‘Much ado about nothing’ was written in the late 16th century. It is a lively comedy that ends in multiple marriages. However, the line between tragedy and comedy is sometimes very thin because the play creates a strong sense of anger, betrayal, hatred, grief and despair amongst the main characters. The play is basically about two pairs of lovers who are deceived and tricked in various ways by the people around them. Although Hero and Claudio are the central characters of the plot, the courtship between Beatrice and Benedick is what makes the play so enjoyable to read. ‘Much ado about nothing’ is set in a very patriarchal society where the woman’s place was to be dutiful and obedient to the men.
This role seems to fit Hero perfectly. Whereas Beatrice tries to rebel against the society she lives in, Hero embraces it. Hero is the type of woman that men want to marry. She is pretty, has a high social status and is very wealthy as she is going to inherit her father’s money. However, she is lacking in independence as she is expected to be obedient and loyal to her aristocrat father. Leonato has so much control over Hero that he even tells her who to marry. He says:
“Daughter, remember what I told you: if the prince do solicit
you in that kind, you know your answer”
Leonato is telling Hero that if Don Pedro should propose to her that she must accept, even though Hero has feelings for Claudio. So when the prince asks for Hero’s hand in marriage she accepts, unaware that Don Pedro intends to give her to Claudio. It is Hero’s innocence that is shown here; because when she is given to Claudio she does show him some affection albeit on Beatrice’s instruction. Beatrice says:
“Speak cousin: or, if you cannot, stop his mouth with a kiss,
and let him not speak neither”
Although, however innocent and obedient Hero appears she is not above certain forms of deception. Hero is also a bit of a romantic, and when Don Pedro devises a plan to get Beatrice and Benedick together Hero is more than happy to help, considering neither her duty or social status are compromised in any way. Hero says:
“I will do any modest office my lord, to
help my cousin to a good husband”
Further into the play we learn more about Hero’s character, and we discover that Hero is not as naÃ¯ve as she seems to be. When she is talking to Ursula in the garden, Hero knows exactly what to say to make Beatrice change her character and fall in love with Benedick. However, unlike Beatrice, Hero doesn’t change at all during the play. Even when Claudio is accusing her of infidelity at her wedding, Hero responds in a way that is very typical of her. Instead of denying the accusation made against her, she comments on the impropriety of his language. She says:
“Is my lord well, that he doth speak so wide?”
This shows that even though Hero is wrongly accused of infidelity, she still behaves in the way that is expected of her in the patriarchal society she lives in. Beatrice however, is the total opposite of Hero. Beatrice rebels against the society in which she lives, and prides herself on being wild, outrageous and witty, although underneath she is really loving and generous in character. But like Benedick, she constantly mocks other people with sarcastic comments and derisive jokes. She even says herself:
“I was born to speak all mirth and no matter”
The reason for Beatrice’s wild character may be due to the fact that she is an orphan. Unlike Hero, Beatrice doesn’t have anyone to answer to, and therefore has lived her life exactly as she wanted to. The play implies that Beatrice was once in love with Benedick but the relationship ended. Nevertheless, Beatrice keeps up a ‘merry war’ with Benedick, and as soon as he returns from war they have their own ‘war of words’. Benedick says that Beatrice’s distinguishing feature is the speed of her tongue. He says:
“I would my horse had the speed of your tongue
and so good a continuer”
Beatrice is also a very proud woman, and this is shown in the play when Hero and Ursula use Beatrice’s pride against her to make her change her attitude. Although Beatrice appears tough and sharp she is actually quite vulnerable, and when she overhears Hero’s harsh criticisms of her and also that Benedick is in love with her, she immediately seeks to change. Beatrice says:
“Stand I condemned for pride and scorn so much contempt,
farewell! And maiden pride, adieu!”
From being so against marriage, Beatrice opens her heart to love and everything that comes with it. This is shown when Beatrice says:
“Taming my wild heart to thy loving hand”
And indeed, Beatrice emerges after overhearing the conservation a completely changed character. However, dramatic though Beatrice’s personality change is, she doesn’t admonish her strength of character. When Hero is humiliated at her wedding and wrongly accused of infidelity by Claudio, Beatrice explodes with rage and is desperate to prove her cousin’s innocence. She is furious and frustrated about the unequal status of women and says passionately:
“Oh that I were a man for his sake! . . . . . Or that
I had any friend would be a man for my sake!”
The incident at the wedding reveals a depth of emotion in Beatrice that up to that moment in the play had remained hidden. It is at this moment that Benedick reveals his love for her. Beatrice, still very angry and upset, tells him that he must prove his love by killing Claudio. Her demand that Benedick:
Is of course an unreasonable one, but it is also a very powerful statement. It illustrates a depth of feeling and shows another strong point in Beatrice’s character as she uses her iron-handed personality to get her own way. At the end of the play Hero is proved innocent of the allegations made against her, and she and Claudio finally marry. Beatrice and Benedick are forced to admit their love for each other, and Beatrice is at long last silenced when she and Benedick kiss in the closing moments of the play.
Though Hero and Claudio are married, they know little about each other and do not have a close relationship. There was an initial attraction between them at the beginning of the play, however, unlike Beatrice who had a choice in whom she married, Hero didn’t. Although Hero liked Claudio, she had been given to him by Don Pedro. Hero and Claudio suffered a lot of upset before they finally married, and a lot of trust was lost between them. I think that they will have one of those marriages where they will either to love each other, or grow to hate each other. Beatrice however, is a more modern woman, and she said from the outset of the play that she didn’t want to marry. This is probably because Beatrice hadn’t found the perfect, equal partner, and didn’t want to be controlled by a man. I think that Beatrice marries Benedick because she knows that they have a relationship that has all the signs of proving successful, with each partner sharing an equal status. In my opinion, their marriage will be very successful. Although their relationship started based on lies and deceit, Beatrice and Benedick are obviously head over heels in love.
I think that Shakespeare added Beatrice and Benedick to the play because they both provide a lot of humour, and make the play more enjoyable to read. I must say that although I feel sorry for Hero, as she had such a hard time throughout the play, I sympathise with Beatrice the most because she is outspoken and very frustrated about the unequal status of women in society. ‘Much ado about nothing’ is essentially a romantic play, and the way it ended certainly suggests that love can conquer all whatever the circumstances.