William Shakespeare is renowned as the English play write and poet whose body of works is considered the greatest in the history of English literature. Shakespeare’s plays form one of literature’s greatest legacies. Divided into comedies, histories and tragedies, Shakespeare’s plays have spawned thousands of performances.
The play Much ado about nothing was written by William Shakespeare during the 16th century. It is classed as one of his many comedy plays, where the main characters get married in the end. Comedies, (such as Much ado about nothing) consist of many witty scenes particularly when few characters are speaking and gossiping between themselves. Much ado about nothing is a play about confusion and misunderstanding. It is a comedy about self-deception, vanity, jealousy and pride. The play also conjures up a series of events, but there are no tragic results, and all ends well for every character, except the villains who sparked off the melodramatic events which took place in the play.
Don John is known as the illegitimate half brother of Don Pedro (prince of Aragon), he is also referred to as the “Bastard” in the play. In Shakespeare’s time, such people were considered as outcasts, or perhaps even evil. He is melancholy and sullen by nature, and creates a dark shadow that glooms onto the whole play. He is the main villain of the play, and his evil actions are motivated by his envy of his half-brother’s social authority (Don Pedro).
Ones character could be summed up in the way they speak, Don John is largely silent and speaks but few words in reply to when spoken to. This is shown in the way he replied to Leonato (Hero’s father) in act 1 scene 1 of the play. LEONATO-“Let me bid you welcome, my lord, being reconciled to the prince your brother. I owe you all duty.” Here, Leonato had given Don John an invitation for the dinner and dance party at his house. DON JOHN-“I thank you. I am not of many words, but I thank you.” In response to gracious words of welcome and reconciliation, Don John is ludicrously overblown and vacuous. He replied in a polite way, but in a dull manner with a silent and unimpressionable tone with very few words. Don John’s language is stiff and overelaborate. His use of balance and alliteration would be courtly similar to Leonato’s words, except that his constant subject is himself, this is shown in the way he speaks to Conrade (his companion) in act 1 scene 3 of the play: “I must be sad when I have cause and smile at no man’s jests, eat when I have stomach, and wait for no man’s leisure, sleep when I am drowsy and tend on no man’s business, laugh when I am merry and claw no man in his humour.” This gives the impression of boldness and lack of socialisation with people, allowing Don John to be seen as an outcast and weird to other characters in the play.
Moving on into act 1 scene 3, the darkness within the play begins to spread. Don John had been in a bad mood after losing the war and having to suck up to his brother (Don Pedro). Conrade and Borrachio are Don John’s companions, and assist Don John the bastard in his quest to destroy happiness and cause mischief in Messina. CONRADE-“What the Goodyear, my lord? Why are you thus out of measure sad” here, in one of the many rooms in Leonato’s house, Conrade and Don John are alone, and Conrade asks his master why he is so sad? Don John then replies by saying “There is no measure in the occasion that breeds, therefore the sadness is without limit.” What Don John tells Conrade is that there is no good reason for him to be sad, therefore his sadness has no limits. This gives the impression that Don John’s sad and dull character never leaves him, and that that’s his nature. As he fails to smile at any characters in the entire play. CONRADE-“Can you make no use of your discontent?” DON JOHN-“I make all use of it, for I use it only.”
Here, Don John makes it clear that he was ready to do anything to ruin other people’s happiness, in order to give him the slightest of content. Borrachio enters the scene, informing his master Don John of an intended marriage saying “I came yonder from a great supper. The prince your brother is royally entertained by Leonato, and I can give you intelligence of an intended marriage.” Don John retaliates with enthusiasm asking Borrachio “Will it serve for any model to build mischief on? What is he for a fool that betroths himself to unquietnes?” Don John asks his companion whether this incident will give him a chance to cause some trouble. Don John the bastard is exited because he knows he can cause problems with this intended marriage. DON JOHN-“Come, come, let us thither. This may prove food to my displeasure.” Here, Don John informs his companions (Borrachio and Conrade), that causing trouble and mischief makes him feel good and content, as it relieves his remorse and displeasure. Conrade and Borrachio plan to assist Don John in spoiling the joyous events that are to come in Messina. This proves that Don John has a cunning character and an evil role in the play.
Claudio (Don Pedro’s right hand man), confesses his love for Leonato’s daughter, hero. Soon after, Don Pedro agrees to bring Claudio and Hero together by wooing Hero, in disguise as Claudio. Jealous of Claudio, Don John informs Claudio that Don Pedro plans to win Hero for himself. Don John lies to Claudio in order to cause mischief and trouble. And to cause relationships between friends and lovers to collapse, as after all, Claudio was Don Pedro’s friend and Hero’s lover. Don John had the intention to spark hatred in Messina.
In Messina, family honour is essential. It is desirable that a woman remains a virgin until she is married. If she’s not, the entire family are shamed and to make future amends they might wreak terrible vengeance on both the woman and her lover. Knowing the long term effects of such a “crime”, Don John was yet prepared to conjure up a cunning plan in order to shame Leonato’s entire family through the innocent Hero. Don John pays Borrachio one thousand ducats to seduce Margaret (Lady Hero’s gentlewoman) outside Hero’s window.
Don John then calls upon his half brother Don Pedro and Claudio (who was due to be married to Hero the next day) to witness the affair and assume Margaret is Hero. This angered and outraged Don Pedro and Claudio, all due to Don John’s evil and cunning plan which went like clockwork. The devious Don John then persuades the indoctrinated Claudio into not marrying Hero in the next day. DON JOHN-“If you love her then, tomorrow wed her. But it would better fit your honour to change your mind.” Don John also uses the word “disloyal” (about Hero) in order to imply reluctance to Claudio’s intention of marrying her the next day. Don John was intending to demolish Claudio’s relationship with Hero and Leonato’s family’s social authority by shaming him and his daughter on the wedding day. As tension and corruption begins to occur/spread in Messina, Don John’s satisfaction begins to arise.
Only in the denunciation and dramatic scene of the play does Don John show his hand in public and speaks out socially (acts enthusiastic). He backs up the charges laid upon Hero at her blemished wedding and disarms her by first exaggerating her crimes and then pretending that he feels remorse towards her: DON JOHN-“There is no chastity enough in language, without offence to utter them, thus, pretty lady, I am sorry for thy much misgovernment.” Once she had fainted, he sweeps her other accusers (Don Pedro and Claudio) out of the scene before she has the chance to recover and respond. Only here, does Don John show initiative and resource. As he actively speaks and associates himself with other people, unlike in all other scenes of the play where he lacks socialisation and speech to his “rivals”. Don John had spoiled a marriage, and caused Don Pedro and Claudio to look down upon Leonato’s entire family, as shame was cast upon them due to the false accusations of Hero, all due to Don John’s devious and cunning plan which went as clockwork. This not only means that Don John is a figure of melodrama, but also that he represents the evil within a society.
In Shakespeare’s time, illegitimates (Bastards) were seen as outcasts and evil, they were also looked down upon. This would inevitably give Don John a similar role in the play to what illegitimates were classed as during the time. He is largely silent, but when speaks, the subject is often about himself. He relies on his companions Borrachio and Conrade who help him conjure up cunning plans which cause melodramatic events in the play, giving him a devious, vain, jealous and evil role in the play. Don John has a very unpleasant and cunning character, and spends his time plotting against Don Pedro and his friends, in order to demolish friendship and happiness between the characters in the play.