Much ado About Nothing is a play of courtly love and romance, it is about love and falling in love, where virture is rewarded and viciousness is prevented. The play explores the nature of true love, realistically and critically; the way Shakespeare intended it to be. No one would expect to find a moral to the ways of human beings; nether the less Shakespeare must have seemed infinitely subtler as a writer of comedies than any other dramatist in English there had ever been. The audience were delighted by what he had done, for they saw his achievements a true reflection of the theatre of life, in which they were living. Shakespeare used everyday lessons on stage and gave them a whole new freshness.
For Hero and Claudio, courtly love was the way of romance, certain convections had to be followed everything was polite and polished. The basis of a good relationship was when women were pure. Chastity is a symbol of love, the wit of the courtly conversation adds something extra to the straightforward communication of meaning; people show off wit in front of others and confirm to acceptable models of conversation, which are often carefully contrived. Beatrice and Benedicks love is more realistic and understanding, as they don’t follow the normal rules of courtly love.
Claudio is an impulsive, hot headed, youth and his character unfolds in a complex fashion as the play proceeds. He is the member of the group who falls in most easily with the scheme of the others, and he seems to accept readily the entire apparatus of courtly game going on around him,
” Is she not a modest young lady?”
The first mention of him, right from the beginning of the play, prepares the ground for his entry as the stereotypical courtly lover. When we first see him. He has set aside everything to confide in Benedick to tell the prince of his feelings toward Hero. Claudio has a poetic side, as he shows his love for hero very compassionate, even though he has only set eyes on her. When Claudio hears Don John’s accusation of Hero, he more than half believes it from the start, reacting true to his character, spontaneously and uncritically. Although she denies the accusations but politely says,
” I talked with no man at that hour, my Lord”
This mono symbolic phrase; eloquent is in contrast with Claudio’s over reactant. Claudio says,
” But fare thee well, most foul, most fare! Farewell”
He is being passionate, repetitive and full of homonyms, self-indulged and acting pure. Had his love for Hero, been all that he had imagined it to be, he would have laughed in Don Johns face and believed her innocence, despite apparent evidence to the contrary, as immediately as her cousin, Beatrice does.
” Away he went Claudio enraged; swore he would met her, as he was appointed, next morning at the temple and there in front of the whole congregation, shame her, with what he saw o’er night, and send her home without a husband.”
In the Church he smarts with rage, his words flow freely, but by the end he shows himself readjusted to the gay humour of the court. As the misunderstanding and wickedness of the accusation against Hero reveals themselves, a benign spirit seems to descend on Claudio. He is quickly apologetic and leaves us with the impression of youthful exuberance inextinguishably. Claudio never really shows signs that he is ready and mature enough to choose for himself, the right sort of partner and on working out how to make a success of married life.
Shakespeare didn’t intend for Hero to be a particular interesting character, she doesn’t command much more attention than a figure in someone else’s dream, she’s playing a part in a story but yet she’s hardly being in her own right as a lively being. She is under the watchful eye and heavy hand of her father, and in the extravagances of the court make matching she is most inhabited by external controls. Hero is most likely to be singled out to make a “good match” with the Prince when he arrives. At the dancing one can easily forecast that Hero is almost herself when she is masked and not under the surveillance of the court, this is when we see her true voice,
” So you walk softly, look sweetly, and say nothing, I am yours for the walk; and especially when I walk away”
She is quite flirtatious and poetic as she is not in the formal court of love. Hero becomes typically silent, defensive and not passionate or over the top at the accusations. Leonato is all too quick to believe the accusations and the only two people to offer any kind of support id Beatrice and Benedick. Hero says,
” O God. Defend me! How am I beset!
What kind of catechising call you this?”
Hero’s playfulness becomes more apparent during the gulling of Beatrice. She is acting here within her own sphere; there are no men present and her two accomplices are Margaret and Ursula. However she is still in the form of public stage. The effect of the gross wrong done on her is pitiful rather than tragic; a virtuous and beautiful lady is to be sacrificed, and he lacks faith enough for somebody to defend her.
Together Beatrice and Benedick represents the most extended observation of reality in the play, mature and a foil for, or the point of contrast with, hero and Claudio, who bide by what courtly decorum demands. They draw back the play from incipient tragedy, attracting us by their frank display of their natural urges thinly obscured by their special, harmonising brand of wit. There is a war of words between Beatrice and Benedick’s, due to the fact that Benedick mocks women and marriage in general. They expose the actions of the play and show that the relationship between Beatrice and Benedick is deeper than imaged. Benedick has a poor attitude towards love, marriage and women. He shows off his wit in a cross pattern of words ” fine then finer…” which shows further exaggeration. Despite all their wit and sharpness of perception, the foreknowledge that love will triumph seems quite generally to elude them. It is the all-knowing and all-seeing audience which is forever one move ahead, knowing the spirit of the comedy and even knowing more about Beatrice and Benedick then they do them selves.
