One of the reasons why the comedy Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare, continues to enjoy a lasting popularity with contemporaries, is that along with representing a high aesthetic value, it can also be considered utterly enlightening, in the discursive sense of this word. The reason for this is that, while exposed to the theme of inconstancy, prominently featured throughout the comedy’s entirety, people are able to gain an insight into the relativist essence of the surrounding reality’s emanations. In this paper, I will explore the validity of the above-stated at length, while explaining how the author was able to ensure that the earlier mentioned theme strongly affects the overall message of ‘non-seriousness’, which Much Ado About Nothing is there to convey.
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The task of identifying the theme of inconstancy in the mentioned comedy by Shakespeare becomes especially manageable, once the relationship between the featured characters is at stake. After all, it is namely by the mean of socializing with each other that these characters come to realize the undeniable fact that, during the course of the process, they personalities continued to undergo a rather drastic transformation. The validity of this statement can be well illustrated, in regards to the character of Benedick – a sharp-tongued young man, who through the comedy’s initial Act exposes himself as a ‘natural-born’ bachelor, who could not possibly contemplate the idea of getting married: “I am loved of all ladies… and I would I could find in my heart that I had not a hard heart; for, truly, I love none” (Shakespeare 1.1.10).
However, at the end of the Act 2, Benedick is being represented as an entirely different man. It is not only that he accepted the idea in question, but also the mere prospect of parting away with his bachelor-ways appears to have caused him to experience the sensation of an overwhelming joy: “When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married. Here comes Beatrice. By this day! she’s a fair lady” (Shakespeare 2.3.61). It is understood, of course, that Benedick’s lack of consistency in how he thought of himself, contributes rather substantially to the overall spirit of inconstancy, emanated by this particular play.
Essentially the same can be said about the existential mode of the majority of the comedy’s other prominent characters, such as Beatrice, Claudio and Hero. For example, in the similar manner with Benedick, Beatrice initially renounces the matrimony-related thoughts as being utterly irrelevant: “I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me” (Shakespeare 1.1.10). However, it did not take too long for her to grow increasingly conscious of the fact that she was indeed involved in the romantic relationship with Benedick – contrary to the character’s early conviction that she could not stand this person.
The same ‘metamorphosis’ takes place with the characters of Claudio and Hero, as well – from being in the state of love with each other, these characters undergo a rapid transformation into becoming nothing short of sworn enemies. As the comedy’s plot unravels, however, we get to see them ending up fully reconciled again.
Nevertheless, it would be wrong to assume that the lack of a perceptual/cognitive constancy, exhibited by many of the play’s characters, is there to serve solely the purpose of entertainment. Apparently, by describing these characters, as such that never experienced much of an emotional unease, while altering their worldviews, Shakespeare strived to promote the idea that one’s sense of self-awareness is largely misleading – especially if the concerned person happened to be egocentric. As Dennis pointed out: “The comedy’s characters are self-willed, self-centered, and self-admiring creatures, whose comedy is at bottom that of imperfect self-knowledge which leads them on to fool themselves” (224).
The above-mentioned idea, implicitly connoted between the comedy’s lines, cannot be referred to as anything but rather enlightening, because it does explain why, throughout the course of their lives, many people struggle with the sheer elusiveness of their sense of selves.
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The theme of inconstancy also plays a significant role, within the context of the comedy’s philosophical properties being defined. We can well confirm the legitimacy of this suggestion by making a reference to the symbolic significance of Hero’s presumed ‘death’ and her consequential ‘resurrection’. After all, both of the mentioned plot-developments presuppose the irreversibility of the conditions in question – one can be either dead or alive. However, in case with Hero, it is different – the very fact that, despite the sheer plausibility of her presumed demise, she nevertheless turned out alive and well, presupposes the possibility of ‘miracles’. Given the fact that, in the discursive sense of this word, the notion of ‘miracle’ is synonymous with the notion of ‘inconstancy’, we can well interpret it as yet another indication that in Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare proved himself to be well ahead of its time.
The rationale behind this interpretation is quite apparent – the theme of inconstancy (as seen in Much Ado about Nothing) appears thoroughly consistent with the quantum-mechanical outlook on what accounts for the essence of the interrelationship between causes and effects (Mittelstaedt 217).
