“Much Ado About Nothing” by William Shakespeare

In the final scene of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, Benedick says, “Man is a giddy thing, and this is my conclusion.” Discuss this paying particular attention to the relationship between men and women in the play. Focus your essay upon Act 1 Scene 1, Act 2 Scene 3 and Act 4 Scene 1. However you may comment upon other scenes where appropriate.

‘Much Ado About Nothing’ is a play, which displays the conflict between men and women in Elizabethan times. The social attitudes of both sexes at that time are clearly portrayed throughout the play along with the two types of love relationships between men and women.

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‘Man is a giddy thing, and this is my conclusion’ the phrase said by Benedick at the end of the play, appears to me to be a confused remark made by Benedick after studying the acts of men and women throughout the play. He doesn’t seem to understand how stupid man and women can be when they are in love; and it is love, which makes people do uncharacteristic acts and seem very different amongst their peers.

When looking at the quote, it would seem to me that the focal point would be the word “giddy”, and by saying giddy, I think Benedick could mean: stupid, strange, off-balance, disorientated, irrational, unclear, inconsistent or confusing. The phrase begins with “man is such” and by saying “man” I would believe that he is referring to not just man but mankind as a whole as they may seem disorientated or off balance because of their love for another character.

“I do much wonder that one man, seeing how much another man is a fool when he dedicates his behaviours to love.”

Such behaviour is displayed everywhere in the play, no matter what is happening you can almost guarantee that a “giddy” act will take place.

The title in itself sets the perfect atmosphere for the play to follow – “Much Ado About Nothing” – it is saying that a lot of things are going on, which really are about “Nothing”. At first this would seem strange to most people yet after watching the play and seeing what actually does go on in the love relationships it all becomes clear.

In act 1 scene 1, the men return home from war and Leonato speaks of a “merry war” between Beatrice and Benedick. The “merry” part of the phrase refers to the love felt between the two characters yet because of their wit and continual game in trying to score points against one another it would seem like a “war” between them. In a way this would seem “giddy” to the audience, as the love is unclear and misleading. The use of juxtaposition here also helps to make the atmosphere between the two characters more “giddy”.

“There is a merry war betwixt Signor Benedick and her.”

Benedick is continually negative throughout the play and therefore not helping himself in trying to “woo” Beatrice for himself.

“Why, i’faith, methinks she’s too low for a high praise, too brown for a fair praise, and too little for a great praise.”

The attitudes taken on by Beatrice and Benedick would also seem obscure to an audience of the Elizabethan times, as they do not portray love as it should be portrayed for that era. The “romantic love” which is seen between Claudio and Hero is how it should be, but all this anti-romantic witty love displayed by Beatrice and Benedick would seem all so unclear to an audience of such times. It is a more modern love, a love we would expect to see and this is what makes it easier for a audience of this time and era to relate to. It also displays just how far ahead of time Shakespeare actually was and how perceptive he was of the relationships between men and women.

In act 1 scene 1 another act that appears “giddy” is when Claudio is informing Benedick of the love he has for Hero. He has only briefly seen her once and in fact never spoken to her, which to me would seem that he must have known her before going to war. This may seem “giddy” as it doesn’t seem right that someone could declare so much love for someone after not even meeting them properly.

“I would scarce trust myself, though I had sworn the contrary, if Hero would be my wife.”

Act 2 scene 3 is another scene, which is full of “giddy” acts. The scene opens with a soliloquy from Benedick. He begins by stating how Claudio has been turned into a fool because of his love for Hero. This would seem again “giddy” to an audience of the renaissance times as it is very different and unusual for a man to be led by his heart and not his head. By referring to Claudio as a fool because he is in love, Benedick is aligning love with the idea of a fool, saying that this is how men are when in love. The sentence structure in this part of his soliloquy is very short and concise, this makes it seem that Benedick believes very strongly in such matters.

“And such a man is Claudio. I have known when there was no music with him but the drum and the fife, and now he had rather hear the tabor and the pipe.”

Benedick here refers to Claudio only wanting to hear the music of war before he was in love and now he whilst in love – the music of love is all he listens to. It also shows that Benedick is loosing his trust in Claudio.

Benedick then goes on to discuss how love will never transform him into such a fool:

“Love may transform me to an oyster, but I’ll take my oath on it, till he have made an oyster of me he shall never make me such a fool.”

Imagery of a sea in incorporated into Benedick’s speech now. An oyster is something that is hard on the outside yet on the inside they are soft and hold something precious. Benedick is aligning softness with a man, that they are becoming more feminine when in love. He is also saying that is it physically impossible to make an oyster out of him and so because of this he will never be in love.

