Monday, October 1, 2012

When it comes to Shakespeare, nothing is unworthy of noting.

Without a doubt, many readers of Much Ado About Nothing’s Act IV, scene i would “note” that it contains far more tragic elements than what would be expected from a comedic play. Indeed, the scene featuring Claudio’s public rejection of Hero at the altar is quite a shocking moment in the production, however essential it is to the plot’s development. Despite its negative tone, however, this scene brings forth a passage containing some of Shakespeare’s most brilliant wordplay. Shakespeare uses the irony of Hero’s name as the basis of several clever insults, all playing on the definition of “hero” and the common conceptions of the word. I’d like to examine this short passage to highlight the fact that, even within only twenty-five lines, Shakespeare is able to intersperse many nuance details in his writing.
The witty play on words begins in line 76:
Hero: O God defend me, how am I beset!
What kind of catechizing call you this?
Claudio: To make you answer truly to your name.
Here, Claudio is demanding that Hero answer to him who she really is. At first take, the line seems merely a rhetorical question for dramatic emphasis, but when taken figuratively, Claudio really wants Hero to answer true to heroic virtues. He implies that if Hero is her name, then a “hero” should answer him, that is, one who possesses the attributes of nobleness and honesty.
Hero, the character, then replies, “Is it not Hero? Who can blot that name / With any just reproach?” In other words, who can tarnish the reputation of a hero with such an accusation? Claudio is quick to reply, “Marry, that can Hero. / Hero itself can blot out Hero’s virtue,” another play on the name (IV.i.80–81). Claudio asserts that Hero “blotted” out the virtue of a true hero by committing her alleged misdeed. A little later, in lines 98–100, Claudio exclaims, “O Hero! What a Hero hadst thou been / If half thy outward graces had been placed / About thy thoughts and counsels of thy heart!” Here is an obvious play on “hero,” for Claudio is explaining that, if Hero was as pure and beautiful inside as she was outwardly, she would fulfill the definition of a true hero’s qualities.
            I found examining this scene important, for it is a prime example of the beauty of Shakespeare’s writing, and it also highlights the necessity to pay close attention to every little nuance of his writing. Prior to taking this class with Dr. Mulready, I never knew this particular play’s title to have anything to do with “noting”; now, I understand the importance of appreciating minute details even more than ever, in this one and all of Shakespeare's plays.

When it comes to Shakespeare, nothing is unworthy of noting.


Barbara Gallagher said...

Thomas, I really enjoyed your post. I was curious about the name "Hero" as well but did not explore it and much appreciated your ability to do so so thoroughly. As you say, "Claudio really wants Hero to answer true to heroic values," and yet he does not give her the ability to defend herself by the name of hero or otherwise. It is also interesting to note that, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, "hero" is a word meaning "A man distinguished by extraordinary valour and martial achievements; one who does brave or noble deeds; an illustrious warrior." This is not, therefore, a word used for a woman since it specifically identifies the word as being attached to a man. "Hero" is also noted as meaning "A man who exhibits extraordinary bravery, firmness, fortitude, or greatness of soul, in any course of action, or in connection with any pursuit, work, or enterprise; a man admired and venerated for his achievements and noble qualities." These seem to be remarkable qualities in a wife, never mind a man, yet Claudio seems to expect it of his fiance even by half. You are right. When reading Shakespeare, it is important to pay attention to nuance, to read and re-read, and "nothing is unworthy of noting." This was my first time reading this play and, as usual, the plot seems almost unbelievable but the wordplay, humor, and combination of comedy and tragedy was a true representation of life at the time. The brutality of life was such that one had to laugh in order to get through it with some pleasure.

Clifford Venho said...

Thomas, a very intriguing look into the nature of the name Hero and how it plays out in the comedy. As we talked about in class, there is also an element of irony in that name Hero, not only because it’s bearer is a woman but also because Hero is far from exhibiting "extraordinary bravery... or greatness of soul." In fact she seems the most submissive of all the characters, and the least capable of defending herself as a fully developed personality. The name also resonates with her role as the hero of the hero narrative who passes through death and is reborn, which is not only a Christian narrative--the story of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection in the spirit--but one common to many world mythologies. In a sense, the flatness of her character makes me want to read this play as a kind of disguised myth. Of course the elements of myth that enter into the drama remain somewhat under the surface because of the nature of this theatrical mode, which unfolds in the dynamic relationships between well-rounded characters. But this play doesn't achieve the same wholeness in that respect as a play like Macbeth or Othello, where the dramatic energy lives in the astoundingly rich and complex personalities of its characters. Here the drama is to a large extent invested in Hero’s symbolic journey through the underworld as a path of purification. Anyway, I enjoyed your insights into the wordplay around Hero. Thanks for sharing.

Jillian Landau said...

Shakespeare was very brilliant in using Hero to represent a character who is truly quite the anti-hero. His wordplay is so carefully constructed that if you’re not looking for it, you’ll miss it. I appreciate your point that everything Shakespeare writes is worth “noting,” especially when it comes to the Hero, her name, and her character. After our discussion on Tuesday, I think the same can be said about the lines that come from the watchmen. Though they often fumble with their words, their missteps often allude to an underlying meaning that is representative of the whole play. I was particularly taken by the importance of Dogberry’s misuse of the word “redemption” in Act IV. While he meant damnation in regards to Borachio’s actions, the word “redemption” connects to Hero’s crimes being found to be a lie, and also mirrors the religious undertones of the play. Taking a closer look at Shakespeare’s clever use of words to represent meaning gives the play a whole new perspective, and like you said, makes you appreciate the finer details.