Sunday, September 30, 2012

Faking Hero's Death; What's the Point?

Hero's feigned death in Much Ado About Nothing says a lot about the status of women during Shakespeare's time, especially considering Hero's unique position as Leonato's only heir.

Unlike men (whose honor is determined by title, money and status) a woman's honor is centered around her sexuality and purity until marriage. Men could defend their honor through battle and wit, but once Hero's honor was slaughtered by Claudio the only way for her to regain it was to have her name publicly cleared by him and her death to be mourned so she could be re-birthed through marriage as a known virgin.Only then could she inherit Leonato's money and save her name (as well as her father's).

I found her staged death to be discomforting and unnecessary; once it was clear that she had indeed been framed and that Claudio was still in love with her and prepared to marry her, why did the death-ceremony in Act V scene III need to happen? Did Claudio really think that Hero literally died of shame, or was everyone aware that the ceremony was merely metaphoric?

Claudio's poem "Epitaph" in 5.3 seemed to be the turning point of the play, where wrongs committed through deception were righted (interesting to note is that while deception was used to arrange love and marriages, it also nearly caused the demise of the most important marriage of the play!):

Done to death by slanderous tongues
Was the Hero that here lies.
Death in guerdon of her wrongs
Gives her fame which never dies.
So the life that died with shame
Lives in death with glorious fame.

I understand that "Done to death by slanderous tongues/Was the Hero that here lies" describes a woman's may-as-well-be-dead scenario if her virginity is not in-tact on her wedding day, but what still confuses me is if the ceremonial death was done by Shakespeare to illuminate the gender gap or if it's an accurate representation of what would be done to a slandered woman of Hero's class and status.

If it's a representation of how much power Hero doesn't have because she's a woman (whereas if she had been born a man her inheritance would never be wrangled from her and her position in society, as Leonato's only heir, would be much more profound), I believe Shakespeare poses a pretty interesting question among an otherwise silly and hilarious comedy; why is the position of women so heavily reliant on their virginity? And what would have happened to Hero if the watchmen were never able to capture Conrad and Borrachio? Is the horror of the alternative ending great enough to cause Shakespeare's audience to reconsider the value of virginity? Probably not, considering a woman's sexuality is, unfortunately, still a forefront of her identity and "power" in today's society.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Act 4 Comedy turns into Tragedy

--In Act 4 we see a major turning point; the play starts off as a comedy and turns into a tragedy. In the beginning of the wedding Cladio completely bashes Hero; telling her friends and family that she is unfaithul. With all these accusations I can only imagine Hero's reputation, it's completely ruined? Not only is Hero's reputation squashed, Leonato's is too. How dare he pass off a woman like Hero? Claudio embarrases Leonato by bashing Hero, "Give not this rotten orange to your friend. She's but the sign and semblance of her honour."

Because Hero is portrayed as the shy character, Cladio doesn't even give her the opportunity to speak up and defend herself? The one time she desperately needs to speak up she doesn't really get the chance. She blushes in humilation and Claudio responds, "Her blush is guiltiness, not modesty." He continues to put her down, refusing to let her speak. She tries to speak up by saying, "I talked with no man at that hour, my lord."

Act 4 is also the highlight of Beatrice's and Benedick's relationship; the woman who claims she'd never get married finally admits her love for Benedick. "I love you so much of my heart that none is left to protest."

I think it's interesting how the beginning of the play deals with the aspect of being unloyal; towards the end Benedick proves his loyalty to Beatrice and agrees to kill for her.

I felt bad for Hero in this Act, the embarrasment was heartbreaking. I'm not surprised the Friar came up with a plan to seek revenge. These characters are always seeking revenge and playing trickery on eachother, it seems to be an endless cycle?

--In Act 5, I noticed Shakespeare really emphasizes the pain and agony Leonato is facing. She’s obviously not dead but her reputation is. Claudio's words has caused major pain on his family. "My griefs cry louder than advertisment."

When Claudio learns Borachio confesses he realizes Hero's innocence. He begs Leonato for forgiveness, Leonato then tells Claudio to clear Hero's name to the entire city and offers Claudio Antonio's daughter. At first I asked myself why is he offering his niece? Perhaps offering his niece will give the play some kind of happy ending? ( We then learn towards the end the niece is Hero, ending the play on a happy note)

We also see Benedick's and Beatrice's relationship grow which is quite comical; here they were bickering back and forth making fun of eachother and now they're speaking sweetly to eachother; completely head over heels for eachother! I thought it was funny that they both deny their love for eachother towards the end but Claudio catches them in a lie and the two confess and marry.

Despite all the chaos, I feel as though the dance at the end represents happiness being re-established and all is well at the end?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Beatrice and Hero

The contrasts between Beatrice and Hero are easily seen in each characters specific demeanor as well as in their actions towards men and their different stations in life. Beatrice vehemently refuses to marry because she feels that she will never find a proper man that suits her needs and will live up to the expectations she has of a man that can possibly be compatible with her.
"He that hath a beard is more than a youth,
and he that hath no beard is less than a man;
and he that is more than a youth is not for me,
and he that is less than a man, I am not for him."

