Regarded as one of William Shakespeare’s greatest creations, the novel Much Ado About Nothing clearly illustrates to its readers the unjust and discriminatory society that was in place during the Elizabethan era. Shakespeare explores the themes of social class and snobbery in this novel in order to achieve his main goal for the novel which was to explore the irony behind the celebration of marriage as well as in a sense mock the attraction between a man and a woman. By deliberately including characters from different social classes he is able to show the hypocritical nature of the upper class such as “Don Pedro”, “Don John” and “Beatrice” as well as the poor lifestyle of the lower-class individuals such as “dogberry” and “verges”.
Shakespeare portrays the upper-class characters as hypocrites by giving them both good but bad characteristics. Through “don Pedro” who is generous and loving but gullible and hasty at the same time, the kind nature of the upper class is this is evident when he says “he shall fall in love with Beatrice. If we can do this, Cupid is no longer an archer (2.1.371)[footnoteRef:1]. This shows that he cares deeply enough to about “Claudio” to put his own emotions aside and help him even though he had feeling for “Beatrice” previously. However their vicious nature is shown through his illegitimate brother “don john” who’s objective is to ruin the happiness of people around him as he uses phrases such as “ Signior, you are very near my brother in his love: he is enamoured on Hero; I pray you, dissuade him from her” (2,1, 547). In this scene “Don jon” is trying to persuade “Claudio” to ruin his brother and “Hero’s” alleged romance. This shows that the upper-class individuals were always conspiring with each other without any care of the consequences or harm they could cause to others. [1: Shakespeare, William, and Peter Holland. Much Ado about Nothing. NY, NY: Penguin Books, 2017.]
However, the lower class are shown to be more gullible and desperate to further emphasise on how poor they were at the time. Through the characters “Borachio” and his wife “Margaret”, the lower-class people are shown to be blindly devoted to those of the higher class as they get financially compensated. This is evident when they are both easily bribed by “don john” to help trick “Claudio” to think “Hero” was cheating on him as he indicates when he says “I have earned of Don John a thousand ducats.” Moreover, his blind devotion is expressed when he says “but the devil my master knew she was Margaret”. He refers to his master as “the devil” without any hesitation which gives the impression that he is well aware of the evil he does but does not let it bother him because he is powerless to do so and also doesn’t want to jeopardise his source of income. Furthermore, the lower-class people are shown to have been poorly treated by the upper class at the time, this is evident through the character “verges” who is seen as the comic of the play and is not taken seriously, he is also seen as a type of “fool” by the others. Verges also endorses quite a few of Dogberry’s statements, answering ’tis very true,’ and ‘I think it be so.’ This indicates that verges opinion is usually dismissed as these responses lack depth and character, their purpose is mainly to support Dogberry’s statements.
The members of the upper class are shown to be highly educated in comparison to those of the lower-class, this is evident in the language they use. The upper-class members use more advanced vocabulary such as “you shall comprehend all vagrom men” (3.3). members of the lower-class wouldn’t have been able to comprehend this ass the word “vagrom” would have confused them as it is “an archaic word for vagrant which is someone who moves a lot from place to place because they have no permanent home or job, and have to ask for or steal things in order to live.”[footnoteRef:2]. Whereas members of the lower class such as “Dogberry” are shown to be poorly educated as he has issues articulating their words as shown when he says ‘Adieu. Be vigitant, I beseech you.’ Whereas he meant to say “vigilant” rather than “vigitant”[footnoteRef:3], this also shows that even though they cannot speak as well as the upper-class people, they still try to incorporate some advanced vocabulary in their speech, this also creates some sort humour in the play because the reader would find it amusing to see that the mistake in his words. This then draws the readers attention more towards the play. [2: “Vagrant Definition and Meaning: Collins English Dictionary.” Vagrant definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. Accessed December 9, 2019. https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/vagrant.] [3: “Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare.” enotes.com. enotes.com. Accessed December 6, 2019. https://www.enotes.com/homework-help/how-social-class-portrayed-book-558876.]
In the snobbery is shown to be a sign of wealth especially for the upper-class as shown through the interaction of “Leonato” and “Don John” when he says “I should think this a gull, but the white bearded fellow speaks it: knavery cannot hide itself in such reverence.” (2.3). this implies that he lets his position in society cloud his judgment as he is quick to believe the lies of “Don John” as indicated in the quote. he believes the rumours because those with a higher social status than him do as well. This is a sign of Don Johns Snobbery as he completely disregards “Leonato’s” emotions when he lies to him about his own daughter without any remorse or hesitation. This show that those of the higher class disregard the effect that their actions cause to those in the lower-class and only care about their own personal goals. This is because they also think they can just repair any damage they have caused by paying with this money.
In conclusion, the play “much ado about nothing” explores social class and snobbery for different angles by including characters with different social backgrounds and characteristics in order to give more detail about the society he lived in at the time. Additionally, by having characters from different social classed he is able to bring in humour in his plays as he includes puns and jokes in order to make in his plays more interesting and to catch the attention of many of his readers as the genre of comedy is highly adored.
- “Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare.” enotes.com. enotes.com. Accessed December 6, 2019. https://www.enotes.com/homework-help/how-social-class-portrayed-book-558876.
- Shakespeare, William, and Peter Holland. Much Ado about Nothing. NY, NY: Penguin Books, 2017.
- “Social Class.” Much Ado About Nothing, April 12, 2014. http://muchadoquotations.blogspot.com/2014/04/social-class.html.
- “Vagrant Definition and Meaning: Collins English Dictionary.” Vagrant definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. Accessed December 9, 2019. https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/vagrant.