Much Ado About Nothing

by

William Shakespeare

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Much Ado About Nothing: Oxymorons 1 key example

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Definition of Oxymoron
An oxymoron is a figure of speech in which two contradictory terms or ideas are intentionally paired in order to make a point—particularly to reveal a deeper or hidden truth... read full definition
An oxymoron is a figure of speech in which two contradictory terms or ideas are intentionally paired in order to make a point—particularly to reveal... read full definition
An oxymoron is a figure of speech in which two contradictory terms or ideas are intentionally paired in order to... read full definition
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.