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The real villains of Much Ado About Nothing...


Great novel

Sometimes a little unrealistic, but that is standard for Shakespearean trajedies

Recommendable Yes:

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How does it compare to similar works?Not bad

How does it compare to works by the same author?Very good

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William Shakespeare's play, Much Ado About Nothing is a comedy based in Messina, a small city on the coast of Sicily. This play, despite it being a comedy has a more sinister side, which is comprised of villainy and treachery. Don John and Borachio are undeniably villains in the play, as they were the main perpetrators of the crime; they conspired against Claudio and Hero, endeavouring to slander her name and subsequently her honour. However, when their plans are realised, unlike Don John, Borachio stays and confesses and is genuinely remorseful, saying he only did it for personal financial gain. This immediately ruins the image of organised villainy they had tried to achieve, and in ways portrays them both as nothing more than meddling fools. It can be said that Claudio and the prince, Don Pedro are actually the real villains in Much Ado About Nothing as the manner in which they act following the supposed 'villainy' is entirely without honour. They are the ones who actually do the physical deed of ruining Hero's name by shaming her (at her and Claudio's wedding). In many ways Claudio and the Prince's villainy is much more obvious because they act very cruelly on the say-so of a known liar (Don John the Bastard). In doing this they give the impression that they want to believe she has been unfaithful. As a cause of this one main honourless deed and other smaller ones, I believe that Claudio and Don Pedro are the real villains in Much Ado About Nothing.
Before judging the characters' respective villainies, it is important to take into consideration the cultural differences between today's society and that of the time in which the play is set. A man's honour was obtained through friendship and allegiance with honourable men, where as a woman's honour depended wholly on her chastity, and how she is perceived by men. However, the way in which the Prince of Arragon - Don Pedro acts is not entirely consistent with the honour that he has simply for being the Prince of Arragon, and for dressing and speaking the way he does. We can see a strong contrast between Don Pedro and Benedick in that Benedick acts with much more honour than does the Prince, a good example of which being when he confronts Claudio telling him "You have killed a sweet Lady, and her death shall fall heavy on you.". I think that Shakespeare uses the character Benedick to complement both the Prince and Claudio by accentuating their flaws and villainy, thus providing the audience with someone to compare them with and gauge the severity of their actions.
Don John and Borachio are the obvious 'villains' early on in the play because they do not hold honourable places in society and so act without honour. Don John boasts of his villainy: "I am a plain dealing villain". This, despite being very unsubtle and a bit melodramatic is very stereotypical of a Machiavellian villain. Borachio also boasts of his villainy, when he fills Conrade in on the details of the plan which he himself had come up with. He says that Don Pedro and Claudio were misled "chiefly by my villainy", seeming very proud of his ingenuity despite the harm it was bound to cause. However, unlike Don John he later realises the error of his ways when he says "I'd rather seal my soul with my death than repeat over to my shame" and shows that he is remorseful about his misdeeds. The fact that Borachio is apparently genuinely repentant strongly suggests that he is not a true villain, despite however villainous his actions were. We see further examples of his repentance and honour when he is willing to take the entirety of the blame for the slanders, saying "Yea, even I alone". This contrasts with Don John's apparent lack of honour in his fleeing of Messina fearing lest he be caught. In my opinion these are the actions of a villain, and one who has realised as they were carrying out their villainy that what they were doing was wrong and yet continued despite knowing that they would cause destruction. Don John's stereotypical Machiavellian villainy is also a comic effect in the play, as it is humorous that despite his villainy he is perhaps the most honest character in the play, as he accepts what he is and behaves accordingly.
Despite knowing that Don John was villainous at heart, Don Pedro and Claudio took his word and decided they would shame Hero. I think that this emphasizes Claudio's youthful naivety, quickly taking anyone's word against that of the woman he intended to marry. Here again, as at the masked ball, Don John is playing on Claudio's tendency for jealousy, rooted in an insecurity in himself and how he views women. One begs the question that since he did "in the figure of a lamb the feats of a lion" when at war, why does he not act with the same honour and wisdom when back in Messina? The same can be said for the Prince, as he, an old [older than Claudio] military tactician should have seen that his brother's word was not to be taken as far as shaming an innocent girl at the alter. Even Leonato, the father of the shamed Hero sarcastically calls the Prince and Claudio "a pair of honourable men" and blames them almost entirely. As Don John's side-kick, one might expect Borachio to be a true villain, and yet he is not. He shows this at the end when he is remorseful, and we can see that he did not think that his actions would have quite the gravity that they did, and that he was only looking for the favour of his master Don John, and of course the money. Borachio himself says that none of the blame deserves to be put upon the Prince and Claudio as they were cunningly duped and were only following what they believed was right. That said however, had they been truly following what they thought to have been right, and were they truly honourable men, they would not have acted quite as brashly as they did. When Borachio tells Leonato that it was he alone who caused such slander and chaos Leonato disagrees with him, saying "No not so villain, thou beliest thyself". Borachio's willingness to accept the entirety of the blame stands in stark contrast with Don John's flight and Claudio and the Prince's eagerness to put the blame elsewhere, proving that he is not at all a true villain.
One cannot judge the fact that Claudio and Don Pedro chose to slander Hero's reputation by modern standards, as by modern standards they would appear misogynistic and villainous, however we can judge the way in which they slandered Hero's name and reputation as we can tell by the reactions of the other characters in the play that their actions were dishonourable. By Renaissance standards and morals the fact that Claudio and Don Pedro decided to slander Hero's name and reputation was nothing that out of the ordinary, however we can tell that the way in which they did it was out of the ordinary and dishonourable. Claudio's racism with his reference to an "Ethiope" was also acceptable in the Renaissance period and the time Shakespeare wrote the play.
When confronted by Antonio and Leonato after the apparent death of Hero, Claudio and Don Pedro are overly confident of their actions, Don Pedro states that "by on my honour she was charged with nothing but what was true and very full of proof.", and do not show any genuine remorse for her 'death'. He denounces her in blank verse, a thoughtless echo of his courtship. This is not in itself villainous, only distasteful and rather insensitive (Claudio eve begins to draw his sword), and after this encounter they are childish and make callous jokes about Antonio and Leonato in calling them "two old men without teeth". At this time, again Shakespeare is contrasting Claudio's ability to be easily led as a cause of his immaturity with Benedick's noble and mature behaviour. However, I do not think that Claudio is being malicious, just immature and callous.
Although Don Pedro must accept some of the responsibility as he took the word of his infamously deceitful half-brother he cannot take all the blame. Don John however is, I believe, the primary villain in Much Ado About Nothing. Margaret dubs him "the author of all" and Claudio blames his "slanderous tongue" for his own misdeeds which resulted in Hero being slandered at the alter. Benedick also recognizes him as a villain, albeit less of a villain than Claudio and the Prince. He says that "I will devise thee brave punishments for him".
It is the public shaming and slandering of Hero's name and honour which Claudio and Don Pedro do without help and unprompted by Don John and Borachio which makes them seem most villainous, however I think it is a childish desire to gain honour, and not a malicious desire to slander Hero. Because of this I think that they cannot be called villains, and yet they did have villainous parts to play in Much Ado About Nothing. Upon discovering that he was deceived into thinking that Hero had been unfaithful, Claudio apologises briefly but is quick to try and shift the blame onto Don John. He even pities himself referring to himself as "Poor Claudio.". I think that this also emphasizes his immaturity, and portrays him as pathetic, but not villainous. Don Pedro however strongly believed that what he was doing was right but when he realises that it was in fact very wrong he is willing to accept any punishment in what seems to be a noble fashion. Don Pedro and Claudio cannot be said to be villains due to their good intentions, even though they may have become twisted and confused at times.

