Much Ado About Nothing

by

William Shakespeare

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Much Ado About Nothing: Metaphors 5 key examples

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Definition of Metaphor
A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two different things by saying that one thing is the other. The comparison in a metaphor can be stated explicitly, as... read full definition
A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two different things by saying that one thing is the other. The comparison in a metaphor... read full definition
A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two different things by saying that one thing is the other... read full definition
Act 1, Scene 1
Explanation and Analysis—A Merry War:

Through the motif of war, Shakespeare compares and contrasts courtship with battle. Benedick, Claudio, and the Prince make frequent references to war due to their recent arrival from the battlefield. In Messina, however, they find themselves in a completely different context. In Act 1, Scene 1, Claudio describes his newfound love of Hero as a shift in his perception: he stops using the eyes of a soldier and starts using those of a lover.

O, my lord,
When you went onward on this ended action,
I looked upon her with a soldier’s eye,
That liked, but had a rougher task in hand
Than to drive liking to the name of love.
But now I am returned and that war thoughts
Have left their places vacant, in their rooms
Come thronging soft and delicate desires,
All prompting me how fair young Hero is,
Saying I liked her ere I went to wars.

Using the metaphor of a house, Claudio suggests that thoughts of love have now replaced thoughts of war in his mind. This illustrates how greatly his mindset has changed after his return from the battlefield.

However, although the romance plots that entangle the men in Messina seem trivial by comparison to the military matters to which the men are accustomed, the challenges of courtship often resemble those of war. Indeed, Leonato explicitly describes the hostility between Beatrice and Benedick as a "merry war" or "skirmish of wit" in Act 1, Scene 1. The numerous allusions to Cupid, the god of love armed with arrows, also encapsulate this relationship between courtship and war. In Act 3, Scene 2, for instance, Hero notes, "Some Cupid kills with arrows, some with traps." Love, then, can be just as violent as war. 

Act 2, Scene 1
Explanation and Analysis—Marriage as Fashion:

The characters in Much Ado About Nothing frequently talk about fashion as a way of describing one's choice of a marital partner. The motif of fashion compares marital partners to clothing items that are donned and discarded on a whim.

In Act 2, Scene 1, for instance, the Prince jokingly asks Beatrice whether she would consider marrying him. She replies:

No, my lord, unless I might have another for working days. Your Grace is too costly to wear every day.

In this moment, Beatrice uses a fashion metaphor to compare the Prince to an article of clothing that is too expensive for everyday use.

In Act 2, Scene 2, Benedick similarly draws on the fashion motif to articulate Claudio's transformation after falling in love with Hero: 

I have known when he would have walked ten mile afoot to see a good armor, and now will he lie ten nights awake carving the fashion of a new doublet.

According to Benedick, Claudio was more interested in "armor," or military fashion, before he fell in love. Now that he is smitten with Hero, he is more interested in a "doublet," an article that he would wear to impress Hero rather than to go to battle. Through this metaphor, Benedick suggests that, like fashion, romantic love is a superficial matter, thereby highlighting his own aversion to marriage at this point in the play. 

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Explanation and Analysis—Warring Words:

In Act 2, Scene 1, Benedick uses personification, metaphors, and similes in order to highlight the intensity of his frustration about failing to defend himself against Beatrice's insults. After Beatrice unknowingly insults him to his face at the masked ball, Benedick laments to the Prince: 

O, she misused me past the endurance of a block! An oak but with one green leaf on it would have answered her. My very visor began to assume life and scold with her. She told me, not thinking I had been myself, that I was the Prince’s jester, that I was duller than a great thaw, huddling jest upon jest with such impossible conveyance upon me that I stood like a man at a mark with a whole army shooting at me. She speaks poniards, and every word stabs.

Benedick uses personification when he suggests that his rage upon hearing Beatrice's insults was so intense that his very "visor," or mask, came to life to argue with her. His hyperbolic assertion that even an oak tree would have talked back to defend itself against Beatrice is another example of personification. Finally, he personifies Beatrice's words, indicating that they are so sharp and hurtful that they resemble "poniards" (small daggers). Using a simile, he compares himself to a "man at a mark" defenseless against the shots of a whole army. Through his use of rich figurative language, then, Benedick suggests that Beatrice is so enraging that even inanimate objects would not be able to endure her. 

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Act 2, Scene 2
Explanation and Analysis—Marriage as Fashion:

The characters in Much Ado About Nothing frequently talk about fashion as a way of describing one's choice of a marital partner. The motif of fashion compares marital partners to clothing items that are donned and discarded on a whim.

In Act 2, Scene 1, for instance, the Prince jokingly asks Beatrice whether she would consider marrying him. She replies:

No, my lord, unless I might have another for working days. Your Grace is too costly to wear every day.

In this moment, Beatrice uses a fashion metaphor to compare the Prince to an article of clothing that is too expensive for everyday use.

In Act 2, Scene 2, Benedick similarly draws on the fashion motif to articulate Claudio's transformation after falling in love with Hero: 

I have known when he would have walked ten mile afoot to see a good armor, and now will he lie ten nights awake carving the fashion of a new doublet.

According to Benedick, Claudio was more interested in "armor," or military fashion, before he fell in love. Now that he is smitten with Hero, he is more interested in a "doublet," an article that he would wear to impress Hero rather than to go to battle. Through this metaphor, Benedick suggests that, like fashion, romantic love is a superficial matter, thereby highlighting his own aversion to marriage at this point in the play. 

