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Much Ado About Nothing

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Autor:  anton  17 March 2011
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Much Ado About Nothing was written between 1598 and 1599, it was first published in a good quarto in 1600. It is a mature romantic comedy, and has enjoyed considerable success in the theatre. This would make Much Ado one of Shakespeare's later comedies. This is a specific comedy because the humour of Much Ado about Nothing does not depend upon funny situations. Though it has some similarities with earlier plays, the comedy of Much Ado derives from the characters themselves and the manners of the highly mannered society in which they live. Much Ado is about many things: intrigue, gossip, remorse, trust, pride, graciousness, honour, love, cruelty, and loyalty - but it is certainly not about nothing. In this comedy, Shakespeare's drama ridicules love and human courtliness between two couples that take very different roads to reach the same goal: making the connection between inner and external beauty. Much Ado About Nothing shows different ways of how people are attracted to one another, and how their realization and definitions of "love" relate to their perceptions of inward and outward beauty. All of the main characters in "Much Ado About Nothing" are the victims of dishonesty, because they are deceived that they act in the ways that they do. Although the central trick is directed against Claudio in an attempt to destroy his relationship with Hero, it is the one involving Beatrice and Benedick, which gives the play’s dramatic centre. Nearly every character in the play at some point has to make conclusion to what he or she sees, has been told or overheard. Moreover, every character in the play at some point plays a part of pretending to be what they are not. The characters challenge Love, and after all the difficulties they went through, they win and bring Shakespeare's most unlikely couple together, transforming Benedick’s and Beatrice's sparks into a true and mature love. Even for Hero and Claudio's young, naпve romance, we can see that love is not so easily won.

As "man is a giddy thing", we cannot master our emotions; yet, we can rise to meet them.

Much Ado About Nothing concentrates on the activities of two war heroes and the women they love.

Shakespeare shifts back and forth between the stories of the couples, Benedick and Beatrice, Claudio and Hero—putting them into a unity. The play is unusual for Shakespeare in that the characters speak in prose rather than verse most of the time, even though this is a comedy. However, even when the passages are in prose, they contain the brilliant descriptions typical of Shakespeare.

The characters who speak most often in verse are Claudio and Hero, perhaps to express--and sometimes to mock--their weird feelings of love, Leonato and Friar Francis, to show the formality of their roles as governor and priest.

"How shall I my true know?" is the central question in all of Shakespeare's comedies. Shakespeare makes the question tricky by placing it at the centre of Much Ado About Nothing, in a world that depicts a glossy and sophisticated society that accepts everything by how things look and sound rather than how they actually are. The story follows two couples of lovers who must overcome a variety of difficulties and differences in order to discover and reveal their true feelings for each other. Filled with a variety of quirky characters, plot twists, quarrels and quaint situations Much Ado About Nothing is often considered to be one of William Shakespeare's funniest and most sophisticated comedies.

Algernon Swinburne, one of the most famous Victorian poets and critics in 1879 was talking about this book:

“ If it is proverbially impossible to determine by selection the greatest work of Shakespeare, it is easy enough to decide on the date and name of his most perfect comic masterpiece. For absolute power of composition, for faultless balance and blameless rectitude of design, there is unquestionably no creation of his hand that will bear comparison with Much Ado About Nothing. The ultimate marriage of Hero and Claudio, in itself a doubtfully perfection of a piece which could not otherwise have been wound up at all.”

Shakespeare provides rich and witty language; he explores our desire to desperately search for love, along with our terror and fear from loneliness to accept that love. We express our sincere wishes for peace and tranquillity but then either consciously or unconsciously we turn it without knowing why into a weakness or disturbance. People stick to the hope that the ability to forgive is powerful, while knowing that compassion can turn the remorseful to good or evil.

Perhaps Shakespeare is suggesting that we should just accept that “man is a giddy thing” and that we should give up all illusions to live without shadows and fears that are trying to upset our personal search for balance, for existence.

Ultimately and hopefully, we are all born under dancing stars and that in the end we can laugh at and learn from the mistakes and follies of others as well as our own.

