Much Ado About Nothing is a play about love, relationships, truth and illusion, reality and disguise, trickery, deception, male honor and female virtue, and villainy. This play set in Messina, Sicily and is based around about the contrasting relationships of two couples – the witty and unconventional couple of Benedick and Beatrice, who are described by Don Pedro, the prince, as fighting the “merry war” and the conventional romantic couple of Hero, daughter of the governor of Messina and Claudio, hero of the recent victorious war.
Benedick was man who never could decipher love, could never demonstrate any slight hint of sympathy towards it, mocked and scorned at people who believed in it, and felt he’d rather stay a bachelor all his life, than marry. He thought of women as unfaithful and disloyal, and could never trust a lady. He was an intelligent speaker and loved to disdain, mock and tease others, especially Beatrice. Beatrice too, like Benedick had similar views on marriage and believed that no man was perfect enough to be her husband. She had a sharp tongue and loved to quarrel with Benedick.
Little did both of them know that behind all those hurling insults and mockery was a glimpse of love. Claudio and Hero are a passionate and idealistic couple who are madly in love with each other and show immense affection toward each other. Amidst all these relationships, is Don John the bastard (illegitimate son), a sour and gloomy character, who is always looking to engage with trouble and looking to create chaos and turmoil just when everything seems fine. Much Ado About Nothing is also about deception and illusion blended skillfully with truth and reality.
Act 2, of this play is a fine example of these themes- trickery, deception and illusion. One of the first examples of deception takes place in the first scene itself, in the mysterious masked ball, when Beatrice see through the concealed face of Benedick, and takes the full advantage of the golden opportunity to make as many wittily insulting and contemptuously mocking comments at “that Signor Benedick, the prince’s jester a very dull fool, whose only gift is in devising impossible slanders”.
These words stung Benedick like a needle and marred his own reputation which was extremely important to him. Benedick, who was unaware that Beatrice identified him through his subterfuge, was living in a false impression. Outraged by Beatrice’s vituperative remarks, which he did not know were said jokingly, he felt humiliated, and shamed to be called a fool. His hatred for Beatrice went beyond imagination, and he was livid at her volley of words. He disliked like being disgraced and ashamed.
In the same masked ball itself it was Don John who gave Claudio the astonishing and tragic news that Don Pedro, the prince has fallen in love with Hero, and that the prince is marry her the very night itself. Claudio again in a misapprehension, was torn apart with this catastrophic and heartbreaking news. He claimed that friendship was important in every aspect of life, except in the affairs of love. He said that all hearts in love, are blinded and therefore, no agent can be trusted as beauty is a witch, against whose charms, faith melts into blood.
Claudio was a shattered man, devastated and distressed at the fact that his beloved Hero was not his any more, while Don John got a thrill out of the cascading effect his own craftsmanship. Another example for the theme of trickery, is much later when Benedick, recovered from his resentment towards Beatrice. Benedick was cleverly hiding behind the arbor, when they eyes of Don Pedro glance over him. Don Pedro who had made his intentions clear of setting up Benedick and Beatrice wanted to influence Benedick.
Don Pedro, accompanied by Leonato, Hero’s father and Claudio ( who now knew that Don Pedro did not betray him), together, began talking loudly about how Beatrice was intensely love with Benedick. They said Beatrice loved Benedick with ” enraged affection” and that she swore to never make her love for him known. All three of them were full of praise for Beatrice, much to the dismay of Benedick. They claimed she was ” an excellent sweet lady and out of suspicion, virtuous”, “exceedingly wise” and “beautiful”.
In the case of Benedick, however, they were particularly detrimental and critical. They said Benedick did not deserve such a sweet lady and that Beatrice was way out of Benedick’s league. They claimed he was cowardly, and dealt with quarrels with a “christianlike fear”. They went about how Benedick would mock her and deride her emotions, if she told him of her love and how Benedick was unfeeling and insensitive towards someone’s sentiment . Benedick after hearing all of his shortcomings, was a changed man.
Surprisingly, he took all the criticism, and condemnation of Don Pedro, Leonato and Claudio very positively and believed he was fortunate enough to hear his limitations and failing with his own ears, so that he can put all those weaknesses, to mending. He began to realize that Beatrice is actually wise, virtuous and a fair lady. He suddenly began to admire her, for what she was. He said he too would love her, the same way she did. He claimed that once upon a time, when he said would die a bachelor, he earnestly never imagined in the craziest of dreams that he would live till we was married, but then came Beatrice.
He also began wondering about how she showed her fondness towards him. Act 2 was a prime example of the themes of trickery, deception and illusion, and illustrated these themes beautifully. On one hand there was the truth and reality, and on the other hand were illusions, misapprehensions and false understanding, leading to various reactions and building up to the plot. This created an atmosphere of suspense, anxiety and tension leaving innumerable questions unanswered. Will Beatrice realize Benedick loves her, and that he thinks she loves him as well?
Will Don John malicious plot of making Claudio believe Hero is entertaining a man in her bedroom work out? How will Benedick and Beatrice eventually fall in love? Will all these queries unfold in Act 3? Act 2 unlike Act 1 was mostly based on the forming of the relationship between Benedick and Beatrice, while Act 1 was about Claudio and Hero. Who knows, Act 3 might reveal and unravel more secrets, deceptions and disguises, take us furtherer into the plot and get us closer and closer to the climax.