There are many common themes that arise in Much Ado about Nothing. Two of the most prominent themes that go hand in hand are reputation and respect. During the Shakespearean time period, your social status was an important aspect of community life. You could be highly thought of, or disregarded depending on your class. In this play, it is clear that some of the characters aren’t satisfied with their place in society, while others find their reputations in jeopardy because of rumors. An interesting thing about reputation is that a lot of it is fabricated by other people’s opinions, while the subject being scrutinized has their own vision of themselves. That being said, it stirs up the question, does your reputation make or break your life? Is it the most important thing, or is it more important to respect yourself the way you are?
I felt this conversation between Claudio and Benedick about Hero, was an interesting take on reputation:
Benedick, didst thou note the daughter of Signior Leonato?
I noted her not, but I looked on her.
Is she not a modest young lady?
Do you question me as an honest man should do, for my
simple true judgment? Or would you have me speak after
my custom, as being a professed tyrant to their sex?
No, I pray thee speak in sober judgment.
Why, i’ faith, methinks she’s too low for a high praise, too
brown for a fair praise, and too little for a great praise. Only
this commendation I can afford her, that were she other
than she is, she were unhandsome, and being no other but
as she is, I do not like her.
Thou thinkest I am in sport. I pray thee tell me truly how
thou lik’st her.
In mine eye she is the sweetest lady that ever I looked on.
I can see yet without spectacles, and I see no such matter.
There’s her cousin, an she were not possessed with a fury,
exceeds her as much in beauty as the first of May doth the
last of December. But I hope you have no intent to turn
husband, have you?
I would scarce trust myself, though I had sworn the
contrary, if Hero would be my wife.
Claudio is asking for Benedick’s opinion of Hero, and Benedick is smug in his response. He asks Claudio if he really wants to know what he thinks, or if he should lie. Benedick does not do her reputation justice, for he claims she is not a jewel like Claudio thinks, but she is to be examined like any ordinary woman. He said she cannot be praised fairly because she is too low, too dark, and too small. Even after hearing this, Claudio does not believe Benedick and feels that she is the most wonderful woman he has ever laid eyes on. Benedick argues again and claims that if Beatrice didn’t have such a bad temper, she’d be exponentially more beautiful than Hero. Claudio is still not convinced as he states “I would scarce trust myself, though I had sworn the contrary, if Hero would be my wife.” Meaning, even if he swore he would never get married, he would change his mind for Hero’s hand. Claudio clearly has a lot of respect for Hero and no matter what Benedick claims of her reputation, he is unperturbed. It is interesting that he is so in love with her, that he is not concerned with his own reputation of being a good soldier. He was focused on the war, but now he is focused on love. He is called out on this behavior.
“When you went onward on this ended action,
I looked upon her with a soldier’s eye,
That liked but had a rougher task in hand
Than to drive liking to the name of love.” (Act I Scene I, line 235)
There is a change in his respect and adoration for Hero when he believes he has lost her to Don Pedro. Most likely angered by her betrayal, he does not try to win her back.
Contrary to what her actions lead us to believe, Hero cares a great deal about her reputation, which is not plainly seen on the exterior. She loses her good reputation unfairly and much to her dismay. At the scene of the wedding, there is a lot of drama occurring, and it leads to the revelation of the character’s true reputations. Claudio finally acts on his feelings towards Hero, and his explosion provoked Hero who is normally aloof and closed-mouthed, although she still does not defend herself. Now she has lost her “life,” as she cannot live on normally because of the high drama atmosphere that has been created. Even Leonato does not believe she will be able to recover from this event, for he states “death is the fairest cover for her shame that may be wished for” (Act IV Scene I p.113-114). Meaning, she would be better off dead, if she so wishes, instead of having to live in her misery.
Shakespeare places a lot of emphasis on social status in his plays, and how important it is to the characters, what others think of them. I would go as far to say that reputation means everything to these characters, but it is commonly talked about subject in their everyday lives. This was not only in his plays, but in the lives of his audience members as well. Sometimes you did not have control of your social status or power because it was dependent on wealth, the family you were born into, what kind of education you had, and employment. All important factors of social ranking. Your reputation is what you make of it, and if you want respect, you must give respect. From our knowledge of shakespeare’s work, it does not always go as planned.