Much Ado About Nothing marks Shakespeare’s transitions into mature comedy; the play ends happily with a wedding, but there are still some leftovers of evil and deceit in Messina. This is a comedy about forgiveness, the reconciliation between love and battle. This division is most clearly represented in the play by the characters of Don Pedro and Don John. Don Pedro’s function in the play is to create love; Don John’s is to destroy it.

It is very interesting that the means for destruction are the same as the means for creation and that would be illusion.

Don Pedro creates love by removing the barriers to love using tricks, then Don John intervenes, and with the same tools that his brother used to create love, he tries to destroy love.

So, love is being celebrated by illusion, destroyed by illusion, and now the Friar must step in and renovate love to this world by the same means, illusion. This would be a typical role of the Friar nowadays, too. He is there to speak the truth to spread love and respect between people. He believes that Hero is innocent.

Friar:

“Your daughter here the princes left for dead:

...Let her awhile be secretly kept in,

...And publish it that she is dead indeed;

..Maintain a mourning ostentation

..And on your family's old monument

..Hang mournful epitaphs and do all rites

..That appertains unto a burial.”

It has been said that love conquers all, but in this play we see that love has a very difficult battle to fight. Love is not running through our veins, love is vital, love is challenging, love is confusing, and most importantly love is crazy and foolish.

In Much Ado About Nothing we see many people who were victims of illusion and made to be fools.

In this play Shakespeare shows us that in that time good and honest people were considered fools, vice versa, plotters ruled.

By being foolish, we throw caution to the wind and open our hearts to the love that we seek, and are made the better for it.

Shakespeare also uses metaphors, such as animal or fire ones, perhaps to suggest the wildness of the love/hate relationship between the couples, Benedick and Beatrice especially.

Benedick says that if he ever submits to the “pangs of love”, he will be like a trapped animal:

Benedick:

“If I do [submit to love], hang me in a bottle like a cat and shoot at me;

.and he that hits me, let him be clapped on the shoulder.”

Benedick goes to extremes when he compares Beatrice to a terrible, ugly winged monster in Greek mythology, telling Don Pedro in Act II, Scene I, that he will perform any service for him rather than be made to converse with Beatrice.

Benedick:

“Will your grace command me any service to the

..World’s end? I will go on the slightest errand now

..To the Antipodes that you can devise to send me on,

..I will fetch you a tooth-picker now from the

..Furthest inch of Asia, bring you the length of

..Prester John's foot, fetch you a hair off the great

..Cham's beard, do you any massage to the Pigmies,

..Rather than hold three words' conference with this

..harpy. You have no employment for me? ”

Metaphor of Fire:

.

In spite of his outward disdain for Beatrice, Benedick secretly burns with love for her:

Benedick:

“That I neither feel how she should be loved nor

..Know how she should be worthy, is the opinion that

..Fire cannot melt out of me: I will die in it at the stake.”

Hero repeats this motif when she says it is better for Benedick to be inspired by the fire of his passion than to die from Beatrice's shaped tongue.

Hero:

“Therefore let Benedick, like covered fire,

..Consume away in sighs, waste inwardly:

..It was a better death than die with mocks,

. Which is as bad as die with tickling.”

The Title Of The Play:

Much Ado About Nothing is a kind of deliberately puzzling title that seems to have been popular in the late 1590’s. In Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare presents the audience with some sharply contrasting notions about love. This contrast can be seen first of all in the multiple meanings of the word "nothing" in the play's flow. First, it follows the relationship between Claudio and Hero, which is constantly hampered by plots to disrupt it.

At its surface, the word refers to Claudio's baseless accusation of Hero's infidelity. It is clear to the audience that Claudio has been enraged over "nothing."

What does the title mean exactly? It indicates a big argument about a drop, and by the end this is exactly what happens. All of Claudio's accusations will come to nothing, causing the play to end the same way as if they never occurred at all. It can mean worthless, a person of little worth, or also mean everything, in the sense that much ado is made about everything.

On the other hand "nothing" is a word that means female genitalia, Hero's "nothing", an interpretation of the word that is verified by how ashamed Hero is of sexual desire.

