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Much Ado About Nothing

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Compare Shakespeare’s presentation of the love between Claudio and Hero with that between Beatrice and Benedick. What does the play have to tell us about love and marriage?

 

The love between Beatrice and Benedick is the idealistic love of Shakespeare and the love between Claudio and Hero is more realistic and physical. Actually there are contrasts and similarities in those two love stories in the play.

 From the beginning of the play, Claudio realizes, after returning from war, that he is deeply in love with Hero and wants to ask her father for permission to marry her. The other couple, Beatrice and Benedick, works hard to give the impression that neither is the least bit interested in the other. Later on, a plan of showing Hero’s disloyalty of being succumbed to the amorous attentions of a man other than Claudio is worked out on the night before Hero and Claudio’s wedding. Finally, the two couples get married.

First of all, Hero and Claudio’s relationship is based on first impressions, ignorance and wealth. On the other hand, Beatrice and Benedick’s love is based on mutual respect, love and true admiration. In the beginning of the play, there is nothing short of obvious attraction between Beatrice and Benedick. It appears as though they are reluctant lovers duped into a suspicious relationship. In the opening act, they already argue as lovers as Benedick says the words I, i. 107 ‘What, my dear Lady Disdain! Are you yet living?’ This is obviously quite a tongue in rude question with undertones of attraction as is Beatrice’s reply I, i. 108-11 ‘Is it possible disdain should die while she hath such meet food to feet it as Signor Benedick? Courtesy itself must convert to disdain if you come in her presence.’ This teasing, laced with clear regard and attraction, continues with more passionate infighting where their fascination for each other becomes more and more clear. Their words, which appear to be that demonstrating disdain, are words talked tediously by lovers who are confused and frightened of their attraction. Later in the same scene, we can hear Benedick says I, i. 217-24 ‘…But that I will have a recheat winded in my forehead, or hand my bugle in an invisible baldric, all women shall pardon me. Because  I will not do them the wrong to mistrust any, I will do myself the right to trust none. And the fine is – for the which I may go the finer – I will live a bachelor.’ One theory of this is that by remaining a bachelor he somehow does not lose the male connection that he experiences with the other bachelors.

Benedick admires Beatrice’s wit and quick tongue as this demonstrates she is far from being beneath him intellectually. This is clearly evident in the fact that he respects his mother, for giving birth to him, thereby demonstrating his respect for women in general. It is also apparent that a woman should be more than just pretty, as he appears to disagree with Claudio’s fascination with the beauty of Hero. Benedick’s respect and high admiration for Beatrice is, at first, clouded by fear and confusion, not based only on her appearance, but on her soul and inner beauty. Being a confirmed believer in his own eternal bachelorhood, Benedick would not be persuaded from his convictions for anything less than a quick-witted woman of inner beauty. This is how he differs dramatically from Claudio whose first impression and regard is based merely on Hero’s beauty.

In Act 2 Scene 3, Leonato, together with Don Pedro and Claudio make Benedick overhear them saying that Beatrice is madly in love with him but is just too embarrassed to let him know her feelings. In the meantime, Hero and Ursula contrive to let Beatrice hear them talk about how much Benedick loves her in Act 3 Scene 1. They also praise Benedick’s many virtues. Both Beatrice and Benedick are talkative and outspoken and full of wit. As the play progresses, both try to hide their feelings for each other by verbal sparring. Benedick seems to be mature and has a good judgement. When everybody thinks that Hero has been unfaithful to Claudio, he remains skeptical as the Friar. After Hero’s disloyalty to Claudio, which is actually fake, had happened, Beatrice and Benedick’s relationship progresses from antipathy to falling in love with each other.

In language, Shakespeare uses prose for the verbal battles between Beatrice and Benedick. When Benedick tells of his love in prose he leaves no doubt about the depth and reality of his feelings.

Claudio, upon returning from battle, perceives Hero as the most beautiful creature in the world. He declares to Benedick, with no hesitation that he intends to marry Hero. What does he know of her aside from her external beauty? A wealth that with it comes power untold, that would be part of the package were Claudio to marry Hero. Somehow, both Claudio and Hero are prepared to fall in love and marry. The realization comes to him later and does nothing but make Hero a sweeter reward.

Don John, the bastard, and his man Borachio try to break them up. For the first attempt, Don John and Borachio plant the lie that Don Pedro II, i. 157 ‘swore he would marry her (Hero) tonight’. Claudio accepts the lie and prepares to give her up. After a certain time, Borachio persuades Margaret to flirt with him at Hero’s chamber window, dressed as Hero, at the night before Hero and Claudio’s wedding, while Don John lets Claudio, together with Don Pedro, overhear.

Both Claudio and Hero are young and innocent. Claudio is easily led to believe in the disloyalty of Hero and Don Pedro in the hands of Don John and Borachio.

The love between Claudio and Hero is actually a romance overshadowed by the passion of Beatrice and Benedick. Their love story gets progressively sadder and almost turns into a tragedy save for the final turn of events. Shakespeare uses verse to characterize Hero and Claudio. When Claudio speaks of his love in verse, it is conventional and convincing.

Both sets of lovers undergo a change in the course of the play. Beatrice and Benedick accept love and marriage. Benedick, who claims that it is hard for him to express true feelings with out wit, finally gives up words fro action and kisses Beatrice in the final scene. V, iv. 74 ‘Do not you love me?’ V, iv. 77-8 ‘Do not you love me?’ , ‘Troth no, no more than reason.’ . On the other hand, Claudio and Hero mature through their painful experience. In both cases, the lovers are asked to prove their love. Beatrice asks Benedick IV, i. 287 ‘Kill Claudio.’ Claudio is asked to marry Leonato’s niece, whom he has never known, to show his repentance and love for Hero. It can said that in the end both couples are more aware of their lovers’ inner beauty in one way or another. Claudio perhaps sees Hero as a person for the first time when he realizes her innocence.

At the beginning, Claudio simply wishes to marry Hero based on her beauty, with the thought of wealth and power thrown in on the side. He has not acknowledged the fact that Hero is a person aside from her beauty and position. At the end, Hero perhaps sees Claudio’s inner beauty as well throughout all the turmoil. Beatrice and Benedick, though always subconsciously aware of each other’s inner beauty, are made aware in a concrete sense when the end comes upon them. They began to understand the game they have been playing and see each other for who they are and as a result love each other even more. Beatrice and Benedick have true and honest passion, which they fought against diligently while Hero, and Claudio’s love demonstrated the shallowness of physical attraction.