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Much Ado About Nothing: Just A Comedy? Essay, Research Paper
“This play we must call a comedy, tho’ some of the incidents and discourses are more in a tragic strain; and that of the accusation of Hero is too shocking for either tragedy or comedy” (Charles Gildon 1714)
How far do you accept this comment about the play’s events and language?
“Much Ado About Nothing” is a play categorised as a comedy, and written by the dramatist William Shakespeare. A comic play is usually accepted to be a light-hearted play with a happy conclusion. A play classed as a tragedy is serious and sad, usually ending with the death of the main character. A tragicomedy is a play consisting of both tragic and comic elements. Much Ado is of the comedy genre as it contains humorous scenes and ends happily, however the play also includes serious incidents, which contributes to a tragic element in the play.
The sixteenth century period and the influence of the Elizabethan era would have affected the way Shakespeare wrote his plays. The technological advance since the sixteenth century is considerable. We believe Shakespeare’s theatre relied on theatrical effects as minima, and that play’s relied entirely on the language.
In Elizabethan society marriages were arranged, property and power were the main reason that influenced discussions for marriage. Daughters were often seen as a strain on family finances, although useful for making political connections, and often judged on their potential for breeding healthy children. Claudio asks Don Pedro if Leonato “hath…any son” to answer the question of inheritance, which a male heir would be left, supporting the Elizabethan view on marriage.
In the Elizabethan period, it was “forbidden” for women to appear on stage and considered “immoral”, and so boys played the roles of females, Shakespeare explored the position of women through his plays; and in Much Ado we see a “strong” and “witty” female character such as Beatrice as a main character was an accepted occurrence in Shakespeare’s plays.
Prose predominates in comedy and where a conversational rather than an emotional or imaginative effect if desired, this strengthens the argument that Much Ado is a comedy. Shakespeare wrote the play mostly in prose form except for scenes of extreme emotion and feeling, “could she here deny…thou wouldst not quickly die” as when Hero’s unfaithfulness was enlightened at the church to Leonato. When a character has strong emotions of happiness or sadness, Shakespeare uses poetry to highlight the heightened feelings and often allows characters long and uninterrupted speeches of poetry to express themselves more clearly and with feeling.
Comic scenes lighten the play and contain some sexual innuendo and many witty remarks and exchanges between the characters, Leonato answering, “Her mother hath many times told me so” when the Prince presented Hero to Leonato. Some of the characters have a language device as Dogberry with his malapropisms “our sexton hath reformed Signior Leonato”, the awkward language of the watch, and Beatrice and Bene*censored* have their witty exchanges of conversation interwoven with insults and teasing.
The opening scene contains the comic imagery of animals when Bene*censored* says that Beatrice has the “tongue” of a “parrot” to which it is replied that Bene*censored* is himself a “beast”, the exchanges are witty and somewhat insulting towards each other. Beatrice also mocks Bene*censored* and his sexual appetite when asking, “How many hath he kill’d and eaten in these wars?”
The contrasts of vocabulary in the comic scenes to the darker scenes are great; the darker scenes are short and blunt without any joking or good-humour. The tragic scenes contain none of the good-humour or light-heartedness in the comic scenes, these scenes are lengthy with long speeches written in poetic form of characters especially in severe emotional turmoil. The public accusation of Hero is as shocking to the audience as it is too other characters in the play, so harsh a confrontation is unacceptable behaviour in modern society, although in Elizabethan times it may have been acceptable to publicize a woman’s dishonour. Hero cannot express herself in words at the accusations of her being unfaithful, and is so defeated with emotional turmoil that she faints, “demonstrating the theatrical image of grief”.
The song that Balthazar sings “men were deceivers ever” catches the spirit of the play as men will always be fickle in life and love, it is the woman’s position to accept it, and also Don Johns deceiving almost lead to a tragic climax in the play. The characters of Don Pedro, Bene*censored* and Claudio were at first appearing to be quite foolish, but with the tragic elements of the play seemed to develop and mature so that the comedy in the play is no longer relevant.
The scenes of comedy prominently feature Beatrice and Bene*censored*’s “skirmish of wit” in which their “merry war” is pursued. The uses of disguise in the play are funny as in the masked ball, where Bene*censored* disguises himself to Beatrice, who gives unexpected criticism of Bene*censored* being a “Princes jester” the laughing stock of all, from which Bene*censored* could not defend himself less he should be exposed. Other characters essential for comic value in the play are the malapropisms of Dogberry, and the language of The Watch, which help to alleviate the serious moments in the play.
