Shakespeare builds the plot in “Much Ado About Nothing” around lies and truths. In Kenneth Branagh’s screenplay version of the movie (1993), he focuses on intensifying the lies to help viewers better understand the theme of this play.
All the major characters in Much Ado About Nothing undergo some deceptions throughout the movie and show their transformations. Through deceptions, the story glorifies the truth and indicates how major characters transform and grow. Don Pedro and Claudio are honest to each other and everyone around them. Don Pedro states in act 1 scene 1, from line 304 to line 316: “I will assume thy part in some disguise,/ And tell fair Hero I am Claudio,/ And in her bosom I’ll unclasp my heart/ And take her hearing prisoner with the force/ And strong encounter of my amorous tale.
” (121) He claims that he will woo Hero for Claudio, and he acts upon his words. Claudio is also honest with his affection toward Hero. He simply likes her for who she is and has no ulterior motives. Contrary to Don Pedro, his brother Don John is a deceiving man. With malicious intention, his tongue lies often.
His jealousy towards Don Pedro makes him drown in hatred and seeks to stir trouble. He deceives his brother and Claudio not once, but twice. Don Pedro and his servant, Borachio, decide to trick Claudio into believing that Don Pedro is wooing Hero for himself but not for Claudio. They approach him at the masked ball dance and pretend to think that he is Benedick, and start to reveal a rumor that Don Pedro is affectionate with Hero.
They confirm it by telling Claudio that they heard Don Pedro proclaim his love for Hero. However, all matters become clear later when Don Pedro and Claudio encounter each other at the masked ball dance. Unsuccessful at his first attempt, Don John resolves to devise another conspiracy. He and Borachio plot to defame Hero so Claudio will stop his marriage.
Don John makes Claudio and Don Pedro believe that Hero has been meeting a man numerous times at night to prove that she is no longer a maiden. Deceived by his scheme, Claudio and Don Pedro believed him and they both publicly shame Hero and leave her in a devastated situation. However, truth always triumphs over a malicious trap. Even though Don John is untrustworthy and his claims are ill intentioned, there are benevolent lies. Clancy Martin and Alan Strudler summarized the relationship between Benedick and Beatrice perfectly: “on their own account, neither Benedick nor Beatrice believes in romantic love, at least for himself or herself; moreover, each professes a distinct dislike for the other” (13). Don Pedro begins matchmaking Beatrice and Benedick after he has a conversation with her at the masked party.
Don Pedro and Beatrice exchange words and opinions about the ideal man of Beatrice. He divides tasks for two groups: himself, Leonato and Claudio are in charge of persuading Benedick that Beatrice is in love with him while Ursula and Hero try to convince Beatrice that Benedick has strong affection toward her. Nonetheless, both Benedick and Beatrice still try to deceive their friends and family by convincing them that they are not in love when in reality Benedick and Beatrice are developing some affection toward each other. Claudio is the easiest character in the play to deceive because he is a naive young man. Don John and Borachio mislead him into believing Hero’s infidelity, while the friar and Leonato trick him about Hero’s death in order to teach him a lesson.
Knowing the truth later, Claudio deeply regrets his mistake. Hero’s death is a possible way Leonato uses to teach Claudio a lesson about the impact of words on others. Leonato orders Claudio to marry his “niece,” but in fact; it is his daughter. The bridesmaid and the bride all wear a veil so Claudio cannot identify them. It surprises Claudio when he learns that the love of his life is not dead. The veiled bride and bridesmaids are metaphors to Claudio’s ignorance toward the truth.
The role of self-awareness is important in how the characters reveal information to each other. Benedick and Beatrice lack self-awareness; this leads them to making an effort to deceive others around them. They are in love with each other, despite the way Benedick and Beatrice behave at the beginning of the movie does not convince anyone they are in love. Shakespeare creates a perfect match, for both Benedick and Beatrice are witty, sharp-tongued, and very philosophical about the world.
Honesty is an important virtue and is highly valued. The movie shows this in multiple ways. Deceitful people receive punishments in order to keep society functioning correctly. Neither the movie nor the play shows the punishments for Don John and his partners in crime, but it does indicate at the end that the bad will always lose. There is also a sort of penance for those who decide to step away from deceit and turn to honesty.
Don John’s henchmen come clean in what they have done and you begin to see their burden lifted. All those involved start to show more lenience towards them with their new found honesty. Claudio reacts very negatively to Hero’s supposed misdeed, but the scene before that he is swearing his love to her. Leonato, Hero’s father, asks Claudio if he is certain that Hero has an infidelity because there is only one witness. The Bible states that in order to prove a case, you must have at least two witnesses. Knowing that, Don John calls both Don Pedro and Claudio to come so that his accusation is more convincing.
When Don Pedro confirms what Claudio accuses Hero of, Leonato believes it instantly because Don Pedro is a prince and there are more than one witnesses. Claudio and Hero are in love with each other, but he does not trust her or their relationship. Claudio is quick to cast judgment; thus, he makes hasty decisions because despite fighting along Don Pedro in the war, he still does not trust his prince wholeheartedly. However, not in every case do people accept honesty. When Dogberry tries to tell Leonato about the suspect on Hero’s wedding day, Leonato does not listen and brushes him off because he thinks Dogberry is being silly. If Leonato decides to stop for a moment and listen to what Dogberry has to say, maybe Hero will not suffer such cruel words from her fiance and be devastated.
In virtues, honesty is usually good and deception is usually bad. However, Shakespeare proves that lies can be good and benefitting. Through lies, Benedick and Beatrice finally face their true feelings toward each other. Through lies, we learn about the importance of words and their effects.
Through lies, the characters grow.
Bevington, David. The Necessary Shakespeare. UP of Chicago, 2014. Print. 23 Feb.
2015. Martin, Clancy and Alan Strudler. Much Ado About Truth: On Seduction, Deception, and Self-deception. Humana.
Mente, Feb. 2012. Web. 23 Feb. 2015. Much Ado About Nothing.
Screenplay by Kenneth Branagh. Prod. Kenneth Branagh. Perf. Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Denzel Washington, Keanu Reeves, Kate Beckinsale, Michael Keaton.