The Importance of Male Honour in Much Ado About Nothing Essay

Draft: ‘in this apparent comedy male honour is a subject of deadly seriousness’ Do you agree? Much ado about nothing (MAUN) was written in a patriarchal society, (ruled by men) where Shakespeare could influence society’s morals and virtues in his plays. The idea of male honour was central to view the concept of masculinity. Shakespeare uses the seriousness of honour through his characters and his play as a whole looks at both sides of the question of honour. Although male honour is supposed to be viewed as deadly serious or there are its comical sides to it.

Like in the first opening scene when Beatrice is having a spar with the messenger, he simply can’t keep up with her. Beatrice makes the messenger look weak when she proposes these insults towards Benedick. The Messenger try’s to defend ‘Signoir Mountanto’ ‘He hath done good service, lady, in these wars.’ The messenger tries to sustain his loyalty to the men and defends Benedick to make him sound like a good man.

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But with Beatrice’s quick witted insults he just simply can’t keep up with her and her ‘acid tongue.’ She has no care for what she saying and how she’s attacking Benedicks behaviour as a loyal man. This could suggest that Shakespeare is trying to show that women can be stronger than a man if given the chance to.

This can relate back to Elizabeth the 1st, she was a strong headed women with strict views and was very opinionated and even masculine. Some of her people at that time didn’t even realise she was a women. Elizabeth was respected and honoured even though she was a woman in the 17th century who usually had no rights; she was the ‘virgin queen’ that married her country. Elizabeth had a famous quote: ‘I know I have the body of a weak feeble woman but I have the heart and stomach of a king.’ We can relate this to Beatrice, as a woman of her time she is strong courageous and independent witch would not be seen in typical Elizabethan women, her independence makes her that much more stronger than every other women in the play, but with this comes the name of a ‘shrew.’ This is how other people would see her as she is not the stereo typical Elizabethan women like Hero. Male honour is said to be a deadly serious part of the play in MAUN. Leonato and Claudio play a big part of this in Act 4 Scene 1 it shows how something as little such as a women’s chastity can affect a man’s honour. But also what depths they will go to get it back again.

‘There Leonato, take her back again. Give not this rotten orange’ and ‘O, one to much by thee, why had I one?’ In the Elizabethan times honour was one of the strongest virtues holding great importance. Both men and women’s honour had mutual dependency. Women’s honour was their chastity and purity; in men it was fighting, respect, loyalty and courage. In the 21st Century this would have been viewed in a completely different way, instead of Claudio being taken seriously and a serious deception towards him and his honour, we would view it as an ‘over the top’ reaction and completely ridiculous. But in the Elizabethan era honour was everything you could even question the play; In Elizabethan times the women performer’s would have been played by males, which must have been humiliating and degrading even dishonourable for acting like that as a man should be a man and a women should be a women.

I think that Shakespeare is trying to put a point across that honour is overrated and is in fact simply funny as he used such a serious matter in comedy. This slander scene shows how Claudio feels so strongly about Hero’s chastity and he wouldn’t let anything jeopardise his honour. But you can also take your personal reputation too far and damage other people in the process making it deadly serious. It also shows how honour can affect other people as Hero is not pure anymore affecting Leonato because he has no one to give his daughter to and has no heir it also puts shame onto their family name. It could have affected Claudio’s honour but it also affects her honour because she will now be known as a ‘whore.’ Claudio speaks fluently and passionately throughout the scene witch shows he does care and what he has found out has hurt him deeply. But was it because his love has found to be a ‘watton’ or is it because his honour has seemingly been lost.

Benedick has gone from being a ‘Bachelor’ to being prepared to challenge Don Pedro’s ‘right hand man’ to protect Hero’s honour, although being partially persuaded by Beatrice. It’s a huge deal as male friendship and alliances are the central theme in MUAN. Benedick first seeing Beatrice’s offer to ‘Kill Claudio!’ as a joke; ‘Ha! Not for the wide world’ Then realising it was a serious matter he is prepared to dual Claudio ‘Enough; I am engaged: I will challenge him.’ This is strange to see as honour depended on male friendships and alliances, challenging Claudio will make him loose things that have been important to him. I think that he feels the need to challenge him as Hero can’t claim her own honour ‘O God, that I were a man! I would eat his heart in the market place.’ This is why Beatrice so desperately seeks Benedick to gain revenge on Claudio as he has ‘dishonoured my kinswomen.’ Benedick takes Beatrice’s word instead of Claudio which is a huge deal and a huge amount of trust as losing your sense of reasoning and good judgement could ruin your manhood.

