The witty comedy Much Ado About Nothing (1599) is marred, in the opinion of some critics, by an insensitive treatment of its female characters. The play Much Ado About Nothing is a comedy, which was written in the reign of Elizabeth I. In this era comedy had a slightly different meaning, human folly. This meant that in the time it was written the play was about people with a foolish nature. Although the play is a comedy, it also has a serious nature that is reflected in act 4 scene 1. This often leads to lyricism and ambiguity and shear despair. This makes this scene stand out, and also makes it a turning point in the play.
Also Shakespeare played with the words on the title, as the word nothing in Tudor times also sounded like noting, which in Much Ado About Nothing is observing. The punning on ‘nothing and noting in the title suggests from the start that the play will be concerned with ways in which people perceive one another. Characters are continually faced with questions: ‘can I be certain that what I see, or hear, or know is true? Their difficulties are often caused by the deliberate deceptions of others, but equally often stem from self-deception or their own human failibility. Act 4 scene 1 also explores the role of woman in the time it was written though Beatrice who makes her own decisions, and Hero who has no right of say, and is controlled by her father. Also in this scene Shakespeare uses dramatic devices to great effect, when the audience knows more than the characters, which adds even greater tension to the scene.
Shakespeare presents his characters in this scene very differently, than in the opening scenes, and in some cases are opposites to the opening scenes. Claudio in Act 1 scene 4 is one of the opposites, and is seen as young, naive, but a heroic fighter, in the opening scenes. This is shown in Act 1 scene 1,
” He hath borne himself beyond the promise of his age, doing in the figure of a lamb the feats of a lion,”
This shows that Claudio is brave in battle, and although young, Behaved like an older man, being experienced and aggressive, like a ‘lion’. However at first when Claudio returned, Don Pedro took him under his wing, and looked after him, which is shown when Don Pedro arranges the marriage. But in Act 4 scene 1 he appears mature, confident, and out spoken,
”Oh what men dare do! What men may do’! What men daily do, when not knowing what they do! ”
The uses of explanation marks show the volume and passion as Claudio speaks, which underlines his confidence in the scene. Also Shakespeare has used Claudio as the ‘human folly’ in the act 4 scene 1, as although he is most sure of himself, its ironic that he is really most wrong. Benedick is wiser of the situation, and for maybe the first time we see the serious side of him, as in the earlier scenes he was one of the most comical characters in the play. For example, the match making of himself and Beatrice, and also the masked ballroom scene. Don John doesn’t say much but other characters have different interpretations of him. Claudio uses him as a witness to the sex scene in Hero’s prosecution,
“Is this the princes brother? Is this face Hero’s face? Are our eye’s our own? ”
Claudio wisely uses Don John’s authority as the prince’s brother against Hero. Benedick however is wiser of the predicament and sees the slander in John the Bastard,
“The practice of it lives in John the bastard, whose spirits toil in frame and villainies. “
This is evidence that Benedick recognizes that Don John has a reputation for plotting evil deeds in order to slander his brother, who he is jealous of. Leonato, who in the earlier scenes is played as a loving father, is in this scene devastated and distraught, because of the activities he believes his daughter to be involved in. In this scene he expresses his anger by wanting Hero to die,
“Hence from her, let her die. “
This shows that even though he was portrayed as a loving father in the opening scenes, he still condemns his daughter (who he loves so dearly) to death. However after the Friar and Benedick defend Hero, and Leonato begins to have doubts on the truth of Claudio’s accusations,
” If they speak but truth of her, these hands shall tear her, if they wrong her honor, the proudest of them shall well hear of it. “
This shows that Leonato begins to see both sides of the story, and will wait for stronger evidence before he convicts her. The women in this scene, like Benedick, support Hero and stand by here through out the scene. The woman have little speech in this scene but the support of Hero can be seen though Beatrice’s concern,
” How now, cousin Hero? “
The lack of speech for the women in this scene may sugest that women have no say in the matter, and are to keep quiet, especially in scenes of conflict. We can see the men’s attitude towards woman through Claudio treats Hero in act 1 scene 1 in contrast with how he treats her in act 4 scene 1. In the opening scene he is overcome by Hero’s appearance and observes that she is modest, and quiet, which is important to Claudio,
” She is the sweetest lady”
He also makes other comments on her looks in the opening scene,
” Can the world buy such a jewel”?
