Love and romance are two major themes within ‘Much Ado About Nothing’. They are approached through different relationships that develop throughout the play. Shakespeare expresses how romance differs with different gradients of love. The two main relationships within the play are Beatrice and Benedick and Hero and Claudio, however other forms of love are raised throughout the play, as well as less intense relationships- like Margaret and Borachio’s.
During the sixteenth century there was much pressure on young individuals to marry- to marry was one of the key objectives in a citizens life. Love was seen in a very different light as to how we view it today, it was dramatic, instant. Claudio falls ‘in love’ with Hero before even talking to her, he bases his love completely on her appearance, and financial situation. In Claudio and Hero Shakespeare has presented a sixteenth century ideal of a couple. They marry for social betterment, because it is the correct path to follow, not because of true love. The couple follow societies expectation of what they should do. Hero is ‘wooed’ by Don Pedro- and then given to Claudio, Hero has been told how to answer the princes offer- with no decision of her own, as Beatrice implies. “it is my cousin’s duty to make curtsy and say, ‘Father, as it please you'”. Beatrice suggests in agreeing to Claudio’s offer Hero is fulfilling her duty, and not her own wish- she is not thinking for herself, rather following her fathers wishes, which are for himself, as well as public expectations. They play by societies rules- not relying on each other but instead other characters to instigate their love.
It is through Don Pedro and Leonarto that the relationship is allowed to proceed, it is very calculated, formal. Claudio loves Hero as a name. The word ‘hero’ connotes a saint like image, someone who is heroic, brave, almighty. Claudio loves Hero in these terms, using her name to depict her personality. Even when he first mentions Hero there is a lack of passion in his speech- although it is written in blank verse there is an artificial tone to his text. Claudio states…”I looked upon her with a soldier’s eye” a soldier is a character who is left alone for along time with no female company. For an unknown time Claudio has been surrounded with male companionship, perhaps he is ridden with sexual frustration. He has been at war- and so has had no time to consider marriage, now he is home he can settle. His language is not of someone who has found love, in the use of the word “eye” he describes how he loves Hero- with his eyes, and not his heart.
Beatrice and Benedick’s relationship contrasts completely to Hero and Claudio’s. Theirs of true love, and for personal gratification. Beatrice is a strong, independent female character, she refuses to marry because she claims there is no man for her. Beatrice declares, “He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man,” by saying this she is making it impossible for her to love any man- she rules out all possible men in a manner. However although her tone is Beatrice is obviously afraid of love. She does not give her heart easily- but when she does love she is loyal and true.
She stands by Hero throughout the play- never doubting her virginity. However Beatrice seems to be afraid of men, perhaps Shakespeare intended for Beatrice to have a problem with men due to her fatherless childhood. Or maybe Shakespeare is depicting the independent women of Renaissance society. She rebels against the unequal status of women in Renaissance society. “I cannot be a man wishing , therefore I will die a woman with grieving”. She does not want to be controlled by a man, not wishing to be suppressed in a relationship- not claiming what you want, but instead agreeing to the terms of a man. Benedick takes a similar out look on marriage, he bluntly refuses to marry- believing women to be deceivers. ” I will do myself the right to trust none; and the fine is, for the which I may go the finer, I will live a bachelor”.
Both Beatrice and Benedick talk passionately of their mutual hate of the opposite sex, however between them there is obvious passion. They keep up a “merry war” of wits, a competition to outwit, outsmart, and out-insult the other. However they are obviously both vulnerable characters, both scared of being publicly shamed, to let themselves be opened to the weaknesses of love. The couple defy society- breaking its rules, however the audience questions whether their love would surface without society setting them up. One questions if Shakespeare has created this set up solely for comic effect- or to express societies pressure on young individuals to marry. Other characters in the play set the couple up- marriage is the ideal, and it is presumed Beatrice and Benedick need to be set up, to be married is ultimately a better position socially. “I hope to see you one day fitted with a husband.” If married Beatrice would gain greater respect within society. Both relationships form out of the ideal of social grace.
However Beatrice and Benedict are more mature than the conventional relationship- and although it develops out of social pressure they are two stubborn characters, therefore without true love I believe they would not have accepted the situation. They are both selective with which characters they hold close, but when intimate with characters they are both true to their love. As I have mentioned previously Beatrice’s loyalty to Hero does not falter. There’s is a love well known and molded. Beatrice has deep faith in Hero- she does not base her opinions of what is seen, the ‘graphic evidence’ set up by Don John, but on her trust, and love for Hero. Beatrice is not easily deceived- even Leonarto doubts his own daughter, symbolising his love is not as true as Beatrice’s. Here Shakespeare shows different depths of love in ‘Much Ado About Nothing”- he juxtaposes different relationships each with individual gradients of love.
