The title of William Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing tells its reader everything they have to know and will eventually come to know in order to fully understand the play. The title is so significant because the ideas of noting, or observation, and nothing, are important themes in this story. Unrelated, if you simply remove the “h” from nothing, it becomes noting. Noting, as in identifying and remember a phrase or statement a character said, is something which motivates the characters to take actions which greatly affect the plot, and it is an idea which reflects the theme of reality versus appearance, in which reality is nothing and appearance is due to noting. Consistently do we see a character hiding behind a bush to listen to a conversation and then acting according to what was just said. Much Ado About Nothing uses characters that are so un-self-aware and not individualistic to represent how vulnerable humans are to both love and understanding a “hidden” knowledge.
It is the characters’ noting which motivates them to take actions, all of which end up influencing the plot. The first example of this is when Claudio falls in love with Hero. The relationship between these two characters originates when Claudio notices Hero, ‘Benedick, didst thou note the daughter of Signior Leonato?’ (Act 1:1, l. 158-59). Claudio then asks the Prince to woo her for him. The synthetic romance between Beatrice and Benedick as well as the scheme of Don John and the ‘death of Hero’ is all on account of Claudio’s falling in love with Hero, which wouldn’t have happened, had he not noted her. Another example is when Benedick and Beatrice fall in love with one another. The only reason this happens is because Benedick overhears the Prince, Claudio, and Leonato discussing how Beatrice is in love with him: ‘Come hither, Leonato. What was it you told me of today, that your niece Beatrice was in love with Signior Benedick?’ (Act 2:3, l. 95-7). This, of course, is not true, but Benedick believes it because he is so blinded, so trigger-happy at the concept of love – not to mention the extreme social pressure he feels to be in love – and he falls in love with Beatrice. ‘I will be horribly in love with her!’ (Act 2:3, l. 237). Likewise, Beatrice overhears Hero and Ursula purposefully creating a similar story for her to love Benedick not too long after. As can be predicted, Beatrice falls in love with him the moment she hears this, ‘I will requite thee, taming my wild heart to thy loving hand.’ (Act 3:1, l. 117-18). The relationship between these two characters is a cliché and lazy way to create a relationship between people in a story which it is important to the plot. It is just as synthetically created as it occurs in the story. However, this fact does not negate nor neglect the importance of their relationship (as it does to the author’s intentions), as many events revolve around them, and it comes about only because Beatrice and Benedick note others’ conversations which essentially tell them to love each other because one loves the other. This only works because both Benedick and Beatrice are so desperate for love. Especially Beatrice, they feel left out and isolated and inferior because they are not in love.
Probably the most important instance of a character’s noting affecting the plot is when Claudio observes Borachio courting Margaret who he believes is Hero. Thinking Hero is not being loyal, Claudio publicly shames her at their wedding and thus refuses to marry her. This event, and the actions taken to solve the problems it creates, make up the major conflict in the plot. The characters must devise a plan to prove Hero’s innocence and make Claudio feel remorse for his actions. They do this by staging Hero’s death. None of this would have occurred, however, if Claudio had not noted Borachio courting ‘Hero’ and then acted on his false impressions. This is one of the only instances where eavesdropping causes a negative reaction. Claudio’s lack of intellect and individuality lead him to believe what he thought he saw without much hesitation or second thought.
Noting does not only motivate the characters; it reflects the theme of actuality of appearance. The idea that objects, people, or relationships are not always what they seem to be. The frequent use of masks throughout the story best signifies this. The first use of masks is at the dance, where several people seem to be someone they are not. Many of the story’s issues and tensions occur here. Antonio flirts with Ursula, pretending he is not himself; The Prince woos Hero, pretending to be Claudio; Claudio pretends to be Benedick, and so allows himself to hear Don John saying that the Prince is wooing for himself. Benedick, recognizing Beatrice, who may or may not recognize him, is subjected by her to a series of harsh criticisms of himself. In the end of the story, Claudio marries Hero when she is behind a mask, not knowing her identity. All of these events take place when most of the characters are behind masks. Being behind a mask prohibits the other characters from properly noting the situation. Perhaps this is why most of the play’s issues stem from this one night; it is each character’s inability to act as well as they normally do based on who said what and why while being deceived as to who they are talking to.
The theme of actuality of appearance involves affairs not being what they seem to be, but also goes to a higher level. Characters become deceived by what they note because the things they note are not exactly what they seem to be. By reacting to what they believe they noted and that what they noted is nothing but the truth, the characters react to what is, in reality, nothing. For example, Beatrice and Benedick fall in love because, by what they note others saying, it appears to them that each is in love with the other. In reality, neither of them actual love the other based on true emotion, rather the fear of an unrequited love and desire to conform to the pressures of their social group.
Actuality of appearance appears again when Claudio notes Margaret and Borachio and believes Margaret to be Hero, then slanders Hero, justifying himself with the idea that she appeared to be disloyal. While he shames her, he makes many references to her appearance and how it differs from what she is in reality, ‘Behold how like a maid she blushes here! …Would you not swear, all you that see her, that she were a maid,/ By these exterior shows? But she is none.’ (Act 4:1, l. 34-40). Thus Claudio accuses Hero in reaction to her appearing to be disloyal. He later discovers that she was not disloyal and innocent all along, and that what he noted was false, but only after others told him he was wrong. His accusations were built on nothing, she had appeared unfaithful but was, in reality, loyal.
The title, Much Ado About Nothing, summarizes the entire story. It has two meanings, each of which are significant to the plot – it means ‘much ado about noting,’ all of the events that occur take place on account of the characters’ noting and believing; it also means ‘much ado about nothing,’ it describes how all of the characters’ create a hubbub around seemingly insignificant things and their activities are based on nothing but unsolicited belief of what they overhear. The title itself is representative of the clever and complex text within. The title, then, is one of the few aspects of this play which do not have a deceitful appearance. In fact, this work is so preoccupied with the idea of deceitful appearances and such that it makes the reader wonder about his or her own life, to question how many times we have been? It also reveals the question of are we, like the characters, going to be lucky enough to have the truth revealed to us? The title of William Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing tells its reader everything they have to know and will eventually come to know in order to fully understand the play, yet we never do truly know the truth of it all.