In the play Much Ado About Nothing, speech and conversation are an integral part of the play. The way the characters converse with each other tells us a lot about the characters and also their relationships with each other. Sometimes their conversations with each other intend to amuse, sometimes intend to impress, and sometimes intend to conceal their true feelings.
One prime example of a character that uses different language around different people is Hero. Hero is a character who adjusts her speech and conversation depending on which other characters she is in he company of.
Being a conventional upper class woman, she uses courtly language when around men. Infact, when around men, Hero rarely speaks unless spoken too. However, when she is among the women her character really comes out. In Act 3 Scene 1, Hero and Margaret trick Beatrice into thinking that Benedick loves her.
In this scene Hero has more lines on one page than she does in the entire previous acts.
In this scene her language is very strong, which is something the audience don’t suspect. She also speaks in blank verse during this scene. The reason Shakespeare may have done this is so that the audience are compelled to listen to Hero when she does finally speak. Her words are strong in this scene and have a huge affect on Beatrice. She describes Beatrice as someone who ‘cannot love, nor take no shape nor project affection’, the fact that Hero has rarely said her feelings beforehand make this scene very poignant and make the audience really have to pay attention to her.
A pair of characters who have a very specific way of conversing with each other are Beatrice and Benedick. When Benedick speaks he is aggressive, yet witty and ironic. Despite his intelligence, his language intends to belittle other characters and this is why Beatrice makes such a good character to take his language. Beatrice’s character is outspoken and she uses language to her advantage. They both have very high intelligence and use this to their advantage. Puns, sarcasm and playful banter feature often in their discourse.
This banter shows the audience the relationship they both have. It is a way that they can conceal their true feelings for each other. Although it may appear that they despise each other, the audience can clearly see that there is a spark of something there and this is shown later in the play when they are both tricked into falling in love with each other. They both show off their intelligence by using lots of word play. Beatrice says ‘civil as an orange’ which is a play on word of Seville orange. Their language is like a battle, and although light hearted, sometimes people can be hurt. The intention of their language is to amuse and is used cleverly. The manipulate language and amuse characters in the play as well as the audience.
Beatrice herself is outspoken. The way she speaks to most of the men is very contrasted with the way Hero speaks when she is in company of men. This really reveals a lot about Beatrice’s character and how she is not conventional of women of the time. This also reinforces her unconventional views to marriage as being genuine.
One character that has almost no skill in language is Dogberry. He is a master of malapropisms and is amusing because he tries to use extremely courtly language when around some of the characters. Dogberry is the chief of police, so when around his colleagues he tries to demean them by using high class, courtly language. However this has disastrous and comical consequences as he often gets it wrong. One style is malapropisms take are when he tries to give people a compliment but often manages to turn it around into a criticism by changing the meaning of words. For example, he says to Seacoal ‘ you are thought here to be the most senseless and fit man…’ when actually he means to say sensible. Sometimes he simply gets the wrong word, which makes great comedy. For example, he says ‘comparisons are odorous’ when infact he means ‘odious’. When he is among those superior to him, his malapropisms increase even more. His verbal faux pas show the audience his desire to impress those higher than him as well as to amuse the audience. This shot of comedy often follows a deep scene to bring the audiences spirits up.
Don John also has a specific way of speaking that really reveals a lot about his character. Don John speaks very little during the play, infact, Borachio, who should be considered a small part than Don John, has more speech. When Don John does speak his language is very dark. He has no real skill for wit and his speech lacks playfulness as other characters do have; yet his words have a purpose. The way he speaks suggests that he has planned it and that his thoughts and feelings are clearly set out in his mind. Perhaps this is intended to show the audience that his character does have depth and he is not merely the token villain in the play.
Shakespeare has used speech and conversation to show us deeper into the characters own personalities. We must remember that one large aim of this play is to make the Elizabethan audience think about their own social codes and rules. The emphasis on ‘speaking well’ is shown by the way different characters speak among different companions.
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