Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing exhibits several indisputable themes that have withstood the tests of time, modernization, and cultural change. Love, jealousy, and the ideal of social grace are ubiquitous themes that pervade throughout most works of literary grandeur, and they are no exception for Much Ado About Nothing.
While the tone of the play is quixotic, as the couples all end up happily ever after, there is a sense of irony brought upon the quick wit and merciless denial of feelings between Beatrice and Benedick. Although the two try to hide their love amidst constant bickering, it’s apparent to the audience (and the characters). Love is omnipresent and undeniable. This statement is especially true in Much Ado About Nothing and is best shown in Act II, Scene III as friends of both Beatrice and Benedick enact a ploy to lead the lovers to one another. Benedict’s curiosity leads him to overhear how Beatrice “fancies him” and likewise with Beatrice and her eavesdropping episode.
Jealousy is prevalent in the play, especially early on (i.e. Act I, Scene III, when Don John proclaims his animosity towards his favored brother, Don Pedro). Don John states, “I am trusted with a muzzle, and enfranchised with a clog. Therefore I have decreed not to sing in my cage.” Basically, he has decided, instead of making the best of things, to rebel and entertain himself with manipulation and revenge. Claudio’s friendship with Don Pedro even causes the Green Monster to be unleashed inside Don John; however, one can conclude that Don John simply resents anyone that is outgoing or popular.
The third theme in Much Ado About Nothing is the ideal of social grace. While Shakespeare’s characters displayed confusingly colorful language, it’s the desire to fit into society and its set rules for social interaction in which one can relate. Witty banter is more than comedic relief in the play; it is the contrived dialect courtiers had to follow in order to be seen as effortlessly clever or charming. In present times, one would simply belch or coyly ask if a female wanted to attend the glamorous Homecoming Dance. The elegance of high-society during the Renaissance is exemplified through the regale linguistics in the play.
Benedick, in Act II, Scene III, talks of Claudio’s desperate attempt to be the perfect courtier. “His words are a very fantastical banquet, just so many strange dishes,” Benedick quips. This tells the audience that, although the act of talking so intricately is supposed to be done as casually and effortlessly as possible, it is actually quite difficult to maintain one’s social status.
Although Much Ado About Nothing was written around 1598 in opulent text, both the universal themes and the relateability are still in tact. In fact, the last play our class read aloud, The Importance of Being Earnest, had thematic elements quite similar to Shakespeare’s play. Love, jealousy, and the constant need and struggle to be socially accepted are emotions widely articulated in literature from the Pre-Historic Period to the present and will continue to remain pivotal premises for future works.