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Comments about this review »

Seresecros 28.05.2008 20:09

Not exactly a review, so I'm not going to rate this. The idea is that when people read a review, they find out if they should buy the book or not; nobody who is new to the play will have any idea what you're talking about, and you'd be much better off saving your literature essays for elsewhere. On a side-note, I can't agree with your argument, because I believe Claudio is the worst villain in the play. Although he is manipulated, the way he overreacts shows a callous and villainous nature. Although Don John sets up the events towards the climax of the story, if Claudio were a heroic character he would be able to redeem himself, which he does not do in the way, for example, Othello attempts at the end of his respective play. You can be villainous even if your intentions are not villainous, and I think Claudio is one of the worst examples of a villain in all of Shakespeare's work because of his reaction.

majeedkazi 27.05.2008 11:33

Hi Welcome to Ciao, Excellent review..Deserving E!

carcraig 27.05.2008 01:03

A good review....but as below, PLEASE double space your paragraphs!!! Caroline xx

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Product details

Type Play
Title Much Ado About Nothing
Author William Shakespeare
ISBN 0141012307
EAN 9780141012308

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This review of Much Ado About Nothing - William Shakespeare has been rated:

"exceptional" by (13%):

  1. majeedkazi
  2. cat1510

"very helpful" by (87%):

  1. Soho_Black
  3. torr

and 10 other members

The overall rating of a review is different from a simple average of all individual ratings.

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