Claudio is also quick to judge Hero, and then take revenge. He publicly shames Hero- placing emphasis on the importance of public image. Although one can claim Claudio’s reasoning for humiliating Hero are fair, however to publicly humiliate someone is not the actions someone in love would take. When in love one drops their inner morals, accepting their loves wish over theirs. An example of this is when Benedick accepts Beatrice’s challenge to kill Claudio. Earlier in the play Claudio and Benedick are described to be close. “He is most in the company of the right noble Claudio”. His love for has been overridden with Beatrice’s wish, here we acknowledge that their love is true, and pure. Benedick trusts Beatrice’s judgement as well as loving her. Friendship has been defied in the face of true love, and it adds a great sense of trust and companionship to their relationship. Benedick accepts Beatrice without any consent from others…
“In brief, since I do propose to marry, I will think nothing to any purpose that the world can say against it”
Benedick exclaims that no one can say anything to deter him from marrying Beatrice. He would not have been fooled by Don John as Claudio was, as he has more trust in Beatrice. He does not need the reassurance of others as Claudio does when he first meets Hero… “Benedick, didst thou note the daughter of Signor Leonarto?”. Claudio needs to be told Hero is worthy- he does not have enough confidence in himself or Hero to make judgement on her. Whereas Claudio and Hero follow the expectations of their peers, Beatrice and Benedick throw them away, consequently their love is one of truth and simplicity, of contentment.
Shakespeare has created the characters of Benedick and Beatrice, whereas Hero and Claudio are taken from a stereotype of the perfect couple. Beatrice and Benedick are two free characters, who have rebelled against societies pressure to marry earlier- to enter into Claudio and Hero’s world. They use wit to carry out their relationship, playing of each others intelligence, and yet intimidated by it. Their relationship is not planned, calculated, it is free, unafraid of time. A modern ideal of romance is spontaneous, passionate, and dramatic, Benedick and Beatrice follow this modern ideal. However they did not follow 16th century ideals, and so a Renaissance audience would find the pattern their relationship follows more comical.
A modern audience could look down on the love between Claudio and Hero, their love is fickle, superficial, formed to improve their social status and ensure inheritance. However they have fulfilled the roles expected of them, they are playing the game set out for them, and are on the same level as each other. Love can be accepted in their relationship, but only within a contemporary society. Within contemporary society Claudio and Hero’s relationship would be respected, and people would look up to them, wishing to follow the path they have taken. They are the ideal couple. Hero is financially secure, Claudio has ensured this, asking Don Pedro. ” Hath Leonarto any son, my lord?” to which Don Pedro replies “No child but Hero ; she’s his only heir.”. It is acknowledged money is important in the relationship. I do not believe money is the sole reason for Claudio’s attraction towards Hero, however I do believe this is an important criteria within their relationship. Romance was also viewed in a different
We see no intimate moments between Claudio and Hero, romance is sparce. We do not even see them indulge in a private conversation. Shakespeare is suggesting the rituals of courtship, and expectations surrounding a relationship may detract from the fun of romance. Claudio and Hero speak in rather artificial blank verse- expressing the emptiness of their love. They state exactly what they mean, romanticize it, but do not speak directly to one another of their love. Instead they fantasies of their relationship with friends, before it is even relative. This makes their speech rather false, a dream of the ideal relationship. Perhaps here in ‘Much Ado About Nothing” Shakespeare is suggesting their relationship has not emerged out of love, but instead is based of image and dream, and so romance is absent. Romance appears a lot more within Beatrice and Benedick’s relationship. “I do love nothing in the world as so well as you”, here Benedick exclaims a typical romantic sentence, however he speaks it with sincerity. At no point in the play do Hero and Claudio indulge in this romance. Beatrice and Benedick also appear to be preoccupied with each other a lot. When Benedick is invited to praise Hero from Claudio, he talks instead of the beauty if Beatrice, and when Beatrice criticizes Don John, she cannot help compare him with Benedick. They write love poems to each other, Benedick shaves his beard of- after hearing Beatrice does not like beards, they are more intimate then Hero and Claudio.
Hero and Claudio love each other in a dream. They play in separate spheres, neither have insight into each others character. The name Hero signifies devotion to love- as the legendary Hero, a priestess of Venus. Claudio falls in love with an image, when someone corrupts this image the love vanishes with Claudio’s respect. The relationship is destroyed with the corruption of Hero’s image, had Claudio been in love with Hero’s sole and character this may not have happened, he would have known the real Hero, and so mistrusted even what he saw. Claudio is to preoccupied with his own image to see the trap he has walked into.
He publicly shames Hero to redeem his own image- so that he can prove he has not been humiliated by Hero. Only once Hero’s name is cleared will Claudio revert back to loving her. “Sweet Hero, now thy image doth appear ; In the rare semblance that I loved it first” the word “image” emphasises the superficiality of the relationship. By using the word “Hero” it also enhances the audiences understanding that his love is based on an image. Even when he first hears of her death he does not grieve her- not until her name is cleared, when suddenly he regains his love for her. Their love is superficial, and yet it would have been accepted within sixteenth century Britain.
In conclusion I believe Shakespeare is trying to suggest that with societies pressure to marry, it is making the act false- and superficial. Beatrice and Benedick- who wait for love, will marry happily, one can imagine their relationship to be one that works- mutual love will carry them through. One can imagine Hero and Claudio’s relationship to be less successful, Claudio does not have a realistic outlook on their relationship. He suggests the Don Pedro that he will accompany him to Arragon after his marriage. “I’ll bring you thither, my lord,” Don Pedro- who is more mature refuses his offer. “Nay, that would be as great soil in a new gloss of your marriage”. Don Pedro sees that it would be neglecting the marriage- but the statement suggests Claudio does not see marriage as a commitment, he does not see that he should alter his lifestyle. He and Hero seem to be marrying because it is the correct thing to do, and romance, and true love are not involved in this.