Upon watching the initial video lecture juxtaposing Greek tragedy and comedy, I have for some odd reason found myself fancying and interpreting Much Ado About Nothing as if it were some Trey Parker and Matt Stone Baseketball or South Park like production; something that I hope to capture and emulate in the upcoming paper that we have to write for the course. When viewing Dr. Fox’s discussion pertaining to marriage and gender roles through this scope, it seems that this highly frequented playwright of Shakespeare can be viewed as a critique of the very institution of marriage, and the cluster of ideas that surround it, such as love, gender roles, and the likes. As is characteristic of ancient Greek comedy and even in the case of South Park, Shakespeare ostensibly deploys methods of lampooning and reducto ad adsurdum, or a reduction to absurdity to highlight the issues surrounding these themes.
At its very core, Much Ado About Nothing is intrinsically a comedy. Even in the title in and of itself, Shakespeare sets the stage for a seemingly crude joke pertaining to female genitalia and sexuality; something that propagates over and over again throughout the entirety of this specific work, and as such, offers with it, another possible way of comprehending the play at hand. With this being kept into consideration, Shakespeare deploys matters relating to adultery, infidelity, the surveillance of female sexuality, the ideology surrounding cuckold’s, the relationship and juxtaposition between Beatrice and Benedick, and the likes as a catalyst to lampoon, scrutinize, and criticize the very establishment or foundation of marriage.
Greenblatt’s The Norton Shakespeare’s brings to the reader’s attention these sentiments and notions in the Introduction to Much Ado About Nothing as he writes, “At its [Much Ado About Nothing] core is intense male anxiety about female infidelity, manifested in the constant nervous jokes about cuckoldry…Much Ado About Nothing at once plays elaborate prose games and pokes fun at them, as when Benedick complains that lovesick Claudio was wont to speak plain and to the purpose, like an honest man and a soldier, and now is he turned to orthography.” As the reader observes the references related to cuckoldry as previously mentioned, it seems more evident that Shakespeare seems to be more than likely trying to poke fun at these notions, as opposed to continuing these conceptualizations forward into society in his play in a reducto ad absurdum like fashion. We first get a glimpse of this at 1.1 215-219 as Benedick says, “The savage bull may, but if ever the sensible Benedick bears it, pluck off the bull’s horns and set them in my forehead, and let me be vilely painted, and in such great letters as they write. Here is a good horse to hire let them signify under my sign ‘Here you may see Benedick, the married man.” Similarly, we have seen the same concerns in Beatrice as she tells Leonatio, “No but to the gate, and there will the devil meet me like an old cuckold, with horns on his head, and say, ‘Get you to heaven. Here’s no place for you maids. So deliver I up my apes and away to Saint Peter for the heavens. He shows me where the bachelors sit, and there we as merry as the day is long.
In contrasting these two acts, it’s hard not to note the comedic portrait that Shakespeare illustrates here. At the forefront, the idea of the Devil himself being an old cuckold is in itself quite hilarious. But beyond that, in this tangent raised by Beatrice, the reader gets insight into why Beatrice has been hailed as one of Shakespeare’s most comedic characters. In detailing her own abstraction of heaven as Dr. Fox notes, one cannot help but realize the absurdity of the type of single’s party that she imagines. Despite the feelings of such deep disdain that she apparently harbors for Benedick, the heaven that she imagines for herself would, as a result, have to include Benedick himself, seeing as he too doesn’t believe in the notions of being a married man, as is reiterated over and over again by him in such statements as, “I will live a bachelor.” Also when considering the totality of the relationship between Beatrice and Benedick, there is an additional layer to this type of farce, in that, Benedick is hesitant to love and be married for the previously mentioned male anxiety of a female turning him into a cuckold, while the woman that he does inevitably end up falling in love with and marrying is one that worries about turning her husband into a cuckold. Furthermore, in their coming together, they essentially become the types of apes that Beatrice describes and is so cautious of. In examining these and other variables that proliferate throughout the text, one can conclude that Shakespeare does, in fact, bring to the reader’s awareness of how absurd these perceptions are if taking too seriously. Likewise, Shakespeare also contrasts the two noticeable relationships within the play to further probe the issues of love and marriage.