Beatrice's dominant character often overshadows Hero's quiet demeanor. Even when Hero is directly spoken to, if Beatrice is in her presence she will speak first and share her opinionated views, while talking about Hero as if she is not able to form her own opinion.
 "Yes, faith, it is my cousin’s duty to make curtsy and say,
'Father, as it please you.' But yet for all that, cousin, let
him be a handsome fellow, or else make another curtsy and
say, 'Father, as it please me.'"
Beatrice claims that Hero will agree to please her father only so far if she does not like the appearance of her suitor. This attests to the role of a woman and her duty to obey her father and marry his choice, but also the free will that Beatrice represents and practically forces Hero, as well as others around her, to agree with.
Hero allows Beatrice to interject as she pleases and Hero never takes offense. What Beatrice says in regards to Hero's somewhat shallow views on love is met with silence from Hero, however, it is not said by Beatrice out of hate. In some ways, Beatrice is commenting on Hero's power to choose her own husband, even if her choice is made based on shallow criteria. Beatrice's adamant refusal to take a husband contrasts Hero's duty to marry, and also the expectations of those around her that she will do so in order to please her father. There is never a question that she will agree to marry without complaint. Her voice is taken away by those around her and also by her own lack of opinions. She shows a certain degree of indifference but when she finally does voice an opinion, it is to hope that the man she is dancing with is more attractive than the ugly mask he wears. She's innocent and quiet, but also slightly shallow so far. Her character is bland, not solely due to Beatrice's strong, opinionated presence, but because she lacks a redeemable character so far throughout the play.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Deception in Acts I and II

In the first two acts of "Much Ado About Nothing," many plot points are set up that remind me of "Twelfth Night." It seems that illusion, disguise, and trickery all play a big part in both of these works. However, this play left me pondering what role exactly deception will play, while Twelfth-Night seemed only to have one clear meaning behind it. The characters within these first two acts are so different that it gives us two completely different views of deceit.
The setting in these first two acts is perfect for the deceptions planned by the various characters. Everyone is attending a masquerade ball and cannot tell each other apart to begin with. Don Pedro sees this as a perfect opportunity to help the shy Claudio woo Hero. I found it interesting that in this part of the play, deception was being used for good, to help someone out. It left me curious about the message Shakespeare was trying to convey about disguise and deception. Maybe he was exploring it in a more light-hearted way than it was explored in Twelft-Night.
Or at least that's what I thought until reading further and deeper into Don John's character, who uses disguise and trickery for malicious and evil reasons.We learn in Act I scene iii of where Don John's mind is. He is resentful of his brother, Don Pedro, who had led a more fortunate life and who just recently started speaking with Don John again after not having a civil relationship. He tells Claudio of his unending sadness, saying that his sadness is "without limit" (ActI line 4). This sadness and jealousy fuel his evil plan of using disguise in order to ruin the newly forming relationships of others. The resentment of his brother is enough to make him seek the unhappiness of those around him, in an attempt to appease his own depression and anger.
I find it interesting that Shakespeare offers these two contrasting views on disguise in this play, although it left me a bit confused. I am interested in seeing where else the idea of deception goes as the play progresses. I believe that in all the confusion, it may get harder to distinguish between good and bad uses of disguise, or even to understand deception as simply one or the other.

Illusions in Identity

After reading Shakespeare's "The Twelfth Night" and then reading "Much Ado About Nothing" I found it interesting how the idea of hiding ones identity and pretending to be someone who they are not is conveyed through both plays. Shakespeare creates a less serious tone and a more humorous and ridiculous atmosphere in this play, as he plays around with identity and the false accusations that can be made by rumors and what may look like the truth, but is not. Illusions are created through the use of costumes and masques, and these false illusions in the play are what help instigate the different conflicts and rumors that are started between the characters.

Shakespeare first plays with Don Pedro as he pretends to be Claudio in order to "woo" Hero for Claudio. Don Pedro conceals his identity by wearing a masque and fooling not only Hero, but everyone around him as well. Don Pedro tells Claudio (Act 1), "I will assume thy part in some disguise, And tell fair Hero I am Claudio, And in her bosom I’ll unclasp my heart, And take her hearing prisoner with the force, And strong encounter of my amorous tale" (lines 267-271). This idea of disguising one character as another in order to either win something over or to fool others is a popular theme in Shakespeare's work. During the ball, Don John decides to make Claudio jealous by falsely accusing Don Pedro of keeping Hero to himself. The funny thing about all of this is that it is easy for the characters to stir up trouble under these masques and without their identity being concealed. Yes, Claudio knows that Don John is talking to him from under the masque, but Don John pretends that he doesn't know that it is Claudio. This makes the statement even more shocking and believable for Claudio.

