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Much Ado About Nothing The Importance Of Noting

1138 words - 5 pages

Discuss The Importance Of Noting In Much Ado About Nothing

Noting, or observing, is central to many of the ideas in Much Ado About Nothing. The word nothing was pronounced as noting in Elizabethan times, and it seems reasonable to presume that the pun was intended by Shakespeare to signal the importance of observation, spying and eavesdropping in the play. As a plot device, these occurrences propel the action and create humour and tension. The perils of noting incorrectly are portrayed and this leads naturally to the investigation of another major theme, the discrepancy between appearance and reality. Shakespeare uses the problems of illusion, deception and subjectivity of perception to examine the Elizabethan patriarchy, and he shows how adhering to convention can distort the views of society’s leaders.

Plot development and comedy in Much Ado rely heavily on the use of noting. The play appears to have a simple plot; the romantic couple, Claudio and Hero, are denied marital joy by the evil Don John while the sub-plot, Beatrice’s and Benedick’s resisted but growing love, provides us with some humour until order and happiness are re-established in Messina. However, Shakespeare cleverly employs the many forms of noting (observation, misunderstanding, misreporting) to move the dramatic action forward. The main plot and the sub-plots are laced together with this device and, to emphasise the importance of noting, the audience is denied viewing the vital episode where Claudio and Don Pedro witness what they think is Hero’s debauchery – we observe the watch eavesdropping on Borachio recounting the event to Conrade. This eavesdropping reminds us of the orchard scenes where Beatrice and Benedick are tricked into loving each other. They both come closer to a position of self-knowledge and this enables the “merry war” of Beatrice and Benedick to move a step further to its conclusion.

The orchard scenes, along with the scenes involving The Watch, are a major source of humour in the play. Eavesdropping leads to Beatrice’s and Benedick’s most hilarious lines and Dogberry’s continued misunderstandings and malapropisms help soften the tone of the play as they follow the more sinister sections. Dogberry’s insistence on others noting that Conrade called him an ass is especially funny:

“Oh that I had been writ down an ass” (4. 2. 70-71).

The audience enjoys the irony that Dogberry has been “writ down an ass” – by Shakespeare himself. The Watch’s inability to reveal what they have correctly noted, however, also adds to the tension of the play. Hero’s shame could have been avoided. Noting is one of the plays main preoccupations, and making observation integral to the plot demonstrates and emphasises its importance.

Because noting/observing has such importance in Messina (and, by implication, Elizabethan society), manipulation and deception are used by the dark forces in the play to exercise power and control. Don John is a stock Elizabethan villain whose...

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