Much Ado About Nothing
Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
Antonio must calm down Leonato, who is having a fit about the soldiers and the shaming. During an encounter with Don Pedro and Claudio, it is Leonato who must calm down Antonio, who challenges Claudio with insults: “Come, follow me, boy; come, sir boy, come follow me. / Sir boy, I’ll whip you from your foining fence” (V.i.83-84). Don Pedro says to Leonato,
My heart is very sorry for your daughter’s death,
But on my honor she was charged with nothing
But what was true and very full of proof.
“The enjambed line … is richly ambiguous, allowing for the phrase ‘charged with nothing’ to linger in the ear of the audience, before it is capped by the legal certitude of apparent ‘truth’ and ‘proof'” (Garber 381).
Benedick enters, seeking out Claudio, and when Don Pedro and Claudio try to goad him into his usual witty banter, he nobly sticks to his intent of challenging Claudio. His resolve ennobles him; he means business and he does not waffle depending on his audience — he is true to Beatrice’s commission. “You are a villain,” he tells Claudio. “I jest not” (V.i.145-146). He tells Don Pedro, “Your brother the bastard is fled from Messina. You have among you kill’d a sweet and innocent lady” (V.i.190-192).
Dogberry and his men haul in the criminals and all is revealed, despite Dogberry’s bungled enumeration system, one probably inspired by Arundel’s libels against Oxford (Ogburn and Ogburn 504; Anderson 169). Borachio admits, “What your wisdoms could not discover, these shallow fools have brought to light” (V.i.132-134). In other words, “What culture could not compass, the dumb luck or instinct of the unlettered brings to light” (Goddard, I 279). Leonato rubs this in: “I thank you, princes, for my daughter’s death; / Record it with your high and worthy deeds” (V.i.268-269). He tells a crushed Claudio that he cannot bring back Hero, but that he should marry another cousin of hers who looks like her (Patty Duke?) and is heir to both her father Antonio and Leonato too. (Odd punishment, if women are still considered commodities!) Dogberry takes his goofy leave. Claudio submits to his punishment.
Benedick is in agony because his love texts are not going well:
in loving, Leander the good swimmer, Troilus the first employer of pandars, and a whole bookful of quondam carpetmongers, whose names yet run smoothly in the even road of a blank verse, why, they were never so truly turn’d over and over as my poor self in love. Marry, I cannot show it in rhyme; I have tried. I can find out no rhyme to “lady” but “baby”…. (V.ii.30-37)
[Neither can Elton John, “Tiny Dancer”; Whitney Houston, “I’m Your Baby Tonight”; Lil’ Romeo, “My Baby”; N Sync, “Just Got Paid”; Shaggy, “Angel”; that piece of moronic crap “Butterfly”; Queen, “Sweet Lady”; John Michael Montgomery, “Dream On Texas Ladies”; Neil Diamond, “Brother Love’s Travelin'”; etc., etc.]
Benedick recognizes that rhyme words can chime dark and inappropriate notes, and, “No, I was not born under a rhyming planet, nor I cannot woo in festival terms” (V.ii.40-41). Beatrice enters and the two exchange good-natured barbs. Benedick notes that “Thou and I are too wise to woo peaceably” (V.ii.72). Beatrice haughtily alludes to his considering himself wise, to which he replies:
If a man do not erect in this age his own tomb ere he dies, he shall live no longer in monument than the bell rings and the widow weeps…. Therefore it is most expedient for the wise, if Don Worm (his conscience) find no impediment to the contrary, to be the trumpet to his own virtues, as I am to myself. (V.ii.77-86)
If the extraneousness of this odd passage weren’t enough to alert us, consider the Don Worm reference: Don = Count = Earl; Worm = Ver. It’s another passage alluding to the obliteration of identity and the leaving behind for posterity a “monument” — ubiquitous Shake-spearean concerns.
Ursula summons the couple with news that all has been revealed regarding the Hero plot.
Claudio must every year sing a solemn tribute to Hero at her tomb. Here’s the First Annual Hero Deathfest Saline-a-bration. Claudio’s penitance, like his fit at Hero, also is public. A confrontation with death before the final happiness is typical in Shakespeare. “The Hero whom Claudio maligned is dead, never to revive. Out of the illusion of her death a new Hero emerges not only in herself but in Claudio’s heart and imagination. And so the illusion turns into the fact, and looking retrospectively we see there was no deception” (Goddard, I 274).
