How Does Shakespeare Present Love and Marriage in ‘Much Ado About Nothing' and How Might a Modern Audience Respond to the Presentation of These Themes?

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Through rich imagery and a comic context Shakespeare uses characters to explore his ideas about love and marriage, using relationships to show the trials of love. In his play Shakespeare makes Beatrice and Benedick the critics of love and through them the modern audience is shown how Elizabethan society maltreats the female role and how the male code of honour and pride can lead to devastation.

Shakespeare portrays Claudio and Hero as a pair of conventional lovers who go through an unadventurous and predictive courtship. Through this relationship he shows the modern audience how women were largely dominated by men. As Claudio metaphorically asks, ‘can the world buy such a jewel' Hero is portrayed as an object and someone to possess and even her father Leonato says, ‘If the Prince do solicit you in that kind, you know your answer'. Hero, it seems, has no choice in the matter, even if she dislikes the Prince she must say yes to the marriage. In this patriarchal society, Shakespeare has presented Hero as a dutiful daughter; for women like her, In the Elizabethan society marriage was often arranged as a family bargain and is Hero's expected outcome.

Throughout the play Shakespeare lays great importance on marriage, presenting it as inevitability. In the Elizabethan era marriage meant wealth and status, it had little to do with love. So when Claudio asks Don Pedro, ‘Hath Leonato any son' he is really inquiring if Hero will inherit Leonato's wealth. This is conventional Elizabethan behaviour but a modern audience might see this as materialistic. Shakespeare also reveals to his audience how Hero is wooed by proxy, ‘tell fair Hero I am Claudio…I'll unclasp my heart…Then after to her father will I break…she shall be thine'. This would never be accepted in a modern society, except for some cultures, as people marry because they love their partner's personality, whereas Hero and Claudio do not have a full knowledge of each other. This is why Eleanor Bron describes them as ‘creatures of the court' because they are superficial and base love on appearances; at times they need to be manoeuvred by others, ‘Speak cousin; or, if you cannot, stop his mouth with a kiss'. Eleanor Bron says that Claudio goes 'step by step according to the book'. As a modern audience we perhaps see him as petty and spurious and start to dislike Claudio for his lack of physical passion, yet at the time he would have been the perfect conventional suitor.

Completely contrasting to this relationship is the affiliation between Beatrice and Benedick, whose names echo each other and because of this the audience immediately pairs them. There are many more examples of this in the relationship such as a desire not to marry, emphasised with animalistic language such as ‘hang me in a bottle like a cat' and ‘I'd rather hear my dog bark at a crow. Their relationship is full of passion, wit and emotion and Shakespeare initially presents their connection with each other in the very first scene when Beatrice asks after ‘Signor Montanto' meaning ‘stuck up' and he calls her ‘my dear Lady Disdain'. Leonato describes their relationship as a ‘merry war' and the language they use is acerbic and sardonic, ‘Scratching could not make it worse an ‘twere such a face as yours'. This line is very barbed and quick which proves how intelligent Beatrice is and how sharp her tongue is. Benedick calls Beatrice a ‘harpy' when she ridicules him. This shows what he thinks of her for doing this.

Both Beatrice and Benedick speak largely in prose which is full of vitality and character, making the audience relate to the characters. The fact that Beatrice says ‘I know you of old' and ‘I gave him…a double heart for his single one,' suggests that maybe they share a past, which immediately makes the audience more interested in them and shows that their courtship will not be straightforward; unlike Claudio and Hero, who speak in verse they are more authentic.

Shakespeare shows that Beatrice...
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