Much Ado About Nothing is a play that focuses on the relationships between men and women. It is a Shakespearean comedy therefore the themes revolving around the play include struggle, love, deceit, mishaps and lies. In this play there are usually couples who end up enduring all the struggles and trickery and normally end up getting married at the end. The lovers in this play are Beatrice, Benedick, Hero, and Claudio. Shakespearean comedies normally involve a fool or someone silly and in this play there is a fool, Dogberry, even though he is a fool he is the most truthful character but unfortunately does not have the words to explain himself. The male characters in this play are very conscious about their respect and honour and how other people see them, this helps the play reflect Elizabethan values. On one hand you have Hero who is the ideal Elizabethan women; obedient, modest and quiet but on the other hand there is Beatrice, the complete opposite of what you would look for in an Elizabethan women, she is a challenging and up roaring character and is very against the stereotypes towards women at that time.
Claudio is Hero’s fianc; He is a well known and respected Count because of his performance during battle. “Doing in the figure of a lamb the feats of a lion.” This means that although Claudio is young and nave his performance was of an old, great, and courageous man. Even though Claudio’s encounter with Hero was brief, “I looked upon her with a soldier’s eye”, he has fallen in ‘love’ with her looks, manners, and virtue. Claudio refers to Hero as a rare ‘jewel’ to indicate that she is beautiful and her features are very hard to find in a woman. “Can the world buy such a jewel?” Claudio is foolishly in love and does not know what he is getting himself into. Although Claudio says this, Hero is relatively unknown to him. Claudio wants to be respected by his peers and if he married Hero his status would increase as Hero is Leonato’s only daughter so she inherits all of Leonato’s fortune.
Leonato is Hero’s father, he has raised her from birth as a father and mother figure, and Hero is very important to him. It almost seems that Hero is the foundation of Leonato’s respect and honour and if that foundation were to be cracked or tainted then Leonato’s respect and honour will be stained. Even though Leonato has raised her he knows very little about her and does not even trust her later on in the play. Leonato is a very strict father and expects Hero to obey him at all times. “Daughter remember what I told you: if the Prince do solicit you in that Kind you know your answer” Leonato is saying that if the prince asks for her hand in marriage her answer will be yes and shows the audience that the male figure in those times was more dominant than the female.
Don John is the illegitimate brother of Don Pedro; he is a Machiavellian villain and would do anything to cause people misery and distress. Don John is jealous of Don Pedro’s superiority and would do anything to lower his status in everyone’s eyes. As far as we know Don John is jealous of Claudio’s perfection. “Who, the most exquisite Claudio?” Don John is saying this because he notices that Claudio is the new favourite of Don Pedro. Other than that Don John has no ultimate enmity with Claudio. The reason that Don John picks Claudio and Hero to bring distress to is because Don Pedro has united them and so this gives Don John the opportunity to bring shame to Don Pedro. “Any bar, any cross… I am sick in displeasure to him” Don John is saying that he will do anything to cause discomfort to him. Borachio then comes up with a plan that will help Don John in making Don Pedro fail. They plot to make Hero look unfaithful so they can disgrace Don Pedro.
In Act 3 Scene 2 Don John goes to Don Pedro and Claudio and admits to his past villainy and bids them to listen to him as he has cleared his ways. Don tells Claudio that Hero is unfaithful, “I came hither to tell you…The lady is disloyal” When Don John says this Claudio is surprised and asks if Don John is talking about Hero. “Leonato’s Hero, your hero, everyman’s hero” When Don John answers to the question he makes it seem very obvious that she is a ‘strumpet’. Don John says that Claudio could still marry Hero tomorrow but it would be better for his honour if he changed his mind. “…then tomorrow wed her…better fit your honour to change your mind” Don John invites Claudio to see Hero for himself rather than standing there, he suggests that Claudio’s honour is at stake so Claudio has no choice but to investigate.
It was very easy to persuade Claudio to spy on Hero; firstly he listens to his elder peers before he makes a decision and secondly he was in the company of the prince so Claudio wanted to make a good impression in front of Don Pedro who also listened to Don John. In Elizabethan times if you were a man it would seem to you that females were the inferior sex to males and therefore capable of corruption and dishonour, perhaps this is why no one asked Hero directly.
After Claudio has been apart of Don John’s devious plan he plans to humiliate Hero. “If I see anything tonight, why I should not wed her… There I will shame her” Claudio has the whole night to name and shame Hero or even ask her about what he has seen. But the serious matter of male leads him to mock and insult Hero in front of the whole congregation on their wedding day. First of all Claudio is quite sly and asks Leonato indirect questions about Hero. “Give me this maid your daughter?” Claudio is very calm at this point but gradually builds up his anger and says much worse things. “She knows the heat of a luxurious bed” this means that Hero has been sleeping around with men. Another harsh metaphor he uses to describe Hero is “Give not this rotten orange to your friend” Claudio uses this metaphor to compare Hero to a rotten orange because once an orange has gone bad it infects the whole bowl and in this situation, if Hero is married to Claudio and has his children, his children will be infected as will Claudio with Hero’s impurity.
I think that Claudio was angry at Hero because she made him look like a fool in front of his best friends and the prince, also he was probably ashamed that the prince went to all that trouble to woo Hero for Claudio because he thought she was the most modest lady ever, but then turned out to be the complete opposite, but in Claudio’s defence he was probably scared of being seen as a cuckold in front everybody especially the Prince.
When Leonato hears of Hero’s unfaithfulness he totally breaks down. Instead of listening to his own daughter or even asking for an explanation, Leonato listens to Don Pedro. Leonato is the Governor of Messina, he has a good reputation and is well known, if his own daughter has done something to disgrace him then his people will think that if he cannot even look after his daughter he would be unfit to look after a whole city. So Leonato says some very insulting things to Her. “Death is the fairest cover for her shame” Leonato says that death is the best punishment for what she has done. Leonato is very distressed and uses an extended metaphor to describe what has happened to Hero “She has fallen into a pit of ink, that the wide sea hath too few drops to wipe clean again” He says that Hero’s purity is stained so badly that the widest sea has too few drops to wipe her clean again. This shows the whole audience that Leonato does not know Hero at all because if he thinks that Hero could do all of those things he is not a very good father, and of all the men he has the least respect for Hero.
In my point of view I think that Hero was treated very unfairly abut on the other hand, due to the circumstances and the fact that the play was set in Elizabethan times it was understandable that Leonato and Claudio insulted her. Don John was very clever in the way he used Persuasive techniques to turn Claudio and Leonato against Hero. Shakespeare wrote this play to teach his Elizabethan audience that their perspective about women may be wrong and that they should learn to trust the opposite sex.