This suggests that Claudio thinks she is precious, valuable, and beautiful, basing his opinion on her looks. But in act 4 scene 1 his views on Hero dramatically change. He now sees her as nothing but a ‘whore’ as he believes he has witnessed her sleeping with another man and thinks her to as a ‘common stale’. He uses sarcasm through out the scene to express be views on Hero. This can be seen when he repeatedly calls her a ‘maid’ in which means to be a virgin, when to the audience he means she is no more than a prostitute. It is also seen when he compares her to a ‘rotten orange’, looks perfect on the outside, but on the inside is horrible and repulsive. The contrast of his initial thoughts of Hero, to what he thinks of her in act 4 scene 1 are clearly expressed by Claudio, when he compares her to two Goddesses,
” You seem to me as Dian in her orb… But you are more intemperate in your blood, Than Venus…”
Claudio points out that when he first met her, he believed he to be like Dian, Goddess of chastity and faithfulness, but now he thinks of her more like Venus, Goddess of love and lust. Don Pedro’s views on Hero are very important as he is someone of rank, and basically what he say’s is law.
” I stand dishonored that have gone about to link my friend with a common stale.”
The fact that he agrees with Claudio, in believing she is nothing more than a prostitute has a massive impact on the witnesses at the wedding, and as he is the Prince the people respect and follow his views.
Leonato provides an insight into the relationship between father and daughter. Shakespear uses Leonato to explore the themes of revenge and forgivness. This is seen in act 4 scene 1 Leonato moves from certainty in his daughters guilt,” I charge thee do so,” to hesitancy ,” Do I but dream”, and from threatening violence on Hero,” Let her die”, to threating violence on Claudio and wanting revenge following the saxtons report following Borachio’s arrest, in which he then shows forgiveness, which is important in the resolution of the play.
Shakespeare uses the idea of appearance and reality throughout the play,and is first shown in the masked party when Beatrice decives Benedick by pretending to ridicule and make fun of him behind his back. Act 4 scene 1 is based on the idea of appearance and reality when the whole cast is decived by Don John and his evil companions. This is again evidence of the importance of appearance and reality in the play. This idea is also used in a plan to find the truth of accusations against Hero, when the friar has a plan in which to make it work they must decive the prince and Claudio.Hence, the idea is for once twisted into bringing good istead of the oppisite.
Love in this scene is used to achive things by certain characters in act 4 scene 1. For example when Beatrice uses it with Benedick against Claudio.
Beatrice: “Kill Claudio”
This is evidence that Beatrice uses love to bribe Benedick to kill Claudio, which at first dosnt work but later on she convinces him to do it.
Shakespeare uses dramatic irony in act 4 scene 1, when the audience know more than the characters as the audience know the truth about Hero’s innocence. The conversation is often light, and involves good natured teasing. But as events force people to confront the painfull, seeming truths about themselves, and those most dear to them, cold malice, hurt anger, innocent berwilderment, grief and despair evolve in the play.This can be seen when Cladio mocks her name,
” Hero itself can blot out Hero’s virtue.”
This sarcasm is used to hurt Hero and humiliate her as the name Hero would have suggested faithfulness in love, and Claudio is saying she dosn’t live up to her name. Shakespeare also creates a serious mood through the characters behavior, mainly Claudio’s as he uses sarcasm and vicious comments against Hero
Just one of the sarcastic, vicious coments thrown against her. The fact that this humiliation of Hero is in public adds to the seriousness of the scene as she and her father are respected figures in messina. Also the idea of death is thrown around in this scene, which is a dramatic change from the light hearted comedy in the earlier scenes. This is seen when leonato wants to kill himself,
“Hath no mans dagger here a point for me”
This shows the dramatic effect of the seriousness of the scene, when violence, malice, and the idea of death is introduced. The audience will probably have mixed reactions on this scene, as they will feel sympathy for Hero as she is innocent, and hatred for Don John and borrachio for conducting their evil plan. They also might think that Leonato and Claudio failed their test of devotion towards Hero in her time of need.
In this scene everything is turned upsidedown. Shakespeare takes his serious characters and makes them look like fools, as the characters with power and intelligence like Claudio and the Prince are fooled, but the comic characters of the watch discover the truth. This links with the title and the idea of noting and observing, as the characters judge on the appearance and not the truth, and also the shakesperean meaning of comedy- human folly, as when Cladio and Don Pedro belive themselves to be absolutely right, they are infact absoloutly wrong. The Shakesperean audience and the modern audience would probably responed to the scene very differently. The shakesperean audience would probably enjoy the idea that the powerful characters, like Don Pedro, and leonato being made fools of, where as the modern audience would probably enjoy the slapstick comedy, like the tricking scene.
Act 4 scene 1 is probably the most important point in the whole play. It is the turning point for love, in the abandoned marriage and the relationship between Beatrice and Benedick. Reputation, as the slander momentarily killed Leonato’s and Hero’s reputation. And the out come. of the foolishness of Claudio and the Prince. And the punishment of Don John who in the time the play was written , theaudience would have expected to be punished for his crimes.In context of the whole play, this was probably the most serious of any other scene. There was however deception in other scenes, such as the tricking of Beatrice and Benedick, and the scene at the masked party when Beatrice ridiculed Benedick. These hints of deception however when portrayed as comedy where as act 4 scene 1 was the complete oppisite, however all the time the audience knew more than some of the characters.