Not only do characters become disguised but realities to do. Rumors are started as soon as Don Pedro, Claudio, and Benedick discuss the plan of action, and false accusations and stories begin to flourish. Also, towards the end of Act 2, another rumor is in progress as Don John and his servant, Borachio, plan to set up a misleading scene in which Margaret and Borachio have sex, pretending to be Hero and Borachio. The illusion of Hero having sex with Borachio is meant to makes Hero seem like a whore. Through these lies and decieving scenes, Shakespeare creates drama and comedy to entertain his audience and most likely himself.

Beatrice and Benedick

So here we are with Much Ado About Nothing. In the very first scene of the play we are introduced to some very interesting characters, but the character that is of the most interest to me is Beatrice. We learn that she is the niece of Leonato, the governor of Messina.

It is true that she is good-hearted and generous, but there is a side of her that I can’t help but compare to Benedick. These two characters appear at the beginning of the play, mainly in Act one, to be complete opposites, but in fact I see many things between them that are true similarities.

These similarities make me think that perhaps the idea of Don Pedro and Leonato is right on point. “She were an excellent wife for Benedick” (2.1.294). 

To start, the two are very good with words, quick-witted, and get kicks out of mocking others, even their own friends. Beatrice says, “…he is the Prince’s jester, and a very dull fool…” (2.1.113). She goes on to say that his only talent is to come up with “impossible slanders” (2.1.114). Ironically, she too has many of the same characteristics that she says makes Benedick a fool.

Being that the women in the previous plays do not act and speak the way that Beatrice does, I can only assume that it is not typical behavior for the time. Beatrice’s constant pestering of Benedick is a quality that makes her a very unique character of this play. Perhaps, her speaking out of line is the major quality that makes her the fool of the play.

I think that it appears most that Benedick is a fool, when he is giving different meanings to what Beatrice has said to him about dinner (2.3.226-231). This scene most directly reminds me of the scene in Twelfth Night where Feste and Viola are mixing and playing with words.  

                                “No, sir, I live by the church.”

                                “Art thou a clergyman?”

                                “No such matter, sir. I do live by the church; for I do live at my house, and my house doth stand by the church.” (3.1.3-6).

I will personally be paying close attention to this technique and see if Shakespeare continues to use. I am also very interested to learn if there is something underlying in this concept in terms of this play as well as others.

We looked last week at the fool in Twelfth Night, Feste, and the role that he has on the story. Although I am not yet sure how this play is going to end, I do know that in each of the plays we have read thus far, fools do play an important role. My thoughts are that this play is going to be based a great deal on the fools of the story. I find it interesting that these three plays have so many similarities. Let’s hear it for the fools of the play thus far!

The Spirit of Feste in Much Ado

    As a kind of bridge in my consideration of the two Comedies (since Twelfth Night is still on my mind) I’d like to kick this off with a look at Feste’s themes and try to show how they play out in the first two acts of Much Ado. In the guise of one Sir Tobas, Feste says, “That that is is” (4.2 13). But hadn’t he just said in the previous scene “nothing that is so is so” (4.1 7)? So which is it? That that is is or nothing that is so is so? On deeper reflection, perhaps those “so”’s are the vessels of meaning in that sentence that hint at a fundamental difference in the ontology of the two phrases. We might elaborate on the two sentences to discover their underlying harmony: That that is is, might mean to say that THAT--the essential nature of a thing, its core and creative source--is the only thing that can be said to truly Be, while “that” that is merely “so” is not actually, originally so--or rather the “so” part of “that” is a mask of the true being of THAT--which is by its nature unavailable for rendering in language, in words, unless that language is understood merely to point to its essential nature, like the road sign that leads the way to a vast metropolis. So that nothing that is “so” is in fact “so” because the state of being “so” is itself malleable, no more than a facade that morphs in and out of life in an ever changing process of becoming (the river of Hericlitus, into which we cannot step twice). On the other hand, THAT that IS, abides in an eternal state of Being; it is not subject to becoming like the (no)things that are merely “so.” And so the almost immediate transformation of identity in the masquerading outset of Much Ado, brings into question the same thematic concerns--perhaps ontological concerns--that Feste raises in his merry wordplay in Twelfth Night. 
     Don Pedro’s “remedy” for Claudio in 1.1 is to assume his part in some disguise “and tell fair Hero I am Claudio” (1.1 268). And so when Antonio delivers the strange news to Leonato in the following scene, he equates the overheard news to a book that has “a good cover” (1.2 6-7). But they will “hold it as a dream till it appear itself." The news appears at first to be good; but we later find out that the news that Antonio brings is not in fact the news that is; the cover is grown as false as melancholic Don John who pleads to his servant Conrad, “let me be that I am, and seek not to alter me” (1.3 29). The irony is that Don John’s cover quite plainly reveals the nature of the words in his book of being, and yet as we see later in the play he is grievously misread. It seems we encounter the same problems of reading identity in this play as we did in Twelfth Night.

