Monday, October 1, 2012

Leonato's Speech- Passion and Repetition

                The use of language in any Shakespearean drama is a fascinating aspect to study.  In the comedy, Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare has filled the culminating acts with impassioned speech and interesting language patterns and structures.  Particularly strong is Shakespeare’s repetition of particular words in act four, which is filled with high emotions and action.  The act contains the climactic scene in which Claudio questions Hero’s chastity and worthiness.  Being pure was an important topic in Elizabethan England and something Shakespeare writes about with passionate language, reflecting the seriousness of the topic.  Leonato, as Hero’s father, would have shared a significant amount of scorn and shame because his daughter was accused of being unchaste.  His speech is what I am most interested in during this portion of the text.
                After a verbally accosted and morally accused Hero falls, Leonato wishes her to “not live… do not ope thine eyes,” because of shame (4.1.122).  Enraged, he speaks with fierce words that culminate in the understanding that he would be better off if Hero were never born.  The pain he experiences at these claims made against his daughter makes him state that he desires the disgrace to be foreign and something he could cast off on someone else.  He is tortured that he now has dishonor to bear: “But mine, and mine I loved, and mine I praised,/ And mine that I was proud on, mine so much/ That I myself was to myself not mine,/ Valuing of her” (4.1.135-8).  Shakespeare uses the word “mine” six times in three lines.  This often spoken word is significant on many levels and is not to be ignored.  When one says “my” or “mine” it signifies ownership, or that something is in close relation to the speaker.  With “mine,” Leonato emphasizes his relationship with, or even ownership over, Hero.  As seen often in Shakespeare’s plays, like A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Egeus and Hermia, the father must be respected by the daughter and viewed as highly as a sort of creator and king.  As his “subject,” Leonato understands how poorly Hero’s impurity will reflect on him.  He does not wish to be associated with her, let alone call her “mine.”  “Mine” may even represent the sorrow at what he has undergone.  As the events become reality to Leonato, he feels the need to repeat the word, almost as a way to convince himself they are occurring.  Leonato evens states after Claudio’s accusation has been made “Are these things spoken, or do I but dream?” (4.1.64). Repeating a word not only lends rhythm and a unique sound when spoken, but it may show Leonato wrestling with what has been presented to him.
                After listening to the Friar’s claim that he believes Hero innocent, Leonato gives an impassioned speech revealing his anger and might.  If Hero is guilty, he will kill or “tear her” and if the men are lying he will fight them (4.1.190).  Leonato goes on to reveal his state and condition with: “Time hath not yet so dried this blood of mine,/ Nor age so eat up my invention,/ Nor fortune made such havoc of my means,/ Nor my bad life reft me so much of friends…”(4.1.192-5).  Here, Shakespeare repeats the word “nor” three times in three lines.  The repetition signals to the reader that Leonato is severely angered and ready to fight.  He has not succumbed to age, financial troubles, lack of friends, or even time itself.  He has everything on his side to defeat those that have put him and his daughter in this circumstance.  Most performers reciting these lines would place weight on the word “nor” because it emphasizes that Leonato is not weak.  The sound of words repeated can draw the audience further in by hypnotic resonance.    Interestingly, Shakespeare places the word “mine” in line 192, which harks back to the previous emotional language earlier in the scene.  Leonato attempts to feel in control of an extreme situation.  Shakespeare makes his character go through his resources verbally to announce to the audience how prepared his character is, and how he is taking control.  This speech could be considered Leonato’s battle cry of act four.  Shakespeare’s utilization of repetition makes for great drama and provides the audience with audible cues of the tension Leonato feels at the devaluing of his Hero. 


Vanessa said...

I found it very interesting that you noted Leonato's excessive use of the word "mine," and his tendency to be possessive of Hero. While the public shame has been cast upon Hero, Leonato appears to be very self-centered, and worried about how this will reflect on him. He therefore feels responsible for her actions, and considers "his daughter" a very important part of his image. Hero living with the public shame is not the focus of this passage. Instead, the focus is Leonato fear of dishonor. While this should be a moment where Leonato strives to comfort his daughter, he is all "me, me, me." Public image is therefore shown as being more important than family relationships.

Barbara Gallagher said...

After reading your posting, I could not help but be reminded that part of the anger that Leonato exhibits is due to the fact that she was seen with "a ruffian" and not a nobleman. If she had been seen with King Henry VIII, for instance, and she subsequently went on to have a male child, he would have made that child noble and given him and the mother's family much power and land. As we all know, every wife from Anne Boleyn on, gave the family including the fathers much more power, fortune, and land. The shame seems to lie not in the sexual impurity but in the choice of lover. A female child was only used as a pawn to making a good marriage with a man of means or noble birth. It was indeed a "battle cry" for Leonato because it would also indicate that his ability as a careful custodian of his daughter's chastity would shame him as well as her. To imagine death being the answer to such shame seems unimaginable and yet even today women commit suicide rather than be known as a teenage unmarried mother.

Cyrus Mulready said...

What a careful reading of the text you present here, Jacey! You have definitely clued us in to something with the language of "mine" and possession in this scene. Liz Schiavo, below, notes the importance of Leonato in this scene, and your post does a good job of demonstrating, at the level of language, just how "possessed" Leonato is in this moment.