Don John is at the heart of all the tragic elements in the play, as he is the villain, his evil deeds need no explanation further than his jealousy of his brother the Prince. Don John is shown in two short scenes, which convey him admitting to being “a plain-dealing villain”, and of doing evil. Don John is a melancholy character in the play we gather from his words and actions, but also that of other characters when Beatrice talks of how “tartly” he looks. Don John is a character for who it is impossible for the audience to feel compassion for, and so Shakespeare represented him as a conventional villain.
Scenes in which there is no element of comedy and are said to bee too shocking for a comedy, prelude in Act 4 Scene 1. Leanato’s rejection of his daughter “let her die.” he seems more concerned with his own grief and shame of public humiliation, than for his daughter. This is a scene with no comic moments and has serious consequences as does the scene where Beatrice asks Bene*censored* if he loves her to “kill Claudio” for the wrongful accusation of Hero.
The comic and tragic factors interlink throughout the play, whereby dark and serious scenes of Don John’s plotting follow the scenes of comedy or major events. Claudio informs Don Pedro of his love for Hero, and Don Pedro agrees to woo Hero for Claudio and inform Leonato of the match. A dark and sinister scene immediately follows the joyous scene with Claudio and Don Pedro. The light-hearted and menacing scenes appear back to back throughout the play, which provides dramatic tension, as the audience knows the villainous plan of Don John, and is aware of the irony of chaos that will surely follow.
Key factors in Much Ado are the different types of deception played on the characters, benevolent deceptions and destructive deceptions. The deception that Beatrice and Bene*censored* believe the other to be in “love” with them is a benevolent deception as it was done out of kindness for the good of those involved. The deception of Don John’s plan to dishonour Hero was a destructive deception, done for the sole purpose of ruining the lives of others for Don John’s amusement and revenge on his brother. Another type of deception that appears in the play is accidental deception, the Prince and Claudio believe that they see Hero talking on her balcony with another man, as Don John has previously inserted that idea into their minds, therefore the Prince and Claudio are deceived by their own eyes. Deliberate deception also appears in Much Ado, as when Bene*censored* masks his face at the ball and Beatrice deliberately deceives him, as she knows that it is Bene*censored*.
Various parts of Much Ado may not be politically correct in terms of society today, class is of little importance and racial discrimination is a serious issue. The opening scene of the play involves a messenger telling Leonato that few ‘gentlemen’ and nobody of ‘name’ was ‘lost’ in the war, which a modern day audience may be offended. A ‘Jew’ is an undesirable type person to be, as Bene*censored* implied; Elizabethan society saw the comment as humorous, whereas people today would find Bene*censored*’s remark quite offensive.
The title of the play is a pun being intended between “nothing and noting”, which in Elizabethan times were pronounced alike. The play is made up of much ado about noting, that is watching or observing. “All characters in the play have much ado and make much ado, but all the while this much ado is plainly about nothing.” All characters in Much Ado are constantly engaged in noting each other. Hero’s sufferings come from noting; by her uncle’s servant, by Claudio, and by Don Pedro, the accusation of Hero, about there is much ado, rests upon nothing.
The themes explored in Shakespeare’s plays are timeless and suggest that audiences past, present and future have and will always be interested in the outcome of friendship, honour and loyalty as dealt with in Much Ado. The themes are not only “ageless”, but of a universal relevance and it is interesting how a wide variety of Shakespeare’s plays are adapted to different “periods and cultures” for stage and film.
Much Ado follows a typical pattern of a comedy; there is first the introduction, then the complication leading to a climax, the denouncement follows and then finally the reconciliation. The play contains witty jokes from Beatrice and Bene*censored* with comic moments from Dogberry and The Watch. The public shame of Hero, the pretence death of Hero, and the Beatrice’s request to kill Claudio are all tragic events in the play. The play also concludes with a happy ending which further confirms the play is a comedy. The serious moments of Much Ado are lightened with the comedy and happy scenes, but also work in the opposite way of accentuating the darker moments in the play.Bibliography:
Shakespeare booklet – for knowledge of the Elizabethan era and the Globe theatre.
Henry Norman Hudson – critical analysis of Much Ado, published in 1914
Julia Stiles – Shakespeare enthusiast and actress who starred in The Tempest and Macbeth
Dr Colin Butler – Senior English Master at Borden Grammar School.
Grant white – theory on the title of Much Ado.
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