Effective Use of the Foil in Much Ado About Nothing
In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, the famous British poet William Blake wrote that "without contraries there is no progression - Attraction and repulsion, reason and imagination, and love and hate are all necessary for human existence" (Blake 122). As Blake noted, the world is full of opposites. But, more importantly, these opposites allow the people of the world to see themselves and their thoughts more clearly. For, as Blake asserts, without attraction, one cannot understand repulsion, and without imagination, one cannot understand reason. In Much Ado About Nothing (MAAN), William Shakespeare uses this idea of the power of opposites to show the differences in two types of love. Using the relationship, language, and actions of Hero and Claudio as a foil against those of Beatrice and Benedick, Shakespeare has painted a world in which the ideas of courtly love only serve to illuminate those of true love.
In an essay on Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, William Kittredge defined the idea of courtly love that is illustrated in MAAN. Kittredge said that courtly love must involve a love that is extremely idealized and superficial, with the vassal or servant-like suitor, who is often a valiant knight, devoting himself completely to an ideal woman who is often the daughter of a powerful man (Kittredge 528-529). When this definition is applied to the relationship between Hero and Claudio in MAAN, one is able to recognize a perfect match. For example, Claudio, a young lord of Florence, is a valiant soldier as is shown in the first scene of the play with the comments made by the Messenger: "[Claudio] hath borne himself beyond the promise of his age, doing in the figure of a lamb the feats of a lion" (Shakespeare 1.1.11-12). He is, from the very beginning of the play, hopelessly in love with Hero, but that love is a relatively superficial thing. This is proven by the fact that he easily believes others comments about her and even goes so far as saying that "she knows the heat of a luxurious bed" and refusing to marry her based solely on false allegations made by other characters.
Hero, just like her suitor, follows the model, at least in the eyes of Claudio, of the perfect ideal woman. Even though Benedick does not like her and thinks that she is "too low..., too brown..., too little..., [and] unhandsome" (Shakespeare 1.1.138-141), Claudio thinks that she is "the sweetest lady that ever [he] looked on" (Shakespeare 1.1.151-152). Throughout the play, Hero is a model of speechless modesty. She has very little to say or do in the play except live up to the expectations of the courtly lover. For example, rather than violently or angrily objecting to the false accusations made against her by Claudio at the alter, she, as would be considered proper for the ideal woman, only swoons, blushes, and blanches.
If Claudio and Hero can be accepted as the perfect...