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Much Ado About Nothing | Discussion Questions 11 - 20

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How does Balthasar's song in Act 2, Scene 3 provide an alternative viewpoint about honor and gender politics as depicted in the rest of Much Ado About Nothing?

Women are portrayed as being the cause of all the trouble in Much Ado About Nothing. Though Don John and Borachio hatch the plan to slander Hero, they do so in a way that makes others think her own wickedness is the cause for the loss of her reputation, which also affects her father's and Claudio's honor as well. Beatrice's sharp tongue keeps Benedick at a distance and causes others to view her as a prickly man-hater. It can easily be argued these things were all actually the fault of the men in the play, but such is not the case. Shakespeare has Balthasar sing a rather fitting song at the beginning of Act 2, Scene 3, when Benedick is hiding in the garden. In this song women are the ones who have been wronged. Men, "deceivers ever," are making the women unhappy. The lyrics of the song encourage women to let the men go so as to be "blithe and bonny." This is a stark contrast to how women are regarded in the rest of the play.

Why does Don Pedro decide to trick Benedick and Beatrice into falling in love in Act 2, Scene 3 of Much Ado About Nothing?

Don Pedro isn't trying to get Beatrice and Benedick together out of altruism for his friends, who the audience can see have affection for one another. He's just trying to amuse himself and his host between now and the wedding. He's looking forward to the moment when Beatrice and Benedick each think the other is in love with them and then change their behavior accordingly. To Don Pedro there will be nothing funnier than Benedick lavishing Beatrice with praise about her beauty and wit while Beatrice bites back her barbed tongue. He thinks it will be amusing because their love is "no such matter," or not real. That's where he's wrong. For all of his assertions he's an expert in love, Don Pedro has no idea Beatrice and Benedick really do love another.

What does Benedick's use of the word "Jew" at the end of Act 2, Scene 3 of Much Ado About Nothing indicate about cultural stereotypes in 16th-century England?

After Benedick overhears Don Pedro, Leonato, and Claudio talking about how much Beatrice loves him, he declares "If I do not take pity of her, I am a villain; if I do not love her, I am a Jew." Being a villain is clearly a bad thing, so the audience can infer being Jewish was also considered to be a bad thing. Jews were stereotyped as being greedy and devoid of Christian charity. England has historically been a Christian country, and those who practiced Judaism suffered from rampant racial prejudice and intolerance. This is in large part because of usury, or the practice of charging interest on monetary loans. This is how almost all loans are made today, but back then it was considered immoral by many groups, including Christians, who were not allowed to practice usury based on several passages in the Bible. There was no such rule in Judaism, however, so money lenders in the Elizabethan era were primarily Jewish. There were, of course, Christians who ignored the rules of Christianity and served as usurers, but Jews were the ones who bore the brunt of the stereotype of usurers being greedy and immoral. Judaism was outlawed in England from 1290 to 1655, partly because the number of Christians entering the business was growing—English Christians didn't rely on Jewish usurers for financial support as much as they used to. It is believed Shakespeare wrote Much Ado About Nothing between 1598 and 1599, when Judaism was still outlawed. Shakespeare isn't making a commentary on the injustice of this treatment—he's using the language of the time to show that Benedick feels he will appear ungenerous if he doesn't return Beatrice's love.

What does Benedick's beard symbolize in Much Ado About Nothing?

At the beginning of Much Ado About Nothing Benedick, like most men of the Elizabethan era, has a beard. Beards were a sign of masculinity and virility, and thus much valued by women looking for a husband. Benedick is proud of his beard, as evidenced by his calling out Claudio for not having one in Act 5, Scene 1 as "Lord Lackbeard." The problem is Beatrice doesn't like men with beards. To her a man with a beard is worse than lying "in the woolen," or in rough blankets. She teases she wouldn't accept a man without a beard, either, for such a man would be too feminine. Benedick knows Beatrice's feelings about beards (perhaps even his beard in particular). They have a history with one another, and she's certainly vocal about her opinions. In Act 3, Scene 2 after he has learned of Beatrice's supposed feelings for him, he shows up with a clean-shaven face. He's not very happy about it, as he seems to be covering his face under the guise of a toothache. His shaved beard is a symbol of his affection for Beatrice. He did something he didn't want to do simply to please her, which is completely out of character for their relationship up to this point. On a deeper level the shaving of his beard represents a departure from the traditional male and female roles in an Elizabethan relationship. Benedick literally removes any overt signs of masculinity from his person. He knows Beatrice will not agree to a relationship unless the two of them are on equal footing. Getting rid of his beard is a sign Benedick desires the same thing.

What is the significance of the garden and orchard scenery in Much Ado About Nothing?

