Monday, October 1, 2012

A True Comedy?

Sam Montagna
Professor Mulready
Shakespeare I
1 October 2012
A True Comedy?

             When I finished this play, I had one question. Can Much Ado About Nothing be considered a true comedy? The play follows the structure of a comedy, with resolution and marriage. However, something feels off about Claudio and Hero's marriage. I do not think they had a proper resolution which is unfortunate because they definitely needed one since their relationship has been rocky and one-sided. I use the phrase “one-sided” because Hero never really mattered in this relationship or even in the play. In a marriage, men and women are supposed to be together and, for the most part, equal. Hero's word in this play does not matter to anyone except Beatrice and Friar. When Claudio accuses her of cheating, even her father does not believe her. Leonato takes Claudio's word over his daughter and even believes she is beyond forgiveness. After Leonato wishes Hero would die because of this accusation, he states “ O she is fallen/ into a pit of ink, that the wide sea/ hath drops too few to wash her clean again,/ and salt too little which may season give/ to her foul tainted flesh” (1452.138-142). Hero claims her innocence on her life, “Prove you that any man with me conversed/ at hours unmeet, or that I yesternight/ maintained the change of words with any creature,/ refuse me, hate me, torture me to death” (1453.180-183). Her father still doubts his own daughter's innocence, “I know not. If they speak but truth of her/ these hands shall tear her” (1453.189-190). To redeem his daughter's reputation, Leonato comes up with a plan to fake his daughter's death, blame Claudio and his slander and then Claudio will have to pity Hero. Leonato wants to “change slander to remorse” (1454.210). If his plan fails, then Hero will be sent away, “as best befits her wounded reputation/ in some reclusive and religious life/ out of all eyes, tongues, minds and injuries” (1454.240-242).
            Claudio's accusation totally ruins Hero and any role she did play in their marriage. Even though she is innocent, the slander holds more water than the truth and Hero's word. Claudio does not even care that Hero, the woman he claimed he was in love with and was about to marry, is dead until the truth is revealed. After Claudio finds out he was wrong, he is willing to do whatever it takes to make the situation better. At this time, Leonato should have revealed that Hero is still alive. Claudio and Hero would have rejoiced and gotten married as planned. Instead, Leonato turns Hero into a fake cousin for Claudio to marry. Hero, as the fake cousin, and Claudio marry but Hero's likeness and spirit are gone and replaced with a lie. Hero's fake death leads to the actual death of her name and likeness. How long can that lie be held up? Hero will have to forever lie about who she is in order to protect her marriage. If the truth is ever revealed, will Claudio and Hero's marriage be able to withstand it? There is death and a potential for no creation at the end of this play which makes me question its validity as a comedy. Hero's loss of self makes me believe that this play is not exactly a comedy. It's a bittersweet comedy, at most.


Brianna said...

I agree with you in the sense that Leonato was wrong in not telling Claudio or anyone else that Hero was still alive after the accusations against Hero were false. Then again, back then all people wanted to do were support their name, keep their status etc, and by telling confessing he lied, wouldn’t Leonato look bad himself?
From my reading, I thought after the unmasking of Hero allowed everyone see that Hero was in fact alive and that his unmasking was more of a spiritual “rebirth” of her. Hero says “One Hero died defiled, but I do live…” implying that there were more than one part to her whole being (V.IV.63) Even Leonato says that Hero was dead when her slander existed simply because a woman who was not “faithful” and remained virgin was considered nothing in society, therefore although she may not physically have been dead she did have a death of some sort in society.
As for the idea of comedy, I agree that it is a “bittersweet comedy” but the situations did work themselves out if you see that Claudio recognizes that Hero is not really dead. The end has the marriages that comedy calls for and Don John will eventually get his punishment, so there is justice for all. Isn’t that what the comedy requires?

Cyrus Mulready said...

You nicely show, Sam, that *Much Ado* bends our expectations about tragedy and comedy. And I think you raise an important point in your statements of disbelief at Leonato's actions--Shakespeare really draws out the potential tragedy of the play. We might argue that this heightens the reversal (the "turning" back to comedy)--but what do you think? Does this undermine our sense of the play as comedy?