Are the characters in Much Ado About Nothing realistic or do they become secondary agents to the intricate plot. Are the characters in Much Ado About Nothing realistic or do the just serve a highly detailed plot? Firstly, the play itself is very precisely constructed. Although it may not be realistic in the sense of portraying ordinary social conditions, it does give us a sense of real life (albeit in a very elegant and privileged setting). The characters are arranged in pairs which contrast and compliment each other.
Claudio and Hero are both quiet and idealistic lovers whereas Benedick and Beatrice are high-spirited and go in for sharp-witted repartee. As in real life, there is a mixture of age, sex, nationality (at least different regions) and social class. The comic characters of Dogberry, Verges and the rest of the watch are presented in a humourous and witty way. They are from a different social group and their attempts at social climbing “disrupt” the general ambiance of the play.
Dogberry in particular lays himself open to ridicule. These characters have an important dramatic function because apart from providing laughs, they manage to uncover the deceptions of Don John and so aid the development of the plot. Although they are stupid and incompetent, they resolve the situation which the other characters cannot. At the interrogation of the offenedrs for example, Dogberry who goes in for malapropisms in a big way says: “Is our whole dissembly appeared? ”
Unknowingly he is speaking the truth as he and his crazy constables are perverting this official assembly. Verges backs him up by saying: “we have the exhibition to examine. “(meaning that they have the commission from Leonato). They make a terrible mess of the interrogation but their bumbling efforts provide some light relief from the situation at Leonato’s house. The character of Don John is an agent of evil. His behaviour is what the Shakespearean audience would probably have expected.
He is a bastard and is guaranteed to disrupt the harmony of the play. Don John is consistently evil. Without Don John the play would be a simple love story. He adds another dimension to the play but his resentment of other characters is believable. He can be classed as a stereotypical villain because of his natural hatred of others. Beatrice is unconventional. As an orphan she is used to fending for herself and speaks her mind freely regardless of the consequences. She jokes and exchanges insults with men in a way which Hero never could.
She herself points out the difference between their two situations and yet despite her sharp tongue (Benedick remarks that he wishes his horse had the speed of her tongue), she is loyal and considerate to her cousin. At the ill-fated marriage of Hero and Claudio, she immediately declares: “O, on my soul, my cousin is belied. ” She later appeals to Benedick to challenge Claudio as she cannot do so herself.. Here she is forced to face up to the limitations of her sex. She is frustrated with her female role in society and begrudgingly accepts that there are certain conventions by which she must abide.
At the beginning of the play Beatrice and Benedick are so hostile towards each other that their relationship almost swamps the main plot. They are both forceful characters and both wear a “mask”. Benedick shuns the idea of marriage and yet when he overhears the conversation between Leonato, Don Pedro and Claudio, he is flattered to think that Beatrice loves him. This knowledge boosts his confidence and very quickly he tells himself that “a man loves the meat in his youth that he cannot endure in his age”.
Likewise when Beatrice overhears the conversation between Hero, Ursula and Margaret she is not slow to admit that she will tame her “wild heart” to his “loving hand”. Hero tends to be passive and reticent. In the first Act she says nothing at all. The contrast between Hero and Beatrice is very striking. Her courtship is formal and played out in public. She is dutiful and unlike her cousin, accepts the limitations of being a woman. She also remains loyal to Claudio even when accused by him of being unfaithful.
Claudio’s lack of faith in Hero is not justifiable if he considers himself to be in love. He is a bit too gullible to be real. He readily believes Don John at the masked ball and to a certain extent it is his foolishness which allows the plot to continue. The fact that much of the play is in prose, emphasises the importance of language in the play – of characters spreading rumours and misinterpreting them. They tend to discuss their own and each other’s natures as they relate to society as a whole but they do not really talk about their inward individual feelings.
We assess the characters from their actions, much as we do in real life. Leonato’s house provides a convincing background for the hospitality and enjoyment, the banqueting and dancing. However, although the setting is “upper class” this is not really an easy-going world. It is challenging and characters strive to outmanoeuvre each other. As in real life they delight in catching each other out. As, after some wordplay, Beatrice says to Benedick, early in the play, “You always end with a Jade’s trick. I know you of old. “