ENGLISH STUDIES 178
Much Ado about Nothing
The different ways in which men and women established and defended their honour in the Elizabethan period.
24 August 2012
In Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing the concept of honour plays an important role. Claudio renounces Hero at their wedding because he is made to belief that she is not an honourable woman and thus not worthy of him. Honour is gendered and in the Elizabethan period men and woman established and defended their honour in different ways. Men could defend their honour by challenging another man to a duel while women were powerless. Women were dependent on men to defend their honour. In this play Beatrice, the cousin of Hero, acknowledges her limitations as a woman, but manipulates a man to defend her cousin’s honour on her behalf. In the Elizabethan period men and women established and lost their honour in different ways. Men had to be brave and valorous to be regarded as honourable. In the first act of the play we hear of Claudio on whom Don Pedro “hath bestowed much honour” (Shakespeare 1.1.8-10) for “doing in the figure of a lamb the feats of a lion” (Shakespeare 1.1.13-14). Claudio was regarded as honourable because he fought bravely in the war. A man could be dishonoured if he was proclaimed to be a coward, for instance if he refused to fight in a dual. A man could also be dishonoured if his wife acted dishonourably by having an affair. Claudio therefore wants to ensure that Hero is honourable before he pursues a relationship with her. He therefore asks Benedick “Is she not a modest young lady?” (Shakespeare 1.1.150). In order for a woman to be regarded as honourable she had to be modest, chaste and not lewd. If Hero was not honourable Claudio would not ruin his reputation by associating with her. A woman could dishonour herself as well as her family if she had a sexual relationship before...
Bibliography: 1. Shakespeare, William. Much Ado About Nothing. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.
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