Sunday, September 23, 2012

War and Masculinity: A Look into Claudio's Character

In Act I of Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare shows the sense of honor associated with war and victory. The men in the play are returners of war, and have therefore proved themselves as honorable men in their society.  In the beginning of the play Leonota says, "A victory is twice itself when the achiever brings home full numbers." Victory is therefore sweetest when a side can mantain themselves in battle and return to their prior state of living. The messenger claims that Cladio "hath borne himself beyong the prom-/ ise of his age, doing in the figure of a lamb the feats of a lion./ He hath indeed better bettered expectation than you must/ expect of me to tell you how" (Lines 10-14).Here, Claudio is mentioned as being amongse the honourable men who have exceeded the expectations of their age and experience. He is therefore viewed as a sort of war hero. I found Claudio's wartime success as a bit ironic due to his lack of common sense in his everyday life, and his infatuation with a woman by the name of "Hero".  

After returning from the brutality and violence of war, Claudio was very quick to fall for Hero. Claudio is therefore characterized as the type of man that seeks both thrill and risk in life. Claudio says, "O my lord,/ When you went onward on this ended action/ I looked upon her with a soldier's eye,/ That liked, but had a rougher task in hand/ Thank to drive liking to the name of love./ But now I am returned, and that war-thoughts/ Have left their places vacant, in their rooms/ Come thronging soft and delicate desires,/ All prompting me how fair young Hero is,/ Saying I liked her ere I went to wars"(1.1.243-251). In these lines, we see that Claudio's infatuation with Hero comes to replace his former dedication to the war effort. His longing desire for Hero is therefore compared to his lust for action and victory. We can then conclude that Claudio sees Hero as a challenge, or a war battle, that he wishes to conquer.

While Claudio may have proved himself in combat, he fails to show proper technique and judgment in dealing with everyday issues. For example, Claudio is extremely outward about his feelings for Hero. In battle, one would normally aim to conceal their plan from any potentional enemies.  Instead of being cautious and secretive in his discussion with Benedick, Claudio foolishly allows Antonio's servant and Don John's follower, Borachio to overhear the conversation. Claudio therefore proves himself as a poor soldier in the field of love. In 1.1., we see that Claudio is very feminized in his outward expression of his feelings for Hero. While masculinity and strength made him successful in wartime, his more feminine side has become his downfall in everyday life. "Delicate desires" have come to replace the rugged "soldier's eyes", and have transformed Claudio into a vulnerable human being.


Jacey Lawler said...

I enjoyed reading your post regarding the fascinating character that is Claudio. He does not appear the “hero” and masculine man we hear of from the Messenger. His common sense and ability to “conceal” his plans regarding his love are quite absent so far in the play. I just cannot help wondering that perhaps Shakespeare is showing the audience how powerful of a force love can be by turning a warrior into a nervous, awe-struck man. The contrasts you make between how the military Claudio should act and how the smitten Claudio acts were reminiscent of Benedick’s speech where he compares the two personalities of his friend (2.3.8-21). You included comparisons that Benedick’s speech did not contain, which was cool to see!

Maeve Halliday said...

I think that the first line you quoted ("A victory...") is important to temper with the preceding line which states that they did not come home from the war with full numbers, but only that there were no men they lost that were "of name" (I.i.6). This tells the reader that there is a definite class hierarchy within the play, and that the Leonato and most of the principle characters are of the upper class.

I think this is relevant to considerations of Claudio because his class would presumably affect what rank he held within the military which would in turn affect how much real action he saw within the war. I sort of wonder if Claudio played more the role of an officer within the military rather than a soildier on the front lines. If this was the case, Claudio's character being a less-compelling romantic lead would make more sense to me, and might almost be a satirical sort of commentary on the conventions of the leading man within drama.