Much Ado About Nothing | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Much Ado About Nothing | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


How does Hero serve as a foil for Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing?

In literature a foil is a character who contrasts with another character often with the purpose of highlighting important qualities about the first character. Beatrice and Hero are as different as two cousins could be. Though Hero doesn't have as flashy a role as Beatrice, her presence emphasizes what makes Beatrice such an intriguing character. Though their ages aren't specified, Hero is often portrayed onstage as being younger than Beatrice and definitely less experienced in the ways of romance. Beatrice, who has already experienced romantic feelings for Benedick, sometimes comes across as a maternal figure to her cousin by giving her advice about doing things to please herself, not just her father. Hero's lack of worldly experience indicates it will be easy to mold her into the perfect wife. Beatrice, who has already had her heart broken, is set in her ways and beliefs and is stalwartly opposed to yield to any man's way of thinking. Hero is wholly submissive to the men in her life. Her father tells her whom to marry, and she is basically ignored by both him and Claudio when she protests that she has never lain with a man. Her demure nature only emphasizes Beatrice's unusually assertive and often domineering personality. Hero is the model woman as portrayed in "conduct books" of the Elizabethan age: soft-spoken, obedient, and chaste. Beatrice's character, in comparison, veers from the stereotypical portrayal of what a good Elizabethan woman should be. Her outspoken and independent nature make her the last person to follow a man's idea of proper female conduct. Hero represents the often unattainable ideals of femininity in the Elizabethan era, while Beatrice is a more realistic representation of women in the 16th century.

How does Benedick serve as a foil for Claudio in Much Ado About Nothing?

A foil is a character that serves to emphasize opposite characteristics in another character. Benedick and Claudio are outwardly similar—both are soldiers of aristocratic blood—but their internal differences serve to highlight some of Claudio's more unflattering characteristics. The crux of these differences is maturity. Benedick is older than Claudio, but he's also much wiser. He never acts rashly, even when his friends are losing their heads. Claudio immediately accepts Hero's rumored infidelity as fact while Benedick takes time to completely understand the situation. Though Benedick is known for his quick wit, he's also enormously patient (at least for a Shakespearean character). When he hears Beatrice loves him, he waits for the right moment to talk to her about it. Claudio, on the other hand, falls in love with Hero and is insistent they be engaged immediately and marry quickly. Benedick's ability to think things through and make a sound decision is in stark contrast to Claudio's childish impetuousness. Benedick's loyalty calls Claudio's into question. Claudio has absolutely no loyalty to Hero, whom he claims to love above all else. Benedick, who has no attraction to Hero whatsoever, stands by her because of his devotion to Beatrice. His decision to help Beatrice's family instead of going along with his friends makes Claudio look like a fickle and disloyal lover.

What is the importance of Claudio's youth in Much Ado About Nothing?

Many of the characters in Much Ado About Nothing comment on Claudio's youth. In Act 5, Scene 1 Benedick calls him "Lord Lackbeard," insinuating Claudio isn't mature enough to grow facial hair, and in Act 1, Scene 3 Don John refers to him as "that young start-up." Shakespeare includes these insults to show that although Claudio is a good soldier and a noble friend of the prince, he is at times looked down upon because of his age. There's a good reason for this. Claudio doesn't have Benedick's or Don Pedro's years of experience navigating the social scene, and he hasn't yet figured out who he can trust. He is gullible and naive, which is exactly what Don John is looking for in a target for his mischief. Immaturity is what makes Claudio dive into love headfirst with Hero, and it's what makes him dump her as soon as he hears something bad about her. Yet his immaturity also makes him a more likable character. If Claudio were older, he would come off as egotistical and pigheaded. His age makes it easy for Hero and the audience to forgive him for his follies.

How do Beatrice's uses of allusions in Much Ado About Nothing differentiate her from the other women in the play?

Beatrice makes several allusions to literary and proverbial lore during normal conversation in Much Ado About Nothing. In Act 1, Scene 1 she talks about Cupid, the blindfolded god of love, then almost immediately invokes a proverb about how a man who swears he will eat all he kills will not kill anyone at all. In Act 2, Scene 1 she brings up the old notion that spinsters are relegated to a life watching over apes in hell. These stories are all part of Elizabethan culture and would have been common knowledge for both men and women, but Beatrice is the only woman who refers to them in conversation just as the men do. She sees herself as being on equal terms with men, and she talks as they talk. This same self-confidence isn't apparent in Hero, who only speaks one line during Act 1. She takes a backseat to the conversation even when the conversation is about her.

How does Claudio embody the typical male attitudes about female sexuality during the Elizabethan era in Much Ado About Nothing?

Though sex itself wasn't as taboo in the Elizabethan era as it has been during other periods of history, female sexuality was treated with suspicion and mistrust. Women were thought to embody all aspects of sexuality, from the pure and cleansing love of the Virgin Mary to the tempting and destructive lust of Eve. Claudio wrestles with these stereotypes in his relationship with Hero. He chooses her as his bride because of her sweet and modest nature, but then completely ignores and discounts those qualities every time a new rumor reaches his ears. When he believes Don Pedro wooed Hero for himself, Claudio blames Hero, not Don Pedro, "for beauty is a witch/Against whose charms faith melteth into blood." Later when he thinks Hero has been unfaithful, he's not only heartbroken, but afraid of the lust that has been unleashed. At their first wedding he tells her, "you are more intemperate in your blood/Than Venus, or those pampered animals/That rage in savage sensuality." Claudio is saying a sexually active woman is like a wild animal that can't be controlled.