Claudio likes Hero whose dad is Leonato who's freinds with Don Pedro....

I think Prof. Mulready’s disclaimer that the relationships between these characters is important BUT confusing is entirely accurate. Their names are what confused me the most, because they're all so familiar sounding. As I was reading Act I and II I found myself stumbling a bit as characters were reading their lines. Many times I had to take a minute to remember who was who. After I finished reading I took another look at the character list and realized just how precise and calculated Shakespeare was when he named his characters. He clearly planned on his audience being confused by their names. I really loved the dynamics of the names and how they played off each other. I think once I figured out a little mnemonic key, the relationships made a little more sense. To me, at least.
Don Pedro has come back to Messina from the war. He is reunited with his old friend Leonato, whose names share a similar ending. With Pedro is Claudio and Benedick. Claudio also shares a similar name to the elder men, but his name is even more significant in its relation to the name of the women he loves—Hero, who is Leonato’s daughter. When Antonio, Leonato’s brother comes into the play, the names become all the more easy to follow, almost like the ending in their names represent their team. Benedick seems to throw a wrench in this theory, except that his character has a unique relationship with Beatrice, who name nearly resembles the female version of his. This is significant because these two characters are nearly mirror images of each other in personality. My theory doesn’t necessarily work when I read about Don Pedro’s brother, Don John (even these two 'teams' are conncected by 'Don'), and his cohorts because of their varied names, but I figure if I keep one team straight, that will help me identify the other.
The audience’s confusion in differentiating the names of the characters becomes a visual confusion, when in the play the characters put on masks on and pretend to be other characters, often for dubious reasons. I find that parallel so clever and entertaining; that the character’s names would confuse the reader/audience and that their very identities would become confusing to themselves and others in the play.

Who's in Love with Who?

 Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing is already, a very interesting play. The first thing that grabbed my attention was the title. It seems here that Shakespeare is blatantly telling his audience that the conflict that occurs in this play is unnecessary. This informed the rest of my reading of the first two acts very much, and helped me formulate the two questions I will attempt to answer here.

In the play, Beatrice and Benedick seem to at first despise each other, but with small clues like Leonato explaining that theirs is a “merry war” (1.1, 50) and eventually telling Claudio that Beatrice is secretly in love with Benedick the reader may think otherwise. My first question is centered on this belief. In act II, scene 1 Don Pedro, the prince, decides that he will take it upon himself to make Beatrice and Benedick fall in love because he believes they will be good for each other. At first Leonato doesn’t seem sold on the idea. He states that “if they were but a week married they would talk themselves mad” (2.1, 307-308). It is only after Don Pedro puts pressure on the group to follow him on this venture that Leonato tells Claudio of Beatrice’s secret love, while Benedick is in ear shot. I wonder, is he only making this up to please the prince and trick Benedick into thinking that Beatrice is in love with him? The tile of the play would seem to suggest so, and Spark Notes states that “Beatrice mocks him again before departing, but the infatuated Benedick interprets her words as containing hidden messages of love” (Summary and Analysis of Act II, scenes i-iii) which also suggests deception on Leonato’s part. Based on this evidence I would assume that Beatrice is not really in love with Benedick.

The other question that I have is about the love triangle that is going on in the play with Claudio, Don Pedro, and Hero. In the play Claudio reveals to Benedick that he is in love with Hero. In turn, Benedick tells Don Pedro this news who he decides to win Hero for Claudio by pretending to be him at the masquerade. During the masquerade Claudio over hears that Don Pedro is wooing Hero and becomes very upset because he does not know that Don Pedro is doing it for him. This is my question: Is Don Pedro really doing this for Claudio or is he wooing Hero for himself? First of all, it is strange that Don Pedro doesn’t tell Claudio this plan and get his blessing beforehand. In addition, I’m surprised he would even want to do this in the first place because if it works and Hero finds out that her wooer is really Don Pedro then she might want him instead of Claudio. On the other hand, Don Pedro is the prince so he probably feels that there is no need to tell Claudio because he should be happy the prince is doing anything for him. Furthermore, it seems like it is in his nature to play match maker, since we see this with Benedick and Beatrice as well. Therefore, in this case I would say that he is not trying to woo Hero for himself, but that he is genuinely trying to help Claudio.

Either way, it seems to me that Don Pedro is at the center of the drama in this play and that miscommunication and perception are the themes that will drive the plot, as the title Much Ado About Nothing  seems to suggest. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see if my specific questions are answered and if my predictions are correct!