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Act 3, Scene 1
Explanation and Analysis—A Merry War:

Through the motif of war, Shakespeare compares and contrasts courtship with battle. Benedick, Claudio, and the Prince make frequent references to war due to their recent arrival from the battlefield. In Messina, however, they find themselves in a completely different context. In Act 1, Scene 1, Claudio describes his newfound love of Hero as a shift in his perception: he stops using the eyes of a soldier and starts using those of a lover.

O, my lord,
When you went onward on this ended action,
I looked upon her with a soldier’s eye,
That liked, but had a rougher task in hand
Than to drive liking to the name of love.
But now I am returned and that war thoughts
Have left their places vacant, in their rooms
Come thronging soft and delicate desires,
All prompting me how fair young Hero is,
Saying I liked her ere I went to wars.

Using the metaphor of a house, Claudio suggests that thoughts of love have now replaced thoughts of war in his mind. This illustrates how greatly his mindset has changed after his return from the battlefield.

However, although the romance plots that entangle the men in Messina seem trivial by comparison to the military matters to which the men are accustomed, the challenges of courtship often resemble those of war. Indeed, Leonato explicitly describes the hostility between Beatrice and Benedick as a "merry war" or "skirmish of wit" in Act 1, Scene 1. The numerous allusions to Cupid, the god of love armed with arrows, also encapsulate this relationship between courtship and war. In Act 3, Scene 2, for instance, Hero notes, "Some Cupid kills with arrows, some with traps." Love, then, can be just as violent as war. 

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Act 3, Scene 2
Explanation and Analysis:

Alliteration is used throughout Much Ado About Nothing to contribute to the lighthearted and comedic tone of the play. 

In Act 3, Scene 2, Claudio uses a metaphor that compares Beatrice and Benedick to bears. His use of alliteration in this metaphor foreshadows their future romantic coupling. After seeing Benedick leave with Leonato to ask for Beatrice's hand in marriage, Claudio says:

Hero and Margaret have by this played their parts with Beatrice, and then the two bears will not bite one another when they meet.

Claudio compares Beatrice and Benedick to "bears" because of their previous animosity toward each other. His use of alliteration with the /b/ sound draws attention to this comparison while also subtly highlighting the fact that both Beatrice and Benedick's names start with the same letter—a sly way of hinting at their imminent romantic coupling.

Act 3, Scene 4 features another use of alliteration for comedic effect in an exchange between Beatrice and Margaret: 

BEATRICE: ’Tis almost five o’clock, cousin. ’Tis time you were ready. By my troth, I am exceeding ill. Heigh-ho!

MARGARET: For a hawk, a horse, or a husband?

BEATRICE: For the letter that begins them all, H.

In this exchange, Margaret alliterates the /h/ sound to tease Beatrice about her love for Benedick. Beatrice calls attention to this use of alliteration by punning on the letter "H," which was pronounced "ache" in Shakespeare's day. Here, alliteration is used to enhance the witty and sarcastic tone of Beatrice and Margaret's conversation, as well as to accentuate Beatrice's state of lovesickness. 

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Act 3, Scene 4
Explanation and Analysis:

Alliteration is used throughout Much Ado About Nothing to contribute to the lighthearted and comedic tone of the play. 

In Act 3, Scene 2, Claudio uses a metaphor that compares Beatrice and Benedick to bears. His use of alliteration in this metaphor foreshadows their future romantic coupling. After seeing Benedick leave with Leonato to ask for Beatrice's hand in marriage, Claudio says:

Hero and Margaret have by this played their parts with Beatrice, and then the two bears will not bite one another when they meet.

Claudio compares Beatrice and Benedick to "bears" because of their previous animosity toward each other. His use of alliteration with the /b/ sound draws attention to this comparison while also subtly highlighting the fact that both Beatrice and Benedick's names start with the same letter—a sly way of hinting at their imminent romantic coupling.

Act 3, Scene 4 features another use of alliteration for comedic effect in an exchange between Beatrice and Margaret: 

BEATRICE: ’Tis almost five o’clock, cousin. ’Tis time you were ready. By my troth, I am exceeding ill. Heigh-ho!

MARGARET: For a hawk, a horse, or a husband?

BEATRICE: For the letter that begins them all, H.

In this exchange, Margaret alliterates the /h/ sound to tease Beatrice about her love for Benedick. Beatrice calls attention to this use of alliteration by punning on the letter "H," which was pronounced "ache" in Shakespeare's day. Here, alliteration is used to enhance the witty and sarcastic tone of Beatrice and Margaret's conversation, as well as to accentuate Beatrice's state of lovesickness. 

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Act 4, Scene 1
Explanation and Analysis—A Pit of Ink:

In Act 4, Scene 1, Leonato deplores Hero's alleged infidelity in scathing language. In particular, his use of metaphor suggests that Hero has been permanently corrupted by both her infidelity and the resulting decline of her reputation. He laments:

[...] why she, O she, is fall’n
Into a pit of ink, that the wide sea
Hath drops too few to wash her clean again,
And salt too little which may season give
To her foul tainted flesh!

In this extended metaphor, Leonato compares sexual debauchery to "ink" that stains and corrupts Hero's purity. The diction of "ink," moreover, is reminiscent of written gossip: for Leonato, Hero has been tainted by the propagation of rumors about her infidelity. Indeed, the metaphor of ink and writing begins earlier in this monologue when Leonato declares that the "story" of Hero's affair "is printed in her blood." The diction of "printed" suggests that the story of Hero's purported affair has irrevocably altered her sexual reputation and identity. In this way, Leonato's use of metaphor illustrates the pivotal role of sexuality in shaping a woman's reputation in the world of the play.

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