Trial by Combat: Duels in Shakespeare's Plays

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Shakespeare, intending for his plays to be performed as well as published, included the idea of trial by combat in many of his works. During his time, men valued their honor. Based on their friendships and alliances, English men upheld that honor through combat. Because audiences enjoyed the action of one character fighting another, the writer included several duels in his literary works. Shakespeare’s play Much Ado About Nothing reflects the history, philosophy, and offenses marked with a duel; his characters’ conflicts mirror the dueling that was common during the Renaissance in Europe. The art of dueling began when a treaty between France and Spain broke down in 1526. Once the sport spread from Spain and France into England and the rest of Europe, it became a popular form of protection from attackers. Dueling centered around three types: state, judicial, and a duel of honor (Davis). All dealt with military soldiers and men of stature, for women were not considered worthy of facing an enemy. In fact, women were rarely the cause of the private disagreements (Mehaffey). Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing is one of the few duels that were caused by a women “… Thou hast killed my child. If thou kill’st me, boy, thou shalt kill a man” Leonato was trying to make Claudio feel worse by saying that he should kill him in this duel so that he can say he killed a man and a child (Shakespeare 5.1.88-89). Furthermore, the sport was taught in special schools where teachers called “Masters of Arms” trained citizens and actors to develop the proper techniques. In these schools, the men learned that their sword was part of their clothing and defined him as a man (Davis). Claudio in the Elizabethan age went to one of the schools that taught ... ... middle of paper ... ...ies in the Italian Renaissance. (1997). Online. JSTOR. April 8. 2014. ch%3FQuery%3Dduel%2Brenaissance%2Boffense%26amp%3Bprq%3Ddueling%2Bren aissance%26amp%3Bhp%3D25%26amp%3Bacc%3Don%26amp%3Bwc%3Don%26am p%3Bfc%3Doff%26amp%3Bso%3Drel%26amp%3Bracc%3Doff&resultItemClick=true &Search=yes&searchText=duel&searchText=renaissance&searchText=offense&uid=373 9920&uid=2&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21103953477977> Mehaffey, Karen. “Dueling” Dictionary of American History. (2003). Online. Gale Student Resource Center. April 8, 2014. Shakespeare, William. Much Ado About Nothing. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 1995. Print. Wilson, William. "Philosophy of the Duel." Philosophy of the Duel. N.p., 2007. Web. 10 Apr. 2014.

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