Monday, September 24, 2012

Illusions in Identity

After reading Shakespeare's "The Twelfth Night" and then reading "Much Ado About Nothing" I found it interesting how the idea of hiding ones identity and pretending to be someone who they are not is conveyed through both plays. Shakespeare creates a less serious tone and a more humorous and ridiculous atmosphere in this play, as he plays around with identity and the false accusations that can be made by rumors and what may look like the truth, but is not. Illusions are created through the use of costumes and masques, and these false illusions in the play are what help instigate the different conflicts and rumors that are started between the characters.

Shakespeare first plays with Don Pedro as he pretends to be Claudio in order to "woo" Hero for Claudio. Don Pedro conceals his identity by wearing a masque and fooling not only Hero, but everyone around him as well. Don Pedro tells Claudio (Act 1), "I will assume thy part in some disguise, And tell fair Hero I am Claudio, And in her bosom I’ll unclasp my heart, And take her hearing prisoner with the force, And strong encounter of my amorous tale" (lines 267-271). This idea of disguising one character as another in order to either win something over or to fool others is a popular theme in Shakespeare's work. During the ball, Don John decides to make Claudio jealous by falsely accusing Don Pedro of keeping Hero to himself. The funny thing about all of this is that it is easy for the characters to stir up trouble under these masques and without their identity being concealed. Yes, Claudio knows that Don John is talking to him from under the masque, but Don John pretends that he doesn't know that it is Claudio. This makes the statement even more shocking and believable for Claudio.

Not only do characters become disguised but realities to do. Rumors are started as soon as Don Pedro, Claudio, and Benedick discuss the plan of action, and false accusations and stories begin to flourish. Also, towards the end of Act 2, another rumor is in progress as Don John and his servant, Borachio, plan to set up a misleading scene in which Margaret and Borachio have sex, pretending to be Hero and Borachio. The illusion of Hero having sex with Borachio is meant to makes Hero seem like a whore. Through these lies and decieving scenes, Shakespeare creates drama and comedy to entertain his audience and most likely himself.


Maeve Halliday said...

Continuing off the idea of illusion that you addressed in your post, I think it's interesting to consider whether even some of the characters in themselves are illusions of a sort, in that they conduct themselves so thoroughly according to social conventions of the period. I think a large part of Benedick's personality, certainly the way that he speaks, is performative. Benedick, to me, seems very concerned with the way he presents himself and what people think of him; everything he says is witty or a joke, said either to entertain others or elevate himself. The other characters are aware of this aspect of Benedick, and they use this to manipulate him into falling for Beatrice.

Cyrus Mulready said...

I am struck by your final comment on Don John and Borachio's plan, Nicole. It raises an interesting question--what is Shakespeare saying about disguise and theater in this play? Yes, it has the power to make people fall in love (see Beatrice and Benedick) but it also is at the core of the horrible plot against Hero. Going back to Twelfth Night, Viola/Cesario says "Disguise, I see thou art a wickedness." It's interesting to think about the dual possibility of disguise as both central to the comedy but also something "wicked."