To answer the question it is necessary to explain and explore the different elements of tragedy and romantic comedy in the Shakespeare play “Much Ado About Nothing”.
Traditional conventions of an Elizabethan comedy include a rural or pastoral setting, which adds to the idyllic environment. Moreover this is a main aspect for a romantic comedy as it automatically gives the impression for a happy and blissful storyline. Moreover the play is set in Messina, Italy, that adds to the love theme. Many of Shakespeare’s plays are set in Italy, for example Romeo and Juliet. . In Messina everything is perfect, tranquil and serene so with all this perfection it is perceived that nothing can ever go wrong, including relationships. In addition there is usually a pair of lovers, male and female, who are pestered by the malcontent. Furthermore there is always a happy ending in traditional Elizabethan romantic comedies. However different aspects of tragedy threaten this for instance Claudio’s excessive behaviour and the malcontent in the play, Don John.
The two main characters that add comic elements to the play are Dogberry and Verges. One reason for their inclusion is to break up the tragic scenes and reconfirm the comic aspects of the play. During the play Dogberry tries to be formal and courtly but usually fails, as he doesn’t use his words in the right context.
“True, and they are to meddle with none but the prince’s subjects…is most tolerable and not to be endured”
Here Dogberry uses a malapropism. He says “tolerable” when it is obvious that he means intolerable. The Elizabethan audience would find this very funny. In common with the other characters of low social status, Dogberry speaks in prose, which indicates to the audience his lack of intelligence and status. It is clear from early on in the play that Claudio’s excessive behaviour will lead to his fatal flaw.
“This is an accident of hourly proof. Which I mistrusted not: farewell therefore Hero”
Claudio says this near the middle of the play, which indicates to the audience of how impatient he is and how he can jump to conclusions. At this time the play runs parallel to later on in the play when Claudio hears rumours about Hero and automatically jumps to conclusions. This time he is not punished for his false accusations but is later on in the play by Leonato. Leonato’s punishment is vital to the play being a romantic comedy as if the punishment was harsher it could easily have led to a tragedy.
In the beginning of the play elements of tragedy begin to creep in and the audience begin to become suspicious of Don John. During a conversation with Leonato Don John says, “I am not of many words”. This suggests that he wishes to keep a low profile and get on with his sly and scheming deeds in the shadows of the other characters. Don John wisely does not want to reveal too much about himself. The viewers of the play will pick up on this.
When Claudio goes to marry Hero he lets out all his feelings and aggression. He calls her such things as a “rotten orange”. This particular quotation shows how Claudio is describing her Hero as attractive and appealing on the outside but mouldy and decaying on the inside. Moreover he is suggesting she is corrupt and sexually depraved. The depth and description of the language he uses shows his hatred and despair that he is feeling at that present time. Although this is a horrible thing to say the audience are once again clarified of Claudio’s status due to his use of language. In most of Shakespeare’s plays the characters use of language is a clear indication of their role and position in the play.
Beatrice and Benedick add other certain elements of comedy. It is apparent that they are both high status characters in the play due to their use of language. The audience is also indicated early on in the play of Benedick and Beatrice’s feelings for each other.
“I am loved of all ladies, only you excepted…for truly I love none”
Here Benedick is talking to Beatrice and perhaps trying to drop a hint by saying he is not interested in love. Benedick is clearly lying as at the masked ball he is evidently insulted by Beatrice calling him the “prince’s jester”. Beatrice is evidently joking with him but Benedick takes it all very seriously which shows the audience of his feelings for her.
The only time that Beatrice’s affection for Benedick becomes clear is when Hero and Ursula have a conversation about Beatrice’s love for Benedick. After overhearing their discussion, Beatrice resolves to return Benedick’s love.
“Taming my wild heart to thy loving hand: if thou dost love, my kindness shall incite thee”
Here Beatrice finally gives in to the fact that she loves Benedick and lets all her passionate feelings for him out.
After the failure of the wedding Beatrice and Benedick meet up and discuss their love and other current affairs. Beatrice asks Benedick to “kill Claudio”. This particular quote is the language of tragedy that gradually begins to creep back into the play during and after the wedding. Benedick fortunately refuses and then Beatrice tries to blackmail him by saying
“I am gone, though I am here, there is no love in you, nay, I pray you let me go”
Beatrice is telling Benedick that if he loves her he would do as she says to prove his love for her. When she says, “I am gone, though I am here” she means that she is physically there but her love for Benedick has gone.
Overall I would ultimately categorize this play as a romantic comedy although it is severely threatened by certain elements of tragedy. If certain events had of happened such as Benedick duelling with Claudio and if Dogberry and Verges hadn’t been included in the play it would be a tragedy. As a result of the happy and joyful ending, most of the characters have matured in the ways they act towards each other. Claudio has learned to trust people and not jump to conclusions and Leonato has learned to love and have faith in his daughter. Also Benedick and Beatrice have learned to love each other and live in peace and harmony. The very end of the play is ironic as the characters throw a ball and have a dance in a happy and jubilant mood. This almost always happens in romantic comedies, especially Shakespeare’s plays.