Love in the play: Much Ado about Nothing
Human beings are foolish when in love, and Much Ado about Nothing, is a study of this. It goes into the love between Beatrice and Benedict and between Claudio and Hero. The story between Beatrice and Benedict is a sub-plot, but nowadays it is found to be more interesting than the main plot, which is the love between Claudio and Hero.
Love in the play: Much Ado about Nothing
Beatrice and Benedict had been playful adversaries at the beginning of the play, united only in their contempt and loathing for marriage. Nevertheless, once they ‘discover’ their feelings for each other, they let their guards down and allow their feelings to blossom. They discover that they love one another, by a cleverly engineered plot, set into place by their friends. Although it was a lie, it did have good intentions and did work out for the best.
Even before they love each other, what the other thinks of them still meant a lot to them. They would try through their ‘merry war’ to make others think that they paid no attention to what the other said of them, but they would be very hurt when they thought the other did not think highly of them. When Beatrice tells Benedict that he is widely thought of to be “the prince’s jester, a very dull fool” (II.i.103), he is hurt and becomes defensive. He is happy they are constantly bickering, but he still wants her to like him.
Once they discovered they were in love with each other, Benedict proves himself worthy of Beatrice by standing by her and agreeing to “Kill Claudio” (IV.i.279). At first he is not willing to do this, and tells Beatrice so, “Ha, not for the wide world” (IV.i.280). Then he realizes that not only is Beatrice right, but that she is also worth far more to him than Claudio is. He was previously ‘one of the lads’, but he then turns his back on then for Beatrice. He is willing to do whatever Beatrice asks of him, including ceasing being friends with Claudio, although we are told he is his new “sworn brother” (I.i.53). He trusts Beatrice’s female intuition over his first male assumptions, although he has no factual reason to believe her. He just has a gut reaction that tells him that the accusations against Hero are not true. Moreover, the fact that he is willing to go with that feeling, is what makes him now worthy of Beatrice.
Claudio is criticized for his actions in the play. He behaved appallingly, and so receives the least sympathy. Even when he is at his best, I never found him that appealing a character. When at the start of the play, he was ‘in love’ with Hero, he tells Benedict and Don Pedro how wonderful she is – “In mine eye, she is the sweetest lady that ever I looked on” (I.i.139), he never tells Hero herself, how he feels. In my mind, this is not what a romantic hero should be like. I am also extremely distrustful of his intentions for marrying Hero in the first place, as one of the first things he asks Don Pedro is “Hath Leonato any son, my Lord?” (I.i.220) It seems as though he is checking to see just what he will get out of the marriage, and if he had not got anything from marrying her, the topic of marriage might never have come up. This question of what Claudio was really getting married for, is again brought up when he agrees to marry Leonatos’, brother’s daughter. It seems a most unusual thing for a young man to agree to do, when still in mourning for his fiancée, and supposed true love, whose death he thinks he caused. It seems a very strange thing to do that is until you read Leonatos’ speech to Claudio, and hear him say that “she [his niece] alone is heir to both of us [Leonato and Antonio]. (V.i.257) It seems to me that the only possible reason he could have for wanting to marry a complete stranger is such strange circumstances, is because the fortune of two men is involved.
The deception engineered by Don John enabled us to see the two couples in their true light. We saw just how stable their loves were, or in the case of Claudio, how unreliable. Now we are left wondering just how stable their marriages will be. I think that Beatrice and Benedicts’ will be, because we know that they interest and stimulate each other, they know each other and their faults, almost as well as they know themselves. Their belief and faith, in each other and in each other has been proved.
Although Claudio and Hero seen to be happy and supposedly in love with each other, at the end of the play, I really don’t think that they will be happy together. At the very first trial in their love, Claudio showed us that he has no faith in Hero. He actually went out of his way to humiliate her publicly and to bring shame on her name. Although I can see how he was feeling, I cannot forgive him for wanting to do such a cruel thing to someone he was in love with.
Shakespeare shows us two kinds of love in Much Ado about Nothing. Beatrice and Benedict’s love is a very deep and powerful one. On the strength of it, they do things that are completely uncharacteristic to them. Benedict agrees to kill Claudio, and they both he and Beatrice agree and want to get married. Claudio and Hero’s love is a shallower and artificial love, if it is even a love at all. I have difficulty believing it is, for they have barely met before they decide to get married, and then Claudio betrays Hero terribly. But we have to bear in mind, that the idea of love at first sight was a far more acceptable and popular idea in Shakespeare’s time. In Romeo and Juliet, for instance, the two characters fall in love at first sight, though when their love is tested, it proves to be powerful enough to survive. In the same way, Claudio’s methods of courting Hero would have been acceptable by Shakespeare’s audience. Whereas now, the idea of Hero being proposed to by Don.
John, only to be told that she is really for Claudio, is bizarre. She was supposed to return Claudio’s feelings, so why did she agree to marry Don Pedro? Just as strange is Claudio’s belief, when Don John tells him that Don Pedro is wooing Hero for herself.
When he is tricked into believing that Don Pedro is wooing Hero for himself, he says, “Friendship is constant in all other things, Save in the office and affairs of love” (II.i.131).
He not only does not have faith in his fiancée, but also in his friends. He is very untrusting and ready to believe the worst in people.
I find it interesting that Claudio refuses to marry Hero when he thinks she has been unfaithful to him, as it shows us that possibly, there love wasn’t as strong as it should have been, in the first place. He does not seek her out to talk to her, to find out whether what he thinks he has seen was true or not, but instead lets his anger take hold.
He is very bad at handling situations. Beatrice is much better, and when she is proposed to by Don Pedro – “Will you have me lady?” (II.i.248), she knows just how to handle the situation. She replies “No…unless I might have another for working-days, your grace is too costly to wear everyday” (II.i.249). She is a very bold and blunt character, but she knows better than to hurt the prince. She treats the matter lightly, so that Don Pedro cannot be hurt or offended.
I think that Shakespeare shows us in Much Ado about nothing, that love is a very strong thing, when it is pure. It completely softens the character of Beatrice, who at the start of the play says she would “rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me”, (I.i.97). However, by the end of the play, both she and Benedict are writing love sonnets to one another. This change in their characters, is a shock to everyone, including themselves. The first time Benedict makes his feelings known towards Beatrice, he tells her “I do love nothing in the world as well as you, is not that strange?” (IV.i.259) He has trouble believing he could be in love, as does Beatrice who replies “As strange as the thing I know not” (IV.i.261). They do not know how to react to these feelings, but they are willing to find out together.
Claudio and Hero seem to be very plain characters. All we know about them is that they are in love with each other. There characters are like blank sheets, their characters themselves seem to be only plot devices, without them we couldn’t have got to know Beatrice and Benedict as well as we do. In contrast to this, Beatrice and Benedict have sharp, stubborn and lively characters. The greatest obstacles that they have to overcome, in their love, are each other. Beatrice and Benedict are equals, whilst with Claudio and Hero, it is clearly Claudio who has the authority and commands Hero’s respect. This makes a difference in their relationship and the way they act towards each other.