In ‘Much Ado’ About Nothing’, the men frequently make bad decisions, and is a recurring theme throughout the play. Although Shakespeare was a product of his time, and accepted social norms and values, he demonstrated an understanding of women’s subjection by men in his work. The comic genre allows Shakespeare to push the boundaries when challenging social conventions. For example, Shakespeare is able to portray Beatrice as a feisty, sharp, intelligent woman. The audience are naturally, more open-minded because they realise that the play is a comedy and they're suppose to find it funny.
As a consequence, this gives Shakespeare more freedom to create comedy within the play. In Shakespeare’s Much Ado’ About Nothing, Claudio is flawed character, although not appearing so initially: he is shown as a distinguished soldier under the command of Don Pedro, Prince of Arragon. In the first act, Claudio is introduced to the audience via a discussion between Leonato and a messenger in the presence of Leonato’s daughter, Hero, and his niece Beatrice, whereby the audience hear of Claudio’s heroism and admirability during the war and that Don Pedro regards him highly and has, “bestowed much honor” upon him.
The messenger also suggests that Claudio has done tremendously well, as “He hath borne himself beyond the promise of his age”, suggesting Claudio is a mature character. The absence of Claudio from this scene means that the audience judge him based on what they have heard about him, as a consequence their first impression of Claudio is very positive. However, throughout the play the audience are introduced to his flaws of immaturity, haste and pride which all contradict with their first impression of him. Although the audience’s introduction to Claudio suggests maturity, this is proven to be false throughout the play.
In a discussion between Claudio and Benedick, Claudio recognises that falling in love too quickly is a mark of immaturity, concerned that “liking might too sudden seem”. However, after one silent get-together of characters, Claudio finds himself in love with Hero and immediately talks longing that, “Hero would be my wife”. Therefore, Claudio seems to do the exact opposite to the statement in the question and adopts a distraction that he has already heard, acting in a contradictory manner and emphasises his immaturity.
As well as this, Claudio is gullible, and allows he to be deceived by Don John into believing that Don Pedro has wooed Hero for himself, “my brother is amorous on Hero, and hath withdrawn her father to break with him about it. ” Through Shakespeare’s use of dramatic irony, the audience feel frustrated with Claudio, as he instantly believes this false allegation without question, “Tis certain so, the prince woos for himself”. Furthermore, Claudio lacks the courage to confront Don Pedro about the allegation, hence choosing to blindly believe Don John over Don Pedro and Benedick, without seeking the truth, “Ho now you strike like the blind man. The audience feel frustrated because they know that Don Pedro is innocent, however they can't pass this information onto Claudio and are forced to watch the consequences unfold. Additionally, the audience feel frustrated with Claudio because it doesn’t seem likely that Don Pedro would betray Claudio due to the fact they have fought alongside each other at war and share a good relationship. However, the audience can sympathise with Claudio because his encounter with Don John at the masked ball was a setup in order to trick him.
Due to the theme of the ball, whereby everyone had to wear masks and conceal their identity, Claudio thought that by pretending to be Benedick, he could deceive Don John and Borachio. By way of contrast, the opposite happens as Claudio believes that Don John thinks he is speaking with Benedick, “Are not you Signor Benedick”, “You know me well, I am he”. As a consequence, Don John finds it much easier to deceive Claudio. When Don Pedro asks Claudio, “wherefore are you sad”, Claudio intentionally replies with very brief, indirect responses that forces Don Pedro to investigate into the matter further.
I believe by doing this, Claudio fulfils his need for attention, which in itself is a sign of immaturity. For example, Claudio replies with “Not sad, my lord”, stopping to allow Don Pedro to continue asking questions. As expected, Don Pedro replies, “How then? Sick? ” In which Claudio replies “Neither, my lord”, again, allowing room for Don Pedro to investigate. However, Beatrice who allows the conversation to carry on, interrupts this process, “The count is neither sad, nor sick, nor merry, nor well: but civil”.
After Claudio realises that Don John has deceived him at the masked ball, the audience expect Claudio to put his flaw ‘to mending’. However, Claudio fails to do this and allows himself to be deceived by Don John once again. The night before the wedding, Don John deceives both Don Pedro and Claudio into believing that Hero “is disloyal” and has slept with another man. Don Pedro questions the allegation at first “I will not think it” whereas Claudio is quick to believe it to an extent “May this be so? The fact Don Pedro is able to question the allegation shines a negative light upon Claudio who should not question Hero’s dishonesty. The audience feel frustrated with Claudio through Shakespeare’s use of dramatic irony, allowing the audience to know the truth that Hero is innocent, especially when Claudio rushes to plan his revenge, whereby he will “wed, there will I shame her. ” Women in Elizabethan times were objectified and became possessions of their husbands. They would not have attended school and their “education would have been purely of domestic nature” in preparation for marriage.
