Men Were Deceivers Ever

June 17, 2010 at 12:07 pm (Analysis and Discussion, Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , )

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea, and one on shore,
To one thing constant never.
Then sigh not so, but let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into hey nonny nonny.
II.3.62-69

Much Ado About Nothing is a study in male deception. It’s interesting, because the men make much ado about female deception — with incessant teasing and reference to the cuckold horns (referring to a man whose wife is unfaithful). Constant joking on this and yet there’s no grounds for it — women in this play are true.

But the whole play is about deception. The introduction in my edition points out that the words “nothing” and “noting” were pronounced the same in Elizabethan English, so Shakespeare was punning on the title. Another way of reading it is Much Ado About Noting, referring to noticing what others say or eavesdropping. And from that perspective, nothing really is the way it’s noted! Nothing is as it seems. There is much deception. Let’s take a look.

Don John: We’ll start with the most obvious deceiver. Don John’s whole purpose in the play is to deceive. And his deceptions fuel the plot. First, he tricks Claudio into believing that Don Pedro woos Hero for himself and not for Claudio. Claudio notes what John says and believes that Pedro has deceived him. Yet, there is nothing to it; Pedro did as he said, he wooed Hero for Claudio.

When nothing comes of that deception, Don John kicks into high gear and engineers the deception most central to the plot by convincing Don Pedro and Claudio of Hero’s disloyalty and then taking them to witness the supposed deed itself at the window on the night before the wedding. This is an evil deception with evil intent — Don John despises Claudio for his closeness with Don Pedro and wants him to suffer. He’s a despicable character. Again, though, there’s nothing to this… ultimately Claudio realizes that nothing he noted is what he thought. Hero is not a whore with another man on the night before her wedding, and there is nothing true about the accusations against her. Much ado about nothing.

Borachio: He’s Don John’s follower and he’s paid well by John for coming up with the idea of the window scene deception. Yes, although Don John lays the foundation by talking Don Pedro and Claudio into believing in Hero’s disloyalty and taking them to view the scene, the idea for this evil deception comes from Borachio. Borachio is the man at Hero’s bedroom window, there with Margaret and calling her “Hero.” Although Claudio and Don Pedro see what they believe they’ll see (in this case because Don John has prepped them and they believe they will see Hero with a man), it is Borachio’s acting that fulfills the deception. Borachio also apparently deceives Margaret, who he claims later is innocent and not a knowing participant in the conspiracy leading to Hero’s downfall.

Don Pedro: What is up with Pedro? He is apparently an older man, a prince and leads men in battle — you would think he’d be sensible and level-headed. The more I get to know Pedro, the less I like him. At best he’s a nosy and foolish prankster.

First, I do not understand why he offers to woo Hero for Claudio. What an odd little game of a deception to come up with. Why? Like Claudio is too shy to woo her for himself? That is not made clear in the text to me, yet Pedro comes up with this bright idea. It’s so odd and unnecessary! He deceives Hero, pretending to be Claudio while wearing a mask. What’s even odder here is that due to the misnoting of Hero’s uncle’s man (much gossip and eavesdropping going on in this play!) Hero is actually all set for Pedro himself to propose to her! So, who knows if she’s actually deceived by Pedro’s prank — she may have assumed Pedro was really proposing to her! But if not, what an odd turn it takes for her. Ultimately, it’s a harmless prank, as Pedro really does woo Hero for Claudio’s sake, but it’s so odd!

Then, the next prank comes quickly into Pedro’s head: Let’s trick Benedick and Beatrice into loving each other! It’s all his idea to have Benedick overhear him and the other men discussing how much Beatrice loves him. And then he tells the women to get Beatrice to overhear them talking about Benedick loving her. Much ado about noting! He’s the prankster supreme here… just loving the whole big joke.

Claudio: Claudio is in on this joke to deceive Benedick. He has no qualms about it. It’s all so much fun! Also, earlier, Claudio pretends to be Benedick while wearing his mask — Don John knows it’s Claudio, but pretends to think it’s Benedick and Claudio never sets him straight. Then, Claudio believes John because he thinks that John thought he was telling Benedick about Pedro’s supposed deception, wooing Hero for himself instead of for Claudio. Much ado about nothing!

Leonato: Leonato gets in on the deception. Benedick only believes the pranksters regarding Beatrice’s supposedly being sick with love for him because of Leonato’s participation in the ruse. If the gray-haired man, the governor of Messina, is involved, it must be true! So Leonato’s deception is instrumental in the matchmaking ploy. In addition, Leonato has no problem going along with the later deception, pretending that Hero is dead.

Friar Francis: Even the good friar is guilty of deception. It’s his idea to pretend that Hero is dead. He hopes this deception will lead Claudio to miss her and feel remorse for the accusations against her.

Antonio: Old Antonio, Hero’s uncle, falls neatly into the deception about Hero’s death. He knows she’s not really dead, yet he puts on a convincing (and if it were real, touching) display of anger and heartbreak as he lashes out at Claudio for his accusations. Wow. These folks are eager and natural deceivers!

Benedick: I’ll end with our protagonist. He is generally a good man in this play, honest and true to his word. But even he is guilty of deception. Before the play’s action, Beatrice tells us that Benedick deceived her and broke her heart. During the play, Benedick plays the rather minor and flirty deception at the masked dance, pretending to be someone else while dancing with Beatrice (and I don’t believe Beatrice is deceived). And then finally, Benedick works hard at deceiving himself, telling himself over and over again how happy he is being a bachelor and how much he dislikes Beatrice. This self-deception turns out to be amazingly easy to undo with just a little deception from the other men as he eavesdrops on the gossips.

Yes, indeed. Men were deceivers ever. And nothing is as noted. And it’s all much ado about nothing!

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1 Comment

  1. And Be You Blithe and Bonny « Or What You Will said,

    [...] song. It describes the play’s action in a nutshell. The men in Much Ado About Nothing are deceivers. The women let them off the hook. Hero forgives Claudio for his (in my mind unforgivable!) actions [...]

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