Much Ado About Nothing

by

William Shakespeare

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Much Ado About Nothing: Foil 2 key examples

Read our modern English translation.
Act 1, Scene 1
Explanation and Analysis:

By positioning the lovesick Claudio and Hero as foils for Benedick and Beatrice respectively, the play not only generates some humor, but also makes the eventual marriage between the latter two characters even more surprising.

Claudio and Hero are the quintessential protagonists of a romance plot: Claudio falls in love with Hero at first sight, and Hero reciprocates his feelings as soon as he woos her (with the Prince's assistance). Benedick and Beatrice, on the other hand, vehemently oppose marriage—and openly despise each other—at the beginning of the play. Indeed, the two require an elaborate scheme devised by their friends in order to fall in love. This contrast between the romantic pairings is a source of humor throughout the play. For example, when Claudio first falls in love with Hero in Act 1, Scene 1, the contrast between his expressions of love allows Benedick's sarcastic wit to shine: 

CLAUDIO: Can the world buy such a jewel?

BENEDICK: Yea, and a case to put it into.

Likewise, Hero's demure personality serves to accentuate Beatrice's stubborn and outspoken one. Beatrice's language crystallizes this contrast in Act 1, Scene 1, when she resists Leonato's suggestion that Hero should be "ruled" by her father: 

Yes, faith, it is my cousin’s duty to make curtsy and say “Father, as it please you.” But yet for all that, cousin, let him be a handsome fellow, or else make another curtsy and say “Father, as it please me.”

Nevertheless, Beatrice and Benedick get married at the end of the play along with their foils, Claudio and Hero—a prime example of situational irony. In this way, the play's use of foils not only contributes to the humorous tone of the play but also enhances the impact of the final, ironic romantic coupling of Beatrice and Benedick. 

Act 3, Scene 5
Explanation and Analysis—Dogberry as Foil:

Dogberry, with his pretentiousness and malapropisms, is a foil for the more intellectual characters in the play, such as Leonato. This use of a foil serves to highlight the cleverness of the main characters, contributes to the comedic tone of the play, and creates situational irony when Dogberry sees through Don John's schemes.

In Act 3, Scene 5, Dogberry and Verges discuss their arrest of Borachio and Conrade with Leonato. Here, Dogberry's pretentiousness and malapropisms elicit Leonato's exasperation, leading him to declare, "Neighbors, you are tedious." By juxtaposing Dogberry's bumbling nature with Leonato's stately one, the play positions Dogberry as a foil for Leonato for comedic effect.

Dogberry's role as a foil for Leonato is further accentuated in Act 4, Scene 2, when Dogberry leads a comedic faux-trial to determine the truth of Borachio and Conrade's participation in Don John's scheme. When Conrade calls him an "ass," Dogberry insists on his own authority: "Dost thou not suspect my place? Dost thou not suspect my years?" Like Leonato, who is the governor of Messina, Dogberry wields authority in his own social circle. 

Despite Dogberry's seeming lack of wit, it is ultimately he who uncovers the truth of Hero's innocence, whereas characters like Leonato and Claudio fall prey to Don John's deceit. This is an example of situational irony: the character who seems the least intellectual in the play—and who appears to have the least skillful grasp of language—is unexpectedly the only one who manages to see what's really going on. 

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Act 4, Scene 2
Explanation and Analysis—Dogberry as Foil:

Dogberry, with his pretentiousness and malapropisms, is a foil for the more intellectual characters in the play, such as Leonato. This use of a foil serves to highlight the cleverness of the main characters, contributes to the comedic tone of the play, and creates situational irony when Dogberry sees through Don John's schemes.

In Act 3, Scene 5, Dogberry and Verges discuss their arrest of Borachio and Conrade with Leonato. Here, Dogberry's pretentiousness and malapropisms elicit Leonato's exasperation, leading him to declare, "Neighbors, you are tedious." By juxtaposing Dogberry's bumbling nature with Leonato's stately one, the play positions Dogberry as a foil for Leonato for comedic effect.

Dogberry's role as a foil for Leonato is further accentuated in Act 4, Scene 2, when Dogberry leads a comedic faux-trial to determine the truth of Borachio and Conrade's participation in Don John's scheme. When Conrade calls him an "ass," Dogberry insists on his own authority: "Dost thou not suspect my place? Dost thou not suspect my years?" Like Leonato, who is the governor of Messina, Dogberry wields authority in his own social circle. 

Despite Dogberry's seeming lack of wit, it is ultimately he who uncovers the truth of Hero's innocence, whereas characters like Leonato and Claudio fall prey to Don John's deceit. This is an example of situational irony: the character who seems the least intellectual in the play—and who appears to have the least skillful grasp of language—is unexpectedly the only one who manages to see what's really going on. 

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