Second, the play culminates in Beatrice and Benedick falling in love, which, because it was an event that was quite predictable, proves to be “much ado about nothing”. Some people have suggested that Shakespeare included a pun in the title, for the word "nothing" is similar to "noting," which in Shakespeare's time could mean to stigmatise, rumour or gossip about someone, exactly what Claudio did to Hero in the church.

Claudio's first comment about Hero is whether anyone else noted her:

Claudio:

"Didst thou note the daughter of Signor Leonato?"

Benedick: "I noted her not, but I looked on her"

Benedick jokes about her appearance and height, thereby ”noting" Hero in his own way.

Beneath these meanings there is also a third, ironic comment on the spiritual and frail nature of love.

Therefore, this play can be seen as a kind of laboratory or experiment in which different ideas of love are compared and tested against each other. In Shakespeare's laboratory, however, love potions are brewed out of words flowing in romantic poetry with Hero and Claudio, or splashing and sparkling in the rapid exchanges between Benedick and Beatrice.

"Nothing" is a word of ambiguity, doubtfulness in Shakespeare (the playwright was later to explore its potential profoundly and became famous for "nothing will come of nothing", King Lear), and in Much Ado About Nothing its suggestions include the possibilities of existence in the wordplay on the Elizabethan homonym "noting."

Through the intrigues of the surly Don John, who makes Claudio believe that he "notes" his betrothed Hero in the act of giving herself to another lover, a young man who believes him to have been dishonoured rejects an innocent girl at the altar.

Fortunately, Don John and his companions have themselves been noted by the most incompetent watch who ever policed a city; and, despite their silly officer, Dogberry, these well meaning but clownish servants of the Governor of Messina succeed in bringing the crafty villains and criminals to justice. In doing so, they set in motion a process whereby Hero's chastity is eventually vindicated and she reappears as if resurrected.

In Act Two, scene two, Balthasar is encouraged to sing, but declines, saying, “note this before my notes; there’s not a note of mine that’s worth the noting.” However, Don Pedro retorts, “Note notes, forsooth, and nothing,” playing on Balthasar’s words, and also demanding that he pays attention to his music and nothing else. Meanwhile, another pair of "notings" has been staged by the friends of Benedick and Beatrice, with the result that these two sarcastic enemies love each other and are tricked into believing that the other is secretly in love.

At least as Much Ado is made of Benedick’s and Beatrice's noting as that of the others, and by the time the play ends these sharp critics of passionate madness, unwillingly acknowledging, " the world must be peopled," have been brought to the altar with Claudio and Hero for a double wedding that concludes the play with feasting and merriment. In addition, much of the play is dedicated to people “noting” and overhearing the actions of others, such as the trick played on Beatrice and Benedick by Leonato, Hero and Claudio.

Shakespeare was acutely aware of the similarity between the words note, noting, and nothing:

Don Pedro:

“Do it in notes.”

Balthasar:

“Note this before my notes:

There's not a note of mine that's worth the noting.”

Don Pedro:

“Why, these are very crotchets [whimsies] that he speaks -

Note notes, forsooth, and nothing!"

Themes

.

Theme 1: The road to marriage is often lined with problems and mistakes.

Benedick and Beatrice were crude, persistent in fighting, before they realised their feelings. Claudio doubts Hero's chastity before it turns out he was wrong. Nowadays, in the real life, people often fight with each other before they get married. Also, it happens that when people see somebody, they hate him from the first moment but after they meet that person, they begin to like him/her and sometimes marry the same individual. Problems are part of our life and we can’t live without them, because we can’t get to know somebody unless we meet their bad sides.

Leonato:

"By my troth, niece, thou wilt never get thee a husband if thou be so shrewd of thy tongue"

There is therefore a great deal of uncertainty over whether she will marry or not. Beatrice unhappily comments on Hero's engagement:

"Thus goes everyone in the world but I, and I am sunburnt"

In spite of her barriers against marriage, Beatrice realizes that marriage is a way out of the house and that it represents the only way to escape from Leonato's protection,

More than aware that marriage brings many risks with it.

Beatrice:

“Would it not grieve a woman to be overmastered with a piece of valiant dust?"

