Much Ado About Nothing is primarily a play about gossip. Indeed, the title means a big fuss about a trifle, and by the end, this is exactly what happens. All accusations will come to nothing, causing the play to end the same way as if they never occurred at all. Shakespeare brilliantly plays on the meanings of nothing throughout this play. The word "nothing" would actually have been pronounced "noting" in his time. It can mean worthless, a person of little worth, or also mean everything, in the sense that much ado is made about everything (Smith). Much of the plot is moved along by characters eavesdropping on a conversation and either misunderstanding what they overhear or being deceived by gossip or by a trick.
Gossip in Much Ado About Nothing is an occurring theme throughout the play. Every character is guilty of spreading gossip either for a positive purpose like Claudio, Hero, and Don Pedro or for a negative purpose like Don John and his henchmen.
Benedick and Beatrice have had a bantering "merry war" of words for the longest time. Claudio and Don Pedro conceive a plan to unite these two obvious lovers. It is apparent to their friends that they are meant to love each other. Claudio and Prince Don Pedro use an interesting plan to make the two enemies fall in love. As Benedick is reading in the garden, Claudio, Don Pedro and Leonato begin walking in the garden talking about some gossip of Beatrice's secret love for Benedick. Benedick hides quickly in the bushes when he hears his and Beatrice's name mentioned. The three gentlemen know that Benedick is hiding and, of course, listening to their conversation. Leonato tells the other two men that his niece, Beatrice, confessed to him that she is madly in love with Benedick. Leonato says, "she loves him with an enraged affection, it is past the infinite of thought" (Shakespeare, II iii 108). Beatrice can't tell him for fear of being mocked by him. They speak with no disregard of keeping it a secret from the world and in a very serious manner. Benedick overhears this conversation and begins to question his own affection towards the lady Beatrice. After the men have left, Benedick came out of hiding and confesses his love for Beatrice. He says, "They say the lady is fair; 'tis a truth, I can bear them witness. And virtuous I cannot reprove it . For I will be horribly in love with her (Shakespeare, II iii 233-7).
Claudio tells Hero the intriguing plan to unite the two lovers. He tells Hero to execute a similar plan towards Beatrice. Hero sends a servant, Margaret, to tell Beatrice of the conversation that hero and her servant, Ursula, are having. As Hero and Ursula begin to walk down to the garden, after Margaret was sent, Beatrice hides in the bushes. Hero begins talking about how Senior Benedick is madly in love with Beatrice,
Ursula: But are you sure
That Benedick loves Beatrice so entirely?
Hero: So says the Prince and my new-trothed Lord.
They talk of how Benedick has kept his love secret for fear of her quick tongue to lash at him upon hearing the news. When Hero and Ursula leave the garden, Beatrice comes out and confesses her love for Benedick, "If thou dost love, my kindness shall incite thee to bind our loves in a holy band" (Shakespeare, III ii 119-120).
The illegitimate and bastard brother of Prince Don Pedro, Don John, uses gossip to lie to Claudio about his bride-to-be's faithfulness. He tells Claudio that Hero has been adulterous to him and asks him if that is the type of woman he wishes to marry tomorrow? This type of gossip used by Don John was obviously for a negative effect.
Deceit was another very prominent theme in Much Ado About Nothing. Deceit, like the gossip, could have been used for negative or positive purposes. Don John uses deceit very negatively towards Claudio and Hero to ruin their good fortunes.
At the masked ball held by Leonato, Don John...