12 May 2014
Noting Deviance from General Stock Characters in Much Ado
Most of the characters in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing have clear cut goals and motivations. Beatrice and Benedick, who are influenced by their stubbornness, trying to go against what other people think or want for them, trying to control their own life, and Claudio controlled by impulsiveness, who doesn’t think about his actions before he commits to them. These are a few examples of character motivations. However, there are also characters in the play who are considerably harder to understand. They may seem like stock characters at first glance. Don John, the evil villain, who wants nothing but to wreak havoc and cause terror in all good people. And Leonato, the father, who deeply loves his daughter and would do anything to protect her reputation. Although these stock traits may distinguish the characters to a certain extent, there is much more going on underneath the surface, in Don John and Leonato’s thoughts and actions.
Don John, the prince’s illegitimate brother, is a character who at first glance seems like a stock character, with little, to no depth. However, if one looks closely, one can see that Don John is deeper than originally noted. Don John is the antagonist of the story, constantly trying to thwart the prince’s plans. The best information about Don John and his backstory can be found in Act 1 Scene 3, where Conrade and Don John are discussing why Don John feels down. Conrade states that just recently, Don John had revolted against the prince, and that the prince had only recently accepted him again (Shakespeare 1.3.18-24). Don John states that he has a deadly disease (28) and that “I cannot hide / what I am” (1.3.12-13). This implies that Don John believes that the condition that he has is incurable. But what is this deadly disease? This refers to one of three things, his illegitimacy, him being antisocial or his villainy. We can rule out his illegitimacy and his quiet demeanor, as Don John goes on to state that he is a “plain-dealing villain” (1.3.30). And that he cares not of other people, that he will do as he pleases. This implies that the prince’s half-brother feels that his villainy, the deadly disease, is incurable, that it is part of who he is. This idea that he is forever evil could have easily been cultivated in his mind, due to the fact he is illegitimate. When Shakespeare wrote the play, bastardism was looked down on because of the promiscuity of the individuals involved, thus many bastards were considered less than others. As the text would imply, Don John was not as favored as his brother, since he is the one revolting against the prince. This, again, gives us a glimpse of what might be happening within Don John's psyche. He could have been looked down on and not given as many opportunities, due the action that birthed him. These actions could have lead to pent-up anger against his brother, who...