Honour plays an imperative role in society, as it clearly distinguishes the diverse classes of individuals. Throughout the play, Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare, honour is a pressing issue that presents itself to each character, defining them as people and deciding their fate. When each character is faced with a situation that threatens to destroy their cherished honour, they will go to any lengths in order to circumvent this.
When Hero’s honour, based on her esteemed chastity, is lost due to Claudio’s allegations, she is mortified. In the sixteenth century, a woman’s honour relied profoundly upon her chaste behavior and virginity. “The families in the Elizabethan era keep their daughters virgins until they are married.” (Gay, 158). If a woman living in this time period lost their virginity before they were matrimonial, their families were publicly disgraced. Claudio and his brothers are deceived themselves into thinking Hero is engaging in sexual activity with another man later on the night before her marriage to her betrothed Claudio.
They “see her chamber window entered, even the night before her wedding day” (Shakespeare 88-89), in accordance to the information brought forth by Don John. Claudio believes that marrying Hero, who has been accused of being unfaithful, would slander his reputation as well as his honour. At their wedding, Claudio publicly indicts Hero of being adulterous, “What man was he talked with you yester night/ Out at your window betwixt twelve and one?” (117). Thinking he was maintaining his own honour, Claudio maligns Hero due to his own misconceptions of the truth. In the end he shattered his own reputation through willingly believing fictitious information about Hero, whom he is supposed to love unconditionally.
When Claudio discovers that these accusations were mendacities, he makes a promise to marry Leonato’s niece, a promise that he fulfills. Borachio confesses to his involvement in the catastrophe, in reality, Claudio was “brought into the orchard and saw [Borachio] court Margaret in Hero’s garments” (153). This revelation puts Claudio in the spotlight, and since he had presumably killed Hero, who was belied, with his lack of faith, he was obliged to do anything Leonato wanted as retribution for the death of his daughter. Claudio is compelled to “Give [Hero’s cousin] the right that [Claudio] should have given [Hero].”(157) Claudio is now faced with the torment of marrying a woman he does not know due to his treachery. He readily accepts, realizing that it is his duty, he should have remained loyal to Hero, rather than barely having to be convinced of her infidelity. Aware his potential distress, he still manages to say “I am your husband, if you like of me.” (175. His actions demonstrate his remorse for Hero, and in turn his honour is restored in the eyes of those surrounding him.
An individual’s worth is often evaluated by whether or not they can be trusted. Don Pedro proves himself and demonstrates his honour when he woos Hero for Claudio. When Claudio confidentially confides in Don Pedro that he is infatuated with Hero, Don Pedro informs him that he will obtain her fathers trust and give Hero to Claudio. Don Pedro tells Claudio that he “will break with her and her father, And [Claudio] shalt have her”. (23). While at the masquerade, Don John and Borachio manipulate Claudio into believing that Don Pedro will betray him, forcing him to think “The Prince woos for himself” (186). Claudio thinks that Don Pedro has betrayed his trust and has no honour for him. Claudio continually places himself in situations where he is susceptible to deception, where his loyalty is tested. In each state of affairs, Claudio goes against his loyalties and eagerly believes the lies of others. Don Pedro, contrary to Claudio’s suspicions, has kept his promise, and in turn has regained Claudio’s respect for him. Claudio has established himself as a fickle character; his honour disintegrates with every instance that he questions the motives of those that he loves.
Throughout the play, the characters’ honours are assessed through many hardships, leading them to struggle in order to regain their revered reputations. This illustrates the extent to which honour is valued to each and every individual. The honours of these persons are held so high, at such great value, that they are exceptionally vulnerable to disappointment and failure. Thus, ridiculously high expectations are established, making it impossible for people to be deemed worthy of prized honour.