Strength, Ego & Evil

The characters in Shakespeare’s plays are so entertaining, it’s no wonder that his plays are still being studied, produced and enjoyed today. The three characters that most affected me the in the first two acts of Much Ado About Nothing  are Beatrice, Benedick and Boracchio.
Beatrice’s character exudes confidence. She is firm in her beliefs and does not seem to care that others disagree with her. She is able to express her beliefs in intelligent and amusing ways. She counsels her cousin Hero, against her father, in front of him. Beatrice tells Hero it is in her best interest to say, “Father as it please me”(2.1.47)  instead of “Father as it please you”(2.1.45) in regards to choosing a husband.  Considering that Beatrice is Leonato’s ward, it is interesting that Beatrice does not fear his scorn at her advisement of Hero.  She is so resolute in her position not to marry that she turns down the Prince, Don Pedro’s marriage proposal and then compliments him.  She tells him, “Your grace is too costly to wear everyday” (2.1.287).  This is another example of Beatrice’s disdain for marriage. Beatrice possesses many admirable qualities but her disregard for being a financial burden on her uncle seems selfish. Yet, when discussing his niece’s position on marriage, Leonato does not mention money.  If he’s not concerned about it, the reader shouldn’t be either.  Could Beatrice’s attributes outweigh her financial burden?  Don Pedro notices Beatrice’s “merry heart” (2.1.274) and her uncle speaks of how Beatrice “often dreamt of unhappiness and waked herself with laughing” (2.1302-303). Beatrice’s disposition seems like an attribute to the household and is a jovial person. She is even revels in her dislike for Benedick, so much so that his return is the first that she inquires about. She considers herself superior to him in wits and she even refers to him as a “stuffed man” (1.1.47).  Beatrice’s abhorrent feelings for Benedick and marriage remind me of the famous quote from another Shakespeare play, Hamlet, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks”.  Could Beatrice just think that she’ll never find a match so she rejects marriage  and might she have a bit of a secret crush on Benedick? She has taken notice of his relationships with women. The messenger comments on Bennedick, “And a good soldier too, lady” but Beatrice says “And a good soldier to a lady, but what is he to a lord?” (2.1.43-44). She considers Benedick a lady’s man and questions his real worth.
Benedick thinks Beatrice is awful. When she enters he asks Don Pedro to send him “to the word’s end” (21.1230) so that he can avoid her. He thinks that she indirectly insulted him but she knew it was him all the while. His description of the account and his feelings about Beatrice is displayed with the most eloquent language.    In this day age I think a man would just say that the woman was a “bitch’ and move on. The lines Benedick speaks in 2.1. 209-227 are an excellent example of the beauty of language and how Shakespeare deployed it.  The conviction he feels about his dislike of Beatrice is extreme. The notion that people would sin so that they go to hell and get away from Beatrice (2.1.225) is comical. The quickness in which Shakespearean characters are able to change their minds about a love interest is prominent factor when reading his works.   In Twelfth Night Olivia readily accepts Sebastian over Cesario and in  A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Demetrius doesn’t protest when he ends up with his stalker, Helena.  When Benedick finds out that Beatrice is allegedly madly in love with him, he changes his feeling towards her instantly. Are Beatrice’s initial ideas about Benedick warranted? Is he a fool? Is he so viscous towards because she deflates his ego or because he is hurt because he secretly likes her?  Is it a case of feel/think one way but say and do another? 

In complete contrast to the light hearted teasing and talks of match making and betrothal in the first two acts of the play, there is Borrachio. He is just plain evil.  He is aligned with Don Pedro’s black sheep of a brother Don Jon, and his sole purpose is to help him make everyone unhappy.   In one fell swoop he wants to, deceive Don Pedro, torment Claudio, ruin innocent Hero’s reputation and destroy Leonato. This character is The Emperor from Star Wars evil!  It is also remarkable that Shakespeare could craft a chain of results from one act of deception.
It will be interesting to see how these three elements, strength, ego and evil work together through the play.  Will the strength be weakened? Will the ego be put aside and will good overcome evil all in the name of love?