An in-depth analysis of the conventional bond between Claudio and Hero reveals the type of connection that one would expect from a couple in sixteenth to seventeenth-century England. Despite this fact, there are elements to their mutual love, or mutuo amore, that are of particular interest. At a glance, on the very most surface level, there is this intriguing matter of a hasty engagement between the two. We are only just introduced to his character in Act I, Scene I, when he issues the statement, “In mine eye, she is the sweetest lady that ever I looked on. I would scare trust myself though I had sworn the contrary if Hero would be my wife…That I love her I feel,” in conversation with Don Pedro and Benedick, and is further demonstrated in the next act in the lines, “County Claudio, what means you go to church? Tomorrow, my lord. Time goes on crutches till love have all his rites.” This is a particularly thought-provoking for a number of reasons. The first of which being in light of the comment that he makes in, “O my lord, when you went onward on this ended action I looked upon her with a soldiers eyes…Saying I liked her ere I went to wars 1.1 242-251. This is interesting insofar as he likens her to his thoughts of war, and in that he is essentially saying that he couldn’t look at her, or notice her while his thoughts were like that of a soldier, but now that he is no longer at war, he feels that he might as well jump right into pursuing his feelings towards Hero; an endeavor that he makes with great haste, marrying her tomorrow, as he says.
The accelerated pace in which Claudio goes about in concerns of the heart is of interesting note when comparing his relationship to the likes of Beatrice and Benedick. First and foremost, this is due to the fact, that in the latter exemplification, the two seemingly had not one iota of a sense of affection towards one another, as was made so painstakingly obvious in their merry wars betwixt one another at the beginning of the play, and the countless number of insults that they hurled at each other. Thus, the feelings of apparent disdain that they harbor for one another depicts a relationship that is the exact opposite of what Claudio and Hero have. And, when considering the implications of marriage and love, it is of utmost importance to bear in the back of the reader’s mind the way in which these two characters were tricked into falling in love. Through this hoax, the two star-crossed lovers render themselves to a position in which they are both subject to humility, shaming, ridicule, and scrutiny as they both cast aside their adamant dispositions against love and marriage in both personal and public light, and bringing along with it overarching themes found within the play pertaining to shame and freedom. There is also the fact that this scheme to bring them together questions the foundation in which their apparent love is based upon. Consequentially, as they masquerade around with their newfound love for another, they find themselves being the brunt of their own joke in which they are completely unaware of. In association with the relationship between Claudio and Hero, this is of specific interest in their decision to keep up with the two and wed on the same day, and this speaks volumes to the overarching theme of love and masquerades being interlinked between one another throughout the play. Regardless that is not the only way in which Shakespeare scrutinizes the frameworks of marriage.
Another exemplification of the ways in which Shakespeare criticizes love and marriage can be found through the context of various stereotypical gender roles, and the notion of marriage being a sort of commercial exchange between father and son-in-law, bearing with it the ideologies surrounding how it was the father’s role to keep his daughter innocent, or a virgin for her husband, whereas it was the husband’s responsibility to keep her faithful, at the risk of being ashamed of being a cuckold of course. Shakespeare profoundly illustrates the issues surrounding this issue on countless occasions throughout Much Ado About Nothing. We get our first indication of this in a conversation between Claudio and Benedick as if found in, “Would you buy her, that you enquire after her? Can the world buy such a jewel.” It is also made apparent in the scene in which, Claudio, to whom ostensibly has no concern of any type of inheritance, postulates the question as to whether there are son’s or heirs, which could be viewed as his coming to question whether marrying Hero is a good financial investment; an issue that was highlighted in the introductory lecture in the statement, “The patriarchal power structure is reinforced by treating women as objects that are shared or exchanged between men. What she calls the traffic in women. For example, giving a daughter as a bride establishes a relationship between father and son and law. In this way, land and property are transferred between men, but the transfer depends on women.” An issue that is brilliantly depicted by Shakespeare in Act IV Scene I, in which the marriage between Claudio and Hero is paused or halted, as Claudio shames Hero for essentially being a prostitute. In exploring these themes, Shakespeare raises serious societal questions about marriage, in the morality of objectifying a woman, treating them as property, or as a type of commercial exchange between father and son-in-law.