For my coursework I have to write an essay on ‘the significance of act 4 scene 1 in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’. In this essay I am going to write about how the plot of this act and scene which concerns the relationship between Claudio and Hero in act 4 scene 1, in contrast to the parallel plot of Beatrice and Benedick, has much in common with Shakespeare’s later plays. The church scene, and the slander of Hero can be seen as rather dark, even disturbing. The scene is highly eventful and adds to the significance of this scene. This essay is also going to contain the explanation of how the sub plots and main plots come together in this scene.
In act 4 scene 1, Shakespeare gives the audience a more complete insight into the main characters. He does this by using the main event of the wedding between hero and Claudio as a pivot to each main character. The different aspects of Leonato’s character are defiantly revealed. Leonato appears impatient when he tells Friar Francis to hurry up. Furthermore, when Claudio states ‘No1’ to the Friar’s question of whether he is to marry hero, Leonato places a different interpretation on the answer as he clearly wants a union between the two. However, when Claudio reveals that he has seen Hero lose her infidelity, stating to Leonato “Give not this rotten orange to your friend,2” Leonato does not try to defend his own daughter’s honour. Instead, when Hero faints, Leonato tells Beatrice “Death is the fairest cover for her shame.3” Shortly later Leonato then says “No man’s dagger here a point,5” implying that Leonato would perhaps rather kill his daughter or himself than suffer the shame of his daughter’s infidelity. The vital significance of this is that the audience discovers that Leonato is driven by social status and when asked to choose between his family and his social reputation, he takes the side of his reputation. This is also significant because it shows the social society in the 1600’s and the way men treat women in the 1600’s. Also this shows when a woman losses her honour by having sexual relations before marriage meant that she would lose all social standing, a disaster from which she could never recover.
Moreover, this loss of honour would poison the woman’s whole family. Consequently, when Leonato rashly believes Claudio’s shaming of Hero at the wedding ceremony, he tries to distance her entirely. Furthermore, he speaks of her loss of honour as a stubborn stain from which he cannot distance himself, no matter how hard he tries. He uses words such as “smirched” and “mired” to describe how Hero has become dirty and uses the metaphor of her having fallen “6into a pit of ink”. In contrast to this, in today’s modern society, virginity is a personal choice and in western societies it does someone’s ability to get married. Arranged marriages no longer exist in western societies and now people marry for love. In Elizabethan times marriage was primarily a commercial undertaking.
Claudio’s reaction loss of Hero “But fare the well, most foul, most fare, farewell5” also indicates the importance of social status and this is further reinforced later, when Beatrice plots to kill Claudio and revealed his frustration saying “O’ God that I were a man! I would get his heart in the market place.” Indeed, it becomes clear that an eighteenth century women could not carry out an act of assassination herself.
Shakespeare also chooses this scene to reinforce the comedy aspects of this play, ‘Much Ado About Nothing.’ The misinterpretation of Hero’s action the night before her wedding along with the plan to fake Hero’s death in an attempt to reveal the truth , would have been considered comical for that period. This comedy is helped by a sense of irony which also arises out of act four’s scene one. The friar realises that Hero is innocent when he says “By nothing of the lady… trust not my age… if this sweet lady lie not guiltless here.8” Yet as the audience knows, the friar is the only man in the play not to have been with a woman, which Is ironic to play being noted by the friar.
To conclude, the obvious significance of act 4 scene 1 is that the key twists in the storyline occur in this act. The audience is given a better understanding of the main characters in this act. This in turn helps the audience understand the main characters more and gives a deeper detail of how it is for men and women in the 1600’s, this is a detail of what the social status was like in the 1600’s. Also how women are treated in the 16th century. This scene is also very comical and ironic and that is significant in the development of the storyline also. Indeed, this scene could be referred to ‘ Much Ado About Noting’ because with exception of the Friar, none of the characters appear to be noting what is happening in the world around them.