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Character Relationships in Much Ado About Nothing

Beatrice and Benedick

Beatrice and Benedick’s relationship has banter, rivalry and affection. They constantly engage in verbal sparring, and their insults and quick retorts show that they are equals in intellect and wit.

This dynamic is evident when Beatrice declares her lack of interest in marriage. Benedick humorously responds, urging her to stick to this pledge:

“So some gentleman or other shall ‘scape a predestinate scratched face.”

He is suggesting that if Beatrice did marry, she would be a harsh wife. Beatrice responds:

“Scratching could not make it worse an ‘twere such a face as yours were.”

Here, she is implying that Benedick’s face is unattractive enough already. However, it is evident to those around them that the couple don’t hate each other. Leonato observes:

“There is a kind of merry war betwixt Signior Benedick and her.”

This “merry war” suggests their arguments are a form of flirtation. Benedick even admits an attraction to Beatrice, unfavourably comparing Hero to her, saying if Beatrice “were not possessed with a fury”, she would surpass Hero’s beauty.

Hints of a past relationship between them arise when Beatrice says, “I know you of old,” suggesting a past romance that ended poorly. This perhaps explains their hostility.

Their friends, recognising the underlying affection, plot to bring them together. When Benedick believes Beatrice loves him, he quickly declares, “I will be horribly in love with her.” This swift change suggests existing feelings, hidden behind his pride.

Their love deepens as the play progresses. Benedick openly declares, “I protest I love thee,” and Beatrice responds, “I was about to protest I loved you.” Their language shifts from witty banter to sincere expressions of love. Beatrice’s request for Benedick to challenge Claudio to a duel further tests their love, and Benedick proves his commitment by prioritising his love for Beatrice over his friendship with Claudio.

The couple eventually discover the trick that led to their union, but by this point, they are too in love to be concerned about it.

Claudio and Hero

Claudio and Hero’s relationship is youthful, passionate and idealistic. They fall in love at first sight and appear to be the epitome of young romance. Claudio comments on Hero:

“Can the world buy such a jewel?”

This could be interpreted as him valuing her above all material possessions. However, it might also suggest that Claudio is attracted to her wealth, describing her in terms of monetary value.

Their relationship is fragile due to a lack of communication and trust. Claudio doesn’t woo her himself but allows Don Pedro to take his place at the masked ball. This might indicate that he is more focused on the idea of romance than on truly getting to know her as a person.

Claudio’s lack of trust is evident when he easily believes Don John’s lie that Don Pedro is wooing Hero for himself. He mistakenly declares, “Tis certain so, the Prince woos for himself,” and later blames Hero for the perceived betrayal, saying “beauty is a witch.”

Claudio’s mistrust deepens when he is deceived into believing that Hero has been unfaithful. Rather than seeking the truth, he immediately plans to publicly shame her, saying:

“If I see anything tonight why I should not marry her, tomorrow in the congregation, where I should wed, there will I shame her.”

He even calls her a “rotten orange”, suggesting that her beauty is on the outside, but she is corrupt on the inside.

When Claudio finds out that Hero hasn’t been unfaithful, and mistakenly believes she has died, Claudio is devastated. Although Leonato leads Claudio to feel remorseful, Claudio ultimately does not face significant consequences for disgracing Hero. The two marry at the end, with no evident bitterness from Hero about her mistreatment, perhaps reflecting the gender dynamics and societal expectations of the time.

Don Pedro and Don John

Don Pedro and Don John are half-brothers. Don Pedro is the prince, and Don John is an illegitimate brother, which means his mother wasn’t married to his father. This would mean that Don John wouldn’t receive the noble benefits his brother does, perhaps explaining his deep resentment. His illegitimacy is frequently referenced, with other characters often referring to him as a “bastard”. This is a derogatory term given to children who are born out of wedlock.

Before the events of the play, Don John had failed in an attempted rebellion against his brother. However, driven by a desire for peace, Don Pedro somewhat naively forgives him. Yet, Don John harbours no intentions of living peacefully under Don Pedro’s rule. He confides in Conrade:

“I had rather be a canker in a hedge than a rose in his grace”

He is expressing his preference to cause harm rather than benefit from association with his brother.

Don John seizes an opportunity to indirectly take revenge on his brother by sabotaging his friend Claudio’s wedding. His cunning and ruthlessness successfully deceive Don Pedro and Claudio, suggesting he may possess greater intellect than his brother. Ultimately, he is undone by his associates’ carelessness; Borachio inadvertently reveals the plot, leading to Don John’s exposure as a villain.

Hero and Leonato

Hero is Leonato’s daughter, and they share a loving and affectionate relationship. Leonato cares about his daughter’s happiness and sees Claudio as a worthy suitor, approving his intentions to marry Hero. In return, Hero is a loving and obedient daughter, which Beatrice humorously notes:

“Yes, faith; it is my cousin’s duty to make curtsy and say ‘Father, as it please you”

When Hero is falsely accused, Leonato is deeply hurt and disturbed. His initial reaction, believing the accusations against Hero, reflects the patriarchal pressures of the time. Concerned about her damaged reputation, he laments:

“O, she is fallen into a pit of ink, that the wide sea hath drops too few to wash her clean again”

However, once he is convinced of her innocence, Leonato works to clear her name. This effort may be motivated as much by a desire to protect his own reputation as by fatherly protectiveness. He seeks retribution by leading Claudio to believe that Hero has died due to his false allegations.

Ultimately, Leonato consents to their marriage, possibly believing that Claudio has learned from his mistake, or it could be interpreted that he still values the advantageous match for his daughter.