Leonato, Hero’s “Death”, and Jumping to Conclusions

Act IV, Scene I is very jarring–as Hero is about to marry Claudio, Claudio feels it’s necessary, at the altar, to tell Leonato and all who is present that he believes Hero is not a virgin: “She knows the heat of a luxurious bed. Her blush is guiltiness, not modesty” (4.1.38-39). Leonato at least asks if what Claudio is saying is true, but Hero doesn’t even stand up for herself. You would think, as innocent as Hero is, she would try to deflect the sudden slandering as any normal person would. Hero seems to prove Claudio correct when she agrees that there will be no wedding after hearing of the lies against her, so I can understand why her father, Claudio, and Don Pedro would continue to assume that she is not pure. Hero is not being much of a “hero,” like her name implies. She is acting much like an anti-hero, in which she unintentionally puts herself in the situation that causes everyone to believe that the lies spread about her are confirmed.

Claudio asks Hero what man she was speaking to outside her window the night before, to which Hero replies, “I talked with no man at that hour, my lord” (4.1.84). For some reason, this is the criteria Don Pedro uses to convince Leonato that she is not pure because he catches her in a false lie, saying that Hero did speak with a “ruffian”–a muscular man–at her window and that they were sleeping together several times. What I don’t understand is, again, why Hero doesn’t defend herself when she knows that these lies aren’t true. She does not get angry or insulted, further adding tot the anti-hero persona she has encompassed due to her dainty personality. The fact that her own father, Leonato, does not stand up for his own daughter really says a lot about how much he trusts his own daughter. Perhaps he is just that bad of a father, or maybe in Shakespearean times, fathers were less apt to believe their own children since they are not as highly-ranked as they and their comrades are. Hero has apparently always been honest, so it is troubling as to why he would choose her own wedding as a place not to trust her. Also, it is mentioned that Claudio has seen her blush a thousand times, so you would think he would know if Hero is blushing out of innocence or guilt. This could be because he is afraid of the rumors being correct, so he lashes out as a test to prove Hero’s innocence. But because she does not defend herself or get angry at Claudio for deeming her immoral, he assumes that Hero actually is unfaithful.

Finally, the plan to restore Hero’s reputation is a hair short of irresponsible, not to mention completely insane. Let me explain: Friar Francis says that in order to restore Hero’s reputation, Leonato must tell everyone that Hero has died from being slandered so that everyone will feel sorry for her and remember her as a true hero, who died an honest virgin: “Your daughter here the princes left for dead. Let her awhile be secretly kept in and publish it that she is dead indeed. Maintain a mourning ostentation, and on your family’s old monument hang mournful epitaphs and do all rites that appertain unto a burial” (4.1.201-207). In other words, Hero must essentially be “reborn” into another person so that even when she comes out from hiding, the old Hero is still dead. Wouldn’t it just be better to re-convince everybody that Hero has been slandered by Don John? Surely that would restore her reputation, no? Perhaps because Hero was always known as the innocent virgin, any and all rumors about her are, and will forever be, stuck to her name like an oil stain. It is irresponsible because now Hero has to pull a Viola (from Twelfth Night when she moonlighted as Cesario), but permanently, because now “Hero” is too damaged to continue living.

What if someone were to figure out that the new woman that Hero is posing as is actually Hero? This is one significant plot hole that Shakespeare forgot about. Then again, if Hero can pull of a disguise just as well as Viola could, perhaps it could work.

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