The Shakespearean comedy, Much Ado about Nothing encompasses themes such as the importance of honour, the ideal of social grace, nevertheless uses a plot which primarily revolves around the theme of deception re occurring in various forms. On one hand deception is used throughout Much Ado About Nothing in a malicious manner, however on the on the hand it can be portrayed in a benevolent and beneficial manner such as the fooling of Beatrice and Benedick and deceiving them into proclaiming their love for each other. The use of both forms of deception often makes it difficult to distinguish between the two, such as when Claudio announces his desire to woo Hero, however Don Pedro takes it upon himself to woo her for Claudio.
However Shakespeare’s use of deception is neither completely a means of malice nor a mean of showing traits of kindness between characters, the use of deception aids the development of the plot and creates a path for other elements necessary in the play such as its comical elements. The plot of Much Ado About Nothing centrals around misunderstanding, as during the Elizabethan era “Nothing” was pronounced “Noting”, meaning to observe, to take notice of or to write something down – take note of something, as the reader learns the play revolves around observation and surveying, however often these ‘notings’ are not continuously accurate, they are often misinterpreted or misunderstood and also misreported. The title highlights the idea of how lack of careful noting habitually results in tragic consequences. Furthermore ‘nothing’ during the Elizabethan era was the colloquial term for vagina. As the plot also revolves around men, their relationships or lack of relationships with women, this places women as the main focus of the play as the title could be portrayed as revolving around them this creates a more powerful image of women throughout the play. Shakespeare creates deception through forms such as confusion since characters from the start find it difficult to judge the certainty and reality of what they hear or what they see. In act 1 Scene 1, the messenger with news about the war is questioned about a Signor Mountanto by Beatrice “I pray you, is Signor Mountanto returned from wars or no?” The messenger appears confused by this as he re-joins with “I know none of that name, lady; there was none such in the army of any sort” through confusion, we see the messenger is easily deceived and truly believes the Beatrice was truly speaking about a ‘Signor Mountanto’.
Through this Shakespeare introduces to the reader and foreshadows the idea that a majority of characters within the play are easily deceived and the ease of deception. The relationship between Beatrice and Benedick often puzzles the reader, although through the use of deception and trickery, the pair is brought together. Due to the clever use of wit, a merry war and various other elements, Beatrice and Benedick unsuccessfully manage to deceive themselves into believing the hold no romantic feelings for one another. As an example of a benevolent form of deception shown within the play, it results in a progressive ending of their relationship. Benedick is first mentioned in act 1 scene 1 through Beatrice in the form of an insult “I pray you, is Signor Mountanto returned from wars or no?” The use of this witty comment, allows the audience to see Beatrice’s blatant care and worry towards Benedick, she uses a witty comment and an insult in an attempt of masking her true feelings for Benedick therefore deceiving herself into believing that she possesses no amorous feelings toward Benedick. Further on in Act 1 Scene 1, Benedick enters and is immediately welcomed by Beatrice and a quick witted comment, immediately reinforcing and confirming the idea of her love for Benedick to the reader “I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior Benedick: nobody marks you”, yet again she uses deception as a means of convincing herself she does not hold passionate feelings for him. She explains that nobody marks him, whereas the irony beneath that suggests that although she may say that nobody marks or looks at him we understand that of all people, she is the one who he has captured the attention of. Swiftly Benedick ripostes with “What, my dear Lady Disdain! Are you yet living?” highlighting the similarity between both Benedick and Beatrice as through the use of with and a merry war, they both deceive themselves into denying honest feelings. Throughout the rest of the play the witty banter between Beatrice and Benedick continue, as soon the reader begins to fully understand the relationship between the two and eventually realise they are perfect for each other, even though neither of them are aware of this yet.
Both Beatrice and Benedick remain guarded and defensive right till the very end, signifying their distrust of the opposite sex. However Shakespeare not only uses deception in a beneficial manner, but in a malevolent form as well. The corrupt deception that occurs between Don John and Claudio causes one of the first parts of chaos awaiting a solution. Don John, the bastard brother of Don Pedro plays an essential role throughout the deceit that occurs in the plot. He simulates a caring nature for his brother, Don Pedro, yet Shakespeare surreptitiously uses the technique of foreshadowing as a mean of unmasking Don John’s treachery. “though I cannot be said to be a flattering honest man, it must not be denied but I am a plain-dealing villain[…]If I had my mouth, I would bite, if I had my liberty, I would do my liking.” through this the audience begin to become fully aware of Don John’s wickedness. The first instance of Don John’s deception is perceived where Claudio confesses his love for Hero, yet Don Pedro ‘kindly’ proposes to woo her for him to ensure his love for her is reciprocated. “I will assume thy part in disguise, and tell fair Hero that I am Claudio, and in her bosom I’ll unclasp my heart”. They are being ‘observed’ by Borachio, linking back to the title in which noting and misunderstanding play an enormous part in the theme of deception. This scene is followed by Borachio notifying Don John of Don Pedro and Claudio’s plan, “If I can cross him in any way, I bless myself in every way. You are both sure, and will assist me”, this is verbalised by Don John, highlighting his malicious use of deception in Much Ado About Nothing. Subsequently this leads to Claudio’s belief that Don Pedro has betrayed him and his trust and is wooing Hero for himself as he truly loves her. This signifies to the audience the ease of deceiving the characters in Much Ado About Nothing, they believe characters of status or power.
Another instance of Don John’s vindictive nature appears later in the play as yet again deception is used with the aim of destroying Claudio’s soon to be happy marriage in Act 2 Scene 2. They attempt and successfully achieve in convincing Claudio that Hero is no longer a maiden nor is she faithful by leading Don Pedro and Claudio beneathe Hero’s window at night where they believe they see Hero having sexual intercourse with another man, however the audience understand this is simply Barachio and Margaret having sex in Hero’s bedroom, part of Don John’s plan. You may think I love you not. Let that appear hereafter, and aim better at me by that I now will manifest.” Displaying Don John’s false care for his brother and emphasising his malign ways. ‘If you dare not trust what you see, confess not that you know. If you will follow me, I will show you enough.” This highlights to the audience Claudio’s gullible nature and links back to the belief that the characters believe others of status and power, displaying the importance of wealth in the play. This form of deception then leads to yet more deception as Claudio outs Hero on their wedding day, disgracing and shaming her before her family. Her father soon discovers the truth however, and forms a plan to regain Hero’s honour and punish Claudio. They formulate a plan, simulating that Hero has died, and the only way Claudio can be forgiven is to marry Leonato’s supposed niece, only to find out the ‘niece’ is truly Hero. Thankful for his second chance at wedding the love of his life, the audience begin to realise that not all deception can be perceived in a malevolent manner, but also a caring form as well. Through the use of deception, Shakespeare artfully creates a comedy with elements of deception creating way for chaos, in order to end happily.