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GCSE Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing – Play Analysis


Knowing how to successfully analyse Much Ado About Nothing will bring high marks in the GCSE English Exam. Knowing the key themes, a collection of supporting quotes and having good knowledge of the plot will help to structure your exam answers more effectively. This article will explain more about the key elements that are needed for an effective play analysis of Much Ado About Nothing. 

Most teachers will tell you that, to score 8s or 9s for Much Ado About Nothing, you need to know your themes, but there’s another reason to brush up on them too, namely that the most popular exam boards nearly always set questions structured around them. Past AQA or Edexcel papers, for example, ask candidates to examine themes like Honour, Love and Deception. 

It’s therefore vital to learn the themes of Much Ado About Nothing, making notes of key scenes and quotations that relate to them. Keep notes of any crossovers between themes, as the strongest essays will bring in elements of different elements where necessary. 

Much Ado About Nothing Church Scene, people laying around on the floor

What is the plot of Much Ado About Nothing?  

Much Ado About Nothing is a comedy written between 1598 and 1599 by English playwright William Shakespeare. The play is set in the northern Italian city of Messina, where the characters of Leonato lives with his beautiful daughter, Hero, his older brother Antonio, and his clever daughter, Beatrice. A war has recently concluded, and thus Leonato is preparing to welcome some friends to his house for some festivities: a prince named Don Pedro, and two soldiers named Claudio and Benedick. Don Pedro’s bitter and troublesome half-brother is also invited to the house. Claudio instantly falls in love with Leonato’s beautiful daughter, Hero and voices his interest in marrying her. Meanwhile, an argument breaks out between Beatrice and Benedick where they bring up past issues and shout witty insults at each other. To pass the time before the wedding of Claudio and Hero, the group decide to play a game, and in doing so, they hope to reunite Benedick and Beatrice; their tricks ultimately pay off because the pair secretly fall back in love with each other. The bitter Don John decides to thwart the happiness by forcing his servant Borachio and Hero’s serving woman, Margaret to make love. He brings Claudio to Hero’s window under the cover of darkness and tricks him into believing that that his future wife is being unfaithful. Enraged, the following day Claudio accuses Hero of adultery and abandons her at the altar. In order to overcome the pain of Claudio’s rejection, Hero’s family pretend that she has died of shock and hide her away. Borachio is overheard bragging about the cunning plan that he and Don John have executed, luckily, this is overheard by Dogberry and Verges, the heads of the local police, who arrest Don John’s followers and clear Hero’s name. As a punishment, Leonato forces Claudio to publicly confess Hero’s innocence to the city and marry his “niece” – a girl who is equally as beautiful as Hero. As Claudio is preparing to marry the mystery masked woman, Hero reveals herself to Claudio, who is overwhelmed with joy. Benedick asks Beatrice is she will marry him, and the lovers dance as they celebrate their double wedding.  

Honour:  

The theme of honour is used to present social views prevalent during Shakespeare’s time. At the wedding ceremony, where Claudio publicly shames Hero by accusing her of infidelity, is the climax of the play, showing that the honour of both Hero and her father has been tarnished. During the Elizabethan era, a woman’s honour was based upon her virginity and chastity; by losing her virginity before marriage, she would subsequently lose both her honour and social standing – something that the woman and her family would never recover from. Shakespeare shows this through Leonato’s reaction to Claudio’s claim of infidelity; he wants his daughter to die in order to preserve the honour of the family. Even though Claudio is also affected by Hero’s alleged adultery, as a man he does not carry the same amount of shame; his virginity and chastity is not regarded in such high value. Claudio is able to overcome this loss of honour by marrying another virtuous woman, whereas for Hero the loss of her honour was akin to annihilation.  

