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Authors Of It All: The Villains Of Much Ado About Nothing And Othello

2320 words - 10 pages

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 aims to diminish Claudio’s raised position and, in turn, raise his own diminished position, reflecting, “That young start-up hath all the / glory of my overthrow. If I can cross him any way, I / bless myself every way” (Much Ado 1.3. 59-61). In Don John’s eyes, Claudio’s glory rightly belongs to him.
Still, what makes Don John most disturbing, and perhaps flawed as a character, is his apparent lack of any overt external motive and his obviousness as a villain. Shakespeare takes pains to keep Don John’s interior world hidden from the audience, as the villain is not once given the chance to soliloquize. His first line in the play, in response to Leonato’s welcome to Messina, is “I thank you. I am not of many words, but I thank / you” (Much Ado 1.1. 150-151). Don John is also a strangely passive villain; it is Borachio who comes to Don John and instigates the ultimate deception of Claudio. Though he wants revenge on Claudio and Don Pedro, he is largely driven by his villainous nature. Despondent and cynical, he seemingly deceives others into misery as a salve for his own “very melancholy disposition” (Much Ado 2.1. 5). Don John is unable and unwilling to feign happiness or virtue, asserting, “I cannot hide what I am” and “I...

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