Use of language in Much Ado About Nothing

Shakespeare uses language to create both comedy and tragedy in this play and to present characters and scenes that are entertaining. The witty banter between Beatrice and Benedick is lively and amusing. This contrasts with the dark, brooding language of Don John and the caring, wise words of Don Pedro.

Shakespeare uses original language and wordplay to keep the audience engaged.

When analysing the language Shakespeare has used, aim to:

  • examine words and phrases
  • think about the sorts of words he chooses (positive, negative, descriptive)
  • explore layers of meaning (what else could a phrase refer to or suggest?)
  • notice any literary techniques (simile, metaphor, alliteration)
  • explain the effects of the language used – how does it make you feel?

Evidence and explanation of the language used

Here are some examples of language choices which Shakespeare makes.

Wordplay

How and why does Shakespeare use wordplay?

Shakespeare's characters often play on the different meanings of words. Dogberry, for example, uses his words incorrectly. This shows how words are open to interpretation and that nothing is as it seems. It also provides comic relief for the audience.

Simile

How and why does Shakespeare use similes?

Beatrice says that Benedick 'will hang upon [Claudio] like a disease'. The simile suggests that Benedick will be a bad influence on Claudio. From this, we learn that Beatrice dislikes Benedick from the start.

Metaphor

How and why does Shakespeare use metaphors?

Claudio rejects Hero at the altar by calling her a 'rotten orange'. The phrase creates an image of something that should be fresh and delightful as ruined. The effect on the audience is that they feel sympathy for Hero, who they know to be far from 'rotten'.

Personification

How and why does Shakespeare use personification?

In Act 1 Scene 1, Leonato says that when Don Pedro departs, 'sorrow abides and happiness takes his leave'. The personification of 'sorrow' and 'happiness' make them seem like characters that accompany Don Pedro. Leonato's love for his friend is therefore emphasised by the language he uses.

Repetition

How does Shakespeare use repetition?

After the failed wedding in Act 5 Scene 2, Beatrice says 'Foul words is but foul wind, and foul wind is but / foul breath, and foul breath is noisome.' The repetition of the word 'foul' emphasises Beatrice's upset. Whereas her language has been eloquent and varied up to this point in the play, when Beatrice is distressed she repeats herself.