Important jealousy quotes:  

  • Go but with me tonight, you shall see her chamber window entered, / even the night before her wedding day. / If you love her then, tomorrow wed her. / But if it would better fir to honor to change your mind. (Act 3, Scene 2) 
  • Is not marriage honorable in a better / Is not your lord honorable without marriage? (Act 3, Scene 4) 
  • There, Leonato, take her back again. / Give not this rotten orange to your friend. / She’s but the sign and semblance of her honor. / Behold how like a maid she blushes here! (Act 4, Scene 1) 
  • O she is fallen / Into a pit of ink, that the wide sea / Hath drops too few to wash her clean again. (Act 4, Scene 1) 
  • But jealous souls will not be answered so. / They are not ever jealous for the cause. / But jealous for they’re jealous. It is a monster / Begot upon itself, born on itself. (Act 3, Scene 4) 

Deception: 

Deception is a means for both good and evil within the play, and it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between the two. For example, when Claudio expresses his interest in Hero, Don Pedro helps his friend by wooing Hero himself, in order to show how perfect Claudio is for her. However, upon the intrusion of Don John, Claudio begins to distrust the benign deception of Don Pedro, and instead falls for the evil plan of Don John. This deception mirrors the subterfuge of theatre itself that the audience experiences while watching a play, as the characters become wrapped up in illusions, similar to how the audience is temporarily under the illusion that the events they are witnessing are real. Benedick and Beatrice’s flirt with each other at the masked ball, completely unaware of who the other is, further cementing the idea that they are made for each other as they are drawn to each other even when masked. Similarly, in order to fix his daughter’s “mistake”, Leonato uses deception in order to fool other into thinking his daughter has died, in doing so, he saves her reputation. By forcing Claudio to marry an unknown masked woman known as his “niece”, he shows that marriage has little to do with love, and more to do with complying with a social requirement for the time.  

Important deception quotes

  • That a woman conceived me, I thank her; / that she brought me up, I likewise give her most / humble thanks. But that I will have a recheat  / winded in my forehead or hang my bugle in an / invisible baldrick, all women shall pardon me. / Because I will not do them the wrong to mistrust / any, I will do myself the right to trust none. And the / fine is, for the which I may go the finer, I will live a / bachelor. (Act 1, Scene 1) 
  • ‘Tis once, thou lovest, / And I will fit thee with the remedy. / I know we shall have revelling to-night. / I will assume thy part in some disguise / And tell fair Hero I am Claudio, / And in her bosom I’ll unclasp my heart / And take her hearing prisoner with the force / And strong encounter of my amorous tale. (Act 1, Scene 1) 
  • I will teach you how to humour / your cousin, that she shall fall in love with Benedick; and I, / [to Leonato and Claudio] with your two helps, will so practise on / Benedick that, in despite of his quick wit and his queasy / stomach, he shall fall in love with Beatrice. If we can do this, / Cupid is no longer an archer; his glory shall be ours, for we are / the only love-gods. Go in with me, and I will tell you my drift. (Act 2, Scene 1) 

Love:  

The theme of love is one of the main ideas presented by Shakespeare in Much Ado About Nothing. Love can see as vital in many of the relationships throughout the play, for example, the romantic love between Claudio and Hero and Benedick and Beatrice. As well as the paternal love that Claudio shows for his daughter, and the loving friendships that the characters have for each other. Although it is evident throughout the play that Claudio loves Hero romantically, this love can be seen as superficial, as he falls in love with because of she fits the idea of a perfect woman: beautiful, modest, obedient, and family oriented, all qualities that Elizabethan audiences would have been able to understand as it was common practice to seek partners with these qualities. This idea of superficial love is reinforced when Claudio agrees to marry Leonato’s “niece”, who is Hero in disguise, as he chooses to go ahead with the engagement solely to fulfil his duty as a man to marry and start a family, rather than find someone whom he is truly compatible with. In contrast, Benedick and Beatrice are in denial of their love, even though it is obvious to both their friends and the audience that they are the perfect match for each other. Their love is shown to be true, because even when in disguise, the two fall in love with each other for their personality rather than their physical appearance. The end of play sees both couples marry and love being triumphant over evil, even if there is an obvious difference between the sincerity between the couples.  

