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Claudio-'a man of honour betrayed'?

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Introduction

In order to understand the presentation of Claudio, it is necessary to consider him as 'a man of honour betrayed.' In Shakespeare's 'Much Ado About Nothing' honour is very important to all the gentil characters. To know Claudio's character and his cruel treatment of Hero, it is important to understand the honour code. Specific to aristocracy, honour meant reputation, status and respect. A man's honour was earned through conduct in battle and the virtue of a wife and daughter. Contemporary audiences would not approve of Claudio's manner towards Hero, whereas Renaissance audiences would understand Claudio's behaviour towards Hero. This is because honour was regarded very highly in their social class, which would suggest why audiences would see Claudio as 'a man of honour betrayed'. Throughout the play, even when the truth of Hero's chastity comes out, Claudio is a respected character who is not disliked by other characters, such as Benedick and Don Pedro. Audiences in the renaissance periods believed honour was everything. Claudio's 'dishonouring' would not only act as a threat to his reputation, but also undermine the social structure, as honour was an important tool of social cohesion. The Renaissance era believed that honour was synonymous with order. It is important to emphasize this concept to understand that Claudio is 'a man of honour betrayed'. Nevertheless Shakespeare recognizes the importance of honour throughout the play. However,he also sees that the code as flawed, meaning men can defend their honour using weapons in the battlefield and in duel, yet a man can shame a woman, as Claudio does Hero, and she cannot defend herself. ...read more.

Middle

Furthermore, this loss of honour would destroy the woman's whole family. Hence, when Leonato believes Claudio's shaming of Hero at the wedding ceremony, he tries to obliterate her entirely: "Hence from her, let her die". Moreover, he speaks of her loss of honour as an unforgettable stain from which he cannot distance himself, no matter how hard he tries: "O she is fallen / Into a pit of ink, that the wide sea / Hath drops too few to wash her clean again". Leonato is prepared to align himself with Claudio rather then his own daughter. The illusory betrayal of Claudio's 'honour' becomes Leonato's dishonouring as she has 'smeared the family name'. Honour was a frequent theme in some of Shakespeare's plays and was also common in that period, for example in Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar, Brutus says "Believe me for mine honour, and have respect to mine honour that you may believe". Mowbray states in Richard 11 "Mine honour is my life; both grow in one/Take honour from me, and my life is done". This shows the importance of honour in that period. Claudio speaks of Hero as an 'object' by referring to her as a "jewel". Claudio's tendencies to see Hero as an object was because he had no intimacy with her and perceived her as a commodity. His language portrays the differences between his and Benedick's love. The way Claudio speaks of his love shows the audiences that Claudio is not very romantic, which could affect how audiences would think of him. ...read more.

Conclusion

Benedick has similar values, believing that if he gets married he would be cuckolded; "I will live a bachelor". There are endless Elizabethan jokes about cuckoldry, which reveal a general fear of infidelity that was perceived as dishonour. It was believed that the honour code was important and that soldiers such as Claudio were supposed to behave with chivalry. Audiences might have found it hard to sympathize with Claudio even in the Renaissance period because he was not behaving in a truly chivalrous manner. His behaviour could be seen as unacceptable and immoral as he treats Hero in a shameful way. However, Claudio's behaviour can be seen as acceptable once audiences understand the honour. Claudio's honour was so important to him, but when Hero allegedly cheated on him, he believed that it was only right to shame her. Claudio could have been seen as a victim of gossip within the play as he was lied to and manipulated by Don John to fulfill his plan. However despite this, Claudio changed his mind about Hero and instantly believed that she had done wrong. In conclusion, it could be argued that Claudio was not at fault. He was just mirroring the values of renaissance society. It is important to understand how social status and honour worked in the renaissance period to understand Claudio's cruelty. He was a 'man of honour betrayed' and to understand what he did to Hero, audiences would have to consider that he thought that he had been betrayed. Nevertheless, it would be hard for any audience to sympathize with Claudio, as he did not behave with chivalry. However, Claudio realized his mistake and was willing to marry Hero's cousin. ...read more.

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3 star(s)

This essay makes valid points about historical and social attitudes to honour in relation to the 'problem' of Claudio's character, but it does tend to generalise too much. It would benefit from a tighter structure, as the content is somewhat repetitive.
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Marked by teacher Val Shore 27/03/2012

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