The Importance of Language/Communication

As we discussed in Twelfth Night, language and the use of words can be extremely important to understanding and interpreting Shakespeare’s plays. I also believe that an in-depth look at the use of language and communication within Much Ado About Nothing can help to further interpret and study the play.
I find it quite interesting how Beatrice and Benedick use their words to attack each other. Both characters are strong and witty, and use their words as weapons. I found it particularly comical when Beatrice tells Benedick that she does not care to ever be in love. He replies, “God keep your ladyship still in that mind. So some gentlemen or other shall scrape a predestinate scratched face” (1.1.109-10). Beatrice comes back with, “Scratching could not make it worse an ‘twere such a face as yours were” (1.1.111-12). The two of them go back and forth using their words to offend one another. One question I have about this, is from the very beginning of Act I. Beatrice’s very first line occurs when, on lines 25 and 26, she asks the messenger, “I pray you, is Signor Montanto returned from the wars, or no?” We soon find out she is actually asking about Benedick by a name no one knows him by. Why are her first words about Benedick, but with a different name? Perhaps this demonstrates a hint of concern for him on her part. I’m really not sure of the significance, but I can imagine that it must be important.
Another thing I picked up on that demonstrates the importance of language and communication involves Don John. I have only read Acts I and II, and so far Don John seems to be the “villain” of this play. There are a lot of characters, but most of them speak often. Don John, though, speaks very little. After being spoken to by Leonato, Don John says, “I thank you. I am not of many words, but I thank you” (1.1.127). In this line, Don John points out the fact that he does not speak much. I find it interesting that the bad guy in the play is the one with few words. Perhaps this demonstrates the importance of communication. Don John does not use his words to attack like Beatrice and Benedick, but his lack of communication and words could hint that his attacks will be more sinister.
Probably the most important part of the play, within acts I and II, which speaks to readers or viewers about the importance of communication is when Don Pedro’s plan to woo Hero for Claudio is misheard and improperly spoken of. Antonio’s servant overhears the conversation between Claudio and Don Pedro but misunderstands their actual plan. He then relays the wrong information to Antonio, who then relays the information to Leonato (1.2). I believe this incident, though maybe a small part of the plot, is quite significant in that it seems to set the stage for one of the major themes of the play: language and bad communication.
            Although I still have questions and ideas to develop further, I think communication and interpretation words are very important in Much Ado About Nothing. It is an important theme that is demonstrated throughout the play and within the words of the characters.

The Hatred of Two Brothers

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. 

Why are there so many strong women in Shakespeare's works?

One thing that stands out immediately in Much Ado About Nothing is the presence of a strong, central, female figure.  I find this to be slightly ironic considering during Shakespeare’s time women were not very highly regarded, especially when they are married, as seen through the “Marriage and Money” article previously read.  Through the first two acts, primarily the first one, I see Shakespeare setting the stage to enhance Beatrice’s role as a strong woman.  Shakespeare clearly demonstrates this powerful aspect of women when he puts Benedick vs. Beatrice in a verbal showdown.  After the two provide insults back and forth, primarily Beatrice towards Benedick, Benedick has enough and backs down, “I have done” (I.I.116-117).  I found this moment to be extremely interesting while reading because what man during this time would let a woman win such a match of insults?
            To further demonstrate Beatrice’s strong-will and dominance, when she provides a reason to not get married she makes a valid, religious based point which undermines the male gender.  She basically tells her uncle, Leonato, that she refuses to be overmastered with a piece of valiant dust?” (II.I.51-52) .  Although Beatrice believes she will be overpowered by whomever she marries she still refers to the man as a miniscule piece of dirt.  This is a powerful insult not only to men but also God and Adam from Genesis.  But, what is more interesting than Beatrice’s control is the acknowledgement Shakespeare makes in the men, that women seem to be the person in the marriage who “wear the pants”.
            As shown in our study guide questions, we also see the quote from Don Pedro in Act I Scene I, line 213 “Well, as time shall try.  In time the savage bull doth bear the yoke” while discussing marriage.  Even Don Pedro recognizes that once a man enters marriage he will become tamed and part of the yoke.  This is the lifestyle that Benedick appears to want to avoid for the rest of his life so he can remain a bachelor but we all know this is not practical during Shakespeare’s time just as it seems impractical to have a woman “in-charge”.  It is funny to think that a woman would be the one to put the man in his place and tell him what to do and how to act, especially from all the commentary we have read about societal roles.
            One thing I also noticed while reading that almost contradicts the idea of women’s roles once they are married is when Benedick and Don Pedro are communicating.  In Act One, Benedick sees marriage as the end of his individuality.  He sees that the woman is going to take over his life and over power him and he will be a tool to her.  Benedick says, “In such great letters as they write ‘Here is good horse to hire’ let them signify under my sign ‘Here you may see Benedick, the married man’” (I.I.218-219).  This is extremely ironic to me considering all that has been embedded in the minds of readers of Shakespeare is that women are not supposed to be in power.  I think this quote directly addresses the oppression Benedick will feel from being married to any woman. 
            What does this say about Shakespeare as a writer?  We have already seen powerful women in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and even in Twelfth Night.  Are these women supposed to represent the few women who, during the time actually stood out or maybe this is Shakespeare’s way of calling out all the women and get those who are a bit more timid to stand up and take control of the life they lead and the men in society?  It is unfortunate that no one ever will know the answer to any of these questions but I think they are reasonable to be asking, otherwise why would the women in Shakespeare’s plays have so much strength?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Too Many Characters!

This is my first time reading Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, so my blog is going to consist of important trends in the play!

In Act 1 we first meet a character named Benedick, a man recognized as ill-tempered and critical of women. He is not married and does not plan on it in the near future. He claims he will never be domesticated and if he gets married, he would rather have "bulls horns put through his forehead." After noting this down, it makes me wonder if Shakespeare created matching character pairs that we will decipher as the play goes on.

