Deception is a big concept to consider in Much Ado About Nothing. Deception has an integral role to play due to each of the main characters being the victim of it, and it is because they are deceived that they act in the ways that they do. Although the central deception is directed against Claudio in an attempt to destroy his relationship with Hero, it is the deceptions involving Beatrice and Benedick which provide the play’s dramatic focus. Nearly every character in the play at some point has to make inferences from what he or she sees, has been told or overhears. Likewise many characters at some point play a part in consciously pretending to be what they are not.
The idea of acting and the illusion it creates is rarely far from the surface- Don Pedro acts to Hero, Don John acts the part of an honest friend, concerned for his brother’s and Claudio’s honour; Leonato and his family act as if Hero were dead, encouraged to this deception by the Friar who feels that this may be the way to get at the truth; and all the main characters deceive Benedick and Beatrice so convincingly that they reverse their normal attitudes to each other. In act 1 Don Pedro offers to play Claudio and win Hero for him. This plan is overheard and misreported to Antonio. His excited retailing of the false news of Don Pedro’s love for Hero to Leonato is not without some caution.
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The news will be good as “the event stamps them, but they have a good cover, they show well outward.” Leonato shows a sense here that he could well do with later in the play. “Hath the fellow any wit that told you this?” “We hold it as a dream”. Admittedly he does not question the ‘good sharp fellow’ who overheard, any more than he examines Dogberry’s prisoners, but the caution of the two older men about what would be only too delightful for them to believe is in sharp contrast to the readiness with which they believe Hero’s disgrace. The first introduction to the pattern of overhearing is more important than it might at first seem. Eavesdropping is almost a full-time occupation in Messina. Virtually everyone does it. The courtyard is the central site for eavesdropping in the play.
Don Pedro and Claudio eavesdrop on the conversation between the supposed Hero and Borachio and draw the deductions that Don John’s lie prejudiced them to draw. Benedick and Beatrice think they are eavesdropping on their friends’ conversation, not realizing that it is being held deliberately to deceive them. This form of deception works so well due to them hearing what they want to hear. Certain people in the play are well aware of the eavesdropping that occurs and they use this to their advantage. The importance of the introduction of the idea of eavesdropping and mishearing in I.2 is stressed by the scenes that immediately follow. In I.3 the theme of deceit is again signalled. Don John reveals his true nature as a malicious schemer, and his malice towards his brother, Don Pedro, hidden under an apparent reconciliation, which all but his cronies have to accept.
Antonio’s man was not the only one to overhear Don Pedro and Claudio. Borachio reports correctly to Don John what Don Pedro’s plan is. Don John takes this opportunity to twist the truth in order to make the two friends rivals and suspicious of each other. After the masked dance in which people tacitly (by disguise) or openly deny their identity he completely convinces Claudio that the man he has every reason to trust, has betrayed him. Benedick is taken in because he trusts Claudio, his friend. The matter is only straightened out by Don Pedro himself and the public betrothal of Hero to Claudio. In a parallel case, Don Pedro’s initial acting the part of Claudio to win Hero puts down a marker for his second, greater, plan of deceiving Benedick and Beatrice into a mountain of affection the one with thioether. The basis of both plots is getting the victims to overhear other people speaking, as they think, honestly.
Therefore we are being presented with two types of deceit, that which is compassionate, like Don Pedro’s or the Friar’s, and that which is totally destructive, like Don John’s. The success of each type of deceit depends on manipulation of language and an alteration of behaviour and appearances, and also on the readiness of the victims to judge from what is presented to their eyes and ears. Beatrice and Benedick have both played a role so long that their associates have come to expect it of them. The whole joke of Don Pedro’s plot depends on the assumption that the two are virtually irreconcilable to each other. However, they fall for the deceit that is practised upon them. Each begins to believe the other to be in love with them and decides to respond in accordance with that. Each of them adopts the role and language of love, just as Claudio adopts the language and behaviour from his betrothal to Hero.
Both of them exist in the world created for them by deception. Each of them is living in the world created by the momentum of their own language and humour, expressive of the mask chosen for themselves. Both of them seize and keep the conversational initiative, manipulating the people concerned until they ask for mercy. However, at times the mask behind which they seem so secure betrays them into a world where they are no longer in control. Beatrice’s wit flows freely until it is suddenly stopped by the serious question she had not expected and has to answer. “Will have me, Lady?” This is the first occasion in the play where she is almost at a loss. She almost apologizes for her customary public face and the language that goes with it.
Similarly, Benedick’s playing of the passionate lover trying to convince his mistress of his devotion may be genuine enough. He asks Beatrice to set any task upon him so that he can prove his love. After Benedick agrees to her request to kill Claudio, the advantage is hers. In these two figures, Shakespeare has given us something more than true love. They stress more than anyone else in the play the power of language to alter reality and the issues of conscious or unconscious deceit. It should not be forgotten that in the body of the lay those who are masters of a language wit and intelligence- language that seems to guarantee rationality and good judgement- get things almost completely wrong. The motion of the play comes via the group of the people whose discourse is an assault on language, who are dismissed, by Leonato, as ‘tedious’ when they should be patiently listened to. But as Borachio said, ‘what your wisdom could not discover, these shallow fools have brought to light.
What is even more disturbing is that this resolution came by mere accident, by the chance of overhearing a conversation. In the end, deceit is neither purely positive nor purely negative: it is a means to an end. It is a way to create an illusion that helps one succeed socially. These examples of deception work particularly well to an observing audience. It is interesting to see how each character behaves or responds. The play is full of dramatic irony in that we know characters are being deceived whilst they do not know that they are being so. This is rather amusing in certain cases, such as with Benedick and Beatrice. However, it is rather distressing when we see what happens to Hero as a result of malevolent deception. We know she has been disgraced, and we can only watch helplessly as the love between Claudio and Hero deteriorates.
When filming various scenes concerning deception, such as the ones where people are wearing masks to conceal their identity, one must make it clear to the audience that a character is being deceived. It is quite absurd to think that someone could be fooled simply by a mask, and so it is important that the whole event is believable. There are more things to consider when filming these scenes that are not too important to consider in a book, such as the positioning of characters. .e.g. Whilst eavesdropping Benedick needed to be in a place where he could hear people talking but they could not see him, and when we saw Borachio and ‘Hero’ together, the women had to look like Heroin order for it to be believable.