Gossip plays a major role in “Much Ado About Nothing”. It is displayed in several ways including intentional gossip, malicious gossip, and innocent gossip. Most of the gossip in “Much Ado About Nothing” appears in the first half of the play. The second half, on the other hand, consists of the consequences of gossip. Of course, some consequences can be found in the first half of the play, however, Shakespeare made sure these didn’t have a central role in the plot. It seems he wanted the play to be divided between gossip, and its effects. The results of gossip in “Much Ado About Nothing” include: a ruined marriage, a family crisis, damaged friendships, a damaged reputation, minor misinterpretation of people’s feelings, and the forming of love. All of which were, and still are, central themes, which probably attracted Elizabethan audiences to plays such as “Much Ado About Nothing”. These consequences will be dealt with in this essay.
Despite the many consequences of gossip in “Much Ado About Nothing”, it seems there’s only one ‘good’ consequence. It’s the forming of love between Beatrice and Benedick. At first, it seems that achieving love between the two is what Don Pedro calls “one of Hercules’ labours” (Act 2, Scene 1, Line 275). Beatrice and Benedick appear to hate each other all throughout the first half of the play. Beatrice, for instance, displays her opinion of Benedick in Act 2, Scene 1, Line 103, by saying he’s “the prince’s jester”, and “a very dull fool”. Benedick too, like Beatrice, never misses a moment to respond. He often does that by gossiping. In Act 2, Scene 1, lines 187 – 188, for example, Benedick maliciously gossips about Beatrice, saying that “if her breath were as terrible as her terminations, there were no living near her”. In Act 2, Scene 3, however, Claudio, Don Pedro, and Leonato use gossip to deceive Benedick.
They let Benedick believe they don’t know he’s eavesdropping on their conversation. Consecutively, they begin gossiping of Beatrice’s secret love for Benedick. This gossip is obviously intentional, and is based on false facts. Benedick, however, is quickly fooled by their deceit. After hearing things such as that Beatrice “loves him with an enraged affection” in Act 2, Scene 3, line 90, Benedick decides he will return her love. A short while after, Beatrice is also fooled into loving Benedick. This time, however, it’s Hero and Ursula who play the gossip – based trick. They too deliberately let Beatrice assume an eavesdropping position while they gossip of Benedick’s love towards her. They begin in Act 3, scene 1, line 38 by ‘asking’ whether “Benedick loves Beatrice so entirely”. They then continue throughout the scene and mention how Benedick has to “wrestle his affection” (line 42), and “fight against his passion” (line 83).
Beatrice, in any case, succumbs to the trap, and like Benedick, decides she too will return Benedick’s love. As the play advances, the consequences of the two sets of intentional gossip unfold. In Act 4, Scene 1, line 259, Benedick admits to Beatrice his love for her. This happens just after the disastrous wedding. Beatrice, however, has to wait until her letter of affection for Benedick is revealed in Act 5 Scene 4, Lines 87 – 90, to almost unwillingly confess her love for Benedick by kissing him. By the end of the play, however, Benedick and Beatrice overcome their many differences, and become engaged to each other. This charming result of gossip has a major role in making the play an entertaining comedy with a happy ending.
Gossip in “Much Ado About Nothing”, however, mostly results in bad, if not devastating, consequences. Gossip, for instance, creates minor misunderstandings between Leonato and Don Pedro. In Act 1, scene 2, Leonato and Antonio gossip about Don Pedro’s feelings towards Hero. Consequently, Leonato is led to believe that Don Pedro intends on asking Hero’s hand in marriage. As a result, he informs Hero of his expectations of her in Act 2, Scene 1, lines 48 – 49, where he says that “If the prince do solicit you in that kind, you know your answer”. Hero is therefore put under pressure to accept Don Pedro’s expected wedding proposal. This saddens her since her true passion is to Claudio, not to Don Pedro. Hero’s unfortunate fate seems sealed when finally Don Pedro explains to Leonato, somewhere in Act 2, Scene 1, that he actually intends on wooing Hero for Claudio. His intention is fulfilled when Hero and Claudio become engaged to each other in lines 229 – 230. This gives a fortunate ending to a short, yet somewhat sad and dangerous, set of events.
