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How and How Effectively are Women Presented in “Much Ado About Nothing”? Essay Sample

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How and How Effectively are Women Presented in “Much Ado About Nothing”? Essay Sample

In this essay I will give a detailed analysis of the language used by both characters; Hero and Beatrice. I will comment and contrast the way in which they speak to people of both the same and opposite sex, relating their personalities to this. I shall also refer to their relationships between themselves and the male characters. The first woman character presented is Beatrice, whose opening line is an insult towards a man; giving an ironic name to ‘Signor Mountanto.’ Benedick is a character, with whom Beatrice often fights, professing disdain. This is extremely unladylike and not the usual way women should have behaved in Shakespeare’s days, as they should have been silent gentle and submissive. She is the only woman character portrayed to be opinionated, passionate, and witty, in Shakespeare’s time these kinds of women were often frowned upon and evoked suspicion. The way that Shakespeare found to explore this issue was by using comedy. Because of her personality, she has no time or use for men as she admits that she ‘had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me’.

This totally sums up Beatrice in terms of her attitude and her emotions, claiming her heart is harder than Benedick’s; we later discover this is not the truth. Beatrice is shown to be a rebellious character because of the way she mocks both her father and her uncle when they talk about marriage. She is determined not to marry and advises her cousin to be independent rather then marry someone her father chooses (if he happens to be ugly), ‘It is my cousin’s duty to make curtsy and say, ‘Father, as it please you.’ But yet for all that, let him be a handsome fellow, or else make another curtsy and say, ‘Father, as it please me’.’ Subsequently, Beatrice is not afraid of being unattractive because of her sharp tongue, and suggests that women should not be inferior to men and men should not be so overpowering. ‘Not till God make men of some other metal than earth! Would it not grieve a women to be over-mastered with a piece of valiant dust?’ Beatrice is referring to Genesis in the bible where man was said to be made of the ‘dust of the earth’.

She may be expressing her worries about marriage, describing it as a route to death and decay, as dust has these connotations. Her understanding here could be corroborated by her long speech about marriage, saying it is like a set of dances, subsequently, ending in ‘sink into his grave’. It seems she is worried that the ‘hot and hasty’ Scotch jig of wooing will end in the ‘cinquepace’ of repentance. Although Beatrice often puts herself down, claiming she is not of any worth, ‘Thus goes everyone to the world but I, and I am sunburnt’ meaning she is unattractive literally because she was left outdoors too long and her skin has browned (In Elizabethan times skin should have been white), she still has a marriage proposal from Don Pedro. Instead of accepting she denies him ‘your grace is too costly to wear every day’ and so lowers herself, and praises his higher social rank.

Beatrice has had someone else interested in her before: Benedick, yet she speaks offhand about the incident which is not made clear to the audience, but gives the impression of underlying feelings between both Benedick and Beatrice. More is revealed later on: ‘Indeed, my lord, he lent it me a while [her heart] and I gave him use for it, a double heart for his single one. Marry, once before he won it off me, with false dice; therefore your grace may well say I have lost it.’ It seems that Beatrice gave Benedick affection, after the relationship ended it seems that Beatrice was more upset and affected by the experience than Benedick obviously was. This may explain why Beatrice is so against men and their power over women. It would also give reason for her confrontations with Benedick. She is obviously still bitter towards Benedick and angry for the way he treated her, so this must be where her quick-witted insults derive from. Beatrice is the audience’s favourite character throughout the play; her wit makes her amusing and her independence and ability to speak of her mind, lovable. Also her ability to change (from disdainful to charming) for her love for Benedick, yet still be a dominating character, is admirable.

Her first appearance in Act one scene one would surprise the audience as she is attempting to outwit a male and indeed succeeding, changing the moralities and giving authority to Beatrice, the female. She is rude and forceful in her language, she promises ‘to eat all of [Benedick’s] killing’ which connects with another of her sayings in Act four scene one, when Beatrice becomes frustrated by her womanhood, ‘O God that I were a man! I would eat his heart in the marketplace.’ Here eating is not connected with love but with violence, and so connects with her saying from Act one, scene one. Her character quickly changes when she finds out that the man she has given the impression of hating and vice versa, on the contrary he actually loves her and she vows to go against her original beliefs and love Benedick, changing everything about her for this one man. In order to show this significant change in Beatrice she speaks the soliloquy after the gulling scene in Blank Verse as opposed to prose, in which she normally speaks.

Her soliloquy is almost a shortened sonnet ‘Benedick, love on; I will requite thee, taming my wild heart to thy loving hand. If thou dost love, my kindness shall incite thee to bind our loves up in a holy band.’ The relationship that evolves between Benedick and Beatrice seems to be a difficult one, as both characters are strong and opinionated so it looks as though there is no authoritative, controlling male in their complicated relationship. Normally the male would be more influential than the female but as Beatrice is so opposed to male domination and as Benedick loves her so much, it seems there is no way to resolve this. However it is cleverly done at the end of the play ‘Peace – I will stop your mouth. [He kisses her]’ This shows Benedick is taking charge as the male should in Elizabethan society, and so ending the dispute of authority in their relationship.

