Much Ado About Nothing - The Importance Of Noting

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Discuss The Importance Of Noting In Much Ado About Nothing

Noting, or observing, is central to many of the ideas in Much Ado About Nothing. The word nothing was pronounced as noting in Elizabethan times, and it seems reasonable to presume that the pun was intended by Shakespeare to signal the importance of observation, spying and eavesdropping in the play. As a plot device, these occurrences propel the action and create humour and tension. The perils of noting incorrectly are portrayed and this leads naturally to the investigation of another major theme, the discrepancy between appearance and reality. Shakespeare uses the problems of illusion, deception and subjectivity of perception to examine the Elizabethan patriarchy, and he shows how adhering to convention can distort the views of society’s leaders.

Plot development and comedy in Much Ado rely heavily on the use of noting. The play appears to have a simple plot; the romantic couple, Claudio and Hero, are denied marital joy by the evil Don John while the sub-plot, Beatrice’s and Benedick’s resisted but growing love, provides us with some humour until order and happiness are re-established in Messina. However, Shakespeare cleverly employs the many forms of noting (observation, misunderstanding, misreporting) to move the dramatic action forward. The main plot and the sub-plots are laced together with this device and, to emphasise the importance of noting, the audience is denied viewing the vital episode where Claudio and Don Pedro witness what they think is Hero’s debauchery – we observe the watch eavesdropping on Borachio recounting the event to Conrade. This eavesdropping reminds us of the orchard scenes where Beatrice and Benedick are tricked into loving each other. They both come closer to a position of self-knowledge and this enables the “merry war” of Beatrice and Benedick to move a step further to its conclusion.

The orchard scenes, along with the scenes involving The Watch, are a major source of humour in the play. Eavesdropping leads to Beatrice’s and Benedick’s most hilarious lines and Dogberry’s continued misunderstandings and malapropisms help soften the tone of the play as they follow the more sinister sections. Dogberry’s insistence on others noting that Conrade called him an ass is especially funny:

“Oh that I had been writ down an ass” (4. 2. 70-71).

The audience enjoys the irony tha...

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...ty. This can also be said for Beatrice (she is an orphan and does not have Hero’s parental pressure). They both eschew the courtly style and behaviour expected of Hero and Claudio and are able to think and act in a freer fashion. Friar Francis, being a cleric, definitely stands outside of society, and the others to note correctly, The Watch, belong to a totally different class. It seems that Shakespeare is suggesting that only those that are not controlled by patriarchal rules and rituals are capable of an undistorted view of life. The inability of the Messina aristocracy to note correctly points to this reading.

Much Ado About Nothing ends with order restored. The masks come off, perhaps to be replaced by the more subtle ones worn every day. It seems unlikely that Claudio’s ability to note correctly will improve but, in Beatrice and Benedick, Shakespeare gives the audience encouragement that self-knowledge and reality will grow in Messina. The importance given to this couple’s superior perception clearly demonstrates that noting is central to this play. The plot relies on it for momentum and humour, and Shakespeare uses it to attack the illusions surrounding patriarchal society.
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