Shakespeare wrote many of his plays to discuss and criticise the society he lived in and the strict regulations that were attached to it. Much Ado About Nothing is a romantic comedy. Without detracting from the obvious frivolity that the audience can see on stage, the play invokes many issues about courtship and marriage and Shakespeare deals with them, Shakespeare uses love and relationships to closely examine and comment on how relationships developed in the society he lived in.
Love is the prevalent theme through the play, with the younger characters all in love. The title of the play, Much Ado About Nothing, suggests that love is a major theme, because, at the time, the word “Nothing” was a slang word for female genitalia. The three couples in the play, Claudio and Hero, Beatrice and Benedick, together with the relationship between the more minor characters of Borachio and Margaret, comments on how relationships does not only affect the couple involved but affects everyone who is close to them.Order now
It also discusses the link between the motive of a union and the products that arise from it. The different characters all have conflicting motives. Hero and Claudio’s relationship is founded mainly on an aesthetic basis and the playwright makes sure that their relationship is tested greatly. Where in one instance, under the strain of a slanderous accusation, Claudio listens to the notorious liar and scoundrel, Don John, over the pleas of his future wife. This breaks their relationship and Claudio jilts Hero at the altar.
Margaret and Borachio’s relationship, symbolises the Upper Classes’ view of the relationships that the lower classes partook in. This purely physical and animal relationship is a destructive force within the play, as it is their sexual embrace at Hero’s window that almost destroys the marriage of Hero and Claudio. The only relationship that seems to run into very little problems is the unconventional partnership of Beatrice and Benedick. Despite the fact that the relationship between Beatrice and Benedick seems to be the most unconventional, Shakespeare seems to prefer them.
As well as giving the relationship no real obstacles, he elevates their language by putting it into prose, a style of writing which at the time was reserved for holy scriptures, learned arguments and legal documents. No doubt, the church would have been outraged to hear that an unconventional relationship was being put into the same category as the Holy Scriptures. If we compare the language given to Beatrice and Benedick, to the verse used in speech between Claudio and Hero, we can see the elevation of Beatrice and Benedick’s relationship and more importantly, the denigration of the relationship of Hero and Claudio.
With the criticism of the relationship of Claudio and Hero, Shakespeare is denouncing conventional Elizabethan thought on love and marriage At first the relationship between Claudio and Hero appears to be idyllic. Claudio seems to be attracted to Hero, “In mine eye, she is the sweetest lady I have ever looked upon,” but within the same conversation Claudio already shows an ulterior motive for a future union, ” Hath Leonato any son my lord? ” Claudio asks Don Pedro whether Leonato has any heirs to his fortune.
If Leonato had any other heirs, the prospect of marrying Hero would be slightly less inviting, as Hero would not inherit Leonato’s estate. Although modern audiences balk at this open show of shallowness, Shakespearean audiences would have found this quite the norm. In relation to Hero herself, Claudio is only interested in the physical attributes of Hero, since he makes no mention of her other possible virtues and attributes. Claudio also does not seem to know much about Hero, thus explaining why he is asking Benedick about her, yet he is willing to marry her.
He not only wants to know that his budding feelings are justified, but he wants to make sure that his choice of lady is indeed worthy of his honour, despite the fact that his honour has only been recently gained, whereas the honour of Hero’s family has, we presume been there for generations. Even if Hero is fair, if she does not compliment Claudio’s new found social status, he will not marry her. When comparing the three courting couples in the play, there is a strong link between the main focus of the relationship and their eventual outcomes..
By comparing the three relationships, the reader can see how revolutionary and critical the play was at the time and how many members of the audience would have been outraged at the content of the play. The use of Don Pedro as a “go-between” or “agent” in the play gives us great insight into the mindset of the playwright. The use of “agents” was commonplace among the Upper Classes at the time. Agents were matchmakers, who were paid by men to introduce and woo prospective partners. The use of agents, empathise the importance of alliances in the Upper echelons of Elizabethan society.
For instance, Claudio is keen to marry Hero because by marrying her, he would be maintaining and/or improving upon his level of honour; he is concerned no so much with Hero per se as with, as entering an alliance with a noble family. The issue of alliance is one that Shakespeare seemed to abhor. This abhorrence is most clear in the play, Romeo and Juliet where families and alliances eventually lead to the premature death of the two leads. Don Pedro is the most senior ranking person in the play, therefore has the most honour.
The fact that Don Pedro is not married can give us some understanding of the value of the relationships in the play and in Elizabethan life in general. The institution of marriage at the time was not only where two people could declare their unrequited love for each other. Marriage was a transaction between two families. Don Pedro does not need to marry because he has a superior ancestry, however Don Pedro can initiate other marriages, as this would give the union much honour, as a seal of approval. However, we can see that Beatrice and Benedick’s relationship is not initiated in the conventional way.