This is the outcome a typical audience from Shakespeare’s time would have expected. It would have been difficult to show Beatrice in charge as the audience would have disputed this. Hero is a character typical of a young, innocent woman in Elizabethan times, whose wealth, beauty and social position makes her attractive to the male audience. She evokes sympathy from the audience through her disgrace and public humiliation at the questioning of her chastity, and defencelessness against Claudio’s cruel words. Unlike Beatrice she cannot speak up against a man, therefore she finds it difficult to redeem herself when accused by Claudio. ‘O God defend me, how am I beset!’ This is because she understands that men should have power and authority over women and that Claudio is dominating and superior to herself. ‘None, my Lord’. She proves to be loyal to him ‘Sweet Hero, now thy image doth appear in the rare semblance that I loved it first’. Claudio sees Hero in the same light that he first looked at her in and not in the way she appeared to him when he assumed that she was disloyal. He is admitting that he was wrong and that she is not spoilt or ‘rotten’ as he named her earlier.

Hero’s conversation with Margaret and Ursula displays her keen and flexible wit and her strategy of praising Benedick, while condemning Beatrice has her desired effect. ‘I never yet saw man, how wise, how noble, young, how rarely featured’. Though she is eager to join Beatrice and Benedick together, she does so by insulting Beatrice profoundly, and calling her disdainful, the same insult Benedick used against her. ‘Disdain and scorn ride sparkling in her eyes’. However, she may say this playfully, which would reflect her warmness and gentleness and show her sisterly love towards Beatrice. In contrast to her usual manner she may, perhaps, be jealous of Beatrice ‘If I should speak she would mock me into air,’ though this seems unlikely as her directions to Margaret, ‘steal into the bleached bower’, bespeaks her delicacy. Hero uses many metaphors ‘Where honeysuckles, ripened by the sun, forbid the sun to enter – like favourites made proud by princes’ when speaking to Margaret, which again shows her tenderness and she ends her conversation with Margaret with prophetic comments on love, poetically. ‘If it prove so, then loving goes by haps.

Some Cupid kills with arrows, some with traps.’ This is ironic as she is the one who is being trapped by marrying Claudio, as opposed to her attempts to trap Beatrice with love. Claudio’s reaction is odd to a contemporary audience; finding out about the prospect of Hero losing her virginity and the way he treats her as if she were nothing, this would make the audience question his love for her. Surely if he loved her he would either defend her or protect her from being slandered and not humiliate her publicly? ‘Give not this rotten orange to your friend.’ This metaphor is full of implications both of his jealousy and also of the corruption of women. Men are concerned that the ‘dish’ (or women) they want to eat (or make love to) should turn out to be rotten; after all oranges were sold by whores in the Elizabethan theatre, thus representing both wild sex and the risk of sexual diseases.

Even after Claudio learns of Hero’s death, he is still happy with his actions and shows no signs of affection or remorse, and finds himself innocent of killing Hero, ‘My villainy?’ This may be because he is partly marrying her for her wealth and inheritance from her father ‘Count, take me of my daughter and with her my fortunes .’ And once Leonato offers him another bride who has the same riches he accepts showing no compassion towards Hero, ‘My brother hath a daughter almost the copy of my child that’s dead, and she alone is heir to both of us,’ ‘I do embrace your offer,’ Hero is being treated as an object here, as she is disposed of quickly and replaced with someone else who Claudio has never met, seen, or spoken to but only knows of her heritage and wealth that comes with that and accepts on these grounds. Also he may feel that he has done penance for his crimes and so now deserves her.

It seems that her death has only represented to Claudio that he has lost something he wanted, and so cannot have it, therefore moves onto something else, as if there is no value to Hero. It is also surprising that Hero accepts Claudio back after the way he treated her and shamed her in front of everyone and his eagerness to marry someone else that he did not know so soon after her death. She is now on a higher moral ground than her future husband, as she has been the one in the right and he has been in the wrong, perhaps putting a strain on the marriage in the future, although socially Claudio will remain a higher rank, as he is the dominant figure in their relationship and irreplaceably the male. This is in total opposition to Beatrice’s actions. She would, perhaps, have found it difficult to forgive someone, especially a male, who treated her so badly and who now finally realised that they were in the wrong. It may have disappointed Beatrice and any other feminist watching this play today, but Hero takes on the role of the morally correct, conventional, romantic heroine of the Elizabethan period.

Hero and Claudio’s relationship seems to be a strange one as neither know each other well, though they are to be married, so when Claudio ironically denounces Hero for not being all she seemed; ‘and seemed I otherwise to you?’ and giving a false impression to him, it is an impossibility, as he had already idealised her and moulded her in his mind to be what he wanted her to be, probably something to do with the expectations at the time the play was written. Hero does not say much at the beginning of the play and does not seem to be a very main character, though she is referred to often through Claudio’s love.

Yet as soon as she is to be married to Claudio she is included a lot more in the play in terms of speaking and trying to put together both Beatrice and Benedick. Overall, both women that Shakespeare presents are contrasting and reflects the difference between people in love. Hero is presented to be a women conventional in her etiquette and manners who is attractive to the male audience and exemplary in her patience and forgiveness, whereas Beatrice is presented as a women who knows what she wants and how to get it, who is not independent or reliant on males. Her sharp wit has youth and eternal spirit, and she shows wide experience and intelligence with a just impatience at an unequal society. Perhaps she is the true heroine of the play.

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