Factors Contributing to the Succes of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing
In Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” many factors are combined to make it one of his most wittiest romantic comedies. He addresses several issues at the same time. For example, he addresses the concern of England that Elizabeth had no legitimate heir for the throne in his portrayal of Don Juan. Don Juan is seen as malicious, self-interested and dangerous. This is perhaps a warning to England about the possible actions of an illegitimate heir on the throne.
At the same time, Shakespeare examines the nature of love and marriage. He utilizes the two plots between Beatrice and Benedict and Claudio and Hero. While Claudio and Hero have a relationship that is more in line with the current view on marriage and love, i.e. that marriage is a business deal and love is not relevant to such matters, he further explores other options to the current contractual view. To this end, he introduces the notions that people who marry should have a solid commitment to one another as well as great respect for each other. Furthermore, he introduces us to the idea that people in love communicate, sometimes at high decibels. He challenges us to look at the difference between reality and play-acting, specifically in the way courtly love distanced itself from the reality of real love.
Claudio and Hero demonstrate the conventional play-acting of love. They do not know one another well, and because of this fact, they misread one another to near fatal ends. Their marriage has been slightly arranged, but is more based on a sexual attraction, which Shakespeare challenges as being adequate for real commitment. Her outstanding qualities are the fact that she is an heiress as well as being available. He on the other hand is very young and gullible. He takes a lie for the truth, with predictable ease. While Beatrice and Benedict have the makings of a true commitment, based on each other’s inward qualities, Claudio and Hero have the mere appearance of love and commitment to one another. Shakespeare challenges us to speculate on which union will be the most contented.
Hero symbolizes to her father, the hope of great connections and personal gain. If she marries well, it will be a reflection on him. He has little concern for the inward merits of her future husband and less concern for her personal happiness. He is also concerned with the outward appearance of the status quo. To her family, she represents a valuable asset, a family treasure and a bargaining tool. To her class she represents the embodiment of the expected behavior and attitude of women of means. However, without the approval of her father, she can do nothing. To her countrymen, she represents to what degree they will go to assume the appearance of legitimacy, at the expense of examining the true virtues of the individual.
These factors are important in Shakespeare’s England, because they represent the clamor for a legitimate heir for Elizabeth to the extent that a person’s inward worth and ability to rule a nation is overshadowed by the appearance of strength and capability. Hero represents also, the vulnerability of the throne and the danger in marrying it off to the most handsome suitor. While appearing to be capable of commitment, the suitor is unable to defend the throne in times of attack or slander.
This concern is still relevant today, in our own country where fancy words and plenty of money tend to secure positions of power in politics. Many times, it is not until a crisis arises that we are able to see the true character and the true extent of the commitment of the person whose influence and wealth has secured them a position of great importance. The reason the position is important is not because of the title or connections attached to it, but rather the responsibility as well as the power to impact the lives of other’s either good or bad.
Don Juan chooses Hero as his target and slander as his weapon. He is able to use this against her so effectively, because even the hint of wrongdoing was enough to cause her family, and more specifically her father shame. People involved were quick to believe the lie without any further investigation. With the exception of Beatrice, who cannot believe that Hero could act in such an inconsistent manner. The clergy is compassionate and merciful as well. He convinces Hero’s father to investigate the allegations a bit more.
The “nothing” that there is much “ado” about is the lie that was told and the resulting actions of those who chose to believe it or reject it.
There is connection between Marlowe’s “Hero” and Shakespeare’s “Hero.” Marlowe’s Hero has as her one asset, her virginity. She is expected to keep it no matter what. She treasure this is a prize possession and prides herself on her ability to defend and protect it. Similar to Shakespeare’s Hero, she is prized for her outward appearance rather than her true virtue. Once she has lost the most precious thing she has, she is condemned to hell. Marlowe says: “Till she o’ercome with anguish, shame and rage, Danged down to hell her loathsome carriage” (Norton’s 767).
The portrayal of Constable Dogberry and his night watchmen shows how people can assume themselves to be more important than they are. Dogberry and his men create a position for themselves this is neither needed nor wanted. They put on airs pertaining to their importance to Hero’s father. They demonstrate they extent people will go to create a role of significance for themselves in society. Constable Dogberry assumes himself educated by the type of words he uses with no regard for their meaning and context. He assumes that if he talks the talk, he will be able to convince others that he is truly informed about the current events in the world. Shakespeare pokes fun at all of us, who rather than use a small word whose meaning we are certain, chose to put on heirs in order to impress people, to the opposite effect of making ourselves look less educated. Big words are not enough to give someone character. One cannot hide behind his words, because the lack of insincerity will be revealed to those around him. Words are meant to express thoughts, not for impressing the listener. Constable Dogberry’s malapropisms are very serious when played out in the court of justice. Words express thoughts and create pictures for ideas. When someone is being accused of something or tried for a crime, the words used by those in the legal arena have the power to give life or death. Sentences can have wide variations depending on the choice of one or two words. For example the sentence of “involuntary manslaughter” is much different from “manslaughter.” In for instance one confuses the word involuntary for voluntary or confuses their meaning the results could be devastating. Shakespeare reminds us that words are only important in the meaning and thoughts they convey. They have no value outside of their true meaning. They are tools, not decorations.