Much Ado About Nothing themes

  • Created by: Ellie48
  • Created on: 27-11-17 18:47

Appearance and reality/deception

This theme explores the nature of the theatre as an illusion. The stage is a world where ideas and emotions can be presented and explored by actors who are not really how they appear on stage. In Messina, the pivotal scene is the masked ball where Don Pedro woos Hero in the place of Claudio. Shakespeare asks audiences to question appearances in their lives.

Right from the first scene characters question the truth - Beatrice challenges the messanger's account of Benedick's bravery calling him "Signor Mountanto" and declearing she will eat all of his killings. 

Positive deception

Prompts the love of Beatrice and Benedick who at first appeared fiercely hostile to each other. This "gulling" is more light-hearted and entertaining. 

Negative deception

This deception which destroys Hero's reputation and and her relationship with Claudio is full of malice. Claudio seemed to be an honourable gentleman who was completely infatuated with Hero, but he quickly rejects and scorns her. 

Don John superficailly appeared reconciled with his brother, but he is still driven by revenge. 


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Deception 2


- Benedick declares he will never marry. He then realises he may have been hypocritical saying "when I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married." 

- Dogberry asserts his own status and wealth 

References to sight 

Claudio says Hero is "the sweetest lady that ever I looked on." Don John continues to focus on eyesight "if you dare not trust that you see, confess not that you know." His whole plot against Hero is based on what people witness and Claudio ironically asks whilst accusing Hero "Are our eyes our own?" (we know his eyes have been deceived) 

It is symbolic that Claudio finally marries Hero without seeing her. Shakespeare is hinting that the truth of the heart is below the surface. This final deception was a happy one. 

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Whilst Shakespeare was alive the use of pronouns and adjectives sent very clear social sign. "You" showed respect for a superior and "thou" could be seen as insulting. Very early in the play it is said that Claudio's uncle cried with happiness "weep at joy" when he heard Claudio's status had been honoured by Don Pedro. 

Influence of Status

Dogberry - his lack of status causes his desire to speak formally and elaborately like noblemen making him a subject of audience ridicule.

Don Pedro - the most socially and politicallly powerful character in the play. He uses his high status to enable the marriage of Claudio and Hero and poeple often look to him for guidance. 

Men and Women

S.peare highlights the injustice of the social status system being ruled by men. Women are automatically subservient to men being told to "be ruled by your father" .  Beatrice is an exception to this telling Hero to "say, father as it please me." She behaves like a man in public with powerful jokes and insults. S.peare presents Beatrice in a very favourable light to show that women should have the same status of men. 

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Wisdom and folly

The idea of folly was the focus of much writing in the 16th century Wisdom and folly in the play are not linked with straightforward class or gender catagories. Men of high rank behave foolishely, and the women do not. The lower class buffoons uncover the evil deception that has occured. 

"What your wisdoms could not discover, these shallow fools have brought to light." 

Examples of folly

Claudio in suspecting and humiliating Hero exposing her human frailty. His folly was in believing only his eyes rather than his heart. He seems even more foolish to the audience as the omniscientely know of Don John's plot. 

Dogberry's self-aggrandising verbosity (using more words than necessary) is very amusing.

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Benedick and Beatrice

Deception plays a key role in their relationship finally bringing them together. They orignially mask their feeling for each other in a "merry war" of insults. This masking of emotions is further emphasised by the masked ball when Beatrice manages to torment Benedick by pretending she is unaware of who he is.

In Act 1, Scene 1 both the characters are introduced as witty through their fast repartee. It is also clear they have a prior interest in each other. Beatrice saying "he is sooner caught than the pestilence" and Benedick calling her "Lady Disdain." 

When Benedick vent over the masked ball it is clear he is hurt by her peception of him - he cares about what she thinks " I would not marry her" - clearly marriage is at the front of his mind when it comes to Beatrice. 

As the play unfolds both characters remain combative with one another but as love becomes the better of them, they begin to reveal that somewhat secretive sensitivity amongst the complications of their hearts.

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Antithesis - opposites

Hero/Claudio VS Beatrice/Benedick

H and C represent typical Elizabethan lovers in a very conventional relationship. (Leonato was asked permission, Don Pedro etc.) B and B in comparison do not conform to stereotypes. Benedick says he will "live a bachelor", and a woman of such independence as Beatrice would have been shocking to audiences.

truth and lies

Appearance and reality are constantly in conflict. The name of the play itself signifies that nothing is ever what is seems. In Shakespearian times "nothing" and "noting" were homophones. "Noting" meant eavsdropping - a major plot device used to manipulate Beatrice and Benedick. - warns audience not to focus on appearance. Dramatic irony - audience knows more than the characters - involves the audience emotionally through suspense. 

Love and Hate

People's feeling shift quickly the best example being B and B. Benedick complains at first that he "cannot endure" Beatrice, and Beatrice says she had two hearts to his single one. The relationship dramatically changes as the two fall in love, and Benedick says " I do love nothing in the world as much as you." - Shakespeare shows the superficiality of some relationships. 

Hero and Claudio experience the opposite fluctuation. The firstly appear to be madly in love "as you are mine, I am yours", and Claudio describes Hero as a "jewel". After he is decieved Claudio scornfully calls her a "rotten orange." 

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