Characterizations of a Comedy in “Much Ado About Nothing”

Characterizations of a Comedy in “Much Ado About Nothing”

William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” is essentially a story of the Renaissance era, portraying many characteristics of a comedy that were prevalent during this time. These characteristics are essential in works of this era and help to define the genre. In order to meet these criteria, “Much Ado About Nothing” must convey several aspects of a comedy. One of the foremost qualities is that the play end happily, with no deaths and the promise of marriage. Each incident of trouble is resolved before the action concludes, leaving the audience with the hope of the story to follow is wholly positive.

In “Much Ado About Nothing” there is trouble brewing between two characters that is resolved before the play is over. This conflict is apparent from the first scene between Senior Benedick of Padua and the lady Beatrice. They antagonize each other and sling verbal epithets to each other, as Beatrice says to Benedick, “You must not, sir, mistake my niece. There is a kind of merry war betwixt Signoir Bendick and her: they never meet but there’s a skirmish of wit between them” (I, i, 61-64). No direct reason is provided for their animosity; however, it can be reasoned that, as two confirmed people against the institute of marriage, they are skeptical of each other’s gender as a group. There is also the perception that there is underlying tension between them that has little to do with gender prejudice. As the play progresses, each is made to believe the other is in love with them. This knowledge opens up their own hearts and they proclaim to reciprocate these feelings and the play concludes with the two of them deeply in love.

There is additional trouble arising during the course of the play, led by Don John, the prince’s bastard brother. Don John, with the help of his followers, lead Claudio to believe that Hero is unfaithful and he calls off the wedding, publicly humiliating her, “There, Leonato, take her back again : / Give not this rotten orange to your friend” (IV, i, 33-34). This confrontation causes it to be announced that Hero died of shame, though in fact, she was still alive. When Claudio discovers that the charges are false and that it was a deception on the part of Don John, he feels great regret and promises to wed Hero’s cousin. At the end of the play, they have reconciled after Claudio helps to reaffirm Hero’s good name.

“Much Ado About Nothing” is basically a romance between Claudio and Hero as well as Beatrice and Benedick. This depiction concludes with the promise of a wedding between each couple, “Meantime let wonder seem familiar / And to the chapel let us presently” (V, iv, 70-71). In spite of the fact that there is great conflict between each couple during the course of the production, the final scene remains a positive, romantic one with merriment, laughter and dancing. The entire point of this play is romantic, and focus on the steps taken by each character to cause great trouble as well as to confront it and resolve the doubts of the honesty of their love and the accusations put forth are revealed to be false.

The character types of this play include a confirmed bachelor, Benedick and the declared spinster, Beatrice. Though she is not of great age, she has sworn never to wed. Hero portrays the young virgin and Claudio the lovesick swain. None of these characters develop into individualized characters but remain a depiction of their own type. Don John also remains a character type, the great villain. The play gives no reason for Don John to cause trouble, though it is implied that he does so because of bitterness of having been born a bastard and being a part of the prince’s party rather than heading it. He does not change during the play but remains an unrelenting enemy. While Hero and Claudio also stay true to their type, Beatrice and Benedick alter their perspective and change their attitude toward marriage before the play concludes.

The female experience portrayed in this play includes Hero’s aspersions as a maid, her fall from honor to having her honor restored, as well as Beatrice’s evolution from sparring opponent to engaged woman. The fact that the action focuses on these characters is different than a tragedy, which centers mainly on the male experience. Equal time is given for the woman’s tale and perspective as there is the man’s, illustrating the importance of the woman in this play.

Although death is mentioned in this play, as Hero is announced to be dead in order to cause Claudio’s remorse for his previous actions, the play as a whole does not include any deaths, but remains entirely positive. The villain is uncovered and it is revealed that Hero, “died but while her slander lived” (V, iv, 69). While the grief of death is experienced, particularly by Claudio, the fact that there are no real deaths involved fits the characteristics of a comedy of this era. Shakespeare’s tragedy end with actual death and destruction while in “Much Ado About Nothing,” Hero is miraculously resurrected.

