Classical Imagery in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing
The romance of history has lured many of the world's greatest authors to search for their subject matter in the pages of time. William Shakespeare serves as a unfailing embodiment of the emotion of days past; yet he also turned to those before him. The comedy Much Ado About Nothing is a poignant love story, riddled with stunning imagery and allusion. An examination of the development of certain characters, the imagery and allusion, diction, and structure illustrate that the author wrote in a style heavily influenced by the classical movement of Ancient Greece and Rome. The classical thread strengthens the tapestry which is Much Ado About Nothing.
The play is staged in the rural district of Messina in Italy. Messina appears as a small village which has awakened with the arrival of the forces of Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon. Accompanying the charming nobleman are Benedick, a lord native to Padua and Lord Claudio of Florence. Shakespeare immediately establishes an atmosphere of rejoicing as a messenger breathlessly announces the triumph of Don Pedro over his bastard brother Don John and his subsequent journey to Messina. As the story unfolds, it becomes evident that these men are not strangers to the hospitality of Lenato, the Governor of Messina, and his daughter Hero and niece, Beatrice. Through a series of revels and conversations, the plot is revealed.
The undercurrent of romance is introduced as the men arrive and the audience learns that Claudio is smitten with the lovely Hero. Serving as almost foils for the two young lovers are Beatrice and Benedick, who engage in a battle of wit to disguise their true feelings. Through the tragic plotting of Don John, Claudio and Hero are torn apart and it is this which ultimately allows Benedick and Beatrice to affirm their love for each other. Claudio believes that Hero has betrayed him and scoffs at their wedding vows. A horrified Hero sinks to the earth in a faint so deep it convinces everyone that she has died of the heartbreak. This sinister plot is unravelled through the bumbling of the Constable Dogberry--in the capacity of the Shakespearean fool. At the conclusion of the play, Hero is restored to her soulmate Claudio and Benedick and Beatrice quite nonchalantly take each other in marriage. The plot is rather convoluted, yet it serves as the perfect vehicle for Shakespeare's distinct style.
Much Ado About Nothing is unique due to its obviously classical sources. The play was written in 1598 during the reign of Elizabeth I of England. The following statement certainly rings true of William Shakespeare:
English authors in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries made extensive use of classical mythology, in drama and narrative poems, as ornaments in lyric poetry, and by means of mythological allusion in prose and verse works.1
The mythology of Ancient Greece and Rome appears in the characterization, imagery, allusion, and theme...