They are brought together via the plot of Don Pedro, Leonato and Claudio. However, if Claudio and Hero can be accepted as the perfect models of courtly love, than Beatrice and Benedick’s love is easily proven as a flawless example of true love, both through an understanding of their characters as well as their interaction. Benedick’s love for Beatrice actually makes him physically sick, “I have the toothache. ” Alternatively, Claudio is also baffled and bewildered by his feelings for Hero but he relies on the definitions of courtly love to explain them, “That know love”s grief by his complexion! Shakespeare uses music as a forebear to moments of love within the play. This is not just confined to Much Ado About Nothing. In A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Duke Orsino comments in the opening line “If music be the food of love, play on. ” All moments of love whether true or not in Much Ado About Nothing are preceded by a character singing a song. A sonnet, is played just before Don Pedro, Claudio and Leonato cajole Benedick into thinking that Beatrice is infatuated with him.
Don Pedro even comments on the powers of the song, “By my troth, a good song. Later on in the play, Claudio declares his true love for Hero by singing her an epitaph by her grave. Music is so intertwined with the theme of love in the play that Shakespeare concludes the play by making Benedick end on the words, “Strike up, Pipers. ” An alternative viewpoint is that Shakespeare is showing that the convention of writing poetry and songs is romantic but it can turn out disastrously for people who are ill-suited to write them. When Benedick runs into this problem when writing his sonnet in Act 5 Scene 2, he comments “no, I was not born under a rhyming planet, nor I cannot woo in festival terms. ”
Throughout the ages, clothing and appearance has been an important aspect in wooing a partner. The changes of appearance of Claudio and Benedick when they are wooing their respective lovers, adheres to the convention at the time. Claudio seems to be taking the convention as if it was gospel, Benedick sees this as slightly hysterical, “What fashion will you wear the garland of? about your neck, like an usurer”s chain? or under your arm, like a lieutenant”s scarf? You must wear it one way, for the prince hath got your Hero. ” When in love with Beatrice, Benedick does try and change his appearance, however Beatrice is not impressed.
She has already showed her disdain for a man changing his appearance when in love, “He who hath a beard is more than a youth: and he that hath no is less than a man: and he that is more than a youth, is not for me, and he who is less than a man, I am not for him” The play also deals with the impact on the way women were treated by their male relatives at the time on their relationships. Elizabethan women were merely the possession of their male relatives, however, the steadiest relationship in the play contains two equal partners and Benedick show respect to Beatrice.
This is also coupled with the fact that, in part, been initiated by men and women working together. Beatrice fell in love with Benedick due to Hero and Margaret, together with Beatrice’s involvement in creating Hero and Claudio’s “second” relationship. The fear of a change in the way women in society were perceived that was so redolent in Elizabethan times is criticised in Much Ado About Nothing. It appears that Shakespeare is making a damning observation of Elizabethan society. During the dramatic denunciation scene, only Friar Francis, Beatrice and Benedict are even inclined to consider Hero’s innocence.
Friar Francis states this clearly: “… by noting of the lady. I have marked/A thousand blushing apparitions … trust not my age, /My reverence, calling nor divinity, /If this sweet lady/lie not guiltless here, /Under some biting error. ” A supposedly wise and rational man, Leonato, however, cannot even perceive the innocence of his own daughter. He immediately sides with the male characters, Claudio and Don Pedro and notes that they would not lie: “Would the two princes lie, and Claudio lie, Who loved her so, that speaking of her foulness, Washed it with tears? Hence from her, let her die. The misguided perceptions of the male characters were reflective of the views of women at the time. This meant that marriage did not involve the emotions of the woman; she was just a bargaining chip, in the merger between two families. Shakespeare is vehemently attacking this dismissive attitude of time that women being nothing more than possessions, in the play. In the play, only when the man respects his woman does the relationship work. Through the magnificent power of Shakespeare’s hand, a simple story that is truly Much Ado About Nothing, becomes a commentary on the idea of love.
True love becomes illuminated through its reflection in its own foil – the ideals of courtly love. As William Kittredge said that “courtly love must involve a love that is extremely idealised and superficial, with the vassal or servant-like suitor, who is often a valiant knight, devoting himself completely to an ideal woman who is often the daughter of a powerful man. ” The true relationship of Beatrice and Benedick compared to the relationship of Claudio and Hero, gives the reader not only a better understanding of the power of the literary foil, but also a foil into which that reader can reflect and better understand himself.