Much Ado about Nothing is a play that revolves around the extensiveness of gossip, eavesdropping, the slander of names and character and disdain, it is palpable in its presence and effortless to identify. In the opening scene alone, we see Claudio’s achievements and how his uncle’s response to them is reported. A report of Benedick’s battle skills has been evoked by Beatrice from a poor messenger, Claudio declares his love for Hero to Benedick who then runs along and spills the beans to Don Pedro who offers his help in order for them to be together. Reading into the second scene, Antonio and Borachio have twisted Don Pedro’s plan for Claudio and Hero and devise their own plan to distort Claudio’s image of Hero. Borachio tricks poor Margaret into being a part of this plan by seducing her in Hero’s clothing in plain sight for Claudio to see and make him believe that Hero is not honorable and disloyal. Even though everything works out for the best, gossip and slander is a big part of the play and the play seems to be a little childlike as a result because of Don John’s jealousy, Beatrice and Benedick’s indirect love for one another misrepresented as hatred, and the slander of Hero’s name and character.
Although is appears like Don John has no real motive for the down-right bad behavior and villainy he causes and that his actions are a result of being a plain old mean-spirited and evil person, as he states, “In this, though I cannot be said to be a flattering honest man, it must not be denied but I am a plain-dealing villain.” (I.3.23-27) we soon learn that he is the illegitimate brother of Don Pedro and that Don John is held at a lower position than his brother. This suggests some hidden jealousy and resentment towards Don Pedro and the social hierarchy that is held in the play. Don John uses his jealousy as a drive to wreak havoc on not only his half-brother but also his friends, including Claudio. This havoc affects everyone in the play and Hero feels the brunt of the situation and is so overly stimulated that she ends up fainting and is assumed to be dead. Claudio is also a victim because in response to his humiliation of Hero at their wedding, Beatrice convinces Benedick to challenge Claudio to the death in order to prove his love.
The relationship between Benedick and Beatrice is unusual because deception is a big part of how the pair is brought together. All throughout the beginning of the play, Beatrice and Benedick deceive themselves into believing that they are repulsed by the sight of one another and use their wit to convince the other of that fact as well. Benedick declares that “It is certain I am loved of all ladies, only you excepted” and Beatrice replies “I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me.” (I.I.99-106) Then with the agreement of meddling between their families, they are tricked into believing the other is truly in love with them. The result is a very emotional declaration of love to one another and a sincere and happy relationship, as a result of said deception. It is tricky to keep up with, but a favorite among the audiences of Shakespeare.
Unlike jealousy and immaturity, the slander of Hero’s name and character is deliberate and nasty. The masked ball should have already taught Claudio that Don John is not to be trusted when his gossip about Don Pedro’s dishonesty was proven false. However, Claudio shows his age and still listens to Don Johns word. As soon as Claudio and Hero’s engagement is announced, Don John devises his evil plan. It seems as though in this play sexual relationships are complicated by illusions, not proven facts. “Intend a kind of zeal both to the Prince and Claudio, as in love of your brother’s honor, who hath made this match, and his friend’s reputation, who is thus like to be cozened with the semblance of a maid, that you have discovered thus.” (II.2.27-29)
These men declare disgust and shamefulness using a politely disloyal and obvious claim to their status. We read about how Don John manipulates Claudio and Don Pedro into professing their intent to publicly humiliate Hero, Claudio says “If I see anything tonight why should I not marry her, tomorrow in the congregation, where I should wed, there I will shame her” and Don Pedro agrees by then saying “And as I wooed for thee to obtain, I will join thee to disgrace her.” (III.2.116-120)
The play ends on a happy note and all of the gossip eventually comes to light, bringing together all of the main characters in a positive way but the entire undertone of the story seems immature. It almost feels like the play was made into every blockbuster movie that depicts what it’s like to be a high school freshman in our society today. Shakespeare shows today’s generation that not much has changed and the things they are going through now have been going on for years. Gossip is a natural part of forming relationships with people and although it may seem malicious, some of it is completely light-hearted and good intentioned. On the other hand, slander is never good, but it teaches us a lesson.