The Shakespeare comedy Much Ado about Nothing makes extensive use of rumor as a plot device to create interesting and comical situations in the play. The main objective of the author seems to be to show how sowing rumors and deceptions, either with good intentions or for malicious motives, can result in consequences, good and bad. Shakespeare also structured the story in such a way that the results of the rumors on the first half of the play are resolved in the second half and leads to the conclusion of the story.
The rumors that were presented can be categorized as good-intentioned rumors and malicious rumors. The good-intentioned rumors center mainly on the efforts of friends of Benedick and Beatrice to make them fall in love with each other in spite of their mutual dislike of each other. This aspect of their relationship was displayed on the first act, where the characters often trade barbed remarks to each other (1.1.92-114). They also share a mutual disdain on marriage that prompted their respective friends to hatch a plot to marry them to each other.
The rumors were used by the friends of Benedick, Claudio, and Don Pedro, where they contrived to talk within earshot of Benedick that Beatrice is actually in love with Benedick, even though she displays an aggressive stance when they are together (2.3.72-186). The same device was used by Hero and Ursula to Beatrice when she overhears that Benedick is madly in love with her (3.1.23-111). This causes both Benedick and Beatrice to reexamine their stance on love and marriage and resolves to declare their love for each other instead.
The malicious rumor was used by the bastard Don John, who spread a rumor that will destroy the scheduled wedding of Claudio and Hero as a means of revenge against his brother, Don Pedro (2.2.1-46). He also used his men to deceive Claudio into thinking that his betrothed, Hero has a lover, ending in a failed marriage, at least initially.
Deceptions were also used in the play, and likewise, with good and bad intentions. The malicious deception used was the scheme of Borachio, an accomplice of Don John, and with the unwitting assistance of Hero’s chambermaid Margaret. Borachio snuck into the chamber of Hero, seemingly as the lover of Hero and with Margaret posing as Hero while Claudio and Don Pedro were maneuvered to witness it from the window (5.1.238). This would lead to Claudio to cancel the wedding.
The well-intentioned deception was used by Don Pedro, who wooed Hero on behalf of Claudio with Hero, believing that it was Claudio himself who danced with her (2.1.69–79). This lead to Hero agreeing to be married to Claudio. Another deception is where Claudio, grieving over the supposed death of Hero, agrees to marry the cousin of Hero as penance but was revealed later that he would marry Hero herself (5.4.53-66).
The rumors and deceptions that were used by the characters play out to a conclusion where good-intentioned schemes succeed their objectives while malicious rumors and deceptions fail. Although the message seems simple, the play itself is very interesting, with the characters often believing the rumors right away and with serious consequences. It seems that when watching the play, audiences are being led into a suspension of belief whether the conclusion will be a comedy or a tragedy. While the outcome is a happy one for the protagonists, reflecting the title of the play that there is indeed so much fuss (much ado) about nothing, it could have turned out really bad for them in the end if they are quick to jump to conclusions.
Shakespeare, William. “Much Ado About Nothing.” Massachusetts Institute of Technology, http://shakespeare.mit.edu/much_ado/.
Varney, Andrea. “Deception and dramatic irony in Much Ado About Nothing”. British Library, https://www.bl.uk/shakespeare/articles/deception-and-dramatic-irony-in-much-ado-about-nothing.
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