Much Ado About Nothing | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Much Ado About Nothing | Act 2, Scene 2 | Summary

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Summary

Don John asks Borachio to come up with another idea on how to "cross this marriage" of Claudio and Hero. Borachio lays out a plan to make Claudio and Don Pedro think Hero has a secret lover. Borachio is romantically involved with Margaret, Hero's gentlewoman (really a glorified maid). He instructs Don John to tell Claudio and Don Pedro of Hero's infidelity. They will naturally not believe him, so he will offer "proof" in the form of two lovers canoodling in Hero's window on the night before the wedding. Borachio will convince Margaret to have a liaison with him in Hero's bedroom during which he will call her "Hero" and she will call him "Claudio." From a distance Claudio and Don Pedro will be unable to tell the woman with Borachio is not Hero. Claudio will be appalled the woman he intended to marry is not as virtuous as he believed, and the wedding will be canceled.

Don John approves the plan and tells Borachio he will find out the day on which the wedding will occur.

Analysis

Borachio's plan for ruining Claudio's marriage—calling Margaret by Hero's name, having Margaret dress up in Hero's clothes—sounds a little strange to today's readers, but it would have struck a chord with Elizabethan audiences. Margaret and Borachio are of lower class than Hero and Don John. Borachio suggests a sex game wherein he and Margaret will pretend to be their social betters. It's a little weird, but it's not entirely unusual since Elizabethan England put so much emphasis on social status.

It's also not unusual Borachio's plan hinges on convincing Claudio his intended bride, Hero, isn't virtuous. Honor was immensely important in Elizabethan England, and when people talked about honor, they were usually talking about a woman's virtue, or chastity. Women were expected to remain virgins until marriage. The "ideal" woman, examples of which were more likely to be found in conduct books of the era than in actual society, was also expected to be modest, quiet, and subservient. These are all apt descriptions of Hero, who serves as the stereotypical ideal of femininity in Much Ado About Nothing. Positioning her as unchaste and a cunning seductress would destroy her reputation and marriageability. Reputation was an important part of a person's honor, and Borachio's attacks the insecurities felt by several men in the play. Rumors about Hero's illicit affairs wouldn't harm only her, but Claudio as well. Doubts about Hero's chastity would reflect poorly on Don Pedro, since he made the match, and upon Leonato, Hero's father. Don John wants to make as much mischief as possible, and ruining three men's reputation is a good way to do it.

Significantly, barely a thought is given to the woman in question. Borachio only says the plan will "undo Hero," which makes light of the consequences she will suffer once news of her false infidelity spreads. No one will want to marry her, and her father won't want anything to do with her. If those closest to her don't believe in her purity, she will be completely ruined with no home, family, or means of income; yet neither Don John nor Borachio give this a second thought. To them Hero is simply a means to an end—destroying Claudio, Don Pedro, and Leonato. She is, after all, just a woman.

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