‘Much Ado About Nothing’ is a play written in the 1600’s. It is a romantic comedy written by William Shakespeare, a great playwright of his time. The play has been set in Messina which is a fictional city in Italy. Shakespeare decided that Italy is a suitable setting for this play because the atmosphere is exceptionally romantic, and Italian men are said to be extraordinarily attractive. This comical play had been written to entertain the people of the Elizabethan period. Shakespeare earned his money by writing plays and having them performed by men in the ‘Globe Theatre’.
Throughout the Elizabethan period women were not permitted to act in theatres, men had to perform women’s role. They were to dress and act like women. Women had a stereotype to stay home and be the ideal housewife and take care of their children.
‘Much Ado About Nothing’ is about ‘love’ and ‘conflict’. There are two key characters of this play, Beatrice and Benedick.
There is conflict between these two characters; they are in a ‘Merry War’ with each other. Two other important characters are Hero and Claudio who are in love. Hero is Beatrice’s cousin and Claudio is an acquaintance of Benedick’s, both are noble soldiers who have returned from war to celebrate their victory. They are staying at Hero’s father Leonato’s home alongside Don Pedro who is the Prince.
The main plot of this comedy indicates how the existence of true love never did go according to plan, as we follow the relationship between ‘fair Hero’ and ‘count Claudio’ who are to wed.
Their love gets disrupted by Don John who is the evil illegitimate brother of the Prince, Don Pedro. Don John is the ‘plain dealing villain’ of this play. He cannot tolerate Don Pedro as ‘pure’ and himself as a ‘bastard’. “I had rather be a canker in a hedge than a rose in his grace”. ‘Emotive language’ has been used here which tells us that Don John hates his brother that he would rather be a canker. A canker is an Elizabethan noun for decayed and withered flower. Don John does not wish to show any loyalty to his brother, he is jealous of him; he is full of ‘bile’. Hence he thinks of a scheme to destroy everyone’s peace and happiness. He causes havoc by plotting to frame Hero as unfaithful before marriage. Don John’s companion Borachio is told to make love with Margaret who is Hero’s serving women. The ploy is to bring Margaret by Hero’s bedroom window so that she is mistaken to be Hero. Don John also tempts Claudio and Don Pedro by the window to watch Borachio and Margaret, and in the darkness they consider Margaret as Hero making love with Borachio. Claudio is furious assuming that Hero has been unfaithful before marriage. He decides to humiliate Hero on her wedding day by rejecting her.
The sub plot of this play is where the men amuse themselves in the interim between Claudio and Hero’s marriage by attempting to match make Beatrice and Benedick. Beatrice is an untypical Elizabethan woman who has sworn to remain a spinster all her life. She does not meet the stereotype of an Elizabethan woman. However, Hero does meet this stereotype which shows the difference between the two cousins as they are compared by the audience. Beatrice is more independent and committing; always very angry which tells us that she is full of ‘gall’, and has had a bitter experience in her past life which may include the existence of a man and betrayal. This betrayal holds her back from allowing men to enter her broken heart; she will not be able to bear another breakage of her heart. Beatrice has learnt to mend her heart and guard it with witty replies as she does to Benedick.
Benedick is also a bachelor who has sworn to remain so all his life. He is against love and marriage. In the scenes leading up to Act 2/Scene 3, mainly Act 1/Scene 1 and Act 2/Scene 1 the audience have realised that there is a history between Beatrice and Benedick as well as a mutual affection for each other, shown by Shakespeare in witty repartee. “What, my dear Lady Disdain! Are you yet living?” Disdain is an Elizabethan adjective for disapproving. Benedick’s purpose of insulting Beatrice is to show that he considers her as a negative person, a person who is harsh and never looks on the bright side. This is also Benedick’s view of most women.