It is understood, of course, that Hero never did die de facto. However, this did not affect the acuteness of Claudio’s emotions, with respect to the consequential transformations of Hero from the beloved into the hated one, and then back to the beloved. This provides us with the additional insight into the significance of the theme of inconstancy in Much Ado about Nothing – this theme is there to encourage the audience members to consider the tact that, contrary to what most people tend to assume, they are being in no position to exercise a full control over their lives.
The character of Claudio exemplifies the validity of this statement perfectly well – due to being incapable to anticipate the blows of fate, he remains utterly vulnerable to them. As such, he can hardly be referred to as an ‘existentially sovereign’ individual, but rather as a toy of the nature’s forces of entropy – hence, the character’s tendency to rush into making the mutually excluding conclusions about the surrounding reality.
However, it is not only that the character of Claudio makes it easier for spectators to realize the counterproductive essence of their own self-reflective anxieties. This character provides a subtle explanation, as to why ‘inconstancy’ appears to be the second name of many of the featured characters – this is the logical consequence of their predisposition towards relying on the opinions of others, when it comes to addressing life-challenges. As Myhill noted: “Claudio sees Hero’s face, but it is not the same face he saw the previous night at Hero’s window because, in the deception of Claudio and Don Pedro, their eyes are extensions of Don John’s vision, not their own” (292).
Apparently, the very atmosphere of eavesdropping, which in the comedy constitutes the ‘informational pool’, from where the featured characters get their information of interest, created the objective preconditions for systemic errors to affect the integrity of the communicational inter-exchanges in question. This, of course, could not result in anything else but in bringing about a strong element of uncertainty, within the context of what account for the characters’ behavioral motivations in every particular Act – hence, highlighting the comedy’s theme inconstancy even further.
Therefore, there is nothing too surprising about the fact that inconstancy is also present in the conversations between the presumably reconciled characters, such as mentioned earlier Beatrice and Benedick. After all, even though they did end up admitting being in love with each other and deciding to get married, both characters nevertheless continued to exchange wits right to the comedy’s end, as if there was remaining some animosity between them: “Benedick: They (his friends) swore that you were almost sick for me. Beatrice: They swore that you were well-nigh dead for me. Benedick: Tis no such matter. Then you do not love me? Beatrice: No, truly, but in friendly recompense” (Shakespeare 5.3.149). Given the fact that there was no animosity to speak of, it will only be natural for spectators to assess the above-quoted lines, as the additional proof that the theme of inconstancy is fused into the comedy’s structural fabric.
Partially, this explains why, despite the masterpiece’s affiliation with the genre of comedy; there are a number of the strongly defined tragic undertones to it. Apparently, while being amused by the sheer ‘non-seriousness’ of the plot’s developments, many spectators cannot help concluding that one’s life is much too ‘fluid’, short-lasting and unpredictable, in order to be taken seriously. This particular suggestion reveals what Shakespeare had in mind, while assigning the character of Benedick with the line: “Man is a giddy thing, and this is my conclusion” (Shakespeare 5.4.150).
However, because people are unconsciously predisposed to believe in the otherwise, their exposure to the comedy’s theme of inconstancy causes them to experience the elusive sensation of an emotional discomfort with the laugh-inducing scenes. Simultaneously, this adds to the comedy’s bittersweet ‘aftertaste’ – hence, contributing to the philosophical value of Shakespeare’s masterpiece. The reason for this is quite apparent – in light of what has been said earlier; there can be no doubt, as to this comedy’s ability to stimulate spectators intellectually, while providing them with a top-quality entertainment.
I believe that the earlier deployed line of argumentation, in regards to what can be considered the actual significance of the theme of inconstancy in Much Ado About Nothing, is fully consistent with the paper’s initial thesis. Apparently, there is indeed a good reason to think of this particular comedy by Shakespeare, as such that conveys a number of the strongly philosophical messages about life, in general, and about what causes some of its manifestations to be counterintuitive (inconstant), in particular. These messages appear especially valuable, given the fact that, as it was illustrated earlier, there is nothing too complex about having them ‘deciphered’. Thus, the comedy’s ongoing popularity with contemporary spectators is indeed fully justified.
Dennis, Carl. “Wit and Wisdom in Much Ado about Nothing.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 13.2 (1973): 223-237. Print.
Mittelstaedt, Peter. “Are the Laws of Quantum Logic Laws of Nature?” Journal for General Philosophy of Science 43.2 (2012): 215-222. Print.
Myhill, Nova. “Spectatorship in/of ‘Much Ado about Nothing’.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 39.2 (1999): 291-311. Print.
Shakespeare, William 1598, Much Ado About Nothing. Web.