In what way is Act 4 Scene 1 of Much Ado About Nothing significant in relation to the theme of external versus internal?
In Act 4 Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, looks are deceptive and cause a great deal of confusion. Claudio bases an important decision on something he thought he saw while Shakespeare continues to showcase Beatrice’s contrary and outspoken nature. While considering the fact that Shakespeare shows us that what you see is not always what is actually there, we also see the feminist side of the play brought to attention. Perhaps to Shakespeare’s audiences this would not have been so apparent but to the feminists of today it is interesting to see how a 16th Century playwright questions the feminine ideals of the time.
The most obvious instance of confusion as a result of looks is the fact that Claudio accuses Hero of “know[ing] the heat of a luxurious bed” and therefore being unfit for marriage. Shakespeare uses dramatic irony here and so the audience know that she is actually “innocent” and that Claudio has again been tricked by Don John and appearances. Claudio looses any sympathy he had from the audience as he falls for this deception again, echoing himself in Act 2 Scene 1 when he bids Hero “farewell”. He uses this word again in Act 4 Scene 1 which points out to the audience that he has yet again fallen for Don John’s dishonesty. It is at this point that Claudio Shakespeare slips into verse, indicating that tensions are building and emotions are becoming stronger. Another way Shakespeare achieves this is by using antithesis in Claudio’s accusatory speech. He describes Hero’s “pure impiety and impious purity” and by doing this shows the audience that he is extremely passionate in his hate for her.
Hero is not only disgraced by Claudio whom she loved but by her father. Leonato goes so far as to first wish for a “dagger [with] a point” then for Hero his own daughter, to “not live”. This is a very significant moment for Leonato as he shows us how important a man’s “honour” and reputation were in Messina. For Shakespeare’s audience, this would have been far more relatable to as sex before marriage was definitely a sin. In our less religious time, we lose all sympathy of Leonato as he curses himself for even having “but one” child. The original audience might have been slightly less shocked by Leonato’s harsh conclusions. Having said that, no audience could not will the characters to really look past the “exterior show” of Hero and ask for evidence beyond a man’s word.
The friar, a new character in the play, is the only character beside Beatrice to question what is in front of his eyes. “By noting of the lady” he manages to save their marriage and Shakespeare ensures the play ends happily. Shakespeare uses the friar to point out that no other character has really stopped and asked Hero what happened or ask for more evidence, taking Don John’s word that it is the “truth”. In Shakespeare’s time, religion was a way of life and so the fact that it was the friar who suggested that they should have “not[ed]” Hero more extensively would have made the audience also think this. In this way, Shakespeare gives the audience reasons to criticise and have less sympathy for the characters in the wrong; he also puts the friar on the audience’s side as it is him who saves the play from turning into a tragedy.
Ironically Friar Francis saves Hero by suggesting a lie; as a man of the cloth he is an gent for good and one clear message of Much Ado About Nothing is that lying leads to disaster and unhappiness. “The princes left [Hero] for dead” purely because she appeared so. In fact she only “faint[s]” but because she seems dead, Don Pedro and Claudio believe it is so. This instance of deception through looks is turned to good use by the friar when he suggests that they should “publish it that she is dead”. Shakespeare here gives the impression that trickery is not bad if he intentions are good. This echoes the events of earlier on in the play when Don Pedro undertakes to bring Benedick and Beatrice “into a mountain of affection”. Shakespeare represents the dichotomy between good and evil in many ways and this is but one of them, but a very significant one as it shows that different things are acceptable if done with good intentions.
The scene also marks a highly significant turning point in the relationship between Benedick and Beatrice. Benedick seems to make an important decision when he chooses to stay with Beatrice and enquire after her having “wept all this while”. Despite the fact that Beatrice is never talked about as being remarkably beautiful by anyone but Benedick who says that she “exceeds [Hero] much in beauty”, Benedick’s loyalty now forces him to remain with her. Perhaps it is this disregard for the ‘ideal’ represented by Claudio and Hero earlier and then later in the play that makes the audiences hearts warm to Beatrice and