Much Ado About Nothing

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By Funmi Adebakin 12w

English Coursework Essay on ‘Much Ado About Nothing’.

‘The Jokes which society tells are a significant index of that society’s concerns and anxieties’. (M. Mangan, A preface to Shakespeare’s comedies, 1996) If this is the case what can we learn from ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ about the ‘concerns and anxieties’ of the society in which Shakespeare was living?

        1Sir H Walpole once remarked that ‘a comedy should make us think’, Shakespeare exploits this function of comedy by utilizing jokes on the themes of cuckoldry, infidelity and honour to permit the audience to think about the ‘concerns and anxieties’ associated with these jokes within Shakespeare’s society and what can be learnt from these jokes told.

        The figure of the Cuckold in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, a husband of a woman who commits adultery, is a running joke throughout the play. In the play, the character Benedick, who carries a misogynistic view of women, is the main instigator of these jokes, he says that being a cuckold is what happens when you get married and you would have to ‘hang’ his ‘bugle in an invisible baldrick’ and he vows never to allow the plucking ‘off’ of ‘the bull’s horns and’ setting ‘them’ on his ‘forehead’, meaning he does not want to get married. Even though Benedick may be slightly bestial, it is clear there is a fear of getting married in Benedick’s opinions. As Michael Mangan2  comments in  ‘Huddling jest upon jest’, the jokes made in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ about husbands and cuckolds indicate to the audience ‘the underlying anxieties about gender roles’ and ‘about women’s possible sexual licence’ common in Shakespeare’s society. The cuckold theme was the subject of many ballads and pamphlets in the Elizabethan Era. An  Elizabethan Audience would have been familiar with cuckold jokes and would even probably know the place in London known as ‘Cuckold’s Haven’. However, they would also relate to the concerns of infidelity amongst women, especially the men and some would share these misogynistic views and fears of women. These fears were so strong as a result of the male honour and pride which most men had and also the accosted idea of being the natural heirs. A modern-day audience would be able of relate to the ideas of adultery, as often portrayed in Serial Dramas such as ‘Eastenders’ or ‘Coronation Street’, nevertheless, they would probably not have the same fears as the Elizabethans as more people cohabit rather than marry and are more aware to such problems as adultery and that husbands are involved adultery as much as women.

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        In most of Shakespeare’s comedies there is a  ‘shrew’, an outspoken, independent, strong, female stock character, in ‘The Taming of The Shrew’ this is Katerina and in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ there is Beatrice. The strong female character or ‘shrew’ is one of the comic conventions that feature in all of Shakespeare’s comedies and moreover it, is not unusual that there are jokes aimed towards the stereotype. In the play, the men refer Beatrice as ‘Lady Disdain!’ and that she has a ‘shrewd … tongue’ being ‘too curst’. It can be acknowledged that as the men make light of Beatrice’s ...

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