Much Ado About Nothing – Comedy And Melancholy Essay, Research Paper
When we discuss the dramatic form of a Shakespearean comedy, we are not only examining the clever or amusing text. Shakespearean comedies are not about drawing laughs from an audience. The form of traditional comedies involve certain aspects that have nothing to do with what is funny, delightful or amusing, including different classes of characters, different settings and different plot structures. Some may be surprised to find such a horrible and unpleasant turn of events within a ?comic? setting, like Hero?s overwhelming slander by her fianc?, or Beatrice?s proposition for Benedick to murder his friend.
Shakespeare?s comedies reach a real truth and depth of human existence, which we find with the juxtaposition of merry and melancholy in Much Ado About Nothing. When we are presented a merry, festive setting in Ado., followed by a wholly unexpected and terribly unpleasant shaming of the innocent Hero, we experience a very sharp turn as an audience. This is a truth in human existence: how life can be playful and turn very suddenly serious. In contrasting these humors, Shakespeare creates a more truthful world on stage and can really educate the audience to the nature of the world as well as entertain them.
In this essay we will explore the various melancholic aspects in Ado and their employment in creating emotional complexity and theatrical poignancy. Shakespeare creates a balance of humors that would communicate to an Elizabethan audience. He presents a world where the structure within the play respects the power structure in the universe where everything must be balanced. We will ultimately prove Shakespeare?s desire to create a comic world that is not just lovely and delightful, but surprisingly dark and insightful.
Much Ado About Nothing is set in what is supposed to be a merry time. It is after the war, a time of new marriages proposed, old court ships revived and festivities abound. Claudio?s desire to woo and marry is brought immediately into play, creating an immediately happy setting:
When you went onward in this ended action,
I look?d upon her with a soldier?s eye,
That lik?d, but had a rougher task at hand
Than to drive liking to the name of love
But now I am return?d, and hat war-thoughts
Have left their places vacant, in their rooms
Come thronging soft and delicate desires,
All prompting me how soft and fair Hero is,
Saying I lik?d her ere I went to wars. (I. i. 297-305)
Ado. is presented as a play that dealing with families, communities and relationships: a traditional setting for a comedy.
On examination however, we find that Ado. is a play about deception, guises, cover-ups, and our eyes: what they are wont to see, wont not to see and the damning consequences of looking the wrong way, and noting, or perceiving, false. Beatrice and
Benedick?s whole ?merry war? is about their inner fear, wishing to guise themselves and protect their true feelings- perceiving falsely that the other cares not for them. Indeed, in Elizabethan times, noting and nothing were pronounced the same, creating a grand pun with regards to the title of the play. We are dealing with concepts of what we note, what we do not note, and how conjured illusions for menacing deceit can bring us to ?note? things that are horrific and propel us into negative action. Such an event was when ?proper-false? Don John laid a terrible untruth into Claudio?s waxen heart about Hero?s chastity:
Don John. If you dare not trust that you see, confess not that you know. If you will follow me, I will show you enough, and when you have seen more, and heard more, proceed accordingly.
Claudio. If I see any thing tonight why I should not marry her, to-morrow in the congregation, where I should wed, there will I shame her. (III. ii. 119-125)
One might even mention the often melancholic spirit of Benedick during the play, who is so put down by his love that he would even diminish the qualities of his friend?s beloved. He is always putting down marriage and declaring his joy at not marrying anyone, especially Beatrice. His put downs of her are very amusing:
Benedick: I would to God some scholar would conjure her, for certainly, while she is here, a man may live in quiet as hell as in a sanctuary, and people sin upon purpose, because they would go thither; so indeed all disquiet, horror and perturbation follows her.
Yet it is quite easy to see that this is an outward act to cover his true feelings- making the effect somewhat melancholic, for everyone in the audience and the play knows that he desperately longs for her.
When Claudio accuses and horribly shames the innocent Hero, he states his wish that she could have looked on the inside what she did on the outside (IV. i. 101-102). It is strange and sorrowful that he would accept the sight of Hero proposed by Don John and reject the loving sight of her that he sees strongly. The shaming of Hero creates a horrible turn of events, with Leonato?s desiring Hero die of shame for her sins. The confessions of love by Beatrice and Benedick are done soon thereafter, but these acts by our merry quibblers of wit do not lift the spirit of the play as they should have. Beatrice?s following proposal for Benedick to kill Claudio is even more jarring- the woman of great wit and a thousand phrases delivers her two most undecorated and direct lines of the play, ?Kill Claudio? (IV. i. 289). These lines launch the play into an extremely heavy melancholy, and for several scenes this is all we as an audience can experience- save for the scenes with Dogberry and Verges. Indeed, until Hero is proven to be alive in the last scene, the play is burdened with enormous melancholy. We may laugh at the two clowns, Dogberry and Verges, but we must watch the once-merry world untangle itself through the false death and absolution of Hero the now melancholy love of Beatrice and Benedick, and Hero?s funeral. Benedick is even noted to carry a ?February face, so full of frost, of storm, and cloudiness.? Yet even once all the lovers are reunited and the world of the play appears to be resolved, Benedick mark?s Don Pedro?s sadness. This sadness is not even resolved at the end of the play- which might have to do with the conflict of Don John. Benedick quickly dismisses it and tells Don Pedro to leave the thought for tomorrow- so the ?play? can end happily? What is Shakespeare really saying about happy endings?
Much Ado About Nothing is much more than a merry comic romp. In contrasting the melancholy and the amusement, Shakespeare tells a powerful story about deceit and how one should be especially careful of what one ?notes?. He shows a complex world where happy endings are not always entirely happy, and how communities struggle to keep a delicate balance. He shows how even in a world that is supposedly resolved, there are still problems, as with the open question of Don John. Ultimately, Ado. is a poignant work because of the melancholic aspect involved in its craft, and a presents a very truthful picture of the world.