Much Ado About Nothing

by

William Shakespeare

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Much Ado About Nothing: Dramatic Irony 5 key examples

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Definition of Dramatic Irony
Dramatic irony is a plot device often used in theater, literature, film, and television to highlight the difference between a character's understanding of a given situation, and that of the... read full definition
Dramatic irony is a plot device often used in theater, literature, film, and television to highlight the difference between a character's understanding of a given... read full definition
Dramatic irony is a plot device often used in theater, literature, film, and television to highlight the difference between a... read full definition
Act 1, Scene 1
Explanation and Analysis:

The ultimate example of situational irony in the play is the marriage of Beatrice and Benedick. It is deeply ironic that the two characters who most vocally oppose marriage end up not only married, but married to each other. This use of situational irony contributes to the comic tone of the play and foregrounds the unpredictable nature of love. 

Both Beatrice and Benedick express their contempt for marriage at the beginning of the play. Moreover, the two openly despise each other, making the prospect of their marriage seem even more unlikely. In the very first scene, Beatrice tells Benedick, "I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me," while Benedick insists that he "will live a bachelor." In fact, Benedick mocks men in love at the beginning of the play, but his strong opinions on the matter almost seem to underhandedly foreshadow what's to come, since his unromantic opinions are so pronounced that the audience intuitively prepares for them to change. Indeed, once he falls in love with Beatrice, Benedick becomes just like the lovers he used to mock. The comedic effect of his ironic transformation is particularly evident in Act 3, Scene 2, in which Benedick becomes the subject of Claudio and the Prince's mockery and even admits, "Gallants, I am not as I have been." The scene thus shows that the "savage bull" has, despite Benedick's insistence, been tamed. 

Act 2, Scene 1
Explanation and Analysis—Disguises:

The use of disguises in Much Ado About Nothing frequently generates dramatic irony. In particular, the masked ball in Act 2, Scene 1 is the epitome of dramatic irony: whereas the audience is aware of the identity of each of the characters, the characters do not recognize each other. For instance, when the Prince woos Hero on Claudio's behalf, the audience knows that he is disguised as Claudio, but Hero does not. The dramatic irony that arises from the masks also creates a series of comic misunderstandings: Beatrice insults Benedick to his face without realizing who he is. In order to avoid revealing his identity, Benedick is forced to hold his tongue. The audience's awareness that Beatrice's masked partner is Benedick makes the latter's clipped, polite responses a source of comedy.

A more sinister example of dramatic irony occurs at the ball when Don John briefly convinces the masked Claudio that the Prince has wooed Hero for himself; here, Claudio is unaware that Don John is pretending to think the masked Claudio is Benedick in order to interfere with Claudio and Hero's budding romance. The audience, on the other hand, has been made aware of Don John's machinations in Act 1, Scene 3. Although this misunderstanding is soon resolved, it foreshadows the near-destruction of their relationship later in the play. 

Act 3, Scene 2, in which Don John reveals Hero's apparent infidelity, is a classic example of dramatic irony: the audience knows that the visual evidence (Margaret acting as Hero) to which Don John refers is fabricated, but Claudio and the Prince do not. Throughout Claudio and Leonato's speeches condemning Hero for her "impurity" in the ensuing scene, the audience knows that these allegations are false. This makes the mood of the play more ominous as the audience becomes aware that Hero has become the victim of great injustice.

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Act 2, Scene 3
Explanation and Analysis—Eavesdropping:

Eavesdropping results in a series of misunderstandings in Much Ado About Nothing. In fact, Beatrice and Benedick only fall in love by eavesdropping on staged conversations, resulting in dramatic irony for comedic effect. 

In Act 2, Scene 3, Benedick overhears a staged conversation between Claudio, the Prince, and Leonato. Similarly, in Act 3, Scene 1, Beatrice overhears a conversation between Hero and Ursula. In both cases, Beatrice or Benedick is deceived into thinking they are the object of the other's unrequited love. The audience knows that their friends are colluding to make Beatrice and Benedick fall in love, but neither of the would-be lovers are aware of this. This dramatic irony makes Beatrice and Benedick's ensuing monologues in these scenes highly comedic for the audience: both are oblivious to the fact that they have been deceived. In his monologue, Benedick declares: 

This can be no trick. The conference was sadly borne; they have the truth of this from Hero; they seem to pity the lady. It seems her affections have their full bent. Love me? Why, it must be requited!