Each character that was above reproach was honored and rewarded for their honesty while those who were not were punished. “Much Ado About Nothing” punished the villain Don John with disgrace, and he flees, brought back in shackles in the final lines, “He is composed and framed for treachery; / And fled he is upon this villainy . . . John is ta’en in flight, / And brought with armed men back to Messina” (V, i, 56-57; V, iv, 25-29). His co-conspirators are arrested, punishing them for their actions. Don John’s great deception is revealed and he is no longer able to stir up trouble. In addition, Hero’s virtue was rewarded for her innocence with her marriage to Claudio and the public announcement that she was innocent. Benedick, also virtuous, also concludes this play by becoming engaged. This play begins with the issue of a courtship between Claudio and Hero, and though there are great trials during their steps to the alter, they overcome these hindrances as each deception is uncovered. This renewal gives them a new beginning as well as conveying to the audience that those deceptions are always revealed and innocence is always rewarded.

This play is largely light-hearted, even though there is great suffering, it conveys a positive message and upbeat attitude. This pay relies on verbal exuberance rather than dramatic action. Words are the weapon of choice as each character voices their opinions and desires. Beatrice and Benedick are the most obvious characters that illustrate this image. Their verbal sparring is essential to maintaining a humorous atmosphere throughout the work, as both are adept in this activity and trade both insults and endearments admirably.

This play also allows the audience to laugh at itself and the absurdities of mankind. The concept of love at first sight, such as that experienced by Claudio and Hero, is unlikely as true love takes time to develop. This romantic relationship illustrates the impracticality of this concept as the couple is led to the alter based on appearances rather than any depth of character. Their love remains remarkably simple and innocent, leaving the audience feeling that this romantic entanglement is both absurdly laughable and greatly desired: love at first site is always dreamed of, though few get to experience it. It is also laughable that Beatrice and Benedick initially despise each other yet are willing to change their hearts immediately upon the knowledge that the other is in love with them. This transformation is not usually instantaneous and causes great merriment in both the play and the audience witnessing it.

While the genre of comedy of the Renaissance era is distinct from tragedy, it retains its own set of essential characteristics, which “Much Ado About Nothing” illustrating many of these characteristics. It is humorous and light-hearted, ending happily with two couples promised to wed. These qualities define the comedies of this era and portray the positive message prevalent in this time.

Shakespeare would have considered The Pirate Movie to be a comedy as it fits with many characteristics of this genre. The story is about a girl named Mabel, the youngest of the general’s children, who meets her beau and they resolve to recover the family’s stolen treasure from the pirates who took it. Her beau is the future king and wins the girl with his daring and bravery. The opening scenes portray a character with trouble; in this case she is awkward and invisible to men and popular women. The main character is a woman and the story is about her experience as such and her journey to find love. In spite of the fact that there is great trouble throughout the story, the movie ends with a group wedding as the lead character dreams of “A Happy Ending.” Although this story is entirely a dream, it remains positive and lighthearted where no one dies and there is a happily ever after.

Although modern audiences would consider Heathers a comedy, it actually violates a number of key conventions of the genre that Shakespeare would have expected a comedy to follow. The movie is about a girl named Veronica and how she is unhappy with her group of friends. With Jason Dean leading the way, she unknowingly assists with the murder of three characters, portraying each as a suicide. When she discovers that Jason Dean plans to kill all the students of the school, she sets out to sabotage him, succeeding and leading him to take his own life. The first key characteristic that this play violates is the fact there are deaths. Heathers ends with a total of four deaths, including one of the lead characters. There is no happy ending to the story as Jason Dean kills himself with a bomb he attached to his chest.

Works Cited

Heathers.(1988). Dir. Michael Lehmann. Perf. WInona Ryder, Christian Slater. DVD. Anchor Bay Entertainment.

Shakespeare, William. (1994) “Much Ado About Nothing.” The Complete Works. New York: Shakespeare Head Press. 520-549.

The Pirate Movie. (1982). Dir. Ken Anakin. Perf. Kristy McNichol, Christopher Atkins. VHS. Touchstone Cinema.

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