Shakespeare also suggested that the two characters are made for one another by the use of their names Beatrice and Benedick. The similarity of their names suggests the similarity of character. The names and the sound of them suggests how these two lovers have a more pragmatic and realistic outlook on love. They are meant to be according to the play. The method Shakespeare used to match make Beatrice and Benedick is called ‘Gulling’, an Elizabethan verb meaning to trick or deceive someone. Both the gulling scenes are visible through the use of soliloquy which is when a character is talking alone, it is the act of speaking while alone, especially when used as a theatrical device that allows a character’s thoughts and ideas to be conveyed to the audience. It exposes their inner most feeling or secret to the audience. There is a section in every play or drama in which a soliloquy is spoken.
Benedick’s gulling scene, Act 2/Scene 3 opens with a song from Balthasar about how ‘men were deceivers ever’. Dramatic irony is used here when similarly Benedick is deceived by the men. Dramatic irony is a dramatic device used for sarcasm and hypocrisy which is a situation where a character is unaware of something the audience knows, it is the situation, or the irony arising from a situation, in which the audience has a fuller knowledge of what is happening in a drama than a character does. The audience are about to witness this themselves when we see how Benedick is deceiving himself as a ‘defence mechanism’ from love.
Benedick’s first soliloquy starts with a stressful expression as he expresses to the audience how he despairs of Claudio now that he has turned ‘orthography’ and fallen in love. ‘Orthography’ is ornate language which shows how the happiness within one is decorated inside as they speak elaborately. Their happiness is shown by their language. Claudio is in love so he has started using this language, he is happy to have found Hero, so his language has turned more sweet and gentle; this shows that he is grateful to the world to have procured Hero.
Shakespeare also used ‘music’ to display love. “I have known when there was no music with him but the drum and the fife; and now had he rather hear the tabour and the pipe”. In this part of Benedick’s soliloquy he is expressing his views on Claudio’s sense of change in music. ‘Drum and the Fife’ is Elizabethan music which represents love in conflict. Claudio used to listen to such music until he met Hero. Now he is more interested in ‘Tabour and the Pipe’, which is romantic Elizabethan music. The use of music is to show the audience that Claudio is weak; as soon as he saw Hero he fell in love with her. It symbolises how powerful love can be to change a man; it shows that a woman can control a man with her beauty and integrity.
Beatrice’s gulling scene, Act 3/Scene 1 follows exactly the same form as Act 2/Scene 1. It begins with a dramatic change showing different ways of Beatrice’s manipulation. Hero and Margaret are very harsh as they speak of feeling pity for Benedick for falling in love with Beatrice. Knowingly they are trying to make Beatrice blame herself for not noticing Benedick’s love. They speak of Beatrice as ‘cynical’ which means to use negative remarks to cover up disappointment. She is not worthy of Benedick’s love. Their purpose in criticizing Beatrice is to make her feel guilty, so that she can see where she has gone wrong in understanding Benedick. They claim that Beatrice cannot love because her wits are too intelligent. Beatrice is too full of pride so she rejects Benedick disparagingly since he does not value her wits.
Before Hero and Margaret start to trick Beatrice they describe her running close by the ground with a simile, ‘like a lapwing’. A ‘lapwing’ is and Elizabethan noun for a type of plover which is a bird in the plover family that has a long crest and spurs, and is also noted for its shrill cry and erratic flight. A simile is a form of figurative language that draws comparison between two different things, especially a phrase containing the word ‘like’ or ‘as’. This kind of simile is known as an animal imagery used to stress how they ‘gull’ the unsuspecting dupes. It has been used to indicate Beatrice as a prey that is ready to be captured and tricked. Another hunting image has also been used on Beatrice. She is described as a ‘haggard’, which is a noun used to describe a female hawk that has reached maturity before getting captured, and that makes it wild and unmanageable. A hawk is difficult to tame, therefore this is a perfect description of Beatrice since she is very riotous.
As the audience gradually realise the setting of the two gulling scenes are deliberately kept the same. This is to emphasise the similarity in reactions between the male and female characters, and their different attitudes to love and marriage. It also makes it more obvious to the audience that Beatrice and Benedick are truly meant for each other. It is the use of symmetry.
