Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing is a comedy dealing with ideas of conventional love and the institution of marriage. The play revolves around the events leading up to the marriage of Claudio and Hero. As the plot unfolds, Claudio’s disposition towards Hero changes drastically from love to loathing. The essence of Claudio’s love for Hero seems to be lacking in his actions and speeches. It may be noted that Claudio’s name is derived from Claudius meaning crippled. 1 Although Much Ado is considered to be a romantic comedy, it comes close to being a dark comedy due to Claudio’s failure as a lover.
At the beginning of the play Don Pedro, prince of Aragon and his officers Claudio and Benedick return from war and are invited to a masquerade at the house of Leonato, governor of Messina. Upon his return, Claudio immediately falls in love with Leonato’s daughter, Hero. In a private talk with Benedick and Don Pedro, Claudio praises Hero claiming, “she is the sweetest lady that ever I looked on. ” (I, I, 181) While this new love for Hero appears suspicious, Claudio reassures his love stating, “I looked upon her with a soldier’s eye…
But now I am returned and that war-thoughts have left their places vacant, in their rooms. ” (I, I, 288) Though Claudio appears honest with his words, it is then discovered that Claudio is also interested in her wealth when he asks if Leonato has any sons to which Don Pedro replies that Hero is his only heir. Claudio’s conflicting words pose the question of whether he truly loves Hero or if he is just in it for the money. Claudio’s first interaction with Hero is at the masquerade. Don Pedro has agreed to woo Hero on his behalf.
With Don Pedro succeeding and Leonato’s consent, Claudio is given Hero’s hand in marriage. After an awkward silence between the two, Hero’s cousin Beatrice urges Claudio to speak saying it is his “cue”. Claudio proceeds: “Silence is the perfectest herald of joy. I were but little happy if I could say how much. Lady as you are mine, I am yours. I give away myself for you and dote upon the exchange. ” (II, I, 303) For a man who claims to be in love, his first words to his lover are not very romantic. His words are not very poetic nor do they reflect her physicality which he praised earlier on.
Despite his earlier claims Claudio does not appear to be sexually attracted to Hero, yet he is given permission to marry her. In addition Hero does not response to his speech nor did she have any say in the marriage. Towards the end of the play Don John, bastard brother of Don Pedro stages a scene between his servant Borachio making love to Hero’s maid Margaret dressed up in her clothing. Claudio and Don Pedro witness this scene and are convinced that Hero is cheating on Claudio. The day of the wedding is Claudio at his worst.
It is bad enough that Claudio publicly humiliates her, but to do it on her wedding day is just cruel. Claudio emotionally proclaims, “She knows the heat of a luxurious bed; her blush his guiltiness, not modesty. ” (IV, I, 39) implying that Hero is nothing but a whore. It is interesting that he displays more emotion denouncing her than praising her. One critic believes Claudio’s harshest terms are the ones said to Leonato, “Give not this rotten orange to your friend. ” (IV, I, 31) 2 His speech is so extreme that Hero faints. Claudio leaves the church without looking back.
The metamorphosis of Claudio from a poor love-sick puppy to a cruel almost inhuman being is the most disturbing aspect of Much Ado. Claudio finds out that he and Don Pedro have mistaken Margaret for Hero. At this point he thinks Hero had died from his slandering. To clear her name, Claudio must write an epitaph for Hero and marry her unwed cousin. “Done to death by slanderous tongues was the Hero that here lies; death in guerdon of her wrongs, gives her fame which never dies. So the life that died with shame lives in death with glorious fame. ” (V, iii, 3)
Hero’s epitaph, like Claudio’s first words to her lack substance. There is hardly anything in the epitaph about her and certainly nothing about his involvement. His words suggest that he does not feel even the smallest shred of sorrow or remorse. If Much Ado About Nothing is regarded as a dark comedy, Claudio is reason. His failure as a conventional lover and as a human being are the cause of this disturbing aspect. Poet Andrew Lang regards Claudio as the “real villain” of the play.
References 1. Wikipedia, Much Ado About Nothing, http://en. wikipedia.org/wiki/Much_Ado_About_Nothing, October 18, 2009.