All is set up for the big revelation and when Claudio’s new bride is brought forth. “Which is the lady I must seize upon?” asks Claudio (V.iv.53) — so he’s still a dolt! Hero emerges. Leonato sort of explains, “She died, my lord, but whiles her slander liv’d” (V.iv.66). The two young lovers are reconciled immediately, which would be almost comic if the prior events were not so brutal. We can excuse them only insofar as these idiots are so young, if cast properly. So, Hero “marries the feckless Claudio, but she is just too young to know that there is nothing to him” (Bloom 347).
Is this play sufficient comedy? The end in joy should also involve a return to normal, a restitution. But here? An ironic ending only? It seems that “so serious is the crack in the foundation of [this] society that the conclusion does not integrate all its elements, and the play ends on a somewhat discordant note” (French 131); the dark side of the play destabilized this society too severely.
In any case, Benedick interrupts the celebration asking for Beatrice. They publicly denounce each other, but after some unsent love letters (notes!) are brought to light, they make faux excuses why they each agree to marry the other, pitiful attempts to “save face” (Asimov 558). Benedick says, “Come, I will have thee, but by this light, I take thee for pity” (V.iv.92-93). Beatrice responds, “I would not deny you, but by this good day, I yield upon great persuasion, and partly to save your life, for I was told you were in a consumption” (V.iv.94-97). They kiss.
it is those who sceptically question romantic attitudes who convince us that they have achieved the more enduring relationship. (Wells 164)
After all, “Beatrice” means “she who makes happy” and “Benedick” means “blessed,” and Shakespeare could not have chosen those names accidentally. Beatrice will make Benedick happy and he will be blessed in her. (Asimov 559)
Benedick reconciles with Claudio: “Come, come, we are friends” (V.iv.117). He insists that everyone dance before the ceremonies. Leonato, naturally, would rather make sure the wedding succeed this time first, but Benedick insists on the dancing. News that Don John has been captured yields only the insistence that Benedick will think up punishments tomorrow (a bizarre promise for wedding-night activities, and probably some punishment far exceeding his crimes, which, as one of my students pointed out, amounts to no more than telling some lies), unless by “I’ll devise thee brave punishments” (V.iv.127-128), Oxford means creating plays (Ogburn and Ogburn 489).
But for now, we dance: “Strike up, pipers” (V.iv.128-129), and we end with celebratory music, which, as we know, is made up of a harmony of “notings.”
Eva Turner Clark notes that A historie of Ariodante and Geneuora was presented before the Queen in February of 1582-83 — the story from Ariosto’s “Orlando Furioso” on which Much Ado is based. She treats the play as an allegory of historical events from the time, in which
Don Pedro = Queen Elizabeth, especially in her authoritarian matchmaking capacities.
Don John = Lord Henry Howard, brother of the executed Duke of Norfolk, perpetual conspirator, and kinsman of the Queen; recently released from prison and destined to return to prison within the year.
Claudio = Sir Philip Sidney, who soon after the 1581 marriage of the “Penny” of his sonnets, turned his attentions to Frances Walsingham (but also a bit of Oxford too and his belief in the worst about Anne Cecil, seemingly based on Howard’s slanders).
Benedick = certainly Oxford himself, probably often considered “the prince’s fool” at court.
Leonato = Lord Burghley.
Antonio = Sir Francis Walsingham, Secretary of State (and head of a sleazy spy network).
Hero = Frances Walsingham, daughter of the Secretary, whose childhood engagement was an impediment in the Sidney match.
Beatrice = Anne Cecil, whose estrangement from her husband would somewhat explain the vague pre-history between Benedick and Beatrice.
“Much Ado About Nothing is a study in the egotism of youth, its sentimental and romantic egotism in Claudio, its antiromantic and intellectual egotism in Beatrice and Benedick” (Goddard, I 277). Despite it being a glimmering example of the romance comedy, the play contains also “a constant subtext of unarticulated pain and loss” (Garber 374).More abstractly, “Much Ado About Nothing is saturated with this idea of the power of Nothing (of the creative ingredient of the imagination, that is) to alter the nature of things for good or ill, for, as Shakespeare’s History Plays so abundantly show, fear and hate, as well as faith and love, have the capacity to attract facts to them and so, temporarily at least, to confirm their own hypotheses” (Goddard, I 275).