As men were seen as the superior figure that provided for him and his family, their pride and dignity meant the world to them. Therefore, to be a cuckold (a man married to an unfaithful wife) associated much shame and brought down the male’s social standing. Baring this in mind, a contemporary audience would be more sympathetic with Claudio’s rash decision as they would share a better understanding of Claudio’s fear of shame. On the other hand, a modern audience would not be as sympathetic because social norms and values, especially gender inequality, has changed.
However, the audience cannot entirely blame Claudio because he believes that he actually witnessed the supposed affair. On the other hand, the audience blame him for not confronting Hero, just like he failed to confront Don Pedro after the masked ball. Evidently, Claudio has not recognised his flaw of being deceptable to lies and failing to confront them, therefore failing to fix it. Through dramatic irony, the audience know that Hero is completely innocent. In addition to this, they also know that Claudio intends to publically humiliate her at the wedding.
The audience sympathise with Hero, especially when they see how excited she is before the wedding, “God give me joy to wear it! for my heart is exceeding heavy. ” On the day of the wedding ceremony, Leonato shows that he shares the tendency to rush into conclusions like Claudio. When Claudio publicly shames Hero, “Not to be married, not to knit my soul to an approved wanton”. Leonato at first defends Hero’s honor, “Dear my lord, if you in your own proof… made defeat of her virginity. It’s only when Don Pedro supports the claim made by Claudio that his daughter has slept with another man that Leonato suddenly believes the claims made and turns against his own daughter. Leonato even goes as far as saying that he regrets having a daughter, and “Death is the fairest cover for her shame”. Leonato understands that no other man will marry Hero because they will become a cuckold, bringing shame to himself; therefore Hero has nobody to support her, as she is unable to support herself due to the conventional norms of the Elizabethan period.
The audience are shocked by Leonato’s reaction because through dramatic irony, they know Hero is innocent. However, the audience also know that by comparing the ending of a comedy to a tragedy, that no serious consequences will be inflicted upon her. It is not until Friar Francis is introduced that Leonato seems like a failed father, because Friar Francis doubts Hero’s disloyalty and so offers a chance of redemption, with a practical plan to prove her honesty.
Leonato is unable to believe his own daughter over the Prince and Claudio whereas a stranger can, emphasising his failure as a father. It is also arguable that Leonato’s pride clouded his judgement when choosing to believe his daughter’s innocence and is the reason why he was quick to believe the allegation when Don Pedro supported it, suggesting that “maturity is the trait most lacking in all of the play’s characters”; their susceptibility to pride and deception, and their “inability to think before drawing their conclusions”, are more about immaturity than any other quality.
However, towards the end of the play Leonato loses interest in pride, replacing it with the determination to be a better father. Leonato confronts Don Pedro and Claudio with resentment, whilst trying to remain courteous, over publicly shaming his daughter whilst she was innocent. In confrontation, Leonato addresses Claudio as immature, stating that “If thou kill’st me, boy, thou shalt kill a man. ” Leonato reminds Claudio that “thou hast kill'd my child”, and expresses that if he kills Leonato, he will at least kill a man and not an innocent child.
Similarly, Leonato isn’t the only character in the play to call Claudio a ‘boy’, for example Antonio calls Claudio a ‘boy’ a few times when he demands Claudio to “come, follow me, boy; come, sir boy, come, follow me”. As well as this, Benedick later on says to Claudio, “Fare you well, boy… I will leave you now to your gossip-like humour. ” This evidence suggests that many other characters, as well as the audience see Claudio as an immature character. Although Leonato must talk with respect to the Prince, he speaks with sarcasm, “Are you so hasty now? well, all is one”. Therefore, it’s evident that Leonato has learned his lesson that his pride and loyalty to the Prince can turn him against his own family and that he shouldn’t let anyone influence his own judgment. Additionally, the view of ‘susceptibility to pride and deception’ is strengthened from the point of view of a modern audience, because to criticise the characters on the grounds of being susceptible to pride is contradictory to the social norms of the Elizabethan period.
For example, an Elizabethan man’s good name was of considerable worth to him and any action that tarnished it, would affect his social standing. However, Shakespeare highlights that ‘susceptibility to pride and deception’ and ‘the inability to think before drawing conclusions’ are major flaws found within the play and within Shakespearean society. It is through the comic genre that Shakespeare is able to portray his message that all of us, to some extent, have our own character-flaw(s) and it’s those who can fix them that benefit - like Leonato.
Furthermore, as the audience watch ‘Much Ado’ About Nothing’ and laugh at the character-flaws found within it, it makes them realise that their own character flaws can just as easily, be made fun of, as “Comedy is intimidating and encourages complacency in those who laugh”. Many people have a fear of being laughed at because it makes them feel inferior. This is known as superiority theory, whereby people laugh at something or someone to make themselves seem superior. Due to this fear of being laughed at, people are more encouraged to fix the things that are comical, such as their human flaws.