The next stand out character of Act 1 was Don John, an extremely gloomy personality that can darken any room he enters. He seems to perk up when he hears exciting news about people he knows. For example, Claudio and Hero's developing relationship sparked Don John's interest to create mischief and spoil a possible marriage. He seems to want to make everyone around him as miserable as he feels. 1.3.51-54 reads "Come, come let us hither. This may prove food to my displeasure. That young start up hath all the glory of my overthrow. If I cross him any way I bless myself every way."

Starting Act II, Beatrice (Benedick's female version) gives a speech of her extraordinary wits and her amazing criteria of men. 2.1.57-60 states "The fault will be in the music, cousin, if you be not wooed in good time. If the Prince be too important, tell him there is a measure in everything, and so dance out the answer." Beatrice does not want to associate with any man that is not the cream of the crop. Her surrounding characters believe she will never be married if she continues with this attitude. (Same as Benedick)

A prominent scene in Act II was the costume party. I feel Shakespeare creates so many characters in this play to confuse the reader and audience. I have confidence that by the end of the play, everything will come full circle, but the costume party is a foreshadow. All the different characters putting on masks really confused me because I had trouble keeping up with so many names, now everyone has a new face! I predict for further Acts for people to mix and match lovers. Considering Claudio expressed his love for Hero, then Don Pedro expressing Claudio's love to Hero for him, then Don John thinks Hero loves him, it seems to be a huge mess. I feel since the masks are now on, people won't know who they really are falling in love with!

War and Masculinity: A Look into Claudio's Character

In Act I of Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare shows the sense of honor associated with war and victory. The men in the play are returners of war, and have therefore proved themselves as honorable men in their society.  In the beginning of the play Leonota says, "A victory is twice itself when the achiever brings home full numbers." Victory is therefore sweetest when a side can mantain themselves in battle and return to their prior state of living. The messenger claims that Cladio "hath borne himself beyong the prom-/ ise of his age, doing in the figure of a lamb the feats of a lion./ He hath indeed better bettered expectation than you must/ expect of me to tell you how" (Lines 10-14).Here, Claudio is mentioned as being amongse the honourable men who have exceeded the expectations of their age and experience. He is therefore viewed as a sort of war hero. I found Claudio's wartime success as a bit ironic due to his lack of common sense in his everyday life, and his infatuation with a woman by the name of "Hero".  

After returning from the brutality and violence of war, Claudio was very quick to fall for Hero. Claudio is therefore characterized as the type of man that seeks both thrill and risk in life. Claudio says, "O my lord,/ 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/ Thank to drive liking to the name of love./ But now I am returned, and that war-thoughts/ Have left their places vacant, in their rooms/ Come thronging soft and delicate desires,/ All prompting me how fair young Hero is,/ Saying I liked her ere I went to wars"(1.1.243-251). In these lines, we see that Claudio's infatuation with Hero comes to replace his former dedication to the war effort. His longing desire for Hero is therefore compared to his lust for action and victory. We can then conclude that Claudio sees Hero as a challenge, or a war battle, that he wishes to conquer.

While Claudio may have proved himself in combat, he fails to show proper technique and judgment in dealing with everyday issues. For example, Claudio is extremely outward about his feelings for Hero. In battle, one would normally aim to conceal their plan from any potentional enemies.  Instead of being cautious and secretive in his discussion with Benedick, Claudio foolishly allows Antonio's servant and Don John's follower, Borachio to overhear the conversation. Claudio therefore proves himself as a poor soldier in the field of love. In 1.1., we see that Claudio is very feminized in his outward expression of his feelings for Hero. While masculinity and strength made him successful in wartime, his more feminine side has become his downfall in everyday life. "Delicate desires" have come to replace the rugged "soldier's eyes", and have transformed Claudio into a vulnerable human being.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Gender Roles and Marriage

In the first two Acts of Much Ado About Nothing we learn that the Prince, Don Pedro, and his military men or knights are coming to visit the home of the governor of Messina, Leonato.  We learn that noble Claudio is Don Pedro’s right hand man accompanies him and Claudio seems to fall in love with Leonato’s daughter, Hero, at first sight and wishes to marry her.  We also learn that Benedick, another lord who has accompanied Don Pedro, disdains marriage as a yoke around the neck of men, and that Beatrice, Leonato’s niece, is a witty woman who disdains marriage as well and they both dislike one another at the beginning. The treatment of gender is well described in these first two Acts and can be best described provocatively through the characters of Beatrice and Benedick and more traditionally through the characters Hero and Claudio.

The primacy of patriarchy in English society is summed up in a Balthasar’s song:

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more.
Men were deceivers ever
One foot in sea, and one on shore.
To one thing constant never.
Then sigh not so, but let them go.
And be you blithe and bonny.
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into hey nonny, nonny (2.3.57-63).

