Monday, September 24, 2012

Deception in Acts I and II

In the first two acts of "Much Ado About Nothing," many plot points are set up that remind me of "Twelfth Night." It seems that illusion, disguise, and trickery all play a big part in both of these works. However, this play left me pondering what role exactly deception will play, while Twelfth-Night seemed only to have one clear meaning behind it. The characters within these first two acts are so different that it gives us two completely different views of deceit.
The setting in these first two acts is perfect for the deceptions planned by the various characters. Everyone is attending a masquerade ball and cannot tell each other apart to begin with. Don Pedro sees this as a perfect opportunity to help the shy Claudio woo Hero. I found it interesting that in this part of the play, deception was being used for good, to help someone out. It left me curious about the message Shakespeare was trying to convey about disguise and deception. Maybe he was exploring it in a more light-hearted way than it was explored in Twelft-Night.
Or at least that's what I thought until reading further and deeper into Don John's character, who uses disguise and trickery for malicious and evil reasons.We learn in Act I scene iii of where Don John's mind is. He is resentful of his brother, Don Pedro, who had led a more fortunate life and who just recently started speaking with Don John again after not having a civil relationship. He tells Claudio of his unending sadness, saying that his sadness is "without limit" (ActI line 4). This sadness and jealousy fuel his evil plan of using disguise in order to ruin the newly forming relationships of others. The resentment of his brother is enough to make him seek the unhappiness of those around him, in an attempt to appease his own depression and anger.
I find it interesting that Shakespeare offers these two contrasting views on disguise in this play, although it left me a bit confused. I am interested in seeing where else the idea of deception goes as the play progresses. I believe that in all the confusion, it may get harder to distinguish between good and bad uses of disguise, or even to understand deception as simply one or the other.


Krystal Haight said...


I totally agree with you – when I started reading Much Ado About Nothing, I immediately thought of Twelfth Night! The two plays are very similar in terms of their theme of deception. However, I have to point out that the disguise of Viola in Twelfth Night is certainly more drastic and radical than that of Don Pedro in this play. As you mention in your post, the setting of certain scenes in this play is perfect for deception, for a masquerade ball is the ideal place to disguise oneself! Furthermore, since Don Pedro is already a man, it does not take too much effort to make Hero think that he is Claudio. Contrastingly, Viola has a much more drastic costume to pull off in order to make Orsino and Olivia believe that she is a man, Cesario. Nevertheless, the two plays are strikingly similar. Why was Shakespeare so interested in writing about deception? Was it simply to add to the comedic nature of his work, or did he have another motive? Was it common to “dress up” as someone else in his society?

Sam Montagna said...

I agree with you that illusion, disguise and trickery play a big role in this play and in Twelfth Night. However, like Krsyal says, the disguise is much more purposeful in Twelfth Night. In Much Ado About Nothing, at the Masquerade Ball, no one goes out of their way to disguise themselves and the mask is only used for the duration of the party. I like your idea that Don Pedro is using deception for good, which I agree, is a seemingly rare concept in Shakespeare's plays. The use of disguise is milder in the beginning acts of Much Ado About Nothing than in other plays, however. Even in Don John's plan to make Claudio believe Hero is cheating on him, no one will need to be disguised, its a matter of angles and seeing things the way they really aren't. Deception is on the rise but the use of disguise is at the minimum.

Anonymous said...

I agree with all three of you; I, too, have noticed the themes of deception and trickery, but not only in Much Ado about Nothing and Twelfth Night¬—also in A Midsummer Night's Dream. I had never realized before this class how such dark elements have appeared in many of Shakespeare's comedies, for I had only read A Midsummer Night's Dream prior. Now that I've seen two other plays featuring masks/false identities, I can really appreciate how Shakespeare used these typically sinister features as an important plot device in his comedic plays. Obviously, the negative feelings we associate with trickery and deception lead us to believe and expect the worst, but when there is a happy and/or funny resolution in the conclusion of the play, we realize we've gotten bent out of shape for no reason (hence "Much Ado about Nothing"). The positive conclusion makes us feel relieved of the possibilities of deception had it manifested negatively, therefore effectively rendering the play a comedy.
Another interesting observation I’ve made, kind of unrelated, is how in A Midsummer Night's Dream and Twelfth Night, much of the comedic trickery is caused by the clowns of the play, Puck and Feste, respectively. In Much Ado about Nothing, there are no clown characters, but there doesn't need to be, as the rest of the characters cause enough trouble by themselves. I found that aspect of the play interesting, for based on my observation, the characters of Much Ado about Nothing don’t seem to be particularly ignorant or susceptible to being tricked. I suppose it only reinforces the importance of the masks in Much Ado about Nothing. As opposed to Twelfth Night, we, the audience, don't need to suspend our disbelief as much in Much Ado about Nothing.

Cyrus Mulready said...

I noted in my comments to Nicole, below, that disguise in Twelfth Night is also called "wickedness," and you do a nice job, Stacy, exploring that possibility here. As we come to the end of the play, this will be one of our core questions--does Shakespeare redeem disguise, or is it left as something evil?