Written between 1598 and 1600 at the peak of Shakespeare’s skill in writing comedic work, Much Ado About Nothing is one of Shakespeare’s wittiest works. In this comedy, Shakespeare’s drama satirizes love and human courtliness between two couples who take very different paths to reach the same goal: making the connection between inward and outward beauty. Much Ado About Nothing shows different ways of how people are attracted to one another, and how their realization and definitions of “love” relate to their perceptions of inward and outward beauty.
The play is set in Messina, Italy, a small province facing the Straits of Messina, in northeastern Sicily, at the estate of the governor of Messina, Leonato. Don Pedro, Prince of Arragon, Don John, his brother, Borachio his servant, Bene*censored*, a young lord, and Claudio his best friend are all returning from war, and have been invited to stay with Leonato for a month. Shakespeare’s antagonist Don John, bears much resemblance to Don John of Austria, the illegitimate son of Charles V, half-brother to the King of Aragon who defeated the Turks at Lepanto and returned to Messina after his victory in October of 1571 (Richmond 51).
Don John of Austria had many of the qualities that Shakespeare’s Don John did, he was not on good terms with his brother, and although he tried with much effort to gain status, he was frequently humiliated in attempts to bring himself fame. Shakespeare was known to draw parallels between his characters and actual historical figures, in an attempt to produce a sort abstract history of the times (Richmond 49). Upon returning from war, Claudio saw a young woman named Hero that he had seen before going to fight, and felt a strong attraction to her.
Claudio expressed to Bene*censored* his attraction to Hero, Leonato’s daughter, and Bene*censored*, with a mouth as loose as oiled hinge immediately told Don Pedro of the attraction. Don Pedro, being much closer to Leonato than any of the other veterans were, told the governor Leonato about Claudio, who in turn informed his daughter Hero of him, all with the lightning speed of gossip. Claudio’s attraction to Hero is described by Shakespeare with skill as he puts emphasis on the Claudio-Hero relationship that is forming but at the same time keeps it in the background.
Claudio is clearly attracted to Hero’s outer beauty and knows nothing of her inner beauty, but after conversing with his friend Bene*censored* and then Don Pedro he decides he will marry Hero. A possible scheme of Claudio can be noted when after describing his attraction to Hero to Bene*censored*, he asks Don Pedro, “Hath Leonato any son, my lord? ” Don Pedro replies that Hero is “his only heir. “(I. i. 262) An interpretation of this might be that Claudio’s attraction to Hero was rooted in a pursuance of the love of Hero’s wealth, masked by her outward beauty.
Brown 79) At this point the drama takes a twist and a sub-plot is formed as Don Pedro talks to Claudio about Hero and assures him that he will have Hero. Don Pedro describes to Claudio his plan of achieving this, he will don a disguise of Claudio and woo her for him. At this the scene closes, and Claudio and Bene*censored* are left to wonder about Don Pedro’s intentions. Bene*censored* believes that Don Pedro wants Hero for himself, and Don John and Borrachio agree with his statement.
This forces Claudio to act on his instinct and initial attraction to Hero alone and decide to marry Hero. Don John, feeling resentful of his brother is quick to accept his servant Borrachio’s plan of deceiving Claudio into thinking that Hero is promiscuous, so that he can shame one of his prestigious brother’s followers and prevent Claudio and Hero’s marriage. Borrachio’s plan included having an amorous encounter with Margaret, Hero’s maid, and in the middle of everything announcing Hero’s name for everyone who might be in earshot to hear.
While Claudio describes his love of Hero, Bene*censored* reveals his attraction to Beatrice to Claudio, Leonato’s niece, but at the same time profoundly states a declaration of bachelorism. Beatrice’s character is described as a fine example of a woman in Shakespeare’s time. She has a biting wit, and in her “high intellect and high animal spirits meet” (Jameson 349) Bene*censored* and Beatrice quarrel in a skirmish of wits which is merely a facade of their underlying attraction to each other, and an ongoing struggle of recognizing their love.