This song shows men to be deceitful and women to play their role of being beautiful, not complaining and singing their pain away—in other words, suffer in silence. 

Perhaps it is this acknowledgement at the silence women must bear that convinces Beatrice she will never marry since she has no problem speaking her mind and has apparently had years of verbal sparring with Benedick.  It seems as if they both enjoy their taunts and witticisms although, because of the gender roles they are both meant to play, neither will admit that they are attracted to the other. Although Beatrice is given the role of shrew by speaking her mind such as when she tells Benedick, “I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me,” she admits that she “was born to speak all mirth and no matter” (1.1.106-108, 2.1.288-289). This seems to show that her duality in being witty—good for a man, bad for a woman—and yet always happy—expected of the perfect wife.  Even Benedick admits that despite his constant insistence against marriage, “The world must be peopled” (2.3.213-214).  This is the point.  Although men and women may not like losing their freedom, they have to have children to populate England.

Nevertheless, men also had anxiety about marriage as can be seen when Benedick is challenged about his insistence about always living the life of a bachelor, saying, “But that I will have a recheat winded in my forehead, or hang my bugle in an an invisible baldic, all women shall pardon me” or when Don Pedro says, “In time the savage bull doth bear the yoke” (1.1.196-198, 1.1.213-214).  The word “yoke” is a disparaging one.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a “yoke” is “A contrivance, used from ancient times, by which two animals, esp. oxen, are coupled together...” and yet, for an agricultural society, it seems inevitable.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

My Initial Love of Twelfth Night and it's impending demise?

"If music be the food of love, play on,
Give me excess of it that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken and also die.
The strain again, it had a dying fall.
O, it came o'er my ear like the sweet sound
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odour. Enough, no more,
'Tis not so sweet now as it was before. (Norton, lines 1 to 8)"

   These opening lines of the play stopped me in my tracks. How is it possible that in a short eight lines, so much could be said and foreshadowed? Orsino laid out the basic parameters for what I think is to be a great tragedy, all in the name of a "so-called" love. I place these words is quotations because as these opening lines suggest, it is not true love that drives these characters into despair but mere infatuation or the plain illusion that they are really in love; "Enough, no more, 'Tis not so sweet now as it was before."

   In the beginning of his heartfelt oration, Orsino states "Give me excess of it that, surfeiting, the appetite may sicken and also die." This sounds more like the ravings of an obsessed man wanting to gorge himself on the love that he desires in the hope of weakening the maddening urges that are consuming him. These lines aren't too far-fetched, as later on in the play he is persistent in the chase of his precious Olivia, who wants nothing to do with him and shows not one iota of desire towards him.

    Continuing with the remainder of the passage, "The strain again, it had a dying fall" suggesting that this truly might be a fatal attraction. The music "breathes upon a bank of violets stealing and giving odour" stealing the sweet smell that are the violets; in essence taking away what makes them beautiful and making them stink. This supposed love destroys what is beautiful, replacing it with death. The question remains who is going to pay for Orsino's fatal attraction to the lovely Olivia?

Dream or Reality

Throughout Shakespeare's play the reader is given various characters in several love triangles. As the viewer or critical thinker, the constant question that arose in my head was whether scenes were dreams or realities. For example when Robin puts a spell on Demetrius and Helena, she is head over heels for him and now Demetrius wants nothing to do with her. I am aware the spell has been cast upon them but this incidence occurs post them falling asleep, seemingly simulating a dream. 

Another prominent example of this situation was when Puck casts the same spell onto Titania just after she falls asleep. On page 868, line 121 "I pray thee, gentle moral sing again" Titania awakens hearing Bottom rehearsing for play to be performed at the wedding. Immediately she has strong, affectionate feelings towards Bottom who in fact, is an ass. Line 131 states "Thou art as wise as thou art beautiful," Titania is clearly dreaming of a semi attractive man instead of embracing the reality. I imagined this scene to be Titania in a deep sleep and as she’s awakening; she is awake in her dream, not real life. 

Entering mid Act 3 we witness two men battling for the love of Helena in which can be interpreted as a dream. Helena in the beginning of the play was searching for true love, now I believe in her dreams she is presented with two wise men that would greatly sweep her away. It seems too good of a reality for Helena and she aggressively attempts to throw them away. It doesn't take long for Puck to reverse his spell and all the characters to wake up back into reality.

One line that stood out to me in Act 5 was in a long speech by Theseus in line 18 "Such tricks hath strong imagination," to me, this line symbolized foreshadowing to the title of the play. Such trickery can in fact turn out to be just a midsummer night's dream.  

Lastly, we are left with the epilogue by Robin, lines 3-6 "That you have but slumbered here, while these visions did appear; and this weak and idle theme, no more yielding but a dream." This passage strengthens my belief that Shakespeare integrated phases of imagination with reality and it is the reader or viewers job to decipher them.