Shakespeare construct Act 1 in a very successful way as he uses his devices to set the play in Act 1 and then letting the story unravel in the other acts.
The play “much ado about nothing” is a comedy play but has some elements of tragedy in it, which is over turned by the end of the play. Shakespeare has devised the play skillfully by unrevealing all the main concepts and matters in Act 1.
The title of the play “much ado about nothing” tells the whole story in one line. Different people might interpret the title of the play differently to what the play is really about. One interpretation could be “fussing about nothing”, i.e. people making a mountain out of a molehill. Others might interpret the title differently. If you deconstruct the title you will see that the word “nothing” has something to do with a woman’s genital part which Claudio insults Hero about during the latter part of the play. Shakespeare does this so that the audience can bring their own views of what they think the play will be about when they read or watch the play, but the end of Act 1 we know exactly what the title means, which is mainly about people overhearing things and reporting it back wrongly because the only heard bit of the conversation.
Act 1 opens in Leanoto’s house in the Orchards which is “of thick-pleached fruit-tress;…overgrown with honeysuckle”. Shakespeare intentionally opened his play in the Orchard so that he can set a specify scene for the readers to imagine or see if the are watching it. An Orchard is linked to love as well as paradise. It also has a religious significance of the “garden of Eden” where Adam and Eve stay in god’s paradise. The plant “honeysuckle” has many implications. Some being sweet because of the word honey as the same time “suckle” could imply sexual suggestions as well as sensual. Shakespeare has set the scene like this to imply to the audience that this play will have some sort of happiness as well as love.
We learn of a war at has just end in the beginning of Act 1 from a massager. Here we immediately of the social hierarchy of Shakespeare time. “Few of any sort, none of name” indicates to us that the men lost in the war weren’t those of any significance as they weren’t any lords or governors etc. From here we learn that the war has being won but it isn’t the main focus of the play.
Shakespeare probably used this as the opening of the play so he can have the men returning from war, coming back to their families and catching up on their on what they left behind and making any changes that might be happening. One person who stands out of the war is “Count Claudio” who is glorified and said to be “doing in a figure of a lamb the fests of a lion” Shakespeare uses two contrasting images to describe this young man.
A lion because it is fierce, dominating, leader of the pack and brave, whilst on the other hand a lamb is a symbol of innocence and naivety of his youth which we evidently see when he allows himself to lead by Don John on more than one occasion. In Shakespearian times people were really into religion as it was what they used to lead their normal lives. So by Shakespeare using “lamb” to describe Claudio, the audience might use this as a symbol of “Jesus the lamb of God”. The image Shakespeare has given the audience of Claudio has made the audience warm to him already without even hearing him speak. To make his presence better he is also head over heels with Hero, so in Act 1 there audience could see Claudio doing nothing wrong. But by the middle of the play his action will make people take a dislike ness to him. The character Claudio is a direct parallel to the character “Macbeth” in the play “Macbeth” by Shakespeare. He was also a Man who was loved by everyone in the beginning of the play but because of his greediness to be in power, he had a tragic end.
In act one Shakespeare makes of point of talking about characters that aren’t around quite a lot. This is when we get introduced to Beatrice. First of all she breaks the rules of Shakespearian times, which is interrupting men having a conversation. Shakespeare puts her across as a very unconventional woman as she break all the rules of being feminine. She speaks openly without restricting what she says and who she says it too. Her sharp whipped tongue has to be excused by uncle countless times. Shakespeare has added the character Beatrice in order to add a feisty, strong-minded woman who has being born in a time whereby what a man says goes. She is a complete contrast to her cousin Hero who we hear rarely speaks in Act 1. She is what is said to be the conventional Shakespearian woman. She stays like this throughout the play even when everyone turns past her and Claudio insults in front of the town. She is a perfect example of what a woman, which is seen and not heard. She seems like the very reserved type of person but maybe not by choice but because of the patriarchy society in Shakespearian times she was living in. We get this feeling because when Hero is with other women she comes out of her shell, in fact she is somewhat a leader as we witness when she helps to set together Beatrice and Benedick. She seems to speak freely and more as ease when she is with her own gender.
At the beginning of Act 1 scene 2 we beginning to see what misunderstanding could lead to. Shakespeare does this in the shape of Antonio who believes that he overheard the Prince declaring the love he has for Hero to Claudio. This is a small misunderstanding that was easily resolved when they found out that Claudio was the one in love with Hero. Shakespeare brings this little misunderstanding into the early part of the play to indicate to us the reader that there might be many more misunderstandings on the way or many more misconception still to come that way when these misconceptions do happen in the play it isn’t a total surprise to the audience. It might also make them refer back to the beginning of the play and look at the title.