The main part of the scene is written in ‘prose’, which is a form of language that is not poetry, it is writing or speech in its normal continuous formation, without the rhythmic or visual line structure of poetry. Prose comes in two versions, blank verse which does not rhyme and pre verse which do rhyme. As Hero and Margaret criticize Beatrice, they use cruel methods, the use of hyperbole to exaggerate Beatrice’s faults. “She is so self-endeared”. The hyperbole used here tells us that Beatrice cannot love because she loves herself too much. They consider this very declarative and as a statement of fact.
Shakespeare used a metaphor on Benedick’s script to compare him to an ‘oyster’ where love is concerned and that he will happily live and die a bachelor. This is another animal imagery which specifies Benedick as weak since love can transform him into an oyster. An oyster is used to describe Benedick’s love because it is a defence mechanism, it can close up, and he does not want to be hurt by falling in love. He is determined that women cannot change him.
Once again this soliloquy is written in prose which Shakespeare is deliberately playing with Benedick as ironically by the end of the scene he will turn lover and profess undying love for Beatrice. The men then begin to falsely speak of Beatrice’s secret love for Benedick. They insult him, appeal to his sense of pride and use many hunting images to demonstrate how they intend to ensnare Benedick. Whilst doing so they present stereotypical male attitudes to love. For example, they compare it to an infection, sickness that is catching. The purpose of this is to show that Benedick does not really mean what he says about living a bachelor all his life. Love does exist in him, especially love for Beatrice. They also compare Beatrice to Benedick’s ideal woman which he thought did not exist.
Benedick’s soliloquy ends with him realising Beatrice’s love. He decides to change his mind about falling in love. Exclamatory is being used here where Benedick is showing how shocked he is to hear what he really has been waiting to hear, that Beatrice is in love with him. He declares he is ‘horribly in love’ with Beatrice. This oxymoron demonstrates how it is against his will and better judgement as a man. An oxymoron is usually a poetic device used to express with words or a phrase in which two words of contradictory meaning are used together for special effect. Simply two words that are used together that means the opposite. It is used to emphasize certain aspects of life.
The scene ends with Beatrice’s soliloquy which is both sincere and touching, as she is overjoyed to hear that Benedick loves her, the news she has been waiting to hear for so long. As Beatrice is talking to the audience love is burning inside her. She now has to say goodbye to the feelings of being untypical. “Contempt, farewell! And maiden pride, adieu!” By this she means to feel relieved of the burden of remaining a spinster all her life, since this is not what she wants, she is hungry for Benedick. If she was ever going to remain a spinster it would not be for the reason that she hates all men, but for the reason that she was unable to procure Benedick, he is the only man she would live with all her life. Beatrice is so excited to know that Benedick loves her; she starts to talk about wedding rings and the circle that never ends. Beatrice now has ultimate knowledge; she is like other women, the Elizabethan stereotype, no longer inferior.
In conclusion, both Beatrice and Benedick are victims of a scheme whereby they are fooled into thinking that they are in love with one another from the ‘appearance’ of it, as witnessed in Leonato’s orchard. This fits into the ‘appearance reality’ theme of the play, in which the characters continually misjudging each other as a result of stereotypes. This is even emphasized in the title of the play, as in Elizabethan times the word ‘nothing’ was pronounced ‘noting’. Hence the characters display stereotypical Elizabethan attitudes to love and marriage with the men presenting it in a negative light as enslavement and sickness, whereas, the women adopt a more characteristically romantic and positive outlook on love and marriage. Finally, the play was basically a fuss over nothing, since everyone was able to have what they wanted. This kind of ending is known as a ‘denouement’ which is the final revelation, the part in which everything is made clear and no questions or surprises remain. Both Beatrice and Benedick are enraptured in each others love. They are now full of ‘blood’ which makes them very loving.