Important love quotes: 

  • My love is thine to teach. Teach it but how, / And thou shalt see how apt it is to learn / Any hard lesson that may do thee good. (Act 1, Scene 1) 
  • ‘Tis certain so. The Prince woos for himself. / Friendship is constant in all other things / Save in the office and affairs of love. / Therefore all hearts in love use their own tongues. / Let every eye negotiate for itself / And trust no agent, for beauty is a witch / Against whose charms faith melteth into blood. (Act 2, Scene 1) 
  • I do much wonder that one man, seeing how much / another man is a fool when he dedicates his behaviors / to love, will, after he hath laughed at such / shallow follies in others, become the argument of / his own scorn by falling in love—and such a man is 
    Claudio. (Act 2, Scene 3) 
  • BENEDICK 
    Suffer love! A good epithet. I do suffer love / indeed, for I love thee against my will. 
    BEATRICE 
    In spite of your heart, I think. Alas, poor / heart, if you spite it for my sake, I will spite it for / yours, for I will never love that which my friend / hates. (Act 5, Scene 2) 

Much Ado About Nothing sample exam questions:  

  1. Why might it be hard to believe that Hero and Claudio really love each other? 
  1. Speech and conversation are important in the play, and many of the characters have distinctive ways of speaking. How do the characters’ speech patterns differ? 
  1. How do gossip, conversation, and overhearing function in the play? 
  1. What does the play say about relationships between women and men? 
  1. A central theme in the play is trickery or deceit, whether for good or evil purposes. Counterfeiting, or concealing one’s true feelings, is part of this theme. Good characters as well as evil ones engage in deceit as they attempt to conceal their feelings: Beatrice and Benedick mask their feelings for one another with bitter insults, Don John spies on Claudio and Hero. Who hides and what is hidden? How does deceit function in the world of the play, and how does it help the play comment on theatre in general? 
  1. In this play, accusations of unchaste and untrustworthy behaviour can be just as damaging to a woman’s honour as such behaviour itself. Is the same true for the males in the play? How is a man’s honour affected by accusations of untrustworthiness or unfaithfulness? Do sexual fidelity and innocence fit into the picture in the same way for men as it does for women? Examine the question of honour and fidelity as it relates to four male characters in the play: Benedick, Leonato, Claudio, and Don Pedro. What could Shakespeare be saying about the difference between male and female honour? 

More Much Ado About Nothing Revision Resources:  

What the examiners want to see for AO1, AO2, AO3, and AO4:  

AO1:  

  • Use relevant quotes from both the extract and the rest of the play to support your points.  
  • Use quotes from other characters to show how quotes can be interpreted.  
  • Relationship between the characters in extracts and rest of the play. 
  • General overview of the character(s) that the question is asking you to focus on.  

AO2: 

  • Analyse the language, form, and structure used by Shakespeare and the characters in Much Ado About Nothing. 
  • How do these examples of language, form, and structure create meanings and different effects throughout the play? 
  • How does the use of language and form change between characters? How does the use of language change as the play progresses?  
  • Use relevant subject terminology when you can in order to show the examiners you are able to identify the techniques you are describing.   
  • What theme does the question ask you to consider? Are there any other themes that are relevant to the question? 
  • Comment on the bond between characters.  

AO3:  

  • Show the examiner your understanding of the relationships between the text and the contexts in which it was written. 
  • Understand Elizabethan views on women, marriage, family honour. Why did they have these views? 
  • How have these views changed for modern audiences?  
  • What would Elizabethan audiences have thought about the subject of adultery?   
  • How do the characters present themselves to the audience? Does this change throughout the play? If so, why?  
  • Imagery of nature – birds / beasts and so on, and how both use wordplay in similar ways, demonstrating their similar natures. 
  • Beatrice’s attitude towards protestations of love and how this could be seen as unusual in a young woman. 
  • The unusual nature of the relationship, especially when contrasted with the presentation of the relationship between Hero and Claudio. 
  • Benedick’s apparent rudeness and how that might be perceived as ungentlemanly. 

AO4:  

  • Remember to use a range of vocabulary and sentence structures.  
  • Make sure to check that your spelling and punctuation is accurate.  

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