Much Ado About Nothing

August 25, 2012

This comedy, like many others of Shakespeare’s, intertwines the two stories of two pairs of lovers and follows the narrative arch of how they overcome differences and an ugly episode to end up all happily married. The first set of lovers, Beatrice and Benedick, are both forsworn against love. Beatrice has a fiery wit and a fast, frequently acrimonious tongue that she is not afraid to employ against those who attempt to slander or tease her. Benedick publicly mocks men who fall in love and then decide to marry, and he has officially decreed he will remain a bachelor.

Beatrice and Benedick exchange bickering, acerbic banter back and forth in the early scenes of the play when Benedick arrives in Messina, the Italian setting of the play, with Don Pedro, of Aragon. (The use of “Aragon” and not “Spain” must set the date of the play to sometime before the marriage of Fernando and Isabel, when the two kingdoms were united.) The enmity between the two is exacerbated when Beatrice, at a masque in which all of the attenders are disguised, confides to her masked interlocutor that she thinks Benedick is a pitiful jester to Don Pedro and disliked by most people. The masked man listening to this is, of course, Benedick himself, and in a moment of wounded self-pride and heightened ire towards Beatrice, he calls her “Lady Tongue” and publicly humiliates her. She insinuates to Don Pedro that the two once had a prior relationship that ended, but Shakespeare gives us few other clues in this vein.

The other love story begins when Claudio, another of Don Pedro’s men fresh from Aragon, lays eyes upon Hero, the daughter of Leonato, who is the elderly host of the guests and their festivities. Hero is graceful and demure, and Claudio is hard smitten by Cupid when he meets her. Don Pedro agrees to woo Hero on behalf of Claudio, who is too loquacious and disconnected to be convincing and romantic. All is well until Claudio hears false report that Don Pedro has courted Hero for himself. Claudio is temporarily upset but then realizes that Don Pedro was true to his word and has persuaded Hero to marry Claudio. Claudio and Hero are both taciturn but thrilled about their forthcoming nuptial union.

However, Don John, the bastard brother of Don Pedro, admits that his only delight is to make his brother and his brother’s men suffer. He sets in plan machinations to destroy the upcoming wedding of Hero and Claudio by making Hero look like a promiscuous woman. Using the relationship between Borachio, one of Don John’s friends, and Margaret, Hero’s servant, Don John orchestrates a scene in which Claudio and Don Pedro see Borachio come to Hero’s window late at night, where Margaret is there and responds to the name of “Hero” as part of the ploy. Claudio is convinced that Hero is unfaithful to him and having sex with Borachio, and he determines to shame her publicly at the scene of their marriage.

The connubial day arrives and all is set for what should be a seamless ceremony and union. Claudio, however, unleashes his rage and heaps opprobrium and false accusation on Hero, who faints


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