aware and cautious of this trait he possesses.
Shakespeare presents Claudio, throughout ‘Much Ado about Nothing’, as a gullible character, believing every story that Don John dreams up. This is especially significant as; firstly, Don John is socially inferior to Claudio. Secondly, Don Pedro, one of Claudio’s closest friends, is Don John’s half-brother and therefore Claudio should know Don John well. Thirdly, because Don John hates Claudio and he should be aware of this and lastly, because they have been enemies in war. Claudio has no reason to trust the Bastard and the fact that he does, on two occasions, leading to almost disastrous consequences, shows his inexperience and insecurity – that he is so easily lead astray. The first time this happens is when Claudio pretends to be Benedick at the Masquerade Ball. Don John is aware of this and tells him that Don Pedro ‘is enamoured on Hero’, making Claudio jealous and upset that his friend has betrayed him. Such is the extent of Claudio’s broken heart that he tells his friend, Benedick, to ‘leave me’ and, when that fails, leaves himself. This gullibility is a less admirable trait of his character and shows his youth.
It could be argued that Claudio is a shallow man, the evidence being that he asks Don Pedro, ‘hath Leonato any son my Lord?’ He wants to know whether or not Hero is Leonato’s sole inheritor, suggesting that money is important to him. When Hero is won for him by Don Pedro, he exclaims his joy. Shakespeare writes this dialogue so that Claudio mentions himself and his own interests four times whilst mentioning his bride-to-be’s only twice. Claudio once again gives a selfish and far from admirable impression of himself, concerned primarily with his own happiness. In the same scene, he reveals to Don Pedro that he intends to be married ‘tomorrow…till love have all his rites’, telling us he is eager to be married due to the privileges of the wedding night. Although Claudio undergoes a journey of maturity throughout the play, this one aspect of him does not change, as even when all is resolved, he still asks his bride, as ‘she’s mine’, if he can ‘see your (sic) face’.
However, although seemingly materialistic, in the context of the time, Claudio is asking a question that any man in his position would have, seeing Hero as the ‘trophy worthy of his noble vision of his destiny’. Further more, it is only natural for a person, in rejoicing, to comment on their own emotions and to not think about other people’s. In this sense, Claudio’s words, it could be said, were not entirely selfish but simply a natural reaction to his situation. His comment concerning all of marriage’s privileges is one that Shakespeare would have included to induce humour and interest to the audience that he would have been writing to please and it is only by modern standards that this line is considered blunt. Claudio’s tendency to fall in love quickly is a characteristic of his youth. As a young man, this trait can be expected and should not be treated as a less admirable dimension to his character, even if, at first, it may seem otherwise.
Shakespeare portrays Claudio as an admirable character because he gives him a good sense of humour. When working with Leonato and Don Pedro to trick Benedick to fall in love with Beatrice he paints a tragic yet comical picture of the ‘love’ Beatrice experiences for Benedick. He says how her love for him is so strong, that ‘she will die’ as ‘she falls, weeps, sobs, beats her heart, tears her hair, prays’ and ‘curses’. This is humorous as the audience are aware of the real situation, that Beatrice hates Benedick and would ‘rather hear a dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves’ her. This same characteristic recurs when he tells Benedick to ‘hang it first, and draw it afterwards’, knowing that Benedick is in love with Beatrice. To an audience this is funny because of the dramatic irony involved, Claudio is pretending to be ignorant of Benedick’s situation yet we know he’s subtlety mocking him for his hypocrisy, how he said he would ‘live a bachelor’ but how he is now in love.
Claudio is also presented as a character to be pitied, if not admired, for he is a victim in ‘Much Ado about Nothing’. As mentioned earlier, he is tricked by Don John and his moment of self-pity is written in such a cringing way that the audience are meant to sympathise with him. His third line in the marriage ceremony is a truly cathartic moment when he proclaims, ‘Oh what men dare do! What men may do! What men daily do, not knowing what they do!’ Claudio is cursing marriage and women’s unfaithfulness, as Benedick did earlier – the two have swapped their social allegiances and opinions. This change in Claudio’s character, from his happiness upon confirmation that he would marry Hero to his extreme emotion is a shock to the audience and is a demonstration of his slightly volatile nature. Further more, this transformation is even more prominent when the Count begins publicly humiliating his bride.
Previously, Claudio was afraid to even talk to Hero; he’s been described as possessing ‘extreme shyness and reticence’, and needed Don Pedro to woo her for him, now however, he calls her a ‘rotten orange’ who ‘knows the heat of a luxurious bed’, with such false conviction that even her father tells us that death is her best escape at present. Claudio’s rash confidence continues, even when Leonato and Antonio challenge him he tells them, ‘away, I will not have to do with you’ and tells them to ‘draw to pleasure’ him – bold words for one so young. All this irrationality is stripped away however when he realises he has been tricked and believes he is responsible for Hero’s death, he is reduced to a sorrowful wreck as he confesses, ‘sweet Hero, now thy image doth appear in the rare semblance that I loved it first’. The audience know his tears are in vain and that Hero is alive and we are pleased for him when we hear that Leonato plans to attempt to marry the two again.
In conclusion, Shakespeare does present Claudio as an admirable character in ‘Much Ado about Nothing’, as many, if not all of his undesirable characteristics can be explained as those common to 16th Century men. Further more; all of the characters, excepting Don John, respect him, despite his youth, and even Borachio appears apologetic for his actions when he hears of Hero’s ‘death’. However, he definitely carries some materialistic traits and, although these would not have bothered a Shakespearean audience, to someone studying the play in the 21st Century they show Claudio in a different, if not entirely negative, light.
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