Much Ado About Nothing

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Love and Masquerade Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Love and Masquerade Theme Icon
Courtship, Wit, and Warfare Theme Icon
Language, Perception and Reality Theme Icon
Marriage, Shame and Freedom Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Much Ado About Nothing, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Love and Masquerade Theme Icon

Love, in Much Ado About Nothing, is always involved with tricks, games and disguises. Every step in romance takes place by way of masquerade. Hero is won for Claudio by Don Pedro in disguise. Benedick and Beatrice are brought together through an elaborate prank. Claudio can be reconciled with Hero only after her faked death. Altogether, these things suggest that love—like a play or masquerade—is a game based on appearances, poses and the manipulation of situations.

Love, in Much Ado, is like chemistry. If you put people together in a certain way, a certain result occurs. Lovers in the play are like masked dancers: the pose and the situation matter more than who the other dancer really is. The lover is a piece in the game, a mask in the crowd, and everyone—no matter who they are—falls victim in the same way. Don Pedro manipulates Benedick and Beatrice like a scientist conducting an experiment, or a playwright setting a scene. The play suggests that love is not love without its masquerade-like sequence of poses and appearances, even if they must be imagined or faked.

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Love and Masquerade ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Love and Masquerade appears in each scene of Much Ado About Nothing. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Love and Masquerade Quotes in Much Ado About Nothing

Below you will find the important quotes in Much Ado About Nothing related to the theme of Love and Masquerade.
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 2, Scene 1 Quotes

“He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man; and he that is more than a youth is not for me; and he that is less than a man, I am not for him.”

Related Characters: Beatrice (speaker)
Related Symbols: Beards
Page Number: 2.1.36-39
Explanation and Analysis:

This scene opens with Antonio, Leonato, Beatrice, and Hero discussing Don John's attitude and comparing him with Benedick. Beatrice jokes that Don John talks too little and Benedick talks too much, saying that a good husband would be somewhere in the middle. After this joke Leonato tells Beatrice to be careful so that she can find a husband, at which point Beatrice says that she's happy that she doesn't have one, especially because she hates beards.

Thus begins a discussion here about beards, in which Leonato suggests Beatrice marry a beard-less man. Her response, given in the quote, is that someone with a beard is more than a youth, and someone with no beard is less than a man (boyish). She doesn't like bearded men, but beardless men are merely boys who cannot handle her. Beards become more and more important in the play as symbols of manliness.

Note also that this discussion has an extra level of irony because, in Shakespearean times, female parts were played by beard-less youths. When a young actor's beard came in, it was an indication that he could begin to play adult male parts instead of boys and women on stage. The original speaker of this line would have been a young man without a beard dressed as a woman.

“Speak low, if you speak love.”

Related Characters: Don Pedro (speaker), Hero
Page Number: 2.1.97
Explanation and Analysis:

After Beatrice tells Hero that courtship is like a dance, the partygoers all arrive wearing masks. Don Pedro, pretending to be Claudio, immediately approaches and begins dancing with her. The two exchange some flirtations, before Don Pedro offers this romantic line: "Speak low, if you speak love." After this line, the pair moves aside and begin to whisper.

Don Pedro's words seem to imply that courtship should be secretive and done in whispers, which is ironic since he is pretending to be Claudio – it's a really secret courtship, with secrets kept even from Hero. However, while there is a romance to the secrecy of courtship, the play will also show how such secrecy can be destructive and leads to jealousy in general, and men's fear of being cuckolded more specifically, that can be particularly dangerous for women. Even in this scene, Claudio worries that Don Pedro is actually wooing Hero for himself. Later, Don John will make it appear that Hero has secretly been seeing other men, which causes Claudio to abandon Hero. So, just to make it clear: here Claudio is part of a scheme in which another man woos Hero for him, but later he immediately condemns Hero for allegedly seeing other men. The "secrecy" of love therefore seems to create a space not just for romance but also for masculine anxiety about love, and perhaps also misogyny toward women. 

“Friendship is constant in all other things
Save in the office and affairs of love:
therefore all hearts in love use their own tongues;
Let every eye negotiate for itself
And trust no agent; for beauty is a witch
Against whose charms faith melteth into blood.”

Related Characters: Claudio (speaker), Don Pedro
Related Symbols: Eyes
Page Number: 2.1.143-178
Explanation and Analysis:

Don John and Borachio have just tricked Claudio into thinking that Don Pedro is in love with Hero and is wooing her for himself. After telling their lie, Borachio and Don John leave Claudio alone on stage; it is then that he offers his response to the false news in the form of a soliloquy.

Claudio says that friendship is constant and can be trusted in all areas except love and courtship. He concludes then that "all hearts in love use their own tongues," meaning he should speak for himself and not send a disguised surrogate to woo for him. He also says "let every eye negotiate for itself / And trust no agent." According to Claudio, love enters through the eyes, which in this play symbolize the senses in general. Thus a lover must trust only his own senses, and never the information and help of others. This notion is slightly ironic, since Claudio comes to this conclusion based on information he got from others who happened to be lying.

Also note how Claudio speaks about beauty as a "witch." There is an implication again that while Claudio loves Hero he is deeply afraid of being in love, and more specifically of being "tricked" into love by feminine beauty.  

Act 2, Scene 3 Quotes

“One woman is fair, yet I am well; another is wise, yet I am well; another virtuous, yet I am well; but till all graces be in one woman, one woman shall not come in my grace.”

Related Characters: Benedick (speaker)
Page Number: 2.3.27-30
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene Benedick soliloquizes in Leonato's garden. Benedick is frustrated that Claudio, whom he considered to be a perennial bachelor like himself, has become a lover and is getting married. Like Beatrice's response to Hero's engagement, in which the former starts to entertain the idea of marriage, Benedick begins to wonder if he will ever change his mind and get married. But like Beatrice, he constructs for himself a scenario in which he'll never find a suitable bride.

Here, he lists different desirable traits in potential wives: "fair," "wise," and"virtuous." Benedick then concludes that until all of these graces is combined in one perfect woman, he will not get married. Whereas earlier he refused to even consider marriage, now, given the social pressure of Claudio getting married, he can consider getting married, but still protects himself by deciding that he could only ever marry an idealized woman. Recall that he even criticized Hero, the woman who inspired Claudio's "perfectest" joy. 

Act 3, Scene 1 Quotes

“…of this matter
Is little Cupid’s crafty arrow made,
That only wounds by hearsay.”

Related Characters: Hero (speaker)
Page Number: 3.1.23-24
Explanation and Analysis:

Most of the characters are now conspiring to get Beatrice and Benedick to fall in love. Here, Hero sends Margaret to get Beatrice and to say that she has overheard Hero and Ursula gossiping. Hero then tells Ursula that they must get Beatrice to overhear them talking about how Benedick "is suck in love with Beatrice." By overhearing this, they hope, Beatrice will then fall in love with Benedick. Hero claims that it is moments of gossip like this one that comprise Cupid's arrows, which "only [wound] by hearsay."

Hero's theory of how love works seems to be generally upheld by the events of the play, as Benedick and Beatrice do end up falling in love, but the theory also applies more generally to information and the way that characters view the world, in this play and in most Shakespearean comedies. Errors, misunderstandings, mistaken identities, gossip, and lies become the substance of reality for comedic characters; confusion abounds until the play concludes and the thick layers of mistakes and untruths are unwoven.

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 3, Scene 3 Quotes

“Seest thou not, I say, what a deformed thief this fashion is? how giddily he turns about all the hot bloods between fourteen and five-and-thirty?”

Related Characters: Borachio (speaker), Conrade
Page Number: 3.3.130-132
Explanation and Analysis:

Conrade and Borachio (two henchman of Don John) are talking about Don John's plan, all the while being overheard by the watchmen. After saying that he received money from Don John for his part in the plan, Borachio begins talking about fashion. In the quote, he describes fashion as a "deformed thief," commenting on how true identities and forms are obscured by the fickle, changing appearances of fashion.

This line of thinking relates to the themes of perception, masquerade, and disguise, which are all explored in the play, but here it functions primarily as a source of comedy. Humorously, a night watchman misunderstands Borachio and believes he is talking about a person, a third thief named Deformed. Because of this misunderstanding, the watchmen arrest Borachio and Conrade who are actually guilty of framing Hero.

Act 4, Scene 1 Quotes

“But mine , and mine I lov'd , and mine I prais'd,
And mine that I was proud on, mine so much
That I myself was to myself not mine,
Valuing of her; why, she— O! she is fallen Into a pit of ink…”

Related Characters: Leonato (speaker), Hero
Page Number: 4.1.144-148
Explanation and Analysis:

Hero has fainted at Claudio's accusation of her infidelity, and after briefly being unconscious as been revived. Leonato seems to be upset that she's still alive, supposing that she had died of shame at the accusations. Here Leonato laments the shame brought to him by his own child. He begins with the fact that she is his with "mine" and slowly builds, repeating mine and adding new modifiers with increasing length: "mine I lov'd, and mine I prais'd, and mine that I was proud on." He concludes the crescendoing list with the stunning assertion that she was so much his daughter that "I myself was to myself not mine," suggesting that he completely lost himself in his role as her father. When he finishes by saying that this daughter, inextricably tied to him, has "fallen into a pit of ink," he is saying that she is tainted, and recalling Dogberry's line "they that touch pitch will be defiled," that now he is tainted and shamed as well.

Note again how quickly, and with how little evidence, men – this time Hero's father – believe that a woman has been unfaithful. Throughout the play there is a current of just how mistrustful men are of women, just how much men fear and believe that women are always on the verge of betraying them sexually (and of course the sense that men have that they should naturally have control over women's sexuality). It really is remarkable that in a play so focused on love, there is this constant sense of men's mistrust and misogyny toward women.

Act 5, Scene 2 Quotes

“I was not born under a rhyming planet.”

Related Characters: Benedick (speaker)
Page Number: 5.2.40-41
Explanation and Analysis:

Benedick speaks this line in a soliloquy after he has sent Margaret to get Beatrice. He sings a little song, attempting to find a way to communicate his feelings to Beatrice, and laments his poor singing ability. Because he wasn't "born under a rhyming planet," meaning he doesn't have any natural ability rhyme or write poetry, he says he can only come up with bad rhymes.

First, Benedick's reference to the planet under which he was born echoes Don John's assertion earlier in the play that he is evil because he was born under the planet Saturn. In each case, these men argue that their natures are determined by the stars; that they couldn't change or learn even if they wanted to. They proclaim, therefore, that their true natures are set no matter the perception of them. 

Meanwhile, Benedick's struggle with writing poetry speaks to the limitations of language brought up by the play, the way that it frustrates and confuses. (Benedick's struggle with rhyming is also ironic, since it is written by Shakespeare, a master poet.) At the same time, Benedick has been engaging in a war of wit and language play with Beatrice for much of the play, so it's not clear that he actually does have limitations with language. Perhaps, instead, he is making excuses for finding it difficult to express his love through language, which would then be another indication that love, like a toothache, is more profound, more of the body, than language can evoke.