Although Benedick challenges Claudio for Hero’s and Beatrice sake he has got to do it to prove his masculinity; for if he backed down from the fight he would be mocked and emasculated. We can compare this to another Shakespeare play ‘Macbeth’ where again male honour was another central theme. Lady Macbeth uses certain techniques to get Macbeth to kill Duncan she uses such techniques as: Blackmail, Reverse psychology, Guilt tripping, Bribery but the one we can see Beatrice use as well is questioning his masculinity to fulfil her needs. ‘And live a coward in thine owns esteem’ Here Lady Macbeth questions his masculinity because being a coward would be dishonourable and he would be emasculated as he is a soldier too so being cowardly would destroy his reputation. But Beatrice uses this in a different way, whereas she says she would do it if she was a man why can’t Benedick do it this will make him feel cowardly and emasculated so he almost has to prove a point to her by saying this or there ‘merry war’ will continue and Beatrice can then also use this against him.

Carol Chillington critics Benedick ‘with a kiss that transforms Benedick into that monstrous thing the married man’ I think that Chillington is trying to suggest that the worst thing is the married man as they now own you or possess you as she has been passed from their fathers to their husbands. Chillington has given a Feminist view of MUAN, but typically he has fallen in love even though he swore to ‘die a bachelor.’ Although having a wife and being married all come into the concept of honour, he will be viewed more honourable by others with his wife. Even though the play has its tragic moments it is very comical in the way that the film was acted ‘The great comic moment in Tennant’s performance comes when, flinging his arms wide to the heavens, he declares: I will be horribly in love with her.’ Benedick then being ready to show is love to Beatrice even though people may view him as dishounarble. So the way Shakespeare presents honour in his characters shows the way that honour should be taken.

Benedick will be laughed at as he seems to be the comical character so honour won’t be taken seriously whereas Claudio is the soppy romantic, but has to be seen as honourable he is the typical Elizabethan man so honour would be viewed seriously when Claudio is on stage. Although Shakespeare presents honour through the men and women in the play he presents the ‘bastard brother’ Don John as the complete opposite of honourable with such characteristics as: Evil and jealous. Don John is accepted into Leonato’s house being again accepted as one of them despite the doubts. Don John knows that he is the odd one out the dishonourable one ‘I cannot hide what I am.’ When Don John hears of a ‘model to build mischief on’ he is the cause of the slander scene and the deception in the play. First starting with a small trick trying to make Claudio jealous hoping for a reaction ‘You are very near my brother and his love’ then the real dilemma happens shortly after when Don John and Borachio hatch a plan; ‘How canst thou cross this marriage.’

(CONTEXT) Although Don John flees from Messina leaving behind the trouble and treachery that has been caused, he gets caught. (MACBETH RELATION) This is what usually would of happened in a tradgedy as they all end up being killed or dying in the end due to guilty conscience or revenge usually. Shakespeare is suggesting that you can never really get away from problems that you cause as he seems to illustrate this in several plays. Don John is the malcontent of the play in Much Ado, this is why he is called the ‘Bastard’ and the reason why he’s so dark for in Act 1 Scene 3. A malcontent usually has no remorse for what they pain, damage and tragedy they inflict onto other people. A malcontent has usually been brought up and treated unfairly and differently usually due to something like the colour of your skin, being born out of wedlock. Honour is also a subject of class and where you are in society. Dogberry and verges being in a lower class means their view and matter of opinion dosen’t count and they will never be viewed as honourable to others in a higher class, they would be mocked and laughed at and treated of inequality, the underclass are also sealed off from the rest of society and what is happening.

(QUOTE) Dogberry and Verges know the truth of the deceit that has just happened and are trying to do the honourable thing but gets turned away due to their nonsense attitude. Here Dogberry is trying to tell Leonato. ‘One word, sir: our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two aspitious persons’ Leonato not caring and preoccupied with the wedding and caring about whatever concerns his self and his daughter, ‘Take the examination yourself, and bring it to me. I am now in great haste, as it may appear unto you.’ Shakespeare is also showing that the upper class concept of honour is ridiculous and in fact just comical. Maybe perhaps Shakespeare used there morals and views in a comedy so those of an under privileged class can mock them. But i also feel that Shakespeare is trying to suggest that honour is unimportant and irrelevant in the lower classes they see being stupid is a good thing and makes you a good man as you can see that by Dogberrys reaction when he gets called an ‘ass.’ Critic’s Owen Gleiberman says that ‘Dogberry only emphasises how hermitically sealed off from the rest of the play this clownish runt of a character is.’

It shows that Dogeberry doesn’t really understand the meanings of words properly. At the End of the play he still doesn’t even realise what he has accomplished. I do agree that male honour is a subject of deadly seriousness just because it was the most appreciated and the most worthy virtue to have in the seventeenth century and is still important now to some cultures and religions. Honour is something that has been around for years and it’s something that can be appreciated whatever form it comes in. Although Claudio did act in a rational manner in the slander scene you just have to be aware of how honour could effect and even destroy someone’s reputation. If that’s how it was viewed in 17th century then perhaps it should still be viewed the same.

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