Much Ado About Nothing

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Don John Character Analysis

The bastard brother of Don Pedro, and the antagonist of the play. When the play begins, Don John has just been defeated by his brother in battle while trying to usurp him. Out of desire for revenge and a general bad attitude, Don John schemes to destroy the marriage of Hero and Claudio. He almost succeeds, but his treachery is confessed by his minions Conrade and Borachio, who have been arrested and interrogated by Dogberry and the watch. By the end of the play, he has been captured while trying to escape from Messina.

Don John Quotes in Much Ado About Nothing

The Much Ado About Nothing quotes below are all either spoken by Don John or refer to Don John. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Love and Masquerade Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Simon & Schuster edition of Much Ado About Nothing published in 1995.
Act 1, Scene 3 Quotes

“I cannot be said to be a flattering honest man, it must not be denied but I am a plain-dealing villain.”

Related Characters: Don John (speaker)
Page Number: 1.3.28-30
Explanation and Analysis:

This scene begins, like many Shakespearean scenes, with one character asking another why he is so sad. Conrade asks Don John why he is so melancholy, to which Don John first responds with the astrological response that he is born under Saturn and cannot hide what he really is, and then with this quote.

In the quote, Don John states his belief that he cannot hide, much less change, his true interior, and that he is a villain. The quote turns out to be true, as Don John goes on to act villainously for no good reason through the rest of the play. 

Don John would rather be himself and be hated than act falsely and pretend to be happy or kind. Thus he deems himself a "plain-dealing villain" in great contrast to the whimsical, love-struck characters who are constantly pretending and playing tricks. Soon after this proclamation Don John learns about his brother Don Pedro's plan with Claudio to woo Hero in disguise; Don John immediately decides to attempt to mess up his brother's plan and prevent the courtship of Hero. He does this not out of desire to court Hero himself. Instead, he just wants to make everyone else as unhappy as he is.

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Act 3, Scene 2 Quotes

“Even she: Leonato’s Hero, your Hero, every man’s Hero.”

Related Characters: Don John (speaker), Claudio
Related Symbols: Eyes
Page Number: 3.2.99-100
Explanation and Analysis:

Having failed to stop the courtship and engagement between Claudio and Hero, Don John now seeks to stop their impending marriage. To do so, he plans to put together a fake scene of Hero and a lover in the window to convince Claudio that his fiancee is being unfaithful. When Don John says that she has been disloyal, Claudio clarifies with, "who, Hero?" to which Don John responds with the quote, "Even she."

The end of the sentence is devastatingly simple: "Leonato's Hero, your Hero, every man's Hero." By mentioning Leonato, Don John makes the claim specific to Hero herself, by mentioning Claudio he makes the claim personal to Claudio, and with "every man's Hero" he delivers the harsh accusation that many men have been with her. Claudio and Don Pedro remain unconvinced, but decide to shame Hero together if they find out that the claims are true.

The simplicity of Don John's speech is well aligned with his tactics. While other characters (like Hero herself) stage false conversations to be overheard, Don John stages a false image to be seen. His deception relies on the eyes instead of ears; he insists that they witness visually. This insistence might be loosely related to Othello's demand for "ocular proof" when he believes his wife is unfaithful in Othello. Perhaps love can be generated by one sense alone, either sight or hearing (or overhearing exactly what someone wants to you hear), but infidelity and heartbreak need to be verified with proof – the senses must be checked against one another. 

Meanwhile, note how quickly Don Pedro and Claudio decide to shame Hero if they think she has been unfaithful. Love in the play turns quickly to misogynistic rage, again suggesting just how anxious men are with the idea of love, language, and fear of their wive's possible infidelity.

It is also worth noting that the word "Nothing" was also used in Shakespearean times to refer to a woman's sexual parts. And so the title of the play refers to the fact that the plot of the play involves much ado about sex, about virginity, and about all the misunderstandings ("nothings") about such "nothings."

Act 4, Scene 1 Quotes

“There is not chastity enough in language
Without offence to utter them.”

Related Characters: Don John (speaker)
Page Number: 4.1.102-103
Explanation and Analysis:

Don John and Don Pedro are supporting Claudio's claims, since they all witnessed the evidence of Hero's infidelity together (though of course this was by Don John's design). When Don Pedro begins recounting what they saw and heard, Don John interrupts and tells him not to speak of it, since there "is not chastity enough in language" to say out loud what he knows.

By saying this, Don John at once suggests that Hero's crimes are too horrible to be uttered, and prevents Don Pedro from revealing the fabricated details which might be easily shot down by Hero or her family. As we know, Don John's tactics are more rooted in theatricality, performance, and sight than in language. Part of his act is what he doesn't say, and what he prevents others from saying. We also know from watching (or reading) the play that language is not chaste, since it is constantly being used for puns, innuendos, and misdirection, even in the play's title.

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Don John Character Timeline in Much Ado About Nothing

The timeline below shows where the character Don John appears in Much Ado About Nothing. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, Scene 1
Love and Masquerade Theme Icon
Courtship, Wit, and Warfare Theme Icon
Marriage, Shame and Freedom Theme Icon
Don Pedro, Don John, Balthazar, Claudio and Benedick arrive at the house. Don Pedro apologetically jokes that Leonato is... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 3
Courtship, Wit, and Warfare Theme Icon
The melancholy Don John has a conversation with his follower, Conrade. Conrade asks why Don John is acting so... (full context)
Love and Masquerade Theme Icon
Courtship, Wit, and Warfare Theme Icon
Marriage, Shame and Freedom Theme Icon
Another of Don John’s followers, Borachio, arrives to give him some news. While eavesdropping from behind an arras (a... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 1
Love and Masquerade Theme Icon
Courtship, Wit, and Warfare Theme Icon
Marriage, Shame and Freedom Theme Icon
Antonio, Leonato, Beatrice and Hero discuss Don John’s bad attitude, comparing him with Benedick. Beatrice says that Don John talks too little, while... (full context)
Love and Masquerade Theme Icon
Courtship, Wit, and Warfare Theme Icon
Marriage, Shame and Freedom Theme Icon
...that he hasn’t “boarded [her],” (come to argue with her). (2.1.143) Benedick leaves. Meanwhile, Don John and Borachio, attempting to cause mischief, approach Claudio and pretend to mistake him for Benedick.... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 2
Love and Masquerade Theme Icon
Courtship, Wit, and Warfare Theme Icon
Language, Perception and Reality Theme Icon
Marriage, Shame and Freedom Theme Icon
Don John has heard that Claudio and Hero are going to be married. Borachio proposes a plan... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 2
Love and Masquerade Theme Icon
Courtship, Wit, and Warfare Theme Icon
Language, Perception and Reality Theme Icon
Marriage, Shame and Freedom Theme Icon
Don John comes to tell Claudio and Don Pedro that Hero has been disloyal and is, in... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 3
Courtship, Wit, and Warfare Theme Icon
Language, Perception and Reality Theme Icon
...Borachio speaking as they shelter under a roof from the rain. Borachio brags that Don John has given him a thousand ducats for convincing Claudio and Don Pedro of Hero’s betrayal.... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 5
Language, Perception and Reality Theme Icon
...on the day of the wedding, intending to warn him about the treachery of Don John and Borachio. Dogberry wastes time trying to make himself look better in front of Leonato.... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 1
Love and Masquerade Theme Icon
Courtship, Wit, and Warfare Theme Icon
Marriage, Shame and Freedom Theme Icon
...“are our eyes our own?” (4.1.71) meaning that everything he’s said is obviously true. Don John and Don Pedro speak up in support of Claudio. Finally, Claudio accuses Hero directly. When... (full context)
Language, Perception and Reality Theme Icon
Marriage, Shame and Freedom Theme Icon
...guilt. Hero herself denies what has been said about her, and Benedick suggests that Don John might have something to do with what has happened. (full context)
Act 5, Scene 1
Language, Perception and Reality Theme Icon
...Antonio calls this opinion childish, and advises him to get back at Don Pedro, Don John and Claudio instead. Leonato agrees, admitting he has come to believe his daughter was lied... (full context)
Courtship, Wit, and Warfare Theme Icon
Marriage, Shame and Freedom Theme Icon
...to meet “Lord Lackbeard,” (5.1.192) later in combat. As he goes, he mentions that Don John has fled from the city, suggesting that running away probably means he is guilty of... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 2
Courtship, Wit, and Warfare Theme Icon
Marriage, Shame and Freedom Theme Icon
...In the middle of this, Ursula arrives and tells them the good news: that Don John’s tricks have been uncovered, and Hero’s name cleared. (full context)
Act 5, Scene 4
Love and Masquerade Theme Icon
Language, Perception and Reality Theme Icon
Marriage, Shame and Freedom Theme Icon
...Pedro. Everyone is happy that the slanders against Hero have been discredited, and that Don John has fled from Messina. Benedick takes the opportunity to ask Leonato if he can marry... (full context)