Benedick then leads on to describe his ideal woman:

“Rich she shall be, that’s certain. Wise or I’ll none. Virtuous or I’ll never cheapen her. Fair, or I’ll never look on her. Mild, or come not near me. Noble, or not I for an angel. Of good discourse, an excellent musician, and her hair shall be of what colour it please God.”

Benedick I feel lists all these qualities in such a concise manner so that the image portrayed is of a woman that could never be so perfect; I think this is one reason Benedick lists for not falling in love. The image he creates is of a woman is one that simply would not exist in that time and the only character to satisfy a minority of the qualities is Beatrice.

He then hides behind a hedge in the attempt of listening to what ‘Monsieur Love’ and Claudio have to speak about.

Benedick continues to listen to what the two males have to say about Beatrice:

“What was it you told me of today, that your niece Beatrice was in love with Signor Benedick”, “she loves him with an enraged affection”.

It is words such as this, which deceive Benedick; He is led to believe that Beatrice is deeply in love with him. A lot of animal imagery is also used by the men when speaking about the love Beatrice has. “The fish will bite” a reference to hunting; and it is Benedick who plays the fish and the men who are the hunters and hunting down Benedick. Here the use of asides lets the cast share secrets with the audience and this is where humour is incorporated as the audience find it funny to see the two different minds of people thinking totally different, and it is this which all seems so “giddy” to the audience, as Beatrice knows nothing of what’s happening in this scene.

A song, which is featured at the beginning of the play, is also used in this scene. It all adds to the setting up of a romantic atmosphere in the scene. The song itself talks about how men have always deceived women: “the fraud of men was ever so since the first summer was leafy”, and it is because of the critical lyrics that they only listen to the tune of the song which sets the romantic scene that is intended. The song also incorporates the idea of men being inconsistent and always running away, not being committed to something i.e. a woman, only half involved: “One foot in sea and one on shore, to one thing constant never.” War imagery is used here; the song says that because of war the men are not always on land. “Then sigh not so” is telling the ladies not to worry “Just let them go”. The song ends with “Hey nonny, nonny” three happy words that tell the ladies not to worry about anything especially men. The song as a whole sets the intended romantic atmosphere and also uses the criticism of men theme, which is constant throughout. Also it shows how “giddy” men are because they are unstable in many things not just love.

After the song the men talk for a further amount of time but then disappear to try and find Beatrice to go and ask Benedick to dinner. At this point Benedick jumps from behind the hedge and again begins a soliloquy, which brings the scene to an end. Benedick’s begins by stating that this could be no trick as “the white bearded fellow speaks it,” the white bearded fellow being Leonato. It is the relationship between the men of that time and Benedick’s deep belief in that all men are honourable that has led him to believe what has been spoken about Beatrice. He also refers to Hero in his ending speech. Hero being the cousin of Beatrice would be the person that would surely know the most being as Beatrice has no parents and also as Hero is the daughter of Leonato which makes her have a extremely high status, she would be the person to believe.

“Hero thinks surely she will die, for she says she will die if he love her not.”

After hearing this Benedick totally changes his attitude towards love. To the audience Benedick appears very gullible and it’s as if only the audience can realize how deceiving Benedick’s friends really are in this scene and also how “giddy” Benedick appears for believing such a foolish act.

Benedick’s ending soliloquy begins with him saying “It seems her affections have their full bent. Love me! Why it must be requited.” Here he is saying that: well if Beatrice loves me then I have to do the honourable thing and return her love. This is the first sign of contradiction between his two soliloquies, which shows his acting in a “giddy” way. After this Benedick then seems to refer back to the qualities he strongly stated would have to be in a woman for him to even “look upon her”, and as Beatrice is the only woman in the play that’s fits to a mineute amount of the qualities she is considered acceptable. This again is “giddy” in a way as before he was so forceful is his words when describing his ‘ideal woman’ the message of him being such an anti-romantic person was clearly conveyed.

“The say the lady is fair. ‘Tis a truth, I can bear them witness. And virtuous – ’tis so, I cannot reprove it. And wise, but for loving me.”

Benedick then declares that he is “horribly in love with her”. The use of juxtaposition here is extremely effective. It shows that Benedick still regards love as a bad thing yet still shows affection for Beatrice. This statement agrees with the “merry war” which was said by Leonato in Act 1 scene 1.

He then says that he will probably be made fun of because he has been against marriage for so long. But then goes onto say that thing change along with age. Here I feel he may be linking the idea of taste changing along with his character, saying that he can change tastes in certain things just as his character changes with every situation in the play.

“I may chance have some odd quirks and remarks of wit broken on me because I have railed so long against marriage; but doth not the appetite alter? A man loves the meat in his youth that he cannot endure in his age.”

