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Much Ado About Nothing | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University explains the motifs in William Shakespeare's play Much Ado About Nothing.

Much Ado About Nothing | Motifs



From the first moment Claudio is mentioned in Much Ado About Nothing, so is his youth. One of the most notable things about the "young Florentine called Claudio" is his tender age. This reference serves a few purposes:

  • Claudio's youth and inexperience make his feats in battle look all the more impressive, which makes him a viable suitor for Hero.
  • His impetuousness in proposing to Hero can be attributed to his youth, as can his desire to be wed immediately. He tends to rush headfirst into things. It takes someone older, such as Leonato, to explain that some things, like weddings, take time to prepare.
  • Youth is also responsible for his gullibility. He has neither the wisdom nor experience of Benedick, and as such, he's willing to believe just about anything anyone tells him. This makes him the perfect target for Don John's villainy not once, but twice.

Dirty Jokes

As in most of William Shakespeare's works, Much Ado About Nothing is filled with double entendres and dirty jokes, some of which are downright scandalous. For example:

  • Beatrice has a knack for relating most of her conversations to the act of marital congress in which the woman is literally and metaphorically beneath her husband, such as in Act 2, Scene 1.
  • In Act 2, Scene 3 Claudio mentions a sheet of paper found by Hero, which prompts Leonato to make a comment about "'Benedick' and 'Beatrice' between the sheet."
  • When Beatrice has a cold in Act 3, Scene 4 Margaret makes a joke about a maid being "stuffed," or pregnant.

These jokes are of course meant to be entertaining, but like the rest of the language in the play, they also indicate important qualities of the characters who tell them and hear them. Beatrice's double entendres are sly and not immediately recognizable as such, while Margaret's puns and quips are intended to be salacious. Beatrice is praised for her wit, which is much like that of the men in the play, while Margaret is called out for being vulgar. Thus Beatrice is established as nobility and an equal to the men in the play, while Margaret is constantly trying to claw her way into the upper class. And Hero, who represents Elizabethan femininity at its best, is shocked when Margaret even mentions sex. She would never be caught saying such things.

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