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What do we learn about the Society of Messina in "Much ado about Nothing"?

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GCSE English Literature Coursework: "Much ado about Nothing" What do we learn about the Society of Messina in "Much ado about Nothing"? Shakespeare's romantic comedy Much ado about Nothing is set in the seaport town of Messina, in Sicily. The play tells the story of Claudio, a knight of Aragon, Hero whom he falls in love with, her sharp cousin Beatrice and her male counterpart Benedick. The comedy of Much ado about Nothing derives from the characters themselves and the etiquette of the highly mannered society in which they live. The social order of Messina is governed by respectability, convention, fashion and tradition. Artificial gender roles, eavesdropping and fashion are the matter of which Messinan society is constituted, however frivolity, light-heartedness, flirtation and heroism are all also present giving Messina an altogether rather complex and multifaceted culture, and were it not for the deceit, lies and Denigrations of Don Jon, the antagonist of the play, and bastard brother of the regal Don Pedro, then the play would nothing but be a comedy, the plot itself being carried by a series of misunderstandings or 'notings'. ...read more.


When Antonio says - "Well, niece, I trust you will be ruled by your father" - in regards to gender roles and relationships in the 16th Century we are reminded that women were the recessive of the two genders and were controlled by the leading male figures in their lives. Either their fathers of their husbands. Save Beatrice who is the main exception to these social conducts, everybody conforms in the play to these mannerisms, thus exemplifying the fact that a person's appearance and fa�ade in Messina were of great importance. This changed however when the two sexes were segregated for the gulling of Beatrice and Benedick. In particular Hero becomes a far more dominating character within an all-female environment and her previous image is shown to be an act. To a lesser extent also Don Pedro and Claudio converse much more freely and unreservedly when they are alone in contrast to when they are in public view. It is only when alone that Claudio professes his love for Hero. The register of characters when they talk to one another varies greatly from the two ends of the spectrum from the overly formal and cordial in Leonato's case - almost to an artificial extent - to the common and coarse amongst characters more familiar with one another. ...read more.


It is this kind of duel that Beatrice persuades Benedick into avenging Hero's honour by fighting Benedick to the death, since as a woman Hero cannot do it for herself; but as a man Benedick is in a position to do so. This motif of female helplessness and submissiveness to the will of men is evident throughout the course of the play, and further suggests that Messinan society is one of patriarchal values and ideals, much similar to those already present in Elizabethan England. Shakespeare conveys the society of Messina as one where its characters belong to and are part of a highly stylised, highly conventional world, in which the mundane parts and requirements of everyday life weaken into the backdrop. Shakespeare's characters are self-confident, happy, warm-hearted and affectionate, but their naivet� leaves them vulnerable to deception. His society is insecure and so concerned with outward appearances that the people are easily deceived and fail to comprehend the truth, yet at the same time however Shakespeare manages to maintain a certain level of familiarity amidst the focal characters of the play, and keeps the atmosphere relatively light-hearted, providing an adequate establishment for the comedy aspect of the play, with the rhythm of the Messinans' lives set by the seasons and the timeless patterns of birth, Marriage and death. ...read more.

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