Marriage for a woman is to risk her integrity by submitting to a man. Benedick, who views marriage as risk to men’s honour, sees a similar fate. As a result, he frequently downgrades to bulls' horns and cuckoldry in the first act. Both Benedick and Beatrice hold a mature awareness of what marriage requires, and is what causes them to avoid it.

This will show up later in the last act when Benedick remarks:

Benedick:

"Thou and I are too wise to woo peaceably"

Beatrice:

“Why, he is the Prince’s jester, a very dull Fool: only his gift is in devising impossible slanders. None but libertines delight in him, and the commendation is not in his wit but in his villainy, for he both pleases men and angers them, and then they laugh at him and beat him. I am sure he is in the fleet; I would he had boarded me.”

Claudio:

“She is but the sign and semblance of her honour.

Behold how like a maid she blushes here!

O what authority and show of truth

Can cunning sin cover itself withal!

Comes not that blood as modest evidence,

To witness simple virtue? Would you not swear,

All you that see her, that she were a maid,

By these exterior shows? But she is none:

She knows the heat of a luxurious bed:

Her blush is guiltiness, not modesty.”

Theme 2: People often wear masks to hide their true feelings.

Some people are afraid to express their feelings because they think that it will make them weak and they will turn out fools. They often insult person that they actually like but don’t want admit, not only to others but also to themselves. Somebody they loved probably once hurt them and now they are hiding beside a mask. However, there is a time or maybe even a minute when they can’t hide them anymore and they have to reveal them intentionally or unintentionally.

For example, Benedick and Beatrice pretended to despise each other even though they love each other, and Don John acted like he changed, he is remorseful when all the while he is plotting revenge.

The masked ball is one of the more interesting scenes because of the fact that nearly everyone is unmasked before it starts. Leonato and Hero know that Don Pedro will approach her, Beatrice and Benedick, although they seemed unaware of who the other is, were perhaps quite aware of with whom they are speaking, and the other characters all recognize each other as well. Of all the characters present, only the two unmasked people at the ball, namely Borachio and Don John, are actually wearing masks. They pretend not to know Claudio and cause him to think Don Pedro is wooing Hero for himself.

Benedick appears to be quite upset over what Beatrice calls him at the ball, a Prince's jester. In speaking with Don Pedro he gives a wonderful performance in which his mind is wonderfully captured with a mix of anger and fury but also tapped with his attempts to make the situation comical in order to entertain Don Pedro.

This attempt at comedy in spite of his anger ironically confirms Beatrice's accusation that he is the Prince's jester:

Beatrice:

..”Why, he is the prince's jester: a very dull fool;

....only his gift is in devising impossible slanders:

.. none but libertines delight in him; and the

..commendation is not in his wit, but in his villainy.”

Benedick:

“ She speaks poniards, and every word stabs: if her breath were as terrible as her terminations, there were no living near her: she would infect to North Star. I would not marry her, though she was endowed with all that Adam had left him before he transgressed. She would have made Hercules have turned spit, yea, and have cleft his club to make the fire too.”

Theme 3: All is not what it seems.

It often happens that people judge others by their appearance or behaviour at the first sight and they make a mistake. That is why misunderstands exist and should first meet somebody well before we say anything.

Identities that aren’t real, false accusations, conversations that are false, ironic situations and outcomes all mix up the principle characters. Claudio, Don Pedro and Leonato were talking in the garden that Beatrice loves Benedick when that wasn’t true and they knew Benedick was listening. The idea was to convince both of them that hey love each other. Hero was doing the same to Beatrice.

Claudio:

“Then down upon her knees she falls, weeps, sobs, beats her heart, tears her hair, prays, curses: Oh, sweet Benedick! God give me patience! “

“Hero thinks she will surely die, for she says she will die if he love her not, and she will die if he woo her, rather than she will bate one breath of her accustomed crossness.”

Ursula:

“ That Benedick loves Beatrice so entirely?

Hero:

“So says the Prince, and my new-trothed lord. They did entreat me to acquaint her of it; but I persuaded them, if they loved Benedick, to wish him wrestle with affection, and never let Beatrice know of it.”

Theme 4: Love is NOT blind.