A more dangerous consequence of gossip in “Much Ado About Nothing” is the danger caused to the friendship between Don Pedro and Claudio. In the beginning of the play, Claudio and Don Pedro are very good friends. The opening scene of “Much Ado About Nothing”, for instance, lets the audience know the respect Claudio has earned from Don Pedro when fighting for him at war. Don John, however, wants to ruin that friendship, and so hurt Don Pedro. He does that by utilizing intentional and malicious gossip. In Act 2, Scene 1, lines 121 – 126, Don John and Borachio gossip about Don Pedro in the presence of Claudio.
They say “he is enamoured on Hero”, and that “he swore he would marry her tonight”. Knowing of Claudio’s intentions of marrying Hero, Don John successfully makes Claudio mistrust Don Pedro, who originally promised he would woo Hero for Claudio himself. Claudio, in any case, expresses his disappointment and mistrust in Don Pedro in lines 130 to 138 where he says that one should “trust no agent: for beauty is a witch”. The “agent” in that case, is Don Pedro. The unfortunate situation, however, is quickly corrected by Don Pedro and Leonato in lines 225 to 230. Don Pedro reassures Claudio that he has “wooed in thy [Claudio’s] name, and fair Hero is won”. This means all Don Pedro did was to woo Hero for Claudio, as he originally promised. He then goes on to tell Claudio that all he has to do is “name the day of marriage, and God give thee joy”. As a result, Claudio resumes his good relations with Don Pedro, and stops mistrusting him. Yet again, a dangerous turn of events deriving from gossip is quickly corrected, with no damage done to anyone.
The worst effect of gossip in “Much Ado About Nothing” is the ruined marriage between Claudio and Hero. Again, it is Don John’s gossip that is responsible for the tragedy. In Act 3, Scene 2, Don John intentionally gossips about Hero’s unfaithfulness with Don Pedro and Claudio. In line 76, for example, he says Hero is “disloyal”, while in line 80 he describes the word ‘disloyal’ as “too good to paint out her wickedness”. He then goes on and maliciously accuses Hero of being infidel to Claudio on the night before their wedding. The intentional gossip told by Don John, although being completely false, is enough to create a disaster in Leonato’s household. Claudio, who naively believes Don John’s lies, waits until the wedding ceremony in Act 4, Scene 1, to publicly embarrass Hero. He begins his series of insults and accusations in lines 25 to 37 where he calls her a “rotten orange”, and claims “she knows the heat of a luxurious bed”, thus claiming Hero isn’t a maid. He then continues to lines 53 to 55 where he tells Hero she’s more intemperate in her blood “than Venus, or those savage animals that rage in savage sensuality.
Finally, in lines 84 to 88, it is Don Pedro who informs Leonato that, Claudio, Don John, and he “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”. Once this is said, Don John convinces Don Pedro and Claudio to leave the wedding ceremony so that his gossip – based deceit will remain undiscovered. The result of this disastrous wedding is, first of all, the end of all relations between Hero and Claudio. It also means, however, that Leonato’s reputation is severely damaged due to his daughter’s supposed wrongdoings. In lines 120 to 122, for instance, Leonato expresses his regret of ever having a daughter. A more devastating effect of Don John’s malicious gossip, and its consequent ruined marriage, is the tension created between Leonato and his daughter, Hero. Leonato, like Claudio and Don Pedro, believes that Hero was unfaithful to Claudio.
His shame in his daughter is highlighted in his long speech in lines 114 to 136 of the same Scene and Act. In line 116, for example, he openly says he wishes his daughter to be dead, while in line 133, after reflecting upon the love he felt for Hero, he sadly concludes that her honor “is fallen into a pit of ink, that the wide sea Hath drops too few to wash her clean again”. These tragic sets of incidents are only resolved in Act 5, Scene 1, when Dogberry and his watch manage to get the truth regarding Don John’s doings from Borachio and Conrade. It is only in Act 5 Scene 4, however, that Claudio’s and Hero’s relationship is brought back to what it originally was. This is achieved by a marriage in which Claudio is surprised to find out he is re wed to Hero who he thought was dead. The happy ending given to this set of misfortunes brings the play to a close, thus concluding the play as a happy – ending comedy.
Overall, gossip can be seen as the source of all the main events in “Much Ado About Nothing”. It’s responsible for love, hate and shame between the characters in the play. Gossip, as it seems, was Shakespeare’s best device for developing an intricate and highly dramatized plotline. Its importance in the play is undisputed, and its usage was imperative for creating a highly emotional comedy by all standards. Both for Elizabethan, and modern audiences.