Each of the main characters in Much Ado About Nothing is the victim of deception, 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 provides 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, nearly every character in the play at some point plays a part of 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, of all people, the Friar who feels that deception may be the way to get at truth; and all the main characters in the plot pretend to Benedick and Beatrice so convincingly that they reverse their normal attitudes to each other.
In I.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, however, not without some caution: the news will be good as ‘the event stamps them; but the have a good cover, they show well outward’ (I.2.6). 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 will hold it as a dream’ . . . ‘peradventure this be true’. Admittedly he does not question the ‘good sharp …
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…ne else in the play the power of language to alter reality, and the issues of conscious or unconscious deceit.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that in the body of the play those who are masters of a language of extraordinary wit and polish – language that seems to guarantee rationality and good judgement – get things almost completely wrong. The resolution of the play comes via the agency 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 says ‘what your wisdoms could not discover, these shallow fools have brought to light’ (V.1.221-222). And even more disturbing, that resolution comes by mere accident: by the chance overhearing of a conversation.
Shakespeare, William. Much Ado about Nothing. Ed. A.R. Humphreys. New York: Routledge, 1994.
womenhod Gender in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness
Gender in Heart of Darkness
Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness colludes with Western patriarchal gender prescriptions. Women are ominously absent from the bulk of the narrative, and when they do make an appearance they are identified through the powerful narrative viewpoint of the character Marlow, who constructs them in terms of the values of the dominant ideologies of the British gentleman. The contrast between Kurtz’s Intended and his Mistress reveals to the contemporary reader this undeniable Victorian provenance – women are effectively marginalised from power and silenced by the text’s endorsement of British values.
“The women”, Marlow declares, “are out of it”. Indeed, the five women of Heart of Darkness make only brief appearances and are given only a passing mention in Marlow’s narrative. His aunt, given a cameo role in the text, is supremely naïve and “out of touch with truth”; she reminds him to “wear flannel” when he is about to “set off for the centre of the earth”. The knitters of black wool in the Company headquarters are defined by classical mythology, taking on a symbolic significance by “guarding the door of Darkness”; they are not characters in their own right. Kurtz’s mistress is identified as a product of the wilderness, “like the wilderness itself”, and is described in terms of natural processes, a “fecund and mysterious life”. Kurtz’s Intended, by contrast, lives in a place of death rather than of life, darkness rather than lightness, delusion rather than reality. A feminist reading identifies that females are silenced and cast as cultural archetypes in Heart of Darkness.
The juxtaposition of the Intended with Kurtz’s mistress highlights the traits of the culturally constructed Victorian woman. She has assembled for herself a tomb of darkness, where everything personifies the sterile and lifeless existence of her kind. The Victorian woman was expected to adhere to high standards of behavioral decency and to subscribe to the Puritan ideals of sexual and emotional restraint. Kurtz’s mistress throws these characteristics into focus because she is vibrant, vital, and lives out her sexual urges. The sexual language used to describe the mistress emphasises that she is a social ‘other’ and foregrounds the dichotomy between women of Europe and Africa. While the Intended embodies the characteristics of a Victorian woman, her behaviour is also enormously hypocritical. She remains alive only by deceiving herself; her condition, as C.B. Cox suggests, “symbolizes that of Western Europe”.