In the love hate relationship between Beatrice and Benedick, Beatrice dominates, Antiono says that Beatrice is too bad tempered and she replies with, ” I am beyond bad tempered” which shows a cynical attitude to love and the same rhythm of speech as Benedick’s. Beatrice is the anti-typical wife and is the complete reverse to Hero. She is a non-stereotypical Shakespearean woman and condemns all men. She also twists religious image to make a mockery and in order to convey cynical attitudes to the role of women. She revels of revulsion of female subjection, which is inferiority to men. She says, ” There is measure in everything” she is trying to show that there is even measure in love, there is also a certain liveliness of her language. With all their mockery of one another, to be easily duped as the rest of the court members, and fall prey to all that follows from snap judgement, not based on reason and candour. The tension is rising from the discrepancy are most evident when each of them are in turn trying to absorb the information they have gained at the ease dropping. Benedick coming forward symbolically and physically to reveal himself says;
“…They seem to pity the lady; it seems her affections have…Love me? Why, must
Beatrice is briefer and she restores her tension without saying much to justify herself,
” Can this be true?
Stand I condemned for pride and scorn so much?
…Benedick love on. I will requite thee,
Taming my wild heart to thy loving hand…”
It takes her no time at all to come round and believe it before the climatic experiences, indeed from the beginning of the play, Beatrice dominates. Their wit obscures rather than illuminate the truth. Beatrice starts to ridicule Benedick but the irony is that she is slandering him to his face without realising. Benedick feels hurt and he feels as though he is the victim of Beatrice’s slandering tongue. Beatrice is more modern as she has constant unfair denigration about marriage,
” No sure my Lord my mother cried.
But there was a star dance and under that I was born
Cousins, God gave you joy!”
It was not easy for Benedick to get pass the double role, that the masked encounter and of the more personal image of himself that he wants to show the world. The way he overstates his convections, and drives them too hard, sustains the comedy. By contrast Beatrice maintains her control over the situation, her style is often one of over reaction, over emotion, but this is her true person, and the results are spectacular. She says she was born to speak all mirth and no matter, yet matters she raises strike chords in many hearts, Benedick’s included. Sympathy between them rapidly develops into a bond. So that when ever they are left together they have their opportunity to speak of their love for one another, Benedick says,
” Suffer love! – A good epithet. I do suffer love indeed,
For I love thee against my will.”
He ridicules courtly love and insults good expressions.
There is a satire about their romance and their language has a classical references. In the last dance they are all harmonised and happy, the ladies come in, in vales and everything looks chased and pure, the way it’s meant to be. The two marriages are parallel, we can contrast the two couplets, and Benedick comes out with an important point to show that there is no need to get carried away, He says to Beatrice, ” Do you not love me?” she replies ” Why no, no more than reason…Do not you love me?” And Benedick replies, ” Troth, no- no more than reason”. This is the end of the mature bachelor’s world, ” Enough I am engaged”. He takes on the trapping of a courtly lover, and even delivers a challenge to Claudio, who takes it less than seriously. Benedick makes a bad hand at writing a love lyric, and despite what he says about waiting for Claudio to react to his challenge he is happier talking about love and fame, topics better suited to the studied wisdom of the court. Towards the end Benedick says quite a lot, some of it with sharp imperatives; he no longer allows Beatrice to get away with it when there are witty things to be capped.
To me this play has an extremely happy ending, the fairytale ending for Hero and Claudio and the more realistic love for Beatrice and Benedick. Claudio shouldn’t have slandered Hero, had his love for her been everything he reported he would have believed her. He falls into the trap set for him because as yet he is less a lover than a man in love with love. Hero is more an image in his own mind than a real person, and such images are susceptible to every suggestion. Beatrice may be more of a heroine than Hero, and any other traditional Heroine in any of Jane Austin’s novels, like Catherine Moreland, Shakespeare shows us that you can’t generalise relationships, they may appear romantic like Hero and Claudio or anti-romantic or ethereal like Beatrice and Benedick. But they are to do with each individual and what works best for them.
The play conveys that love is full of ups and downs and as Beatrice points out, “there is measure in everything”. There is a huge “measurement” in love. In love the real isn’t on the surface, but nor is it hid behind appearances in such ways that you cant get at it. It seems always out of reach, and the only way to live is to be able to take the risk of getting it wrong. When Benedick, the solider, the man of action in the real world, the reluctant courtier, calls for dance before marriage he is celebrating, perhaps the certainty of the things around which life has at last embraced. ~Hero agrees with the way men treat women and the irony in her name as Hero is Greek for chased and devoted lover. She defends herself without questioning dislikes that her name is being blackened.
The story of Beatrice and benefice, the satellite to that of Hero and Claudio, has fulfilled its function of working out this uncertainty for us and now closes with a somewhat defiant affirmation of the dance which like the mask figures a cheerful sense of indeterminacy and even inconstancy. As parents whirl and change we see the instability of desire which marriage will try to settle, and understand for the last time the impossibility of knowing when and if the night time has come to settle and decide. Love is full of absurdities and knows no logic, “In the court of love, there had been too much courtliness and courtesy and not Enough love”