Much Ado About Nothing: Key Quotes and Themes Explained
Studying Much Ado About Nothing? Read on for some of the key themes tackled in the play and the best quotes you can use in your English essays.
Illusion and trickery
The tricks played by characters upon each other is one of the key themes in this Shakespearean comedy. We’ll focus on the two main tricks that play out, the first being when Hero and Claudio conspire to get Beatrice and Benedick to fall in love.
Act 2, Scene 3
The trap is first laid by Claudio, Leonato and Don Pedro, when Benedick eavesdrops on their conversation in the gardens.
Nay, pray thee, come,
Or, if thou wilt hold longer argument,
Do it in notes.
Note this before my notes:
There’s not a note of mine that’s worth the noting.
Why, these are very crotchets that he speaks!
Note notes, forsooth, and nothing.
The repetition of the word ‘nothing / noting’ is more than meets the eye. As is the case with so much of Shakespeare’s writing, words have double meanings. The double entendre in ‘nothing’ is that it was often pronounced ‘noting’ in Shakespearean times, and was another word for eavesdropping.
Balthasar and Don Pedro use the words ‘note’, ‘noting’ and ‘nothing’ nine times in this short conversation! Arguably, we can see their repeated assertion that they note what is being said as a temptation for Benedick to come close and listen. At first, to the song Balthasar is singing and later to what is being said about him and Beatrice. And so the first trap is set.
Act 3, Scene 1
In the next act, Hero and her handmaid Ursula lay the trap for Beatrice.
Now, Ursula, when Beatrice doth come,
As we do trace this alley up and down,
Our talk must only be of Benedick.
When I do name him, let it be thy part
To praise him more than ever man did merit.
My talk to thee must be how Benedick
Is sick in love with Beatrice. Of this matter
Is little Cupid’s crafty arrow made,
That only wounds by hearsay.
Over the course of this scene, Hero and Ursula talk of Benedick’s supposed love for Beatrice within her earshot. As Hero says above ‘is little Cupid’s crafty arrow made, / That only wounds by hearsay’. In other words, they will make Beatrice fall in love through false rumours.
Hero and Ursula go on to mightily praise Benedick and suggest that Beatrice is far too proud and has too much contempt for love to fall for him. At the end of the scene they exchange these lines:
She’s limed, I warrant you.
We have caught her, madam.
If it proves so, then loving goes by haps;
Some Cupid kills with arrows, some with traps!
The words throughout the entire scene draw heavily on the imagery of being tricked and trapped, as you can see in ‘limed’ (a Shakespearean word for being stuck), ‘caught’ and ‘traps’.
The second, and much darker, trick performed in the play is when Don John works to convince Claudio that his bride Hero has been unfaithful.
Act 3, Scene 3
And thought they Margaret was Hero?
Two of them did, the Prince and Claudio,
but the devil my master knew she was Margaret;
and partly by his oaths, which first possessed them,
partly by the dark night, which did deceive them,
but chiefly by my villainy, which did
confirm any slander that Don John had made
Don John uses his manservant Borachio, along with the help of Hero’s maid Margaret, to deceive Claudio into thinking Hero is having an affair. The trick works and Claudio shames Hero on their wedding day, despite her innocence.
This trick reveals an unpleasant side to Claudio; it is particularly uncomfortable for a modern audience to witness how easily he believes Hero is not a virgin and tosses her aside. It also juxtaposes with the lighthearted trick performed on Benedick and Beatrice.
With these two contrasting tricks, one comedic and one tragic, Shakespeare reveals how trickery can be used for both positive and negative ends.
Note the difference in language in this passage, namely the words ‘devil’, ‘possessed’, ‘villainy’ and ‘dark night’. These word choices reflect Don John’s evil nature.
The critic Ian Johnston writes on dramatic structure that ‘if there has been a clearly disruptive presence […] that person has typically reformed […] or is banished from the celebration’.
Shakespeare loves a return to social order at the end of his plays. One of his most favoured endings to comedy is a double wedding, as we see in Much Ado About Nothing.
Act 5, Scene 4
Come, come, we are friends. Let’s have a dance ere we are
married, that we may lighten our own hearts and our wives'
We’ll have dancing afterward.
First, of my word! Therefore play, music.
—Prince, thou art sad.
Get thee a wife, get thee a wife.
The return to harmony at the end of the play is characterised by dancing, music, and the idea that getting married can solve any manner of unhappiness.
Moreover, the ‘disruptive presence’ of Don John is removed from the play, and the happy couples hear the news that he has been arrested.
MESSENGER (to DON PEDRO):
My lord, your brother John is ta'en in flight
And brought with armed men back to Messina.
Think not on him till tomorrow. I’ll devise
thee brave punishments for him.—Strike up, pipers.
The capture of Don John saves the comedy from becoming a tragedy. The balance is restored and the wedding festivities continue.
There’s a great deal of animal imagery and descriptive language used throughout the play. Let’s look at some key moments here…
Act 1, Scene 1
I thank God and my cold blood
I am of your humour for that.
I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow
than a man swear he loves me.
This is a great line for highlighting Beatrice’s aversion to men and marriage. She would rather listen to an incessant, annoying noise than have a man tell her he loves her. Beatrice often makes these kind of hyperbolic remarks about how awful men are, although as we come to realise when she marries Benedick, they are something of an illusion.
Act 1, Scene 1
The savage bull may; but if ever the sensible Benedick bear it, pluck
off the bull's horns and set them in my forehead; and let me be vilely
painted, and 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.'
When Don Pedro remarks that even bulls can be domesticated, Benedick retorts that if he ever succumbs to domestication they should put horns on his head. The horns symbolise a cuckold, meaning a man married to an adulterous wife. He is so vehemently opposed to marriage, believing as soon as he marries a woman she will cheat on him. Beatrice and Benedick’s battle of wits often mirror each other in the similar use of language.
We hope you find these key themes and quote useful for your revision!
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