The themes explored in the Shakespearean comedy, Much Ado about Nothing, include the significance of honor and social grace. However, the plot primarily revolves around the theme of deception, which manifests itself in various forms. Deception is employed maliciously at certain moments throughout the play. Nevertheless, it can also be portrayed as benevolent and beneficial, as seen in the case of Beatrice and Benedick, who are fooled into declaring their love for each other. The dual use of deception often blurs the distinction between these two forms. For instance, when Claudio expresses his desire to woo Hero, Don Pedro takes it upon himself to woo her on Claudio’s behalf.
However, Shakespeare’s use of deception serves as more than just a malicious act or a display of kindness between characters. Instead, it aids in the development of the plot and is essential for the inclusion of other necessary elements in the play, such as comedic elements. The central theme of Much Ado About Nothing revolves around misunderstanding, which was commonly referred to as “Nothing” during the Elizabethan era. This term meant to observe, take notice, or write something down. The play emphasizes the importance of observation and surveying, although these observations are often inaccurate, misinterpreted, misunderstood, and even wrongly reported. The title itself highlights the idea that failure to carefully observe often leads to tragic consequences. Additionally, during this time period, “nothing” was also a colloquial term for vagina. Since the plot also focuses on men and their relationships (or lack thereof) with women, this portrayal of women as the main focus enhances their powerful image throughout the play. Shakespeare employs deception through confusion, as characters struggle to discern the certainty and reality of what they hear or see from the very beginning.In Act 1 Scene 1, Beatrice interrogates the messenger regarding a certain Signor Mountanto, asking if he has returned from the wars. The messenger appears bewildered by this inquiry and replies, “I do not know anyone by that name, lady; there was no such person in the army of any kind.” It is evident that the messenger is easily fooled and genuinely believes that Beatrice is genuinely referring to a person named Signor Mountanto.
Shakespeare introduces the idea that most characters in the play are easily deceived and can be easily deceived. The relationship between Beatrice and Benedick is confusing to readers, but they are brought together through deception and trickery. Despite their clever attempts to deceive themselves into thinking they have no romantic feelings for each other, Beatrice and Benedick are unsuccessful. Their relationship progresses with the benevolent form of deception shown in the play. In Act 1, Scene 1, Beatrice insults Benedick by asking if he has returned from war. This witty comment reveals Beatrice’s care and worry for Benedick, as she tries to hide her true feelings for him by deceiving herself. In the same scene, Benedick enters and Beatrice welcomes him with a quick witted comment, confirming her love for him to the reader. Once again, she uses deception to convince herself that she does not have passionate feelings for him.She explains that nobody notices him, but the underlying irony suggests that she is the one who has been captivated by him. Quickly, Benedick replies with “What, my dear Lady Disdain! Are you still alive?”, highlighting the similarity between him and Beatrice as they both engage in playful banter to hide their true feelings. This witty banter between Beatrice and Benedick continues throughout the play, and eventually, the reader realizes that they are perfect for each other, even though neither of them are aware of it yet.
Both Beatrice and Benedick demonstrate a guarded and defensive attitude throughout the play, indicating their skepticism towards the opposite sex. Shakespeare effectively employs both beneficial and malevolent forms of deception in the plot. One of the initial sources of chaos is the corrupt deception orchestrated by Don John and Claudio. Don John, who is Don Pedro’s illegitimate brother, plays a crucial role in the deceit that permeates the story. He pretends to care for his brother while secretly plotting his treachery. Shakespeare cleverly employs foreshadowing to expose Don John’s villainous nature, as he admits, “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.” This revelation enables the audience to fully grasp Don John’s wickedness. The first instance of Don John’s deception occurs when Claudio confesses his love for Hero, and Don Pedro offers to woo her on his behalf to guarantee her reciprocation. This scene is observed by Borachio, emphasizing the significance of noting and misunderstanding in the theme of deception.Borachio informs Don John about Don Pedro and Claudio’s plan in Much Ado About Nothing. Don John expresses his intention to hinder their plan and seeks assistance. This emphasizes Don John’s malicious use of deception. As a result, Claudio mistakenly believes that Don Pedro has betrayed him and is pursuing Hero for himself because he genuinely loves her. This demonstrates to the audience that the characters in Much Ado About Nothing are easily deceived and tend to trust those in positions of power or status.
Don John’s vindictive nature is evident again in the play as he seeks to destroy Claudio’s upcoming marriage in Act 2 Scene 2. Deception is used once more as Don Pedro and Claudio are convinced that Hero is unfaithful and no longer a virgin. They are led beneath Hero’s window at night where they witness what they believe to be Hero engaging in sexual activity with another man. However, the audience knows this is actually Barachio and Margaret in Hero’s bedroom, all part of Don John’s plan. Don John pretends to care for his brother while showcasing his malicious 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 demonstrates Claudio’s gullibility and the characters’ tendency to believe people of high status and power, emphasizing wealth’s importance in the play. This deception leads to Claudio publicly accusing Hero on their wedding day, causing embarrassment and shame for her in front of her family. Fortunately, Hero’s father discovers the truth and devises a plan to restore her honor and punish Claudio. The plan involves faking Hero’s death and forcing Claudio to marry Leonato’s supposed niece, only to reveal later that the “niece” is actually Hero.The audience, grateful for the opportunity to witness the protagonist’s second chance at marrying his true love, begins to understand that deception can take on both harmful and affectionate forms. Shakespeare skillfully employs deception to craft a comedic atmosphere characterized by chaos, ultimately leading to a happy conclusion.