William Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing is mainly based on the battle of the sexes, and the relationships that are developed between the male and female characters of the play. Moreover, in Much Ado about Nothing Shakespeare does an astounding job at distinguishing the female stereotype of the Elizabethan Era, he develops this through the two main female characters Hero and Beatrice. Hero is portrayed as the typical female of the Elizabethan Era; Hero is of good keep and a well mannered girl. While on the other hand, Beatrice is the total opposite of typical female stereotype, she possesses a quick wit and a sharp tongue. Beatrice is never one to back down; she is an independent woman with a significant amount of self – esteem. Beatrice’s character illustrates that the play rewards both conventional and unconventional women and prejudice against women in unnecessary and unfair.
Hero was introduced in Act 1 Scene 1 of the play; she was introduced as the daughter of Leonato and Beatrice’s cousin. In the play Hero is represented as a very quiet, and shy girl, as she barely ever says anything and when she even speaks it is always in a very respectful manner. Throughout the entire Act one all she said was, “My cousin means Signor Benedick of Padua”. Similarly, Hero does not speak so much throughout the Act 2 Scene 1 most of what she says is “He is of very melancholy disposition” referring to Don John. The reader or the audience can see that Hero’s attitude is similar to the way typical women during the Elizabethan Era acted. Shakespeare might have chosen to present Hero in this manner to show the sharp contrast that exists between Hero and Beatrice. Moreover, it is apparent as the play goes on for the audience to see how much Hero does look up to her cousin Beatrice, for example is when Don Pedro asks to speak to Hero about Claudio she says: “So you walk softly, and look sweetly, and say nothing, I am yours for the walk, and especially when I walk away.” [2.1.78-79]. The audience can see that Hero uses similar replies much like the replies that Beatrice would use to tease the men around her.
By the same token, the character of Beatrice was also introduced in Act 1 Scene 1 of the play, and from the very beginning of the play Beatrice unlike Hero is represented as being a very clever and out spoken woman. Shakespeare makes sure that she comes off as a woman who is not afraid to speak her mind to anyone she comes across to. This is proven in act one, scene one when the messenger comes to deliver the message that the soldiers are on their way to Messina from the war. Beatrice and the messenger start a conversation about Benedick and the messenger tells Beatrice that Benedick is a “lord to a lord, a man to a man, stuffed with all honourable virtues” [1.1.53-54] she quickly replies, “It is so indeed, he is no less than a stuffed man, but for the stuffing – well, we are all mortal.” [1.1.55-56] Beatrice’s sudden answer shows the audience that she is a woman who is not scared to speak her mind to anyone and that she will never back down from an argument. I believe that Shakespeare wanted represent Beatrice in this manner to make a point that during the Elizabethan Era women were clever than men could imagine them to be. In addition during the Elizabethan Era that this play was first performed women had little or no power in the society a woman’s main role in this society was to get married and bear children, therefore, this was a way to prove the point that women were not the second class citizens that. Or in contrast, Shakespeare could have given Beatrice this character to simply just add a little humour into the play, because the thought of an independent and outspoken woman at that time was not taken seriously and was usually a joke.
Furthermore, in the present day while reading, watching a movie about a Shakespeare play or even watching a Shakespeare play live, the audience must understand that during the Elizabethan Era every character of the play would be played by a male, even if the character was supposed to be a female. For example when Beatrice says “Oh, that I were a man! What, bear her in hand until they come take hands, and then with public accusation, uncovered slander, unmitigated rancour? Oh God that I were a man!”[4.1.300-305] during the Elizabethan Era this particular line would have had a very comical meaning to the audience, because it would actually have been a male portraying a female character who would says this particular line, the present day audience does not grasp this irony because today, women are allowed to have part in the theatre and are not excluded. In fact another interesting thing to note about the Much Ado About Nothing is that even though Shakespeare is a male writer he was not a bias writer and in this play he showed that by not always letting the male characters win arguments or come out on top of any situation. Surely, in many situations it was the female characters that would come out on top, a great example of this is when in Act 4 Scene 1 Hero was accused of being unfaithful to Claudio. At first, the Claudio seemed triumphant in accusing an innocent woman; however, by the end of the play he is embarrassed to know that he was tricked into believing that Hero was being unfaithful when all along she was true to Claudio. Another, wonderful example of a woman coming on top is when Don Pedro and Beatrice are talking in Act 2 Scene 1 and Don Pedro asks Beatrice to marry him and she rejects him in a gentle way:
DON PEDRO: Will you have me, lady?
