In Much Ado About Nothing, Don Pedro and Don John represents the classic tale of sibling rivalry that has stretches all the way back since Cain and Abel in the Bible. But, unlike Cain and Abel’s rivalry of presenting the better sacrifices, Don Pedro and Don John’s rivalry is one caused by the sins of their father. In fact the rivalry presented within Don Pedro and Don John is one based on the social concept of status and not actual hate towards his brother.
Don Pedro, unlike Don John, is the legitimate heir to his father’s fortunes. During the Renaissance era, (as stated in The Bedford Companion to Shakespeare), illegitimate children could not inherit anything from their fathers. (McDonald 263) Although, illegitimate children could not and do not inherit their father’s fortunes, they are still taken care of and given money for their education, but they are still frowned upon in society and it is hard for them to advance further in status because of the circumstances of their birth. They are often excluded and shunned from, “polite society” because they are bastards and Don John is no exception to this rule.
Don John’s jealousy is not the classic, “I am jealous of my brother, because he is favored” but exhibits the other classic, yet complex jealousy issue of, “I cannot advance any further and is shunned by the rest of the world, because I am a bastard; Unlike my brother who gets to have everything I want, and therefore I must hate him” issue. The quote,
“I am trusted with a muzzle and enfranchised with a clog;
therefore I have decreed not to sing in my cage.
If I had my mouth, I would bite;
if I had my liberty, I would do my liking:
in the meantime let me be that I am and seek not to alter me.”
(Shakespeare p. 1423)
exemplifies the hardships that Don John goes through as his status of being a bastard child. He, unlike Don Pedro, is restricted. Don John cannot speak freely because if he did, he would lose the favor of the courts and the favor of his brother, who has more power and authority over him. The extent of Don John’s restrictions on what he can and cannot do is personified through the use of the cage imagery of him not being able to “sing” in his cage. This demonstrates a physical aspect of restriction and in this case it is the inability of mobility in status. Furthermore the beginning of the quote which shows that he is being muzzled represents the image of not being able to speak because it is covering his mouth. We further see this hate for his brother, because of status, in the quote,
“Come, come, let us thither: this may prove food to
my displeasure. That young start-up hath all the
glory of my overthrow: if I can cross him any way, I
bless myself every way. You are both sure, and will assist me?”
(Shakespeare p. 1424)
which presents the image of a king being overthrown (Don Pedro), and a new leader (Don John), one that is not supposed to be on the thrown as the new leader.
The hatred expressed in Don John towards his own brother is one that is manufactured by society and has turned his heart into stone. If society had been more accepting Don John and Don Pedro could have been more brotherly towards each other. But then again, Don John could try to recreate Cain and Abel, in which only one of them would come out to be Cain, and the other a dead sheep herder.