This passage is a source of humor for the audience because Benedick explicitly dismisses the possibility that he is being deceived. Beatrice's monologue contains a similarly ironic line: 

For others say thou dost deserve, and I
Believe it better than reportingly.

Here, Beatrice states that she believes Hero and Ursula's assertion that Benedick deserves her love because the evidence is better than mere rumor. The audience knows, however, that Hero and Ursula's conversation is entirely fabricated—it is actually worse than mere rumor. Through the use of eavesdropping in the scheme to make Beatrice and Benedick fall in love, the play generates dramatic irony and thus makes the pair's obliviousness a source of comedy for the audience. 

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Explanation and Analysis:

During his soliloquy in Act 2, Scene 3, Benedick affirms his opposition to marriage. Contrary to his intended meaning, however, his language also foreshadows his eventual marriage to Beatrice. After Claudio falls in love with Hero, Benedick puzzles over the change in his friend: 

I do much wonder that one man, seeing how much another man is a fool when he dedicates his behaviors to love, will, after he hath laughed at such shallow follies in others, become the argument of his own scorn by falling in love—and such a man is Claudio.

Benedick is amazed by what he perceives as his friend's blindness to his own foolishness once he falls in love. As a result, Claudio has "become the argument of his own scorn." Benedick also wonders whether he will ever fall into the same trap, but  he decides that this is unlikely: "May I be so converted and see with these eyes? I cannot tell; I think not." Despite Benedick's vehement opposition to marriage, the audience knows that he will soon follow the same trajectory due to the preceding scene, in which Benedick and Beatrice's friends devise their plot to make the two fall in love with each other. As a result, this monologue foreshadows the imminent change in Benedick. In this way, Shakespeare's use of foreshadowing in this scene emphasizes Benedick's blindness to his own susceptibility to the follies of love and thus contributes to the comedic tone of the play. 

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Act 3, Scene 1
Explanation and Analysis—Eavesdropping:

Eavesdropping results in a series of misunderstandings in Much Ado About Nothing. In fact, Beatrice and Benedick only fall in love by eavesdropping on staged conversations, resulting in dramatic irony for comedic effect. 

In Act 2, Scene 3, Benedick overhears a staged conversation between Claudio, the Prince, and Leonato. Similarly, in Act 3, Scene 1, Beatrice overhears a conversation between Hero and Ursula. In both cases, Beatrice or Benedick is deceived into thinking they are the object of the other's unrequited love. The audience knows that their friends are colluding to make Beatrice and Benedick fall in love, but neither of the would-be lovers are aware of this. This dramatic irony makes Beatrice and Benedick's ensuing monologues in these scenes highly comedic for the audience: both are oblivious to the fact that they have been deceived. In his monologue, Benedick declares: 

This can be no trick. The conference was sadly borne; they have the truth of this from Hero; they seem to pity the lady. It seems her affections have their full bent. Love me? Why, it must be requited!

This passage is a source of humor for the audience because Benedick explicitly dismisses the possibility that he is being deceived. Beatrice's monologue contains a similarly ironic line: 

For others say thou dost deserve, and I
Believe it better than reportingly.

Here, Beatrice states that she believes Hero and Ursula's assertion that Benedick deserves her love because the evidence is better than mere rumor. The audience knows, however, that Hero and Ursula's conversation is entirely fabricated—it is actually worse than mere rumor. Through the use of eavesdropping in the scheme to make Beatrice and Benedick fall in love, the play generates dramatic irony and thus makes the pair's obliviousness a source of comedy for the audience. 

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Act 3, Scene 2
Explanation and Analysis—Disguises:

The use of disguises in Much Ado About Nothing frequently generates dramatic irony. In particular, the masked ball in Act 2, Scene 1 is the epitome of dramatic irony: whereas the audience is aware of the identity of each of the characters, the characters do not recognize each other. For instance, when the Prince woos Hero on Claudio's behalf, the audience knows that he is disguised as Claudio, but Hero does not. The dramatic irony that arises from the masks also creates a series of comic misunderstandings: Beatrice insults Benedick to his face without realizing who he is. In order to avoid revealing his identity, Benedick is forced to hold his tongue. The audience's awareness that Beatrice's masked partner is Benedick makes the latter's clipped, polite responses a source of comedy.