Benedick continues to discuss that he isn’t going to let these people distract him from his love. “Shall quips and sentences and these paper bullets of the brain awe a man from the career of his humour?” When he refers to paper bullets I feel this is because he is saying that normal bullets would cause an effect but because they are only paper they cannot hurt him and consequently he will not be bothered as a result. After this Benedick then reasons with another excuse – “The world must be peopled,” he feels that if he were to due his duty to the world it would be creating a child.

The main contradiction between the two soliloquies comes after this rather pathetic excuse – “When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married.” This is really self-explanatory yet seems so “giddy” to the audience because he is prepared to use it as an excuse when considering this fake love.

The two soliloquies show how Benedick is actually feeling inside. It is an intended emotional contrast and comes over to the audience so strong because he is not actually speaking to anybody, at times it may actually feel like he is speaking to the audience themselves. It also shows the drastic change that has taken place in Benedicks character from the beginning of the play. It also is a good way of informing the audience of such maters that other characters shouldn’t know and this is how humour is brought about by audience involvement. It also carries the whole “giddy” act forward as Benedick is so strange in this scene it seems unreal for a change so big to take place. The ending part of this scene shows that the deception has worked and Benedick is in deep belief that Beatrice has love feelings for him.

I feel that this part of the play is the best example of how “man is such a giddy thing” as it clearly conveys how such a character as Benedick can be transformed because of love.

During Act 2 Scene 3 many references to hunting are made. I believe this to be due to the fact that the trio of males are hunting down Benedick and then trying to make him hunt for Beatrice. It is portrayed as a sport is most cases; a sport being something that you enjoy. This seems “giddy” because love is something that naturally occurs when a man is attracted to a woman, it is not normally something that need to be ‘hunted’ down. I feel this is a clear example of status in the play, of how in Elizabethan times women were seen as inferior them being the ‘hunted’ and men being the ‘hunters’ the sex with most power.

In Act 4 scene 1 the wedding of Claudio and hero is featured. Claudio refuses to accept hero to be his wife. That seems extremely giddy to a modern audience, as problems would normally be solved outside of the wedding not at the wedding in front of a crowd of people.

“There Leonato, take her back.”

This is due to the role that is taken on by women in the Elizabethan times. Women are given away by their fathers, who then hand them over to the husband. They then become the husbands’ property. And as Hero is the typical women of that time she simply lets this take place and I don’t feel she could have stopped it due to the men concerned coming over to me as such strong roles.

Claudio over reacts to the situation immensely, to an event that he feels Hero was involved in. He had no actual proof it was Hero and only the audience know that Margaret was the woman he saw in bed with another man in hero’s room. He was led on by other males in the play due to the strong relationship they men of that particular time had.

“If you will follow me I will show you enough and when you have seen more and heard more proceed accordingly.”

During Act 1 Scene 1 Claudio uses a lot of sarcasm as if he saying – hero couldn’t possibly do such a thing, could she?

“Give me this maid, your daughter”, “May counterpoise this rich and precious gift.”

Hero then blushes which leads Claudio to certify that hero has slept with another man, he see the blushing as a sign of guilt and continues in throwing abuse at her.

“Now if you are a maid answer to this”

This appears “giddy” because it is all false, Claudio has jumped to a major conclusion and Leonato, Hero’s own father, then sides with the males it begins to get much worse as her own father then disowns her. That is even more irrational to what happened previously.

“Death is the fairest cover for her shame, that may be wished for her.”

This seems completely off- balance; totally off the scales if so to speak as no one in the right mind should wish that upon anybody. Here a prime example of status is displayed and also the relationships between both men and women in the play. In the director’s interpretation, which we were shown during lessons, hero sitting down and several males towering over her portray status, but in the play I feel it is shown through the short sharp and concise sentences spoken by Claudio and his friends of which all are male.

“Let me but move one question to our daughter, and by that fatherly and kindly power that you have in her, bid her answer truly.”

Hero – “Oh god defend me, how am I beset!”

The quotation I have chosen to use as an example of Claudio speaking, again uses sarcasm but here towards Leonato, I feel this is one of Claudio’s techniques of getting him to side with the males.

This whole scene seems “giddy”, as all of the palaver is caused about something that didn’t even involve Hero. It connects with the title – Much Ado About Nothing – and question as in this scene Benedick decides to side with hero as from previous scenes he has seen how love can transform someone into such a fool.

“Much Ado About Nothing” shows quite clearly how trouble can arise from ‘notings’ which in such times was pronounced in the same way as ‘nothing’. I feel it was such a successful play because of the way love was portrayed in the play as it is a very modern approach which makes it a lot easier for an audience of this time to relate to. Shakespeare was very observant of the social attitudes around in his time and portrayed them very well through his writing in this play. He also shows how no matter what how similar or different two people are, love can always be a result, but so can trouble.

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“Much Ado About Nothing” by William Shakespeare. (2017, Oct 27). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/much-ado-nothing-william-shakespeare-2/