Monday, October 1, 2012

Hero?: The irony of a name

Throughout this play I have greatly questioned why Shakespeare named his female character Hero. In the beginning of the play she barely says a word and is portrayed as the docile, beautiful young woman; the model of perfection. Yet how is this heroic?  She does not show any exemplary attributes or plays any significant role until Act 4, and in this she becomes the whore!  In the midst of her condemnation she only speaks out of shock with lines like “O God defend me, how am I beset!”(4.1.76) and she makes a weak denial to her accusers, but only when Claudio asks her a direct question to her whereabouts on the night in question. This lack of a need to defend herself is just as damning as if she just stated that she committed the crime. Through her actions I feel that a more fitting name for her would be that of a famous martyr or a victim of some Greek tragedy that needed to be saved. Even in the sense of a damsel in distress, Hero is lacking. There can be no one to save her since in the eyes of the other characters, there is no way to save her except to kill her off and force this mystery woman on Claudio to marry. None of this is heroic in any light and I continue to wonder the reason Shakespeare named her Hero.
                Shakespeare enjoyed social commentary and making ironic names for his characters. Many times the names foreshadowed what doom might befall this characters later on in the play. In this light the name Hero is the complete opposite to what actually occurs in this character’s life. To say that this is a social comment to the plight of women seems like a bit of a stretch. Hero is the ideal of women during this time and she shows no desire to save anyone or even herself in this false accusation. Beatrice is more proactive in trying to clear her cousin’s name and even makes Benedick promise to kill Claudio for his slander. If anything it is Beatrice that holds the characteristics of a hero, yet she is seen as a prickly, hard hearted woman. In the end, no one is really a hero since it is the Friar’s plan that saves Hero and everyone gets the love match that they desired. Maybe the name Hero is just a coincidence or not something that plays a major role in the play. If that is the case then maybe Shakespeare should have named her Bethany or Maria so that I would not have gotten so stuck on the name Hero and its supposed meaning for this lackluster character.


Brianna said...

Christina, maybe that was part of Shakespeare’s point, you said so yourself that the names of characters are ironic and or foreshadow the doom of what is to come. Clearly Shakespeare didn’t just pick names out of a hat, and he found some significance behind her name, unfortunately we cannot ask him and that makes it even more mind-boggling for many of us because we do get so worked up over different things like this. I think part of the name Hero and the stark differences in her character traits parallel very well with Beatrice. She could be looked at as more of the hero like you said.
I also was curious as to the name origin/ meaning of Hero so when I looked it up on two different sites, the sites said, “In Greek legend, Hero is the tragic lover of Leander.
She was a priestess of Aphrodite who dwelt in a tower in Sestos, at the edge of the Hellespont. Leander, a young man from Abydos on the other side of the strait, fell in love with her and would swim every night across the Hellespont to be with her. One stormy winter night, Leander lost his way, and was drowned. Hero threw herself from the tower in grief and died as well.
The 16th-century British poet Christopher Marlowe wrote a mythological poem after this story, titled "Hero and Leander".”

This could possibly have something to do with the name also, clearly in that brief story, demonstrating the way in which she gave herself up so quickly for love since the loss of her lover. I don’t know I guess you can make something out of that meaning, also, if Marlowe wrote a poem about it in the 1500’s, briefly before Shakespeare wrote his plays couldn’t there be some possible connection between the two? After skimming the poem, I could definitely see some similarities between the poem and Hero’s character as well, if you want to check it out, here is a link to the poem as well.

Samantha Grove said...

I'm sure Shakespeare drew from "Hero and Leander" but as I read your post I started thinking that maybe Hero really is the hero in Shakespeare's eyes. It seems to me that the play is mostly about how deception and perception function to destroy relationships. I may be wrong but isn't Hero the only character who doesn't deceive? Maybe the name Hero also signifies some sort of "purity"? I don't know, but its something to think about.

ssomer said...

I was also wondering about the reason for Hero's name but truthfully, the mystery of it is what makes it so interesting for me. I think there is a reason for everything Shakespeare did, but we will never truly know for sure what those reasons are. For me, that is the beauty of his work. That is why there is so much to examine when reading these plays. I really like the point Sam made about Hero being the hero because she was the only one who doesn't deceive. That really is something to think about and to me it actually makes sense.

Nicole Belladone said...

I also found it to be very interesting that Shakespeare chose the name "Hero" for this character. It does seem pretty ironic, especially because of the weak and feeble portrayal Shakespeare gives us of Hero. But, after reading these other comments I think that Shakespeare was trying to make a point about the good in Hero. She keeps quiet and to herself throughout most of the play, and although this may seem like a weakness, I really think that it can be considered one of here strengths. She does seem to be the only one out of the characters that doesn't decieve anyone else, although she is terribly decieved. She shows her maturity and strength by not getting herself involved in the deception by not stooping down to the level of the deceivers.