How does Hero's character in Much Ado About Nothing reflect the social standards for women in the Elizabethan era?

Women in the Elizabethan era were expected to be modest, subservient, and virtuous. Virtue was generally tied to chastity, so it was important for a woman to maintain her virginity until marriage lest her reputation be ruined. Women had very little formal education—though some members of the nobility hired tutors for their young daughters—and were instead educated in the household arts. Most importantly, many women in the Elizabethan era were never truly independent. They grew up depending on their fathers and went straight into their husband's home. This is true for Hero. Leonato is tasked with the responsibility of finding her a suitable husband and it is Hero's duty to marry whomever he sees fit, whether it's Don Pedro or Claudio or someone else of noble blood. She fulfills her father's commands with nary a complaint. Though Hero is one of the main characters in Much Ado About Nothing, she doesn't have a lot to say, particularly in front of men. She speaks a few lines to Don Pedro, but says nothing to Claudio until their wedding day when he accuses her of sleeping with another man. She speaks far more freely to Margaret, Ursula, and Beatrice, but it's usually about Claudio. Hero is instrumental in the plot to bring Benedick and Beatrice together, but she is extremely passive when it comes to her own life. This was the rule—not the exception—for many women in Elizabethan England.

Why are parts of Much Ado About Nothing presented in verse while the rest is written in prose?

Much Ado About Nothing shifts between prose and verse throughout the entirety of the play. It begins in prose as Don Pedro and his men return from war, then continues on in the same manner as Beatrice and Benedick banter and bicker. The characters' words suddenly turn to verse as Claudio asks for Don Pedro's help in wooing Hero. Benedick and Beatrice rarely speak in verse, and Dogberry's words are far from poetic. Shakespeare uses verse to separate the serious and nearly tragic story line of Claudio and Hero from the ribald humor of the rest of the play. Claudio speaks in verse when talking of Hero, and Leonato speaks in verse when raging about Hero's alleged infidelity. Hero speaks in verse for almost all of her lines. This back and forth between prose and verse indicates how the audience should react to the events onstage. Prose is for happy conversations while verse is reserved for the serious.

Why is Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing considered a comedy?

The defining characteristic of a comedic play in the Elizabethan era was that it had a happy ending. Humor wasn't strictly necessary, and several of Shakespeare's comedies, including The Merchant of Venice, are exceedingly dark. Since then the definition of "comedy" has evolved, and audiences now expect laughter as an integral part of the theater experience. Much Ado About Nothing meets the criteria for comedy in both eras, though some scholars argue Much Ado About Nothing veers close to the tragicomic category due to the Claudio/Hero plot. Certainly if that was the only plot in the play, it would be hard to call the resulting production a comedy. That's where the Beatrice/Benedick plot comes in. Their battle of wits in Act 1, Scene 1 sets the tone of the play. Other features placing the play squarely into comedy territory include: Jokes, and lots of them. The humor in Much Ado About Nothing runs the gamut from sophisticated, with clever double entendres and wordplay, to lowbrow, clownish characters, most notably Dogberry. The most tragic scene in the play, Act 4, Scene 1, is bookended by scenes featuring Dogberry and his band of not-so-smart watchmen. This is purposefully done to ensure the play doesn't veer too far into tragedy. The ending of the play is a happy one. It's true Don Pedro is a little sad, and Don John is on the brink of being punished, but the major conflict has been resolved with a little trickery and two marriages will result. As the bard said himself, all's well that ends well, and Much Ado About Nothing ends about as well as it possibly could.

What is the significance of Friar Francis's defense of Hero in Much Ado About Nothing, Act 4, Scene 1?

Friar Francis is one of the only men who believes Hero is innocent of Claudio's charges of infidelity, but his evidence wouldn't stand up in today's court of law. Friar Francis believes Hero is innocent because of how she looks. He notes "a thousand blushing apparitions" and "a thousand innocent shames/In angel whiteness beat away those blushes." He says there's a fire in her eyes that burns "the errors that these princes hold/Against her maiden truth." He doesn't base his claims on any of Hero's internal characteristics—her loyalty, her goodness, her virtue—but rather takes his cues from what he sees on the exterior. This wasn't uncommon in early modern Europe, as many people believed in the platonic idea that beauty is the physical representation of goodness.

How does Shakespeare establish Claudio as an unsympathetic character after Hero's death in Much Ado About Nothing?

An unsympathetic character doesn't necessarily mean that a character isn't likable. More often than not, this phrase is used to describe a character that's hard for the reader to identify with and understand. Their thoughts and feelings are only presented at surface level, and they don't change during the course of the story. In the case of Much Ado About Nothing, Claudio is both unlikable and unsympathetic. This is particularly clear when he learns of Hero's "death." Friar Francis was counting on Claudio to feel guilt for causing the death of the women he was supposed to marry, but Claudio seems to feel nothing. He also doesn't defend his actions to Leonato and Antonio. No reason is given for Claudio's lack of remorse, which breaks the connection between his character and the reader. Claudio remains an unsympathetic character when he is reunited with Hero in Act 5, Scene 4. He finally mourned her loss after Borachio confessed to his crime, and it would make sense for him to show some humility in the face of the woman he scorned. Instead, he simply says "Another Hero!" when she is revealed as alive. He says nothing more to her or about the whole ordeal for the rest of the play. Again, it is hard for the reader to sympathize with a character when their motivations aren't clear. Audiences are more likely to sympathize with Don John, a villain with the very clear motivation of causing trouble because of his anger toward his brother and Claudio. That may not have been Shakespeare's intent, but it's definitely the effect.

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