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Deception in Shakespeare’s Play Much Ado About Nothing

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    The plot of Much Ado About Nothing is based upon deliberate deceptions, some malevolent and others benevolent that functions the main and sub plot. But also Deceptions are used by Shakespeare to reveal a lot about characters and attitudes. The duping of Claudio and Don Pedro results in Hero’s disgrace, while the ruse of her death prepares the way for her redemption and reconciliation with Claudio. When Claudio has shamed and rejected Hero, Leonato and his household “publish” that Hero has died in order to punish Claudio for his mistake. When Claudio returns, penitent, to accept the hand of Leonato’s “niece” (actually Hero), a group of masked women enters and Claudio must wed blindly. The masking of Hero and the other women reveals that the social institution of marriage has little to do with love. When Claudio flounders and asks, “Which is the lady I must seize upon?” he is ready and willing to commit the rest of his life to one of a group of unknowns (Act 5 Scene 4 Line 53). His willingness stems not only from his guilt about slandering an innocent woman but also from the fact that he may care more about rising in Leonato’s favour than in marrying for love. In the play, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between good and bad deception.

    When Claudio announces his desire to woo Hero, Don Pedro takes it upon himself to woo her for Claudio. Then, at the instigation of Don John, “Signor, you are very near my brother in his love, He is enamoured on Hero.” Claudio begins to mistrust Don Pedro, thinking he has been deceived, “the prince woos for himself.” Also Claudio’s attitude towards women changes drastically, “for Beauty is a witch” and “Farewell, therefore, Hero!” This shows that Don John was successful at deceiving Claudio to believe that Don Pedro wants Hero all to himself, and from this news Claudio says that you can’t trust someone when love comes into the equation. This has shown us that, Claudio feels betrayed by Don Pedro and we immediately get the impression that he is: instantly mistrustful, superficial, theatrical and this foreshadows that Claudio might do something drastic later in the play. Just as the play’s audience comes to believe, temporarily, in the illusions of the theatre, so the play’s characters becomecaught up in the illusions that they help to create for one another. In a more light-hearted vein, Beatrice and Benedick are fooled into thinking that each loves the other, and they actually do fall in love as a result. Benedick and Beatrice flirt caustically at the masked ball, each possibly aware of the other’s presence yet pretending not to know the person hiding behind the mask as a clue that they will be together. Shakespeare constructs a Gull in the play, tricking both Beatrice and Benedick; as another clue that Beatrice and Benedick will be together and fall in love. For Benedick, he is at the start unfaithful with love and slightly pessimistic about it and the idea of marriage, “I will live a bachelor” and “if ever the sensible Benedick bear it, pluck off the bull’s horns and set them in my forehead: and let me be vilely painted”. However Beatrice and Benedick have had a “merry war” of words for a long time. Their friends think they would be perfect for each other. In Act 2 Scene 3, Don Pedro, Claudio, and Leonato trick Benedick into falling in love with Beatrice.

    They stage a loud conversation about Beatrice’s love for Benedick, making sure that Benedick overhears them. Shakespeare uses stage directions like ‘aside’ to show whether the characters are talking openly or quietly to each other or a specific character. Claudio asides with Leonato “O ay, stalk on, stalk on, the fowl sits.” This is an example of an aside and also Benedick is referred to an animal and hunting in Claudio’s imagery ‘fowl sits’. Leonato, who is highly respected and is very trustworthy, convinces Benedick that Beatrice loves him; he is trying to make it believable to Benedick, “But most wonderful that she should so dote on Signor Benedick”. Benedick develops an interest now, “Is’t possible? Sits the wind in that corner?” This shows that the gulling is successful so far. Furthermore, Leonato is reinforcing the gull by suggesting that it isn’t fake, “O God, counterfeit! There was never counterfeit of passion came so near the life of passion.” It can’t be a hoax or trickery when Leonato is there, “I should think this a gull, but the white-bearded fellow speaks it.” Again at an aside Claudio uses imagery of hunting and catching, “Bait the hook well this fish will bite.” This suggests that they got Benedick where they want him.

    The gulling continues and they start to really have an effect on Benedick; they start to complement Beatrice and prompts Benedick to re-evaluate himself. Ultimately the gulling has had a big effect on Benedick because in his Soliloquy after he mentions that it was in fact strictly conducted, “sadly borne” and from their “detractions” from their judgements of him he does say that he needs to change and develop, which shows that the gulling was successful at deceiving Benedick. There is evidence of this because when Beatrice invites him to dinner, it is clear that his attitude towards her has changed.

    Similarly, Beatrice receives the same gulling as Benedick and Ursula, Hero and Margaret have parallels of the same strategies and also the imagery is similar. Trusted friends do the gulling so it’s more reliable and also the asides that they do is similar to Benedick’s gulling. Hero organises the plan to trick Beatrice “Whisper her ear and tell her I and Ursly are walk in the orchard, and our whole discourse is all of her.” Hero compared to when she is around men or people of higher social status, is much more openly spoken around friends or other women, “She is too disdainful. I know her spirits are as coy and wild as haggards of the rock.” Hero feels she is more knowledgeable about love as she has just started a marriage of her own so she is more enthusiastic about it. Also she is very verbose in her lines she has two quite large utterances of eight and thirteen lines. This shows she is spirited, confident and lively. Ultimately, this is because she is around women and the same gendered person.

    In the end, deceit is neither purely positive nor purely negative: it is a means to an end, a way to create an illusion that helps one succeed socially. Much Ado About Nothing shows that deceit is not inherently evil, but something that can be used as a means to good or bad ends.

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