In Act 3, Scene 2, of the play “Much Ado about Nothing” a revelation is revealed; this is that Hero is not a virgin. Hero is to be married to Claudio, but is this true love? “Much Ado about Nothing” was written at the end of the 16th century. Elizabethan England was a strictly patriarchal society at the time, and the view of women was that they were supposed to be silent and passive to the will of men. A women’s traditional roll in life was to bear children and generally be a good housewife, it was also a fathers place to marry his daughter off to a rich gentleman, which Hero’s father Leonarto was doing. In these times, marriage equalled a business transaction and it would not matter if the daughter did not like whom she was to be married to. Although, we believe that this is not the case with Claudio and Hero. At the beginning of the play when Prince Don Pedro returns back from the war with Claudio is love-struck by Hero’s beauty and asks Benedick his opinion of her. Benedick, a sworn bachelor, is shocked at Claudio’s words and tells him that he does not think Hero is that beautiful. Claudio values his opinion, but also wants to marry Hero. Hero likes Claudio, but it is her father who will ultimately decide who she will marry and his wealth may determine the decision.
Toward the end of Act 3 scene 4, Dogberry and Verges go to Leonarto’s home and try to tell him of what they have seen. The scene which had been set up by Don John was made to look as though Hero was having an affair with another man. Doing this Don John would hopefully stop Claudio from marring Hero, which was his malicious intension. Leonarto was too busy to hear what they had to say, and sent them away.
Act 4, Scene 1 is the scene where Hero and Claudio were to be married, but after what Claudio had heard previously would he still marry Hero?
The suspicion is that Claudio has decided to give Hero the benefit of the doubt. Everyone is gathered in the Church for the wedding, but an unsuspected thing happens for the guests, not the audience. Shakespeare uses literary devices know as Dramatic Irony. This is when the audience knows something, the characters are unaware of. When the friar asked Claudio “you come hither my Lord to marry this lady” he replied with “no”. Leonarto, tried to correct what the Friar has said but before we know it, Claudio is giving a speech about how unfaithful Hero has been to him.
He tells Leonarto that he sends Hero back to him, and that she may seem outwardly pure and blushes with innocence, her outward features belie her inward corruption and that in fact she is an unchaste unfaithful whore. Claudio also declares that she is a “rotten orange” meaning she is a prostitute, “a maid” and that “she knows the heat of an luxurious bed” These hurtful words and accusations are pronounced in the church, in front of all of her family and friends. The church is a public place where anyone can go, and the total untruth and lies had been open for all to hear. In addition to Claudio’s harsh words towards Hero, Don Pedro says of his hatred and anger towards her and that he is ashamed that he brought the pair closer together, his actual words are “I stand dishonoured that I have gone about to link my dear friend to a common stale” The reason Claudio wants Hero to be a virgin before they marry is because if the lady has any illegitimate children, this complexities regarding inheritance and not being treated as equals.
The wedding has become chaotic. Claudio, Don Pedro and Don John have completely humiliated Hero in front of her family, friends, and The Friar, who is a noble, high member of the patriarchal society. To make the situation even worse Claudio asks a heartbroken, Hero, “what man was he, talked with you yesternight, out at your window betwixt twelve and one?” Then he ends the conservation with a snide comment, that could be interpreted as a threat, “now if you are a maid, answer to this” as to say answer my question, that’s if you have any dignity left. Hero innocently answers with “I talked with no man at that hour, my lord” Again Don Pedro and Don John support Claudio in what he has previously said because they knew what they saw and that was ‘Hero with another gentleman’ Don Pedro tells Leonarto “I am sorry you must hear: upon mine honour, Myself, My brother, and this grieved Count Did See her, hear her, at that hour last night, talk with a ruffian at her chamber window, who hath indeed most like a liberal villain, Confessed the vile encounters they have had a thousand times in secret.”
