Khazrul Kamaludin 12Q
Much Ado about Nothing
Explore the themes of deception in “Much Ado About Nothing”. How are these themes developed and presented.
The plot of Much Ado About Nothing is based on the deliberate and intentional use of deceptions. Although some are malevolent, this play shows and tries to emphasize that deceit is not naturally bad or evil, but can sometimes be used as a means to good or bad ends. The duping of Claudio and Don Pedro is no doubt one of the malevolent deceptions in the play while in a more light-hearted vein, Beatrice and Benedick are fooled into thinking that they love each other and actually do fall in love as a result. This type of deception is described as benevolent as its intention is merely for good, fun and comical purposes.
The play mainly follows the love lives of Claudio, Hero, Benedick and Beatrice. Nevertheless, Benedick and Beatrice’s relationship is seen as a sub-plot and the other characters’ aim is to build up their relationship. The use of deception cannot be successfully completed unless there were to be that one particular evil character whose intentions are bad enough that it creates tension. William Shakespeare realises this and therefore creates Don John as the character whom everybody loves to hate. From his name in the play, Don John, The Bastard, Shakespeare makes clear use of the pun to emphasize and distinguish the meaning behind the word ‘bastard’. There is, of course, the literal meaning behind, which is because he has no father and there is also another meaning behind it to suggest that he is a troublemaker. Another thing is that Shakespeare also makes it clear that he is an outsider and also uses animal imagery surrounding nature to describe the character.
In the play, it is sometimes difficult to differ and distinguish between good and bad deception. When Claudio announces his desire to woo Hero, the Prince woos her for Claudio at the masked ball. However, Claudio then begins to mistrust the Prince, thinking he has been deceived. Additionally, Don John told Claudio that the Prince is wooing Hero for himself. This deception causes Claudio to become enraged and jealous. However, all ended well when Claudio found out that Don Pedro actually is wooing Hero for Claudio. At the same time, Benedick and Beatrice flirt caustically at the masked ball, each possibly aware of the other’s presence, and yet pretending not to know the person hiding behind the mask. This can be seen as a very minor piece of deception that Shakespeare uses in an attempt to create humour and light relief.
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Benedick and Beatrice’s deception plot is more comical and humorous while Claudio and Don Pedro’s is much more serious. The main plot in the play is that of Don John and Borachio’s deception plot. However, Shakespeare makes the readers engage so much in Benedick and Beatrice that they are likely to forget that their storyline is not the main plot. Additionally, notice how Shakespeare creates light relief by describing the ‘merry war’ between Benedick and Beatrice and the use of dramatic irony. Both of the characters lack self-knowledge, they pride themselves on being quick witted and yet they are the objects of being duped. It is only when this has occurred that they see themselves as how others see them.
As well as describing scenes of light relief, Shakespeare also creates particular characters to emphasize the comical side of the play, two of them known as Dogberry and Verges. These characters aspire to the higher ranks of society and they try really hard to speak as though they are amongst the upper classes, “Marry, sir, I would have some confidence with you, that discerns you nearly”. Notice the term ‘confidence’ used in the sentence, which is actually intended to mean the word, ‘conference’. Dogberry tries to use long and complex words to sound professional but not actually noticing that he is not using correct vocabulary. This clearly represents the character’s ignorance and foolishness. However, they did manage to solve and uncover the cunning deception plot of Don John and Borachio, despite their stupidity.
Claudio and Hero, according to Shakespeare, are two people who are ‘love-blind’. Both of these characters fall in love only through their eyes. They both have absolutely no idea whatsoever of each other’s personal characteristics. It can be seen that Claudio is quick to fall in love through his eyes and therefore also fall out of love through his eyes. We can clearly notice this at the very beginning of the play, “Can the world buy such a jewel?” We can see that an imagery of a jewel is being used to emphasize beauty, but only from the outside. This is in contrast with Claudio’s perception of love; he is admiring things he can only see. Nevertheless, observe what Claudio says about Hero later on in the play, “But you are more intemperate in your blood than Venus or those pamper’d animals that rage in savage sensuality.” This insult was a result of Don John’s mischievous plan, tricking Claudio into thinking that Hero has slept with another man, which again proves the so-called ‘blindness’ of Claudio. The root of Don John’s evil scheme lies in the mistaking of identities by the principle players in the plot. He instructed Borachio to show affection towards one another in plain view at Hero’s window and call Margaret by the name of Hero. This malevolent act of deception provoked anger and destroyed the original relationship. Claudio falls out of love through his eyes quickly, even without finding the actual; truth.
When Claudio has shamed and rejected Hero, Friar Francis, Leonato and his household ‘published’ a plan to ensure the honour of Hero’s name. Everyone in Messina will believe Hero to be dead because of the slander she endured at her wedding; her name and her blessed life will be remembered well. Although different people are not confused in this scenario, one person’s life is mistaken for death. When Antonio and Leonato confront Claudio and Don Pedro for the death of Hero, the two young soldiers again hold firm to their belief that they had witnessed Hero with another man that night, “My heart is sorry for your daughter’s death; but on my honour she was charg’d with nothing but what was true and very full of proof.” The mistaken identity of Hero has not changed over time because they return to the fact that that they witnessed the disloyalty with their own eyes. They believe that their sight would not fail them to identify the true culprits. This again explains the visual deception of Claudio.
Leonato then tells Claudio that he will be forgiven if he marries his niece, Antonio’s daughter, who is supposedly a carbon copy of Hero. Claudio promises to do so in the morning. Hero’s identity, once again, will be mistaken for a false identical cousin. Seemingly, another benevolent deception act at hand; Claudio, in believing that Hero is dead and that this niece of Antonio’s is truly Hero. When Claudio returns, penitent, to accept the hand of Leonato’s ‘niece’, a group of masked women enters and Claudio must wed blindly. The masking of Hero and the other women reveals that the social institution of marriage at that time has little to do with love. When Claudio flounders and asks, “Which is the lady I must seize upon?” It seems that he is ready and willing to commit the rest of his life to one of a group of unknowns. His willingness comes not only because he is guilty of slandering an innocent woman, but also because he may care more about rising in Leonato’s favour than in marrying for love. In the end, deceit is neither purely positive nor purely negative, it is a means to an end; a way to create an illusion that helps one succeed socially.
The language and imagery used by Shakespeare to capture the audience’s interest is constructed well. He uses diction to convey humour and malepropemism, comic irony to present and emphasize the tricking of Benedick and Beatrice. He expresses his own look and interpretation of the language, the denouncement of Benedick and Beatrice and the way he creates comic conventions. The overall structure of Much Ado About Nothing is made up mainly of prose. This contrast with the blank verse that fills many of Shakespeare’s other plays. Unlike the modern speech that we are used to, Shakespeare’s prose is rich and full of imagery,
“The pleasant’st angling is to see the fish but with her golden oars the silver stream, and greedily devour the treacherous bait.”
Shakespeare uses the words ‘fish’ and ‘bait’ to signify and show that Benedick and Beatrice are seen as ‘fishes to be caught’. He partly writes in blank verse in order to create light relief and a more comical side to his play. Additionally, by creating this, we as the readers, can clearly see and take more note and attention on the deception plot of Benedick and Beatrice’s because of they way benevolent deception is used. The play is a comedy and the way the language and imagery is constructed is very important in conveying the themes of deception, especially the benevolent ones in the play. Shakespeare’s use of animal imagery to represent Don John is well done. One of the main reasons to this is so that we get the idea that he is an outsider and possibly a dangerous character.
In shakespeare’s plays, a comedy can be defined as a play that ends with multiple marriages and in which no one dies, although it would be a mistake to assume that death is not present in comedy. Usually, comedies are more accepting of death than tragedies, treating it as part of the natural cycle. This comedy is no exception, and death is more present in Much Ado About Nothing than in any of the other comedies when Hero pretends to dies of humiliation. The main events that lies at the centre of Much Ado About Nothing seems to trouble many readers and, since the play creates a very strong sense of anger, betrayal, hatred, grief, and despair among the main characters. Although the happenings are over quickly, Much Ado About Nothing can sometimes be seen as becoming a tragedy play. The plays plot shares significant elements with Romeo and Juliet. In this sense it is most like Shakespeare's late play The Winter's Tale, which is mostly assigned to a different genre, that of problem comedy or Romance. Like Hermione in The Winter's Tale, Hero stages a false death only to come back to life at the end once her beloved has repented.
We were shown a video of Much Ado About Nothing, which was produced by Kenneth Branagh and also with himself starring in it as the character Benedick. From the video, I realised that many of the scenes in the actual play were deleted and edited. To me, this is quite disappointing as it is sometimes difficult to follow using the book. Furthermore, if we were to act a scene out from the play, it would be excellent to actually observe how the actors such as Kenneth Branagh himself carry out the acting. The overall representation of the play in the video is absolutely superb and this includes the presentation of the characters, plot and expression of the comedy. I especially love the way Michael Keaton convey his role in playing the character Dogberry. He really emphasizes this particular role through the manner in which he speaks and also through his appearance, meaning the way he dresses.
I particularly enjoyed Much Ado about Nothing because of the ways in which William Shakespeare creates the characters and how he perceives them. The representation of the characters by Shakespeare is tremendous and how he creates them to convey and express the themes of deception is absolutely phenomenal. Although some readers would prefer to classify Don John as the evil villain in the play, I would mostly prefer to see him as the distinct character that provides the main and interesting events in the play. I believe that without him, the play would have been mad merely a dull and loosely constructed deception of Benedick and Beatrice. Another aspect about the play that most interests me is the ways and style in which Shakespeare puts in the different types of deception plots. The manner in which every type of deception plot is placed seems to have that particular effect on the readers and it makes them enjoy it more and be able to ‘connect’ with the characters. There is also no doubt that the imagery and language has helped in expressing and conveying the themes of deception. Shakespeare’s associations with different kinds of imagery to the different characters are truthfully creative and extraordinary. I also particularly enjoyed how Shakespeare creates a comical deception plot that runs alongside a serious one because it creates a sense of relaxation and relief for the readers. I believe it is a technique cleverly used to lure readers away from the serious events to avoid boredom and instead, creating a sense of relief and relaxation.