Much Ado About Nothing takes place on Leonato's sprawling rural property. Shakespeare doesn't specify where many of the scenes occur—it is up to the play's director to choose the location—but there are two instances of the garden and orchard being used as the stage for the action. The first, in Act 2, Scene 3, is when Benedick overhears Don Pedro, Leonato, and Claudio talk about how much Beatrice loves him; the second, in Act 3, Scene 1, is when Beatrice hears the same thing from Ursula and Hero. This isn't a mere coincidence. These locations are a Biblical allusion to the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve gave in to temptation and bit into the apple just as Benedick and Beatrice give in to temptation and allow themselves to love one another. It's not necessarily a positive depiction of love, as the Garden of Eden is where the fall of man took place. The garden setting is a subtle suggestion that love is more dangerous than it looks.

What do Dogberry's malapropisms in Much Ado About Nothing say about his character?

A malapropism is a word mistakenly used in place of another word that sounds similar but has a different meaning, usually to a humorous effect. Dogberry is the king of the unintentional malapropism. At the beginning of Act 3, Scene 3 he asks the men of the watch "Who think you the most desartless man to be constable?" He wants someone who deserves to be constable, but inadvertently asks for someone who does not deserve the position; "desartless" means lacking in merit. Mix-ups like this happen throughout the play, usually when it's important for Dogberry to seem like he knows what he's doing. He tries to sound more educated and more important than he really is, and his malapropisms have the opposite effect by making him seem completely incompetent. Dogberry wants to be on the same level with the nobles he serves, but his attempts to mimic their speech put him squarely in the lower class.

How does Borachio and Conrade's digression about fashion in Act 3, Scene 3 relate to the larger narrative of Much Ado About Nothing?

Borachio and Conrade's discussion about fashion is often cut from productions of Much Ado About Nothing, as it doesn't add much to the plot and it's not very funny. Instead, it provides commentary about the inclination of nobles to "mask" themselves. Conrade, who considers himself a gentleman, thinks clothes are clothes and no one should wear more than he needs. Borachio has a different point of view. He understands clothing has turned into "fashion," allowing those with money to project a desired image. He isn't in favor of clothing trends and refers to fashion as "a deformed thief." Fashion makes nobles look different or better than what they really are. This is definitely true of Claudio and Don Pedro, who dress well as befitting their station but act more like rowdy, self-centered teenagers than the leader of a country and his best soldier. Borachio points out to Conrade how fashion covers up who a person really is.

How is Hero's reaction to Margaret's joke in Act 3, Scene 4 of Much Ado About Nothing a reflection of the women's respective social statuses?

Hero is preparing for her wedding and tells Margaret her "heart is exceeding heavy." Margaret replies "'Twill be heavier soon by the weight of a man." Margaret's dirty joke insinuates Hero will soon be underneath Claudio in their marriage bed. Hero is scandalized by such talk, but Margaret thinks it's not a big deal since the man of whom she is speaking is going to be Hero's husband in just a few hours. Margaret is Hero's gentlewoman, which is a glorified version of a maid. She isn't in the upper class, but she isn't of the lowest class, either. She's stuck somewhere in the middle, tending to a woman who wears the title "Lady." To Margaret talking about sexual relations between married people isn't a big deal. Sure it's a little naughty, but that's part of the fun. Hero, on the other hand, thinks any talk of sex is uncouth, improper, and a sign of low breeding.

Why does Margaret suggest Beatrice use carduus benedictus to cure her cold in Act 3, Scene 4 of Much Ado About Nothing?

Carduus benedictus is the Latin name of a thistle plant known for its healing properties and its bitter taste. This particular thistle (the carduus) worked so well it was considered to be holy or blessed, which accounts for the benedictus part. Of course Margaret's true reason for bringing up the plant is its similarity to Benedick's name. She suspects Beatrice isn't sick with a cold, but rather with love. One of Margaret's faults is her need to prove she's the wittiest person in the room, which is no small feat when she's sharing the space with Beatrice. Margaret is trying to get under Beatrice's skin and make her admit she loves Benedick. Beatrice is too smart for that, which is why she accuses Margaret of having "some moral in this benedictus."

To what is Claudio referring in Act 4, Scene 1 of Much Ado About Nothing when he tells Hero "to make you answer truly to your name"?

Hero is also the name of a heroine from Greek mythology popularized in a poem by Christopher Marlowe, a contemporary of Shakespeare's. She was a virgin priestess of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of sexual love and beauty. She falls in love with a man named Leander, who swims to see her at night guided by the light from her tower. One night the light doesn't turn on and Leander drowns, and the virgin priestess Hero then drowned herself. Claudio is alluding to this particular Hero when he tells Leonato's daughter, Hero, he is making her "answer truly to your name." He is comparing her supposed lack of virtue to that of the loyal Hero of Greek lore as a means of making her look worse than she already does. He essentially tells Hero she is not worthy of the honorable name she has been given.

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