Following Claudio’s shaming of Hero, Shakespeare proposes an interesting distinction between the two “fathers” of the play – the Friar (a religious father), and Hero’s own father in regard to their own perceptions of Hero’s character. The Friar’s complete faith in the good-nature and fidelity of Hero extenuates Leonato’s poor parenting. Hero’s father undoubtedly believes the story told by Claudio, despite the love he has previously shown towards his daughter. Leonato proclaims that “death is the fairest cover for her shame / that may be wished for” (4.1.113-114). He does not question Claudio’s accusation, nor does he question the credibility of the three men who “witnessed” the event during the prior night. Rather, he assumes that it is fact, and only wishes to “cover her shame.” The trust Leonato demonstrates in the Prince and his companions rather than his own daughter is a testament to the power of the law and its dignitaries and its influence in domestic affairs. Leonato’s relationship with his daughter, who lacks any prior disloyalties, is disregarded due to the authority of the source of said accusation.
Nonetheless, Leonato professes perhaps the most absurd act a parent can lend a child, through his siding with Claudio. In the midst of Claudio’s recount of what he witnessed, Leonato merely “charges [Hero] do, as thou art my daughter” (4.1.75). He continues to assert his power over her and thus diminishes her worth as a human being, in a situation where she has already been severely shamed. She answers honestly that she “talked with no man at that hour, my lord” (4.1.85). This however, does not prove sufficient for Leonato, as Don Pedro’s reaffirmation of Claudio’s words has left Leonato to believe that Hero “not denies it” (4.1.172).
The actions of the other men in the play, specifically those of the Friar and Benedick, extenuate the dishonorable nature of Leonato as a father. It is somewhat ironic that the Friar (who can be referred to as a religious Father at times), is the first person with the power, willingness, and faith to prove her honesty. (Beatrice is actually the first to proclaim that Hero has been slandered, but it is quickly overlooked after Beatrice states that she was “truly not [Hero’s bedfellow last night], although until last night [she] have this twelvemonth been her bedfellow” (4.1.147-148). Leonato perceives this as more evidence in favor of Hero’s disloyalty.) The Friar’s dedication to save Hero’s reputation is one that should be acted upon by her actual father, given his history and close relationship with her. However, it is during the Friar’s unraveling of his plan to save Hero that Leonato decides to question any statement being made. He takes the precedent that he ignored during Claudio’s shaming of his daughter, and challenges the effectiveness of the Friar’s plan, saying, “What shall become of this? What will this do?” (4.1.208). Even after the Friar reveals the entirety of how Hero is to be deemed honest, and a back up plan of a life in the convent as a secluded person, Leonato still fails to see the potential in the plan or to show the smallest bit of hope for his daughter. He refers to the Friar’s plan as “the smallest twine” which will lead him (4.1.250). This is a small step for Leonato as a father, but still not one of great reassurance in his love of Hero.
Like Leonato, Benedick accepts Beatrice’s plea for someone to kill Claudio due to his slandering of her cousin, not primarily out of love for Hero, but in order to prove his love to Beatrice. He first refuses to kill Claudio, and won’t do it “for the wide world” (4.1.288), but later is pledged to do so after Beatrice’s insistence that Hero has been wronged.
Thus, the person who actively acts as Hero’s salvation is the Friar, not her own father. Leonato’s character is discredited as a likable one even after the Friar has revealed his plan. Even Benedick has taken action and will participate in the plan, telling Beatrice to “go comfort your cousin. I must say she is dead” (4.1.328). Leonato remains on the warm-up bench, awaiting the fate of his only daughter and refusing to give her the support and justice she deserves from a father.