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Much Ado About Nothing

William Shakespeare

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Study Questions

Study Questions

Study Questions

Study Questions

1.

Why might it be hard to believe that Hero and Claudio really love each other?

Many readers have difficulty accepting the romantic relationship between Hero and Claudio. After all, they have barely met before they fall in love and decide to get married, and then Claudio betrays Hero viciously. But the idea of love at first sight was popular in Shakespeare’s day. Romeo and Juliet, for instance, fall in love at first sight. Moreover, Claudio’s methods of courting Hero through other people would have been an accepted tactic among Elizabethan nobility.

Claudio’s belief that Don John’s trick is reality is a much bigger problem. Some readers feel that it is impossible to sympathize with Claudio after he rejects Hero in the church. One fact that defends Claudio is that he is young and inexperienced. Also, Don John is very clever—even the older, more experienced Don Pedro is deceived by his ruse. Hero’s willingness to forgive Claudio is just as disturbing as Claudio’s rejection of Hero. She does not challenge his behavior toward her but instead marries him willingly. In the end, though, Claudio is awestruck and delighted by Hero’s unexpected reappearance.

2.

Speech and conversation are important in the play, and many of the characters have distinctive ways of speaking. How do the characters’ speech patterns differ?

The speech patterns of the play’s characters vary widely. Some speak with elegance and passion. Two examples of particular eloquence are Leonato’s speech after Hero is betrayed and Beatrice’s expression of her anger at Claudio. But Benedick and Beatrice also share a special way of speaking all their own, in which they are constantly making jokes and puns; this verbal sparring highlights their special gift of wit. Other characters have no such skill with words. Dogberry is always getting his words wrong to very humorous effect. However, his mistakes hinder communication, as in Act III, scene v, when Dogberry and the Watch try to tell Leonato that they have caught Borachio but cannot make themselves understood. Finally, some characters seldom speak at all, like the sullen and bitter Don John or the gentle but usually shy Hero and Claudio.

3.

How do gossip, conversation, and overhearing function in the play?

Much of the plot is moved along by characters eavesdropping on a conversation and either misunderstanding what they overhear or being deceived by gossip or by a trick. Hero, Claudio, and the rest trick Benedick and Beatrice by setting them up to overhear conversations in which their friends deliberately mislead them. Don John’s spiteful gossip makes Claudio and Don Pedro suspicious that Hero is disloyal. The window trick, in which Borachio and the disguised Margaret make love at Hero’s window, is itself a sort of overhearing. In this case, two people spying on the scene, Claudio and Don Pedro, misunderstand what they see, because Don John has set it up to deceive them. The window scene restages the trick played upon Beatrice and Benedick, but with the opposite effect. Instead of causing two people to fall in love, it causes Claudio to abandon Hero. Finally, at the end of the play, overhearing restores order. The men of the Watch, hearing Borachio brag about his crime to Conrad, arrest him and bring him to justice (III.iii).

4. What does the play say about relationships between women and men?

Much Ado About Nothing features one of Shakespeare’s most admired and well-loved heroines, Beatrice. Her strength of spirit, sense of independence, and fierce wit place her among the most powerful female characters Shakespeare ever created. But her self-sufficiency does not prevent her from accepting love. Although both she and Benedick have vowed that they will never marry, they change their minds quickly, and both decide that marriage is better than being single. However, Claudio and Hero do not enjoy the strong and egalitarian relationship that Benedick and Beatrice do. Hero’s plight reminds us that a woman in the Renaissance was vulnerable to the accusations or bad treatment of men—including her own male relatives. Leonato, in his grief, gives orders to let his daughter die after Claudio abandons her in Act IV, scene i. If not for the intervention of Beatrice and the friar, it is not clear what might have happened to Hero.

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