Much Ado About Nothing

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Much Ado About Nothing: The Meaning of True Love and Romantic Couples Like many of his comedies, William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing involves young couples getting together, or trying to get together, and ends with the happy lovers getting married.  On the surface this appears to be a rather fairy-tale like ending, and both sets of lovers in this play, Claudio with Hero and Beatrice with Benedick, seem to end the play in a happy relationship. However, if we say, as William G. McCollom does in his essay “The Role of Wit in Much Ado About Nothing”, that “the governing action (the activity guiding the characters) could be formulated as the search in love for the truth about love” (165), then we can view the two sets of lovers as contrasting commentaries by Shakespeare about what constitutes “true love”.  Looking at the play in this way, we can say that in Much Ado About Nothing Shakespeare makes the point that true love is achieved with understanding, trust, and commitment by examining the relationships of the contrasting sets of lovers: the shallow relationship of Hero and Claudio, and the deeper relationship of Beatrice and Benedick. Before this subject can be tackled, it seems important to define what we are talking about when we say “true love”.  This subject alone could probably fill several philosophical essays, so for this essay let us define true love as being a relationship that is based on something more than outward appearances or material goods, and being a relationship in which both lovers are prepared to be committed to the other despite any hardships or mistakes their partners might make. It seems self-evident that in order for a couple to have a romantic relationship, they need to have a strong understanding of one another.  They need to have connections and shared experiences built through past encounters.  Claudio and Hero, however, have no past encounter, while Beatrice and Benedick have a previous history. Despite never having met her before the start of the play, Claudio has an immediate attraction to Hero.  When he is alone with his friend Benedick, Claudio tells him that “In mine eye she  is the sweetest lady that ever I looked on” (I.1.180-181).  It would seem that this attraction Claudio has for Leonato’s daughter is purely the result of, first, physical beauty and, second, the desire to marry a noble and virtuous woman. While Claudio can’t be faulted for desiring such qualities in a wife, it is telling that he is ready to marry her after only this first meeting and that he goes to Leonato, not Hero herself, to purpose marriage. In his essay, “Deception in Much Ado About Nothing”, Richard Henze writes, “as Claudio falls in love with Hero’s beautiful face but not with her feelings while Don Pedro arranges a profitable marriage, convention is excessively restrictive and sincere human feeling is deficient” (192).  This “window shopping” manner of selecting a wife completely eliminates any meaningful interaction between the couple and doesn’t allow for any understanding or emotional connections to develop.  This lack of connection is in large part what allows Claudio to be tricked by Don John later in the play. In contrast to Hero and Claudio, Beatrice and Benedick have a previous history with one another before the opening moments of the play, and though they play the part of not liking each other, it is clear that the seeds for a blossoming romance are already in place.  Beatrice’s first line in the play, in fact, in response to the news that Don Pedro is returning to Messina, is to ask, “is Signor Mountanto  returned from the wars or no?” (I.1.29-30). Though she pretends indifference, Beatrice asks several questions about Benedick and seems generally interested in his current welfare.  Not only do Beatrice and Benedick know each other at the start of the play, but there is evidence that at one point they may have even tried to start a romantic relationship.  In response to Don Pedro’s jest that...
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