Much Ado About Nothing: An Overview
It is a beautiful spring afternoon. The air is full of the radiance of
freshly bloomed daisies and the energizing chill of the periodic spring breeze.
Puffy large cumulus clouds fill the azure sky with gray thunderheads looming off
in the distance. Looking down from the clouds, one can see a gathering of
finely dressed people. Birds flying overhead hear the murmurs of the crowd
gathered for a wedding of gentry.
Shakespeare could never have planned the first scene of Act IV in Much
Ado About Nothing so well. The serene sky overhead symbolizing the beauty and
joviality of the occasion; dark rain clouds looming in the distance
foreshadowing the mischief to come. Despite his inability to control weather
patterns, Shakespeare developed marvelous scenes which he displayed in his own
theater, The Globe. How did Shakespeare portray the emotional aspects of his
characters and their strife to his audience? How did he direct the actors and
what did the open air stage of The Globe look like?
Imagine yourself in London circa 1600, a short year after the completion
of the Globe Theater and perhaps a few months after the completion of the play
Much Ado About Nothing, Act IV has just begun. Claudio and Hero are facing each
other in front of a simple, yet anciently beautiful altar, garbed in Elizabethan
costume fit for the occasion. Hero is wearing a long white dress with trailer
and high neck which is adorned according to the fashion trends of the time.
Claudio has donned a royal looking doublet with silver trim and hose to equally
as majestic. Sitting on either side of the couple in ancient pews, shrouded in
solemn silence, are Don Pedro the Prince of Aragon, Don John the Bastard,
Leonato, Benedick, Beatrice and the attendants of Beatrice and Hero. Facing the
couple, positioned in between them so the audience may hear him, is Friar
Francis wearing a simple white robe and golden cross, his only posessions. Don
Pedro wears a doublet ornately embroidered with golden designs. He is the only
person on stage looking finer than Claudio, marking his royal blood to all. The
others wear fine doublets and dresses, although not decorated elaborately, to
show their respect for the wedding pair.
Scene IV actually begins when Leonato stands and makes his brave but
respectful request to the Friar to be brief with the ceremonies (IV i,l1).
Knowing his duties, the Friar continues square-faced with the wedding by asking
Claudio of his intentions to marry Hero (IV i,l5). Without hesitation Claudio
responds, “No.” (IV i,l6) He means that he does not intend to marry Hero. The
audience and the attendants of the wedding are slightly shocked. Murmurs run
through the crowd of people standing on the floor of the theater asking whether
they heard correctly or not. Leonato stands up from his seat meaning to correct
the Friar by informing him that the Lady is to be married to the Count, and not
vice versa (IV i,l7). As relief spreads through the audience, the tension is
cleared. The audience knows of Don John’s plan to ruin the ceremonies of the
day, but they hope his schemings do not come to fruition. As the audience
contemplates the possibilities, building up more tension than was washed away
merely seconds ago, Hero continues the scene with the affirmation that she has
come to be married to Claudio (IV i,l10). She bows her head in humility and
gives her response to the Friar’s question, deeply aware of its meanig, her
voice soft with love and compassion. The audience is now waiting for the Friar
to continue. They wish that Friar Francis would hurry and be brief as
instructed by Leonato, even though he speaks no slower or faster than anyone
normally does. Francis goes on telling the couple to speak of any reasons that
they should not be married, or risk their souls to eternal damnation (IV i,ll11-
3). Claudio quickly responds in a cynical voice by asking Hero if she knows of
any such reasons not to be wed(IV i,l14). His quick jabbing remark sets the
audience on edge once again. Perhaps Don John succeeded in his vile plot to
foul the wedding! Conrade and Borachio may not have been simple drunkards
confessing fictitious stories to one another in a dark alley. The tension has
mounted and Hero’s negative answer to the Count’s inquiry cannot cut it back.
Friar Francis’ repitition of the question, directed at Claudio brings the
tension to a peak in the play. When Leonato stands again and boldly intercedes
he only succeeds in holding the tension at its current level. The audience is
curious what his remark could bode for the characters being wed. The play is at
its climax and everyone feels the need to know how the scene will close.
Claudio turns on his host crying, “O, what men dare do! … What men
daily do, not knowing what they do!” (IV i,l18-9) Referring to Leonato’s
recent remarks. The wedding attendants all jump to attention, frantically
looking around to see if they are not having nightmares. Benedick tries to save
the situation with a jest but even his remarkable wit cannot rescue the
situation. Claudio’s idignance has surfaced and his iron will has turned to
boiling water fitfully puffing into the air. Asking the Friar to stand aside so
that he may confront Leonato as the father of the bride, Claudio lashes out at
Hero. “There, Leonato, take her back again. Give not this rotten orange to
your friend. She’s but the sign and semblance of her honor. . .” (IV i,ll30-3)
Turning to the audience to continue his defilation of Hero, Claudio unleashes
the vile plans of Don John, to run loose among his companions and the audience.
Shocked, the audience can only listen more eagerly to the deliberations of
Claudio, Leonato and Claudio’s would-be bride, Hero. Leonato faces not only his
daughter’s shame, but the shame she has brought upon his house. Valiantly he
persists in defending his daughter until he is forced to capitulate to the sheer
immensity of fact supproted by evidence.
Very little scenery is present on stage, but one feels the immense
emotional tension and confusion that is present in the play. Even the costumes
are unimportant, because the actions and the words of the actors are the meat of
the scene. Indignant voices, hands thrown into the air and violent wheeling
around are all examples of the actions that could be made by the actors. The
vital characteristics of this scene are the characters themselves. If the
actors remain unseen throughout the scene, and only the characters shine through,
the true emotions and thoughts of the scene must be felt by the audience.