This means that Don Pedro is saying what Claudio said was true and himself, his brother and Claudio, heard and saw it all at her bedroom window. Leonarto did not like what he had heard and because of the society that they lived in, he believed Claudio, Don Pedro and Don John over his own daughter. Leonarto cried out for a dagger to which he wanted to commit suicide because of what his daughter has done. Shame and disgrace had been brought on him at what she had allegedly done. On these words Hero fell to the ground and Beatrice and Benedick believed that she is dead. She was not actually dead but, had fainted from the shock of what her father has said. Help was asked for, but Leonarto answers with “oh fate!
Take not away thy heavy hand, Death is the fairest cover for her shame” These words show Leonarto’s feelings towards what Hero had supposedly done, and a man’s position was believed above a women’s, whether it be family or not. Leonarto was very angry with Hero as she had been unfaithful a prestigious and well liked man. This had brought shame upon him and their family which was not acceptable. He then goes on to tell Hero, “Do not live, Hero, do not ope thine eyes” and proceeds to tell everyone one of his disappointment of her. His final comments were, “this shame derives itself from an unknown loins: But mine, and mine I loved, and mine I praised, and mine that I was proud on, mine so much, That I myself was to myself, valuing of her: why she, O she is fallen into a pit of ink, that the wide see hath drops too few to wash her clean again, and salt too little, that may season give to her foul tainted flesh.”
Claudio, Don Pedro and Don John exit the church; this is when the friar comes up with the plan that could put all wrongs to right. His plan is to get Leonarto to say that Hero has died on Claudio’s harsh and hurtful words, this will hopefully make Claudio feel guilty, and when her accusers hear that an innocent woman has died, their anger will turn into regret, and they will started to remember what a virtuous woman hero was. If the plan doesn’t work they will send Hero to a nunnery.
Throughout the whole play Hero barely speaks, even at the beginning of the play when much of the conversation is about her and her fathers intentions to marry her off to Claudio. In act 4 Scene 1 when the wedding is taking place and wrong doings and evil words have been cast upon her, she only is able to speak eight times throughout the scene. Once again this highlights the place of women in the Elizabethan era and men’s opinions were always heard first. Hero is well aware that she has been falsely accused of an in just wrong doing and says that if she is guilty “refuse me, hate me, torture me to death”. It is obvious that hero is upset at what her father has said as she fainted at his words unkind and untrue words and was unable to defend herself.
Beatrice is a cousin of Hero and like Hero is mortified to hear the false accusations that Claudio, Don Pedro and Don John have spoken about her cousin. In addition she is upset at the words her uncle has spoken and the falseness of all his claims. Beatrice is known as a strong willed and forthright character and is not the traditional Elizabethan women and describes marriage as three dances, “A Scotch jig, a measure and cinqupace”. Her attitude is rebellious and is not afraid to speak her mind and what she believes to be right. Beatrice has a realistic view of love meaning she knows that everything in a relationship is not always rosy as often portrayed. This is unlike Claudio and Hero who have an unrealistic and hypothetical view of marriage and love. Benedick is also upset by the accusations and believes Hero, but further believes that the problems lie with Don John.
“Two of them have the very bent of honour, and if their wisdoms be misled in this, the practice of it lives in John the bastard, whose spirits toil in frames of villainies.” In other words, these are two good people, but they can easily be misled, and the person who could easily mislead them may perhaps be John the bastard. When all the guests have gone, only Beatrice and Benedick are left in the Church. Beatrice is upset, and this is because of what has happened to Hero. He asks if there is any way he can show his friend ship towards her. Instead he ends up confesses his love for her, and she equally confesses her affection toward Benedick. Problems occur when Benedick says he will do anything for Beatrice but the one thing she wants Benedick to do is “Kill Claudio” for all the hurt he has caused toward her cousin and herself. At first Benedick completely dismisses it, he is Claudio’s friend, but he knows he has to show his true love for Beatrice, so that she knows that it is true, so he tells her he will do it.