Benedick well knows that Beatrice has a sharp tongue, her inflexibility and all those things he must endure if he wants to be her husband and live with her for decades. Likewise, Beatrice well knows Benedick's faults.

Yet, before the end of play, they acknowledge their deep love for each other and marry.

Theme 5: Love IS blind.

Love is sometimes blind. We get hurt and don’t pay attention to anything except our pain and sorrow. But things aren’t often the way they look so it is better to listen and wait for an explanation. If Claudio listened to Hero he would never do what he did and everything would be perfect. But he didn’t, his reaction was forceful.

Hero ignored Claudio's faults. For example, she accepted Claudio as her husband even though only a short time before he didn’t believe her, he didn’t even want to listen to her, called her a "rotten orange," and agreed to marry another in her place. Moreover, she never questioned his motives--one of which, apparently, was money. (He had previously found out that Hero was the only child of Leonato so she will inherit everything).

Theme 6: A woman's chastity is a treasure that no man should possess except in marriage.

Women were only “statues” back in that time. Their role was to serve and keep their mouth shut. They were supposed to be pure and innocent before they get married.

Virginity was highly appreciated at that time; moreover it was necessary if women wanted to get marry. It was shamefully and scandalous if she wasn’t. Today, girls don’t appreciate that much their virginity.

Leonato:

“Dear my lord, if you in your own proof,

Have vanquished the resistance of her youth,

And made defeat of her virginity-“

Claudio:

“ I know what would you say: If I have known her,

You will say that she did embrace me as a husband,

And so extenuate the forehand sin.”

Theme 7: Social Norms

Social norms had a humongous role in that period especially for aristocracy; their reputation was the most important thing in their life. There were no scandals and people wore masks, they didn’t have freedom and democracy as we do today.

"Death is the fairest cover for her shame"

It is Leonato's way of avoiding humiliation. Leonato chooses Hero's death in order to protect his reputation and avoid embarrassment. The first act presents all the characters as being very careful to observe social norms, especially those of civilian obligations to the military. This created masks that they wore at the beginning of the play, as they were polite and sincere but those masks fell off throughout the play until by the end there is nothing but directness of speech left. However, the first exchange between Leonato and Don Pedro is a form of politeness, with each man discharging the problems of having guests for a month as being meaningless. Don Pedro further changes the entire plot by carefully directioning the conversation towards Hero, Leonato's daughter.

In fact, it is Beatrice and Benedick alone who pay the most attention to social customs. Ironically they do this while arguing with each other, thereby breaking with social norms. They put on a facade of disregard for social norms, but actually note what is happening around them far more than other people.

Leonato:

"Cousin, you apprehend passing shrewdly"

Theme 8: Role of Gardens

A common theme throughout Shakespearian drama is the role of gardens. Gardens are dangerous places to be because they “hide serpents trying to seduce the senses.” Much Ado About Nothing has many garden scenes and all of them are involved in plotting against or confusing other characters. For instance, Don Pedro spread his rumours about Beatrice loving Benedick in the garden where Benedick is hiding. In the first scene Claudio and Don Pedro are overheard in the garden, causing Leonato to think Don Pedro wants to marry Hero. Beatrice will likewise overhear Hero and Ursula in the garden, causing her to think Benedick loves her.

Hero:

“Good Margaret, run thee to the parlour;

There shalt thou find my cousin Beatrice

Proposing with the Prince and Claudio.

Whisper in her ear, and tell her I and Ursula

Walk in the orchard, and our whole discourse

Is all of her? Say that thou overheard’st us,

And bid her steal into the pleached bower

Where honeysuckles, ripened by the sun,

Forbid the sun enter, like favourites,

Made proud by princes, that advances their pride

Against that power that bred it. There will she hide her,

To listen to our propose. This is thy office,

Bear thee well in it, and leave us alone.”

“ Now, Ursula, when Beatrice doth come,

As we do trace this alley up and down,

Our talk must only be of Benedick.

When I do name him, let it be thy part

To praise him more than ever did merit,

My talk to thee must be how Benedick

Is sick in love with Beatrice. Of this matter

Is little Cupid’s crafty arrow made,

That only wounds by hearsay”



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