Although it is a comedic play, Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ depicts a continuous underlying sense of conflict, which is conveyed using a variety of writing techniques and skills to develop character and character relations. The theme of conflict is used in examples of dramatic irony, inter-character relationships, the masks and schemes of true personalities and physical conflict to create a witty yet thought provoking comedy. The play also draws to question whether or not deception can be a good thing.
Shakespeare creates a sense of conflict in the opening of the play by the introduction of characters, their relationships with each other and the underlying tensions created by physical conflict. Dramatic tension is immediately created by the arrival of the messenger who delivers news of a war to Leonato at his home in the Florentine town of Messina. There is no detail of the war or its cause, only the success of losing no gentlemen of importance, and this omission instantly interests the audience and creates a sense of underlying suspense which is carried throughout the play.
Shakespeare’s introduction of physical conflict is a dramatic device used to prepare the audience for forthcoming events. However this tension is lifted by the report that ‘none of name’ have been lost. This lightens the mood and the language used is enthusiastic at the triumph, reminding the spectators that the play is a comedy. Shakespeare emphasises this point by using exaggerated language to create a humorous perception and to heighten effect when the character Claudio is introduced, his feats of bravery in the victory are described as ‘the figure of a lamb doing the feats of a lion,’ and that he has ‘better bettered’ expectations.
This use of hyperbole catalyzes the recognition and reputation of Claudio and gives an immediate impression of his character as honourable and brave. The imagery used to describe Claudio evokes the idea of a noble, young man of promise, yet ignores the issue of his naivety which comes into play as the story develops. The use of enthusiastic language also paints the picture of Messina as an exaggerated and colourful setting in which characters would appear to flourish, yet as the play unfolds it is increasingly clear that the flamboyant personalities are a mask to hide deeper emotions and motives, just as Messina’s elaborate fai??
ade is used to hide the ideal backdrop to catalyze conflict. Shakespeare was suspected of taking elements of Messina from Venetian society, which was an important commercial power and materially wealthy in Elizabethan times and known as a source of intrigue and deception. Messina is also brimming with plots and ploys, some benevolent in their aims and others malicious which reflects the characters in the idea that looks can be deceiving. To introduce the comedy within the play and retain the idea of conflict, Shakespeare presents the character of Beatrice, and Benedick her favourite sparring partner.
The conflict between Beatrice and Benedick is a witty battle and a wonderfully real development of their relationship though honest banter. Leonato relates to the other characters that there is a “merry war” between the two, an oxymoron created by Shakespeare, “They never meet but there’s a skirmish of wit between them” which captures the war of thoughts and dry humour. Messina is a setting where people are judged on appearance, and Benedick and Beatrice use other characters opinions of each other as weapons to put down and outsmart the other.
Their battle of wits are linked to conflict by the ‘words like poignards’ which Benedick uses to imply that her words hurt and that she is stabbing him in the back with a poignard (sword). This idea is elaborated and implies that the sword is double edged as on one hand there is the outer face of the character which is their fai?? ade and how they want others to see them, and on the other hand their real feelings. Beatrice constantly mocks Benedick with phrases such as ‘signor montanto’, that he merely fences and is not a killer, so his part in the war was a farce.
She claims that he ‘wears his faith as the fashion of his hat,’ implying that he is fickle and changeable and it appears as though she is speaking from past experiences, which questions a previous connection between the two. Equally Benedick mocks his ‘lady disdain’, who cannot be pleased and the idea of a previous relationship surfaces again when Beatrice calls Benedick an ‘old horse’ and that he plays a jade trick. She states, ‘I know you of old,’ which questions the nature of their history.