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.