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Much Ado About Nothing: The Importance of Word Choice
The choice of words used by the characters in Act 5, Scene 1, of the play, Much Ado About Nothing, clearly presents the characters emotions and constructs their characters for the audience. In contrast to his confrontation with Claudio and Don Pedro earlier in the scene, where he is reduced to begging them to hear him out ('My lord, my lord!'; Act 5, Scene 1; l. 106 ), Leonato's speeches are marked with a stateliness and self-assurance, as he has been fortified with the knowledge that his righteous indignation is justified. He is stern and dominates the scene, barking orders 'Which is the villain?' (l. 260), 'Bring you these fellows on.' (l. 333), and using the conversation to entrap, as Claudio and Don Pedro did to him during the aborted wedding:
Art thou the slave that with thy breath hast killed
mine innocent child?.
No, not so, villain! Thou beliest thyself.
Here stand a pair of honourable men;
A third is fled, that had a hand in it.
I thank you, princes, for my daughter's death.
His true purpose is manifested to the audience in the way he addresses the prince and Claudio: this time he doesn't bluntly insult them, but uses more subtle language - 'Record [Hero's death] with your high and worthy deeds. 'Twas bravely done, if you bethink you of it.'(l. 270-271) - because he intends to perform one last deception, to get Claudio to marry Hero, so his strategy must be to play on their guilt, not to antagonize them: '.since you could not be my son-in-law, Be yet my nephew. And so dies my revenge' (l. 288-289, 293).
He seems to see himself as the rightful patriarch, restoring order - '.This naughty man Shall face to face be brought to Margaret, Who I believe was packed in all this wrong, Hired to it by your brother.' (l. 298-301) - and his speeches have an air of stateliness and dignity (all are in verse), as well as an air of busyness, exemplified in the orders he gives, lines 280-294:
Possess the people in Messina here
How innocent she died; and if your love
Can labor aught in sad invention,
Hang her an epitaph upon her tomb,
And sing it to her bones, sing it tonight.
Tomorrow morning come you to my house.
The emotion of earlier in the scene seems to have been spent - this meeting can be seen as Leonato's personal revenge, restoring his authority and reputation: his fatherly concern about Hero's reputation is no longer necessary, her name is merely an instrument to shame the princes.
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The brief responses of Claudio and Don Pedro to Leonato's attack share a marked division in structure which gives a strong sense of their emotions. They both appear to be torn between half-acknowledged guilt, and either the self-righteous impulse to defend their honour, or simply the desire to smooth things over and silence Leonato's embarrassing accusations. Claudio begins with the penitent 'I know not how to pray your patience;', but for what seems to be merely the selfish desire of easing his own guilt, follows with 'Yet I must speak'. Again he is full of sorrow and submission: 'Choose your revenge yourself; Impose me to what penance your invention Can lay upon my sin.', but what follows convinces the audience of his complete failure to understand the cruelty of his actions, or even, more sinisterly, his determination not to accept guilt: 'Yet sinned I not But in mistaking' (all l. 272-276) - despite his flood of sorrow upon hearing of the exoneration of 'Sweet Hero' (l. 252), it is clear he has not changed, nor learnt.Don Pedro is quick to agree with his friend - 'By my soul, nor I;' - and follows with a speech which, while submitting himself to punishment: '.I would bend under any weight That he'll enjoin me to.', maintains an air of condescension, and acknowledges no culpability: 'And yet, to satisfy this good old man.' (all l. 276-279).
Claudio's other speech, after Leonato's pronouncement of his punishment, is an emotional and gracious reply, in which he submits, and 'disposes' of himself in marriage:
Oh noble sir!
Your overkindness doth wring tears from me.
I do embrace your offer; and dispose
For henceforth of poor Claudio. (l. 294-296)
But the audience cannot fail to note that he has every reason to be gracious: for his part in the disgrace of Hero he is lightly punished indeed, and after that he is to get everything he ever wanted of Leonato: a bride, who, he is told, is 'almost the copy' of Hero - this echoes his superficiality when he grieves for Hero on lines 252-253 '.thy image doth appear In the rare semblance that I loved it first.' (my emphasis) - and the inheritance of not only Leonato but also his brother.
Borachio, on the other hand, is all remorse. In contrast to Claudio and Don Pedro, he accepts responsibility readily and with no attempt to excuse his actions: 'If you would know your wronger, look on me' (l. 263), 'Yea, even I alone' (l. 265). This is consistent with his earlier response to Don Pedro, although it is difficult to tell whether it is genuine, sparked by the news of Hero's death, or a bid for clemency. In his favour, he speaks out in defense of Margaret and takes all the blame upon himself: '.she. knew not what she did when she spoke to me; But always hath been just and virtuous.' (l. 302-303). In contrast to his speech to Don Pedro, this is in verse, which may indicate integrity.
Dogberry's lines, not privileged with verse, continue the sense of his self-importance and ridiculousness as he triumphs in his apprehension of the culprit: 'Moreover, sir, the offender, did call me ass. I beseech you let it be rememb'red in his punishment.' (l. 305-308). He has almost the most to say, but it is a constant stream of foolish misuse of words, which contrasts sharply with the other speeches.