In all of Shakespeare’s plays there are always villains and in “much ado about nothing” it is Don John. From the first meeting with him we immediately take a dislike ness to him. But as the play goes on we learn why Don John is so spiteful. Shakespeare gives us the sense that Don John might be because he feels left out of his brother’s society. Also being a “bastard” in Shakespearian meant you were the social outcast. He makes himself an outcast by not joining the others at the feast, which is organized for the soldiers at Leonato’s house. The feast is a symbol of togetherness, belonging, and a place to get reacquainted with others. Its also has a religious significance which is of the “lord’s supper” when Jesus and his disciples had their last supper and the outcast was the one that didn’t attend the dinner was Judas. Somehow we the audience get the feeling that he gains happiness from seeing other people misfortunes” this may prove food to my displeasure”. So as the play goes on and we see all the length he will go to just to break up. The only time he seems to enjoy being in his brother and the other men’s company is when everyone has turned against Hero. “Leonato’s Hero, your Hero, every man’s Hero”.
During the play Shakespeare puts forth two couples to represent marriage and love. At this time in Shakespearian times. Theses two couples are Claudio and Hero whilst the other couple is Beatrice and Benedick. Shakespeare presents theses two couples because he wants to show the two different kind of love there are. This is the modern one whereby people marry because of the love they have for one another and the other being a traditional wedding whereby a couple marries because of the pressures that society puts on them. Claudio and Hero’s love is one of tradition. This is because when Claudio wants to marry Hero he doesn’t go to her personally and ask her but goes to the Prince for help and Leonato.
At the beginning of the play we are given the sense that Beatrice and Benedick are the unlikeliest couple as they has a love hate relationship. We are lead to assume that they were once an item but have outgrown each other through Benedick letting Beatrice down on more than one occasion. “He lent it me awhile…a double heart for his single one. Marry, once before he won it off me with false dice,” Shakespeare adds in this quote to explain to us why Beatrice has dislikeness to men. It shows that she is human and because of the hurt she had endured from Benedick, it makes it hard to trust men as she had been let down in the past.
But Beatrice isn’t the only one who doesn’t believe in love because Benedick feels the same way about it. But by the end of the play their family and friends scheming is what brings them together.
When Shakespeare begins his plans of bring back Beatrice and Benedick into love he does this rapidly. This is to indicate to us that when there is any mutual feelings of love between two people all you need to do is a little bit of encouraging to rekindle their love.
Hero and Claudio’s marriage isn’t truly based on love for several reasons. One being that Claudio and Hero don’t seem to have any type of dialogue with each other until the wedding day whereby he insults her in front of everyone. Their marriage is somehow based more on tradition and necessity instead of based on love. Claudio is very much consumed and infatuated on Hero’s beauty other than any part of her. “In mine eye, she is the sweetest lady that ever I looked on”. This shows that his feelings for her are just of lust and not of true love. In Shakespearian England young men as well as women were pressured into marring at a certain age so Claudio’s proposal for Hero’s hand might have been because he felt it was time for him to get married.
So his choices for marriage aren’t because he sincerely loves her. Also he must have loved her truly as when Don John lies to him about Hero not once but twice he immediately believes him. This shows that their marriage will not be based on trust; if he cant even trust her before her marriage. He openly insults her calling her “this rotten orange”. This shows his naive ness and his youth. When things happen he doesn’t think rationally but go with his head. This would explain why Shakespeare called him a “lamb” this shows that he has a lot to do. Also it shows that he is a typical man of the Shakespearian time as he side with the men instead of siding with the woman he supposedly loved. If his love for her were real he wouldn’t debase her Hero’s love for Claudio isn’t also as true as it was meant to. Hero’s only aim in life is to please his father and be exactly was is expected of her. She seems to have no mind of her own.
This is evident in the beginning of the play when her father tells her if the prince asks for her hand in marriage, she should accept it. At the same time when he tells her that it is Claudio she is to marry, she also accepts it. This shows that the father has the last say in which Hero marries.
On the other hand Beatrice and Benedick’s love is one based on true love. It is true love that Benedick will in fact kill for his love for Beatrice “by this hand, Claudio shall render me a dear account”. First of all they fall in love and marry by their own choice even though they realize their love for each other through persuasion and urging of their friends and family.
Shakespeare has constructed Act 1 very carefully as Act 1 is like the bud of a flower and the rest of the other Acts are the flowers that blossom. He makes sure that all the important character is introduced in Act 1 so that we know whom the are as the play progresses. He also shows as the importance of misconception and what eavesdropping and spying on others can lead to.
He tries to convey towards us what true love and marriage is opposed to forced marriage whereby you have no say.