How Far Do You Agree That Good Comedy Is Tragedy Narrowly Averted

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How far do you agree that Much Ado About Nothing shows the truth of the claim that “good comedy is tragedy narrowly averted”?

“Good comedy is tragedy narrowly averted”: these words were spoken by Jonathon Bate and Eric Rasmussen in their publishing of ‘William Shakespeare: Complete Works’. They show how many elements of comedy could be interpreted as almost tragic. The comedy in Much Ado About Nothing is often created when the audience can see that something could go horribly wrong, however it is saved in the nick of time. A sense of relief and light-heartedness is created, as customarily comedy is known to end in a meeting of characters at a gleeful point in time or occasion; most frequently with a wedding.

There are many situations in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ that corroborate the view that “good comedy is tragedy narrowly averted”. From the start of the play the audience is presented with a looming sense of villainy by the presence of Don John. In the first scene he enters, he does not say anything for a while, on stage he may be stood quietly and threatening in a dark corner. As well as adding a sinister element to the scene to generate suspicion, the positioning of Don John on stage shows his aloofness from the rest of the characters. Already an Elizabethan audience may hold some reservations towards the fact that he has been introduced as the ‘bastard’. An illegitimate child at this time would pose a threat to the whole family, especially one of high status such as Leonato’s. When passing down wealth to the heir in the family an illegitimate child could potentially intrude and declare himself to be the rightful inheritor of the wealth. This consequently creates furthermore suspicion around the character of Don Jon and fear of the danger imposed. Don Jon is first introduced when he says, “I thank you, I am not of many words but I thank you,” creating an eerie sense to his character. His taciturnity is quite unsettling since meanwhile in this scene Shakespeare portrays the rest of the characters to be caught up in the “merry war of wit” between Beatrice and Benedick. This emphasises the detachment of Don Jon’s character from any form of joy. However, the nature of his language “I am not of many words,” sounds sinister; hence unnerving the audience even more as the idea that he may pose potential threat is presented. Shakespeare introduces the theme of deception through the use of Don Jon’s speech. He claims that he cannot “hide” what he is, displaying an example of Shakespeare’s use of irony, as we are later on exposed to a plan generated by Don Jon where disguise is the main ploy. Later in the play Don John admits he is a “plain dealing villain,” showing how he has accepted the fact he is an outcast and so deems his behaviour as irreversible. Consequently creating the idea that peril is even more likely to occur, due to Don John not caring about what other people think of him anymore. The establishment of Don John as a potential villain sets up the notion that ‘Much Ado’, although a comedy, contains tragic elements.

Shakespeare uses the defamation of Hero in ‘Much Ado’ to enhance the sense of tragedy that has already been introduced. The theme of deception and lies is created when Don John reveals his plan; he tells Claudio that Don Pedro is planning on wooing Hero for himself when Claudio is the one who wants her. However this does not create enough upset for Don John’s liking and therefore he proceeds to falsely accuse Hero of adultery. The effects of this shortly follow and we encounter a darker and much more sinister side to Claudio, the potential for tragedy arises here. In contrast to the former chivalrous language used by Claudio when trying to win over Hero, Shakespeare shows an alternative personality in Claudio when he refuses Hero’s hand in marriage, “give not the rotten orange to your friend.” Here he uses the ‘rotten orange’ imagery to insult Hero by suggesting her appearance does not depict her...
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