BEATRICE: No, my lord, unless I might have another for
working days. Your grade is too costly to wear every
day. But I beseech your grace pardon me, I was born to
speak all mirth and no matter [2.1.300-304]
One can never understand why Shakespeare would choose to do this but one can guess that it would either be humorous to the audience, because it would have been highly unlikely that during the Elizabethan Era a woman would prove a man wrong, or it may have been to illustrate that prejudice against a women of that time was wrong.
In contrast, while the relationships between people of the same sex are very strong in Much Ado About Nothing; relationships within the opposite sex are diverse. The strongest example of this is in Act 4 Scene 1 when Hero is wrongly accused of being unfaithful to Claudio; Hero’s father Leonato believes a rumour rather than his “beloved” daughter:
LEONATO: O Fate, take not away thy heavy hand!
Death is the fairest cover for her shame
That may be wished for. [4.1.115-117]
Moreover, certainly this is true even in the female characters because, right after Hero got accused of being unfaithful Beatrice jumped in and said, “O, on my soul, my cousin is belied!” [4.1.146] one may think that Shakespeare that people of the same sex are much more likely to trust each other because they are more likely to understand the situation and can relate more to what that person might be going through. In contrast relationships between men and women in this play is a very diverse, one can see that there are two relationships in the play that show this diversity between men and women in Much Ado About Nothing. One relationship is the one between Hero and Claudio and the second one is between Beatrice and Benedick. Both of these relationships are very different; the relationship that Claudio and Hero have is merely based on Claudio wanting to marry Hero because of her wealth and her status. This can be seen because when Claudio finds out that the accusation he made towards Hero were untrue in Act 5 Scene 1, Leonato offers Hero’s identical ‘cousin’ to be Claudio’s bride and he accepts without a second thought.
LEONATO: My Brother hath a daughter,
Almost the copy of my child that’s dead,
And she alone is heir to both of us.
Give her the right you should have given her cousin,
And so dies my revenge.
CLAUDIO: O noble sit
Your over-kindness doth wring tears from me.
I do embrace you offer [5.1.278-284]
This shows the audience that Claudio is not really in love with Hero he is in fact in love with the idea of Hero and the wealth that she will bring him. By the same token, this was very typical for men and women of the Elizabethan era to marry only for wealth and status, this is called dynastic marriage. In contrast to Hero and Claudio’s relationship, one can see that the relationship that Beatrice and Benedick have is real and that they truly do love each other. An example is when Beatrice and Don Pedro are talking at the ball in Act 2 scene 1 and Beatrice confesses that she and Benedick did have a ‘fling’:
BEATRICE: Indeed, my lord, he lent it me awhile; and I
gave him use for it, a double heart for a single one.
Marry, once before he won it of me with false dice;
therefore your Grace may well say I have lost it.
Moreover, this shows the audience that there was something between them but neither Beatrice of Benedick ever talks in a detailed manner about the situation, therefore leaving a little mystery for the audience. Even though Beatrice and Benedick come across as being very aggressive, outspoken and very independent people, Shakespeare mildly starts to show the audience a little look at both of their softer sides. Furthermore, one can also see that their love is real because when Benedick hears Leonato, Don Pedro, and Balthasar talking in Act 2 Scene 3 about how Beatrice really loves Benedick, one can see that Benedicks true feelings come out and he said, “When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married” [2.3.233-235]. Same situation happened for Beatrice when she overheard Hero and Ursula talking about the love that Benedick has for her. After Hero and Ursula leave Beatrice states in her Soliloquy “What fire is in mine ears? Can this be true? Stand I condemned for price and scorn so much?” [3.1.107-108] this shows how shocked she really is that she comes across to Benedick as being so cold-hearted, she than goes to say “No glory lives on behind the back of such. And Benedick love on, I will requite thee, Taming my wild heart to thy loving hand. If thou dost love, my kindness shall incite thee To bind our loves up in a holy band.” [3.1.110-114] this change of heart that Beatrice has towards Benedick shows the audience that she is not the cold-hearted person everyone has come to know. Moreover, the audience feels more sympathetic towards Beatrice because she shows her genuine side that is willing to change herself to show a man how much she loves him.
In conclusion, I think that at the end Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing does break all of the women stereotypes of the Elizabethan Era, and through different characters shows that prejudice against women in unnecessary and unfair. Moreover, Shakespeare managed to write a comedy that made fun of the battle of the sexes during the Elizabethan Era and showed that women were not just second class citizens, and that they had more of a role within the society.