Appearances and reality in Much Ado About Nothing

A woman wearing a mask.

Shakespeare uses this play to show how appearance and reality are not always the same thing. At the beginning we see the apparent enemies, Benedick and Beatrice, engaging in witty banter that verges sometimes on the cruel. However, they are tricked into acknowledging their real feelings of love for one another.

Other examples of this theme can be seen in the masked ball, where mistaken identity is the cause of confusion and upset for both Claudio and Benedick. In the gulling scene, Benedick appears to hear his friends talk about Beatrice's love for him, but in reality the audience knows they are playing a trick.

In darker examples of the theme, Don John fools Claudio into believing his wife-to-be is untrustworthy by apparently showing him a scene of unfaithfulness. When Hero is accused, Leonato makes it appear that his daughter is dead.

How is the theme of appearances and reality shown in the play?

In Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare examines how appearances can sometimes be deceptive. Some of the key aspects are:

  • Benedick and Beatrice appearing to be enemies
  • Hero's apparent infidelity
  • Hero's apparent death

How does Shakespeare show this?EvidenceAnalysis
Benedick and Beatrice appear to be enemiesWhen the pair first meet, they bicker and taunt one another."I / am loved of all ladies, only you excepted: " (Act 1 Scene 1) Although they appear to dislike one another, both are easily persuaded of the other's love by the tricks that their friends play on them.
Hero's apparent infidelityClaudio is tricked into thinking that Hero is unfaithful when Borachio sets up a scene in the window that makes it appear that Hero loves him."Proof enough to misuse the prince, to vex Claudio, to undo Hero and kill Leonato." (Act 2 Scene 2) Claudio is convinced by what appears to be Hero's unfaithfulness. However, the audience knows that this is not the reality.
Hero's apparent deathHero faints after Claudio's accusation and Leonato is advised to pretend his daughter is dead. Hero appears dead, but in reality is taken into hiding."Let her awhile be secretly kept in, And publish it that she is dead indeed;" (Act 4 Scene 1) Later, when Claudio discovers the truth, he agrees to marry Antonio's daughter 'unseen'. What appears to be a new wife turns out, in reality, to be Hero.

Analysing the evidence

Question

What elements of appearance and reality does Shakespeare highlight in this Much Ado About Nothing?

  • Shakespeare shows that appearances can be deceiving and that the reality can be something quite different.
  • He shows that the reality of love depends on more than appearances. Benedick and Beatrice's connection, with their equal wit, seems more reliable than that of Claudio and Hero which relies on looks.
  • The truth seems to be hidden at times, as we see in the cruel trick that Don John and Borachio set up.
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