Authors of It All: The Villains of Much Ado About Nothing and Othello

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Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing and Othello feature comparably directorial villains in Don John and Iago, respectively. These characters may be the most direct link between two plays with many similarities. In the essay “Illusion and Metamorphosis in Much Ado About Nothing,” Paul and Miriam Mueschke claim, “The similarities between Much Ado and Othello […] are more numerous than are those between any other comedy and tragedy in the entire Shakespeare canon” (Mueschke, 65). That Don John, with his malevolent deceptions, is a sort of proto-Iago is not a novel concept, but Shakespeare’s different treatment of the two characters illustrates the plays’ greater philosophical differences. Both Much Ado and Othello derive their drama from epistemological problems and illusory female unchastity. The directorial Iago and Don John exploit the inherently faulty methods of knowledge that others employ (namely, Claudio and Othello) and their inherent animal natures to achieve their own ends.
Don John’s motivations for his misdeeds are unclear and varied. As a bastard, he feels slighted by and envious of his legitimate brother Don Pedro, who has “ta’en [Don John] newly into his grace” nonetheless (Much Ado 1.3. 22-23). His devious relationship with his brother can thus be seen as a precursor for Edmund and Edgar’s relationship in King Lear. Upon hearing from Borachio that Don Pedro is helping arrange a marriage, Don John wonders, “Will it serve for any model to build mischief on?” (Much Ado 1.3. 40). He seeks to elevate himself from his lowly position through treachery. The events that precede the play are vague, but it seems that Don Pedro, Claudio and Benedick have defeated Don John in war and returned with him to Messina. Don John aim...

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... on evil but on love, music, wit and the like. Yet in the world of Othello, the evil deeds of Iago have left a ruin of grief. The difference between the ultimate worlds of Othello and Much Ado About Nothing seems to be chance.

Works Cited

Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. New York: Riverhead, 1998. Print.
Mueschke, Paul, and Miriam Mueschke. "Illusion and Metamorphosis in Much Ado About Nothing." JSTOR. Folger Shakespeare Library, n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2014. .
Shakespeare, William. Much Ado About Nothing. Ed. Peter Holland. New York: Penguin, 1999. Print.
Shakespeare, William. Othello. Ed. Edward Pechter. New York: W.W. Norton, 2004. Print.
Spivack, Bernard. Shakespeare and the Allegory of Evil: The History of a Metaphor in Relation to His Major Villains. New York: Columbia UP, 1958. Print.
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