What Could Shakespeare Be Saying About Honour and The Difference Between Male And Female Honour?

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Victoria Holland 11BM

Much Ado About Nothing

What Could Shakespeare Be Saying About Honour and

 The Difference Between Male And Female Honour?

        Much Ado About Nothing is exactly that.  It is a lot of dishonour and angst over something which never happened.  So what did Shakespeare think about the gullibility and prejudices of the men and women of his time?

        All of the characters in the play are either honourable people unwittingly doing dishonourable things or dishonourable people deliberately doing honourable things, for example Don John:

“Lady Hero hath been falsely accus'd, the Prince and Claudio mightily abus'd, and Don John is the author of all, who is fled and gone.” (

I think this play is typical of William Shakespeare's writing because he is challenging the opinions and social prejudices of the time he lived in.  


        Another strong example of Shakespeare's free-thinking and non-stereotypical characters is 'The Taming Of The Shrew' where the heroine of the story is at first a strong-willed and outspoken young woman, similar to Beatrice, who through out the course of the play is beaten, starved and mentally abused until her husband Petruchio is satisfied that he has 'tamed' his wife's unladylike ways.  As at the time this would not have been an uncommon occurrence then perhaps this play was a personal attack on events which Shakespeare may have been forced to play witness to at some point.  However, having said that it was not a rare occurrence, it still shocked and concerned a lot of it's early audiences when it was first played out.  


        I think The Taming Of The Shrew was also very strongly focused on the idea of honour, however the events it involved were far more sinister than that of Much Ado About Nothing even though they are both considered comedies.  Petruchio's actions towards his shrewish wife Kate are not spawned from his want of a happy marriage, but from his desperately proud and egotistic personality.  Those personal flaws are what makes him so neurotic about Kate's behaviour as any actions on her part which are perceived to be in any way masculine impedes upon his own masculinity and therefore his male honour.  This demonstrates the fact that in the sixteenth century, most married men were more concerned about what their peers thought of them than their own wives' well-being.

        Returning to Much Ado About Nothing, the ideas of male, female and even familial honour play a prominent role in the story.  However, whenever someone is dishonoured in the play, it is almost always a woman who gets blamed for it.  The only exception to this rule is when Don John's deceit is discovered, however even then, Leonato still blames Margaret even though she was probably tricked into doing it,

FRIAR: Did I not tell you she was innocent?  LEONATO: So are the Prince and Claudio who accus'd her, Upon the error that you heard debated; But Margaret was in some fault for this,” (

Even when everyone knows that Hero is innocent and that it was all a trick played by Don John, they still do nothing about it until after Hero and Claudio, Beatrice and Benedick are married before they do anything about it which allows John time to run from the town.

         In the beginning of the play,  Don Pedro, Claudio and Benedick have just returned from fighting a war against Don John and his comrades Borachio and Conrade.  Despite this fact when they arrive in Messina, they are all together as one party and Don Pedro has seemingly forgiven his brother for whatever sparked the war.  Everyone is courteous and polite to him, making no comment about it and even:

LEONATO: Let me bid you welcome, my Lord, being reconciled to the Prince your brother:I owe you all duty.” (

 This demonstrates how a felony or betrayal by a man is so easily forgotten, and has no effect on his honour or on his future reputation.  This is almost disturbingly different to how people would have reacted if he had been a woman.  They would most likely have been spitting on him in the streets and his family, rather than taking him with them wherever they went, and would have denied all associations with him.   In fact, a wonderful example of Shakespearian biases is Leonato's proclamation of

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“Do not live Hero, do not ope' thine eyes; For did I think thou wouldst not quickly die, Thought I thy spirits were stronger than thy shames, Myself would on the rearward of reproaches, Strike at thy life.” (

This shows the attitudes during the sixteenth century which seem kind of skewed compared to our perceptions nowadays.  Leonato is basically saying that he would rather his daughter was dead than have to live with the fact that his daughter is not a virgin.  This is very different to how fathers react now, because now most young Western women ...

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