Much Ado about Nothing': Comedy or Tragedy Essay

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Much Ado About Nothing, a Shakespearean play, is a comedy that relates the stories of two couples as they navigate their love lives in sixteenth-century Italy. In the play, we learn of the love story of Claudio and Hero as well as the love story of Beatrice and Benedick. Though classified as a comedy, a variety of themes carrying deeper meaning can be found within the storyline.

Through the characters’ actions, we see how honor, prestige, notability, and social graces are of very high value. Public perception is of great importance. Along the same lines, lies the concept of pride. While the characters may not necessarily be prideful, their actions are heavily influenced by their wounded pride. In some cases, such as Claudio’s attempt to defame Hero, this wounded pride is the primary influencer of a character's thoughts, feelings, and actions. Oftentimes, characters have no qualms about resorting to deception to protect their reputation and to ensure that they remain respectable in society. This leads us to deception, which is another theme generously sprinkled throughout the story, with characters resorting to lies and trickery simply to alleviate their boredom. Love, romance, and courtship are also significant themes, with the basic plot revolving around two love stories. It is important to note that the story involves very few events. Moreover, it is propelled by language, conversations, and changing perceptions.

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In Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, all the characters use decorative language to communicate with one another. Their language consists of effortless wit, metaphors, rhetoric, and eloquence. Benedick, Claudio, and their companions use language to elicit approval as well as to create a demeanor of elegance, grace, and respectability. When Claudio is courting Hero, he attempts to entice her with complex language, declaring his deep love and desire. Benedick pokes fun at this, saying, “His words are a very fantastical banquet, just so many strange dishes” (Shakespeare) This use of extravagant language falls under the theme of honor and social graces. It is an example of the efforts put into creating and maintaining a positive public image.

In this world, reputation is always taken at face value, whether or not it is true. In a collectivistic society such as this one, a person’s reputation affects every aspect of his life. This makes an individual’s reputation his most prized possession. Due to that fact, people will go to great lengths to protect it. This also means that the destruction of a reputation is the deadliest weapon.

The entirety of the plot of Much Ado About Nothing is built upon lies and deception. We see deception when Don Pedro impersonates Claudio to win over Hero. We see deception when Beatrice and Benedick are fooled into believing that each is loved by the other. We see deception when Claudio is made to believe that Don Pedro is wooing Hero for himself. We see deception when Benedick disguises himself and spends time with Beatrice. We see deception when Claudio is made to believe that Hero has been unfaithful to him. We see deception when Hero’s family pretends that her grief has killed her. We see deception when Claudio is made to believe that he will be marrying Leonato’s niece.

However, all these examples of deception are not the same. We see deception that is meant to wreak havoc and cause distress and grief. We see the deception that is meant to tear lovers apart. We see deception used to promote oneself or to bring oneself forward. We see deception used for revenge. We see deception that is meant to yield a positive outcome. We see deception used as a means to bring two people together. We see deception used as a means to an end.

A deeper look at Shakespeare’s use of deception raises a multitude of questions regarding what he is trying to communicate through the story. What is Shakespeare trying to tell readers about deception? What does he wish for readers to take away from this story? This can be explored through further analysis of each instance of deception.

Deceit is used by Don Pedro when he impersonates Claudio to woo Hero on his behalf. Here, deception is being used for personal gain and to further one's agenda. Don Pedro is using lies and trickery to get his friend something he greatly desires. Claudio is allowing and supporting the deception so that he can get the woman that he wants. A reader may even argue that Don Pedro is committing this act of deception out of the goodness of his heart. This brings us back to the question of whether this deception is fueled by good intentions or negative ones. Readers may also contemplate whether or not the intention behind the action affects its morality.

Don John manipulates the situation when he convinces Claudio that Don Pedro is wooing Hero for himself. Here, Don Pedro is lying to sabotage the relationship between Claudio and Don Pedro as well as tainting Don Pedro’s reputation. His actions are fueled by hatred, resentment, and malice towards his brother. In this interaction, the morality of the situation is more clearly established. Don John is in the wrong. Eventually, the misunderstanding between Claudio and Don Pedro is cleared up and no lasting harm is done.

During the masquerade, Benedick does not correct Beatrice when she assumes he is someone else. There is no specific incentive or motivation behind this choice that he makes. He simply goes along with her mistake. This is a kind of passive deception. He did not actively deceive, but he did allow someone to continue to misconstrue a situation. This ends up in his misfortune as he hears Beatrice speak negatively about him saying, “he is a dull fool.” (Shakespeare) Benedick is gravely angered by her words so much so that he plans on seeking revenge.

Towards the end of the masquerade, Don Pedro and his companions conspire to bring Beatrice and Benedick together. They do this by fooling each of the two to believe that the other is in love with them. No harm comes from this trickery. Rather, it brings two people closer together. Once again, readers may contemplate the morality of the deception in this case. Deception for the sake of entertainment may be frowned upon. However, in this instance, it resulted in something to be cherished.

At the climax of the story, the most significant use of deception is by Don John in his attempt to falsely prove Hero’s infidelity. This is an act of evil intent. Don John’s only intention is to break people apart. He knowingly and purposely causes sorrow and devastation to multiple people. Here, the deception is immoral.

Towards the end of the story, Claudio is made to believe that his misunderstanding and overreactions lead to Hero’s death. He is made to believe that he will now be marrying Hero’s cousin. After marrying her while she is under a veil, it is revealed to him that the woman he has wed is Hero. Here, deception is used as a form of punishment, a way to even the score. In the end, Claudio pays his dues through his suffering, and Claudio and Hero are brought back together.

Benedick and Claudio work hard to remain in Don Pedro’s good graces. Claudio allows Don Pedro to woo Hero on his behalf. Many readers assume that this is because Claudio is too shy and inexperienced to confidently do it himself. It is also known that Don Pedro will have more influence due to his higher level of authority, guaranteeing his success in this endeavor. However, there is also a possibility that Claudio silently allows Don Pedro to woo Hero on his behalf so that he can remain in Don Pedro’s good graces. Even upon the belief that Don Pedro has been untruthful and is wooing Hero for himself, Claudio continues to engage politely with Don Pedro, despite his feelings of betrayal and distress. He chooses his obedience to rank and authority over his love for Hero. He goes as far as to say, “I wish him joy of her.” (Shakespeare) Even in such despicable circumstances, his actions remain noble.

In conclusion, Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing showcases the various motives and rationale prompting people to use deception as a means to an end. Regardless of accuracy, an individual's perception is their reality. A person’s entire world is built on what they perceive to be true. The various occurrences of duplicity, lying, and deceitfulness are a reminder of how unstable life can be. Such deceit demonstrates how easily people’s perceptions, and therefore their realities, are susceptible to reconstruction. Perhaps, through this story, Shakespeare has suggested that life is nothing but a facade based on appearances, interpretations, and manipulation of circumstances.    

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Much Ado about Nothing’: Comedy or Tragedy Essay. (2024, April 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 14, 2024, from
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