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Generally considered one of Shakespeare’s greatest comedy plays, Much Ado About Nothing is ostensibly a play about two couples and the trials of their courtships: Benedick and Beatrice, Claudio and Hero. Within this witty and amusing portrayal of two troubled courtships, Shakespeare explores themes of deception, language, and loyalty and honor.
In the course of these courtships, the theme of deception figures prominently in both cases—in one case leading to clever repartee and an amusing “battle of the sexes,” in the other case leading to a serious accusation, broken trust, and, apparently, death.
As frequently occurs in Shakespeare’s plays, a song provides a statement of an important theme: deception.
Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never:
Then sigh not so, but let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into Hey nonny, nonny
As the play progresses, the audience begins to think that both Beatrice and Hero would have been better off had they heeded the advice of the song and let go of Benedick and Claudio.
Elements of deception in the play include the following:
The word play and witty repartee between Benedick and Beatrice is a highlight of the play. Yet, it is Dogberry, with his mangled language, who acts nobly and solves the problem. The noble characters, with their courtly, clever language, deceive. Dogberry uncovers the truth.
Both couples must deal with conflicts between loyalty and honor. Claudio obviously places his honor above his loyalty to his bride when he is convinced of her infidelity and makes a public spectacle of Hero at their wedding. Benedick is torn between loyalty to his friend Claudio and honoring Beatrice’s request to avenge Hero. The brothers, Don Pedro and Don John, seem to embody loyalty and honor and disloyalty and dishonor.