What do you find interesting about Shakespeare's presentation of deception in 'Much Ado About Nothing'?

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Q. What do you find interesting about Shakespeare’s presentation of deception in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’?

Shakespeare uses a wide range of effective devices in his presentation of deception through the course of “Much Ado About Nothing”. These include strong elements of plot construction and characterisation, as well as effective imagery through various sound and visual techniques.

The plot of “Much Ado About Nothing” is an intricate network of scandalous schemes and friendly trickeries. Deception is a rampant theme in the play – each of the major characters is involved in at least one deception – and Shakespeare uses this theme to advance character development through the play, as well as provide comic distraction from the more serious tone present towards the dénouement. Within the matrix of deception ploys in the play, there is also an underlying theme of self-deception, involving some of the most significant characters. Furthermore, all through the play, there is a subtle undercurrent of error. People are often misled by appearances; they make mistakes about others and themselves and can be quite wrong in their judgements of situations. Such failures in understanding are used by Shakespeare to consolidate the setting for plotting and trickery. Also, this theme of misconception is cunningly mirrored by the title of the play: in the context of the play, ‘nothing’ can be considered ambiguous in its parallel representation of the word ‘noting’ i.e. to take note. Therefore the title relates strongly to the exaggerations of repetitive occurrences of misnotings on which the plot of the play hinges. In order to examine Shakespeare’s range of presentation and compare the major deceptions effectively it is important to dissect the linear plot progression and assemble the deceptions in accordance with the motivation of their implementers.

There are two major friendly deceptions and the first of these, introduced in Act I Scene I, involves Don Pedro, Claudio and Hero. Claudio professes his love for Hero – ‘in mine eye she is the sweetest lady…’ – and Don Pedro decides to woo her for him. This deception plays a major part in introducing the theme of the play. The unexpected eagerness of Don Pedro, the highly respected Prince of Arragon, to participate in this scheme instantly presents deception as tolerable and fabricates an expectancy of further deceptive schemes; it also infers a characteristic attribute of management and organisation of other people’s lives, and an authority to intervene in these lives while maintaining a degree of emotional detachment. Interestingly, Shakespeare presents a situation where it is morally acceptable to manipulate characters’ feelings and choice in lovers, suggesting further deceptions of a darker nature. There is an attempt to justify this by presenting love as an affliction that needs to be ‘remed[ied]’ when Don Pedro decides to assist Claudio in the quotation, ‘Tis once, thou lovest, and I will fit thee with the remedy.’ 

Significantly, the other well-motivated plot is also master-planned by Don Pedro, and involves the deception of a wider cast of characters – most importantly, Benedick and Beatrice. In addition, the manipulation of characters’ emotions, evident in the aforementioned Claudio-Hero ploy is again present, suggesting a utilization of the deception theme as a stimulus for moral examination and awareness from the audience. Don Pedro once again attempts to bring together two characters – this time Benedick and Beatrice, in what is described as ‘one of Hercules’ labours’ – into a ‘mountain of affection’ through a means of deception, in order to flaunt his authority and skill at management.

This deception scheme can be seen as an exaggerated reflection of the previous deception in the fact that it is larger and longer-running. This enlarged image amplifies and clarifies the virtues and flaws of some the play’s major characters. For example, there is a strong balance and symmetry within the plot, reinforcing Don Pedro’s skill of organisation, but a hint of arrogance is also insinuated in his assertion of self-importance and independence, ‘If we can do this…[Cupid’s] glory shall be ours…’

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Shakespeare’s structural development of the deception is also important in analysing its effectiveness in engaging the audience. Preceding the implementation of the plot, Benedick conveys his thoughts on Claudio’s engagement to the audience via soliloquy, and dramatically expresses surprise at Claudio’s willingness to get married after having made fun of marriage and laughed at other married man – ‘another man…after he hath laughed at such shallow follies in others, become the argument of his own scorn by falling in love…is Claudio.’ He then goes on to draw up a list of qualities he would expect in the perfect woman, and totally ...

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