Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing centers on themes of appearance and reality, and how the perception of either contributes to the events of the story. In the very early stages of the story, the banter between Benedick and Beatrice appears cruel and antagonistic but as the narrative progresses, the reader learns of their real feelings for each other. The masked ball is another prime example that is also symbolic as a whole, in which mistaken identity leads to confusion and adverse feelings for both Claudio and Benedick. The antagonists of the story use these misconceptions to their advantage, for instance, when Don John fools Claudio into thinking that his future wife is unfaithful. And perhaps the most extreme use of the device is when Leonato makes it seem like his daughter Hero is dead.
The relationship between Benedick and Beatrice is hostile and combative at first, which can be seen through phrases such as “I am loved of all ladies, only you excepted” in the first scene of Act One (Jamieson, 2020). They are often depicted bickering together or talking negatively about each other to their friends. However, both are easily tricked by their friends when they are told that both have romantic feelings for each other. It is this illusion or appearance of positive feelings that fuel some of their more friendly interactions further in the story.
Claudio is tricked into believing that Hero is unfaithful when Borachio stages a situation in which Hero appears to be with another man. As such, Claudio is convinced of her infidelity and becomes hostile towards her, and no longer wished to marry her, which is the desired effect the villain had planned for. Lastly, the most prominent case of appearance versus reality appears in Hero’s staged death. After Claudio accuses her of being unfaithful, Hero faints, and Leonato decides to take her into hiding while claiming that she is dead. Due to this, when Claudio discovers Borachio and Don John’s ploy, he feels remorse and guilt over Hero’s death.
He agrees to marry another of Leonato’s daughters without seeing her first. He discovers that is actually Hero and the two reconcile. The theme of appearance and reality is a vital component to most of the plot points within the story and an important factor of it is reflected in the fact that while the characters are unsuspecting of the truth, the audience is aware of the real events of the narrative.
The Elizabethan culture was subject to many formalities and social conventions. This especially pertained to gender roles, marriage, and fidelity. Although Much Ado About Nothing is set in Messina, Italy, Shakespeare echoes much of the Elizabethan culture within the character’s dynamics and relationships. The era at the time placed significant value on honor and pride, which resulted in people upholding their status even if it was done through deception and public appearance.
These values translate into multiple characters, with Benedick desiring to be free of marriage and as such acting against his feelings for Beatrice to appear independent and not cuckolded. Equally, Claudio believes his pride and honor to be adversely affected by Hero’s supposed unfaithfulness. Don John uses deception to elevate his own status and to create an environment that is beneficial to him. As such, many characters retain the values of an Elizabethan culture through their behavior and actions.
Jamieson, L. (2020). Understand the major themes of Much Ado About Nothing. ThoughtCo. Web.