A more sinister example of dramatic irony occurs at the ball when Don John briefly convinces the masked Claudio that the Prince has wooed Hero for himself; here, Claudio is unaware that Don John is pretending to think the masked Claudio is Benedick in order to interfere with Claudio and Hero's budding romance. The audience, on the other hand, has been made aware of Don John's machinations in Act 1, Scene 3. Although this misunderstanding is soon resolved, it foreshadows the near-destruction of their relationship later in the play. 

Act 3, Scene 2, in which Don John reveals Hero's apparent infidelity, is a classic example of dramatic irony: the audience knows that the visual evidence (Margaret acting as Hero) to which Don John refers is fabricated, but Claudio and the Prince do not. Throughout Claudio and Leonato's speeches condemning Hero for her "impurity" in the ensuing scene, the audience knows that these allegations are false. This makes the mood of the play more ominous as the audience becomes aware that Hero has become the victim of great injustice.

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Act 4, Scene 1
Explanation and Analysis—Pure Impiety:

In Act 4, Scene 1, Claudio criticizes Hero for her alleged infidelity. His use of oxymorons highlights the male anxiety about women's infidelity that permeates the play. He laments: 

O Hero, what a Hero hadst thou been
If half thy outward graces had been placed
About thy thoughts and counsels of thy heart! 
But fare thee well, most foul, most fair. Farewell,  
Thou pure impiety and impious purity.

Claudio draws a distinction between Hero's "outward graces," or beauty, and her apparently unfaithful inner reality. His repetition of the name "Hero" reinforces the apparent duality of his lover. This culminates in the final oxymoron, "pure impiety and impious purity": to Claudio, Hero appears "pure" but is in fact "impious." This oxymoron highlights what Claudio perceives as the contradictory nature of women, who deceive men with their apparent innocence and then turn them into cuckolds. Of course, the claims of Hero's "impiety" are entirely fabricated, creating dramatic irony because the audience is already aware of this (but Claudio isn't). In fact, none of the women of the play engage in the adulterous behavior that the male characters so abhor. As a result, Claudio's oxymoron ironically reveals that the male characters' concern with the apparently deceitful nature of women is completely unfounded. 

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Explanation and Analysis—Disguises:

The use of disguises in Much Ado About Nothing frequently generates dramatic irony. In particular, the masked ball in Act 2, Scene 1 is the epitome of dramatic irony: whereas the audience is aware of the identity of each of the characters, the characters do not recognize each other. For instance, when the Prince woos Hero on Claudio's behalf, the audience knows that he is disguised as Claudio, but Hero does not. The dramatic irony that arises from the masks also creates a series of comic misunderstandings: Beatrice insults Benedick to his face without realizing who he is. In order to avoid revealing his identity, Benedick is forced to hold his tongue. The audience's awareness that Beatrice's masked partner is Benedick makes the latter's clipped, polite responses a source of comedy.

A more sinister example of dramatic irony occurs at the ball when Don John briefly convinces the masked Claudio that the Prince has wooed Hero for himself; here, Claudio is unaware that Don John is pretending to think the masked Claudio is Benedick in order to interfere with Claudio and Hero's budding romance. The audience, on the other hand, has been made aware of Don John's machinations in Act 1, Scene 3. Although this misunderstanding is soon resolved, it foreshadows the near-destruction of their relationship later in the play. 

Act 3, Scene 2, in which Don John reveals Hero's apparent infidelity, is a classic example of dramatic irony: the audience knows that the visual evidence (Margaret acting as Hero) to which Don John refers is fabricated, but Claudio and the Prince do not. Throughout Claudio and Leonato's speeches condemning Hero for her "impurity" in the ensuing scene, the audience knows that these allegations are false. This makes the mood of the play more ominous as the audience becomes aware that Hero has become the victim of great injustice.

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