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A recurring theme, especially in Shakespeare’s comedies, is love and marriage. Shakespeare often revealed the culture and society of his day and how it was changing within his plays. In Shakespeare’s day, love was still an insignificant factor when it came to marriage. For the most part, marriages were arranged by families as a sort of business deal or, if the families were important enough, a political alliance. In Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare toys with the idea that maybe love should be a component of marriage.
From the beginning of Much Ado About Nothing, Claudio realizes that is is in love with Hero and wants to has her Father to marry her. This relationship is based on the typical patriarchal society of the Early middle ages. Claudio makes sure that she’s rich and that Leonato is planning on leaving his money to them. The hero is shown as a weak and helpless girl while Claudio is a strong military man. In Act 4 Scene 1 Claudio shows his true colors by saying, “There, Leonato, take her back again: Give not this rotten orange to your friend.”(4.1.29) Claudio no longer believes that Hero is a virgin so he compares her to a rotten fruit. Even when Hero is insulted and accused of being a prostitute she does not defend herself and instead says “Is my lord well, that he doth speak so wide?” (4.1.59) This furthers the idea that Hero is weak and reliant on Claudio. Shakespeare demonstrates how the standard patriarchal way of marriage is flawed but uses the relationship between Benedick and Beatrice to demonstrate that a relationship founded on love and trust may lead to a stronger marriage.
Benedick and Beatrice both swear they are never going to get married but as the story continues they are sort of tricked into loving each other. Their relationship is not superficial like Hero and Claudio’s but is instead a much deeper relationship. They are constantly insulting each other however their hatred turns into love and they thrive more than Hero and Claudio.
While Hero and Claudio seem to be the focus of the play, some critics say otherwise. Marta Mateo states that “Beatrice’s and Benedick’s wit, verbal agility, cleverness and truth of feeling have made them the real protagonists of Shakespeare’s play, to the detriment of Claudio and Hero.” (Mateo, 28) In her article, Variations On Much Ado About Nothing, she explains that Beatrice and Benedick are the more protagonists of the play and that Shakespeare intentionally wanted Claudio and Hero to be the less liked couple. Shakespeare wanted to reflect that a marriage built on love is stronger than a marriage that is arranged as a business deal.
It is important to note also that Hero and Claudio rarely talk to one another. In the article Gender Wars written by Thomas J. Scheff, he explains that Discourse between the two is unnecessary because the marriage that finally occurs was arranged by others in its entirety” (Scheff 161). He further explains that when Claudio told Benedick that he was going to marry Hero he had not even met her yet and only knew of her and her family. By not meeting Hero before declaring his love for her it is obvious that love was not a factor in the marriage, but it was purely a business deal.
Shakespeare does still make all the characters disdain the idea of love throughout the play while subtly suggesting it is a good thing. At one point benedick realizes his love for Beatrice and proclaims “…for I will be horribly in love with her!” (2.3.207). All of the characters’ view love as a bad thing however B. K. Lewalski explains in her article, Love, Appearance and Reality: Much Ado about Something, that Benedick and Beatrice have a much better relationship because “love also enables them to gain a heightened understanding of the confusions of appearance and reality in their world” (Lewalski 245). While Shakespeare does not make it obvious that love is a good thing, the differences between Benedick and Beatrice’s relationship and Hero and Claudio’s relationship make it clear.
The relationship between Hero and Claudio is not a very good one. Claudio decided to marry Hero based on wealth and power and is easily persuaded by Don Pedro that Hero is unclean. While they do eventually get married, it is clear to see that it is no good. While Benedick and Beatrice both swear off love and marriage in the beginning, they build a relationship with one another and they end up falling in love with each other. They then married in a double ceremony with Hero and Claudio.
Shakespeare explores out of the norm ideas of love and marriage in Much Ado About Nothing. He shows what a typical marriage looked like Early Modern times with Hero and Claudio and made this relationship seem less than desirable. At the same time, he shows what marriage founded on love and trust might look like with Beatrice and Benedick. The relationship looks much more appealing. To Shakespeare’s audience, the idea of love being a factor in marriage was almost unheard of. Shakespeare does a good job subtly suggesting that maybe, just maybe, love is a good thing.
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