Bene*censored* and Beatrice’s attraction and pre-existing relationship is evident, and their battle of the sexes is followed closely. Beatrice admits her attraction to Bene*censored* but is reluctant to act upon it, and at the same time rejects the idea of giving herself to a man, and jokes about her believing that she will never find the perfect husband. Beatrice and Bene*censored*’s relationship is tumultuous from the start of the play because of a previously soured relationship between the two, and from the beginning she seems reluctant to trust him as well.
Beatrice says to Don Pedro in response of his noting that she had “lost the heart of Signior Bene*censored*”, “Indeed, my lord, he lent it me awhile, and I gave him use for it-a double heart for his single one. Marry once before he won it of me with false dice; therefore your grace may well say I have lost it. “(II. i. 249) She also says, “You always end with a jade’s trick. ”
“I know you of old. “(I. i. 9) Beatrice does not want to trust Bene*censored* with her heart, but Hero, along with Ursula and Margaret her maids, plot to trick Bene*censored* and Beatrice into falling in love by telling each of them of the others attraction, and ironically they succeed in resparking a pre-existing flame. This trick that Hero and her maids pull off is not an invention of Shakespeare, rather, he may have borrowed the theme from a tale in a collection of stories about the French court in the Valois era written by Margauerite de Navarre, sister of Francis I.
The story, quite similar to the play, describes female courtiers tricking a man that despised women into falling for a particular woman, catching him in the act and ridiculing him (Richmond 56). Shakespeare carefully contrasts the characters of Bene*censored* and Claudio and allows them to play off one another. Bene*censored* feels ever-confident in his presentation of self and declaration of his bachelorism, and is contrasted to Claudio in his uncertainty, and need to confide in and look for approval from others. Claudio only saw Hero for a brief moment upon returning from the war, and immediately desires her.
In the play, The only conversation Claudio and Hero had was at their wedding when he denounced her and made public her accusation of promiscuity. This shows that his attraction to her is purely of outward beauty and he only guesses at her inward beauty; he trusts his eyes solely on who is to be his future wife but can also somehow denounce her and cause her shame. He sees her outer beauty but can only guess at her inner beauty until he learns of her innocence from ‘The Watch’, at which point her inner beauty is revealed to him, and he believes he will never find another woman of equal worth, and will stoop to marry an Ethiope.
Leonato offers him the hand of Hero’s look-alike, one of Leonato’s nieces, and he accepts. When the Hero look-alike comes forth her true identity is revealed to Claudio, and he realizes that his love for her is true. Beatrice and Bene*censored* are overconfident in their actions, and as a result muddle their love affair. Claudio and Hero are not confident in their feelings or desires, and their lack of action muddled their relationship, and allowed trickery to step in (Brown 122).
Beatrice is a strong woman firm in her ideas of not succumbing to a man, becoming his wife, and Bene*censored* is as firm in his belief of not marrying a woman, and is referred to as “being committed to a war against the ladies. ” They learn to trust their feelings more than their observations of character and witty remarks to each other and as a result see inward beauty in each other. Towards the end of the play Bene*censored* proposes to Beatrice and kisses her before Claudio and Hero’s marriage, this shows that they had come a long way, with a little help from their friends.
Claudio sees inner beauty in Hero when he learns of her innocence, but Shakespeare makes it seem much less dramatic that that of Bene*censored* and Beatrice. One could say that Claudio fell in love at first sight, and then caught a glimpse of her inner beauty when her innocence was revealed, but his love of her wealth cannot be overlooked either. After learning of Hero’s innocence he agrees to marry one of Leonato’s nieces, and says that he would even have an Ethiope for his wife. This could be interpreted as a desire of Claudio to marry into fortune, pursuance of his love wealth obscured by beauty.
Both couples see inward and outward beauty by the end of the play, although they both end up learning practically opposite lessons in love (Brown 118). When we are not confident in our thoughts and ideas, we are hesitant and they do not translate them into actions thus the initial spark dies and we are blind to what could have been. Other times inner beauty is more clear than is outer beauty, and overconfidence in our observations and the way we present ourselves can make us blind from another perspective as well.