At first sight, Much Ado About Nothing, a play written by Shakespeare, seems to be an ordinary tale about the life of high society with its intrigues, gossips, and love affairs. However, the writer would not have written this comedy unless he had wanted to disclose human vices and satirize the upper class’s passion for deceit and conspiracy. This paper will give a summary of the play and discuss the points that make this literary work outstanding and worth reading.
The setting of the book is an Italian city of Messina in the days of Shakespeare, which is the 16th-17th century. Don Pedro, Claudio, and Benedick return from war and stay at the house of Leonato, a governor of the city. Claudio falls in love with Leonato’s daughter, and Benedick has verbal skirmishes with Beatrice, the governor’s niece. Don John, a brother of Don Pedro, learns about Claudio’s feelings for Hero and decides to convince him that she is unfaithful. Meanwhile, Don Pedro wants to arrange a marriage between Benedick and Beatrice as he thinks they secretly love each other. Thus, there are two men, each with his companions, who plot to decide the fate of the couples.
After a while, Don John says to Claudio that Hero, his wife-to-be, has another man. He asks Margaret, Hero’s maid, to dress like her mistress and pretend to declare her love for someone. As Claudio sees it, he has no doubt it is accurate and rejects Hero the next day at their wedding. After this, Leonato is advised to fake his daughter’s death. In the meantime, Benedick overhears his friends’ conversation, during which they say that Beatrice loves him. Beatrice hears the same dialog between Ursula and Hero and learns that Benedick has affection for her. Both of them admit to themselves that they have feelings for each other.
However, the plot against Hero is uncovered after the Watch arrests Don John’s companions, who confess to lying about the girl’s infidelity. Claudio is desperate and agrees to marry a woman who is supposed to look like Hero and is the daughter of Leonato’s brother. On their wedding day, Claudio is surprised to see his beloved bride whom he considered dead. The play has a happy conclusion: Benedick asks Beatrice to marry her, and she agrees, and a messenger reports that Don John has been arrested.
Perhaps, the most remarkable characters of the book are Benedick and Beatrice. They behave as if they were proud and self-sufficient, but in fact, they are afraid of admitting their feelings not only to others but also to themselves. They exchange sarcastic remarks only to hide what they truly experience. Both of them seem to oppose marriage as it may be concluded from their conversations. While discussing Beatrice, Benedick says, “I would not marry her though she were endowed with all that Adam had left him before he transgressed.”1 Beatrice despises the whole idea of marrying as she considers men unworthy: “Would it not grieve a woman to be overmastered with a piece of valiant dust?”2 However, they change their views as soon as they realize that their feelings are mutual. It means that their arrogant behavior was just a defense protecting them from being hurt.
Another couple of characters, Claudio and Hero, are entirely different. They do not hide their feelings; on the contrary, they make others aware of their love and plan their wedding. However, they are not exceptionally positive characters, at least Claudio. Due to his gullibility and lack of critical thinking, their enemies managed to disrupt their nuptials.3 As for Hero, she is a pure woman whose reputation was unfairly soiled by some evil people. Luckily for her, the truth was revealed, and she redeemed her good name.
Two more personages worth mentioning are Don Pedro and Don John, brothers representing good and evil, respectively. In the play, they have one thing in common: both of them want to determine the fate of others. However, Don Pedro’s actions lead to an arranged marriage, while Don John’s conspiracy causes a wedding disruption. Don John is the only purely negative character in the play because he has evil intentions and incites his companions to realize his plan.
The play touches upon several themes, such as gender roles, deceit, and gossip. Shakespeare shows the social pressure placed on women to make them live according to the established pattern: be pure, obey a husband, and spend time at home4 In the play, Hero represents a person who conforms to this standard behavior, while Beatrice is an example of a woman who decides to beat gender stereotypes. However, society overcomes Beatrice’s persistent desire to be independent and urges her to agree to a marriage.
Deception is one of the central problems of the play because most events it are based on lies. For example, Claudio is deceived at least two times: when Don John convinces him that his bride is unfaithful and when Leonato tells him Hero is dead. Benedick and Beatrice happen to overhear conversations by deceit as well. In the play, Don John’s conspiracy is uncovered by accident because the Watch happens to hear his companions’ talk5 However, regardless of deception being white lies or malevolent trickery, there is always a chance that it will be exposed.
The theme of gossip is concealed in the headline of the comedy since, in Shakespeare’s times, the word nothing sounded like noting, which means rumors. Indeed, the characters of the book make a fuss about things that they do not know for sure but hear from sources that may be untrustworthy. They not only believe gossips but also create them by involving in such activities as eavesdropping and surveillance.
Despite all infamies and vides of high society, Shakespeare shows that they are capable of love. Benedick and Beatrice, incorrigible opponents of marriage, can no longer maintain their position after they become aware of their affection for each other. Hero and Claudio’s storyline is also dedicated to the theme of love. Finally, Don Pedro seems to be seeking a beloved wife, but he is not lucky at it. Thus, the play reveals that love is essential for anybody, and it can change a person’s attitude toward life.
To sum up, this Shakespeare’s comedy makes readers or a theatre audience think about the role of women in the society, especially the pressure exerted on them as to their proper behavior and relationships with men. Besides, the play shows that excessive gullibility and believing every single word without verifying it may lead to deplorable consequences. Eventually, the book allows readers to keep track of the storylines of two couples and see that love comes even for those who do not expect it.
Cartmell, Deborah, and Peter J. Smith, eds. Much Ado About Nothing: A Critical Reader. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2018.
Morini, Massimiliano. “‘Out on Thee, Seeming!’ Fashioning Plots in Much Ado About Nothing.” Prophecy and Conspiracy in Early Modern England (2017): 17-26.
Pifer, Stacy. “Fallen Angels, New Women, and Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing: Modern Stereotypes in the Elizabethan Era.” Monarch Review 3 (2016): 3-7.
Shakespeare, William. Much Ado about Nothing. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
- William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 25.
- Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing, 19.
- Massimiliano Morini, “‘Out on thee, seeming!’ Fashioning Plots in Much Ado About Nothing,” Prophecy and Conspiracy in Early Modern England (2017): 24.
- Stacy Pifer, “Fallen Angels, New Women, and Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing: Modern Stereotypes in the Elizabethan Era,” Monarch Review 3 (2016): 7.
- Deborah Cartmell and Peter J. Smith, eds., Much Ado About Nothing: A Critical Reader (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2018), 1.