Each of the main characters in Much Ado About Nothing is the victim of deception, and it is because they are deceived that they act in the ways that they do. Although the central deception is directed against Claudio in an attempt to destroy his relationship with Hero, it is the deceptions involving Beatrice and Benedick which provides the play's dramatic focus.
Nearly every character in the play at some point has to make inferences from what he or she sees, has been told or overhears. Likewise, nearly every character in the play at some point plays a part of consciously pretending to be what they are not. The idea of acting and the illusion it creates is rarely far from the surface - Don Pedro acts to Hero, Don John acts the part of an honest friend, concerned for his brother's and Claudio's honour; Leonato and his family act as if Hero were dead, encouraged to this deception by, of all people, the Friar who feels that deception may be the way to get at truth; and all the main characters in the plot pretend to Benedick and Beatrice so convincingly that they reverse their normal attitudes to each other.
In I.1 Don Pedro offers to play Claudio and win Hero for him. This plan is overheard, and misreported to Antonio. His excited retailing of the false news of Don Pedro's love for Hero to Leonato is, however, not without some caution: the news will be good as 'the event stamps them; but the have a good cover, they show well outward' (I.2.6). Leonato shows a sense here that he could well do with later in the play: 'Hath the fellow any wit that told you this?' . . . 'we will hold it as a dream' . . . 'peradventure this be true'. Admittedly he does not question the 'good sharp ...
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...ne else in the play the power of language to alter reality, and the issues of conscious or unconscious deceit.
It shouldn't be forgotten that in the body of the play those who are masters of a language of extraordinary wit and polish - language that seems to guarantee rationality and good judgement - get things almost completely wrong. The resolution of the play comes via the agency of the people whose discourse is an assault on language, who are dismissed - by Leonato - as 'tedious' when they should be patiently listened to. But, as Borachio says 'what your wisdoms could not discover, these shallow fools have brought to light' (V.1.221-222). And even more disturbing, that resolution comes by mere accident: by the chance overhearing of a conversation.
Shakespeare, William. Much Ado about Nothing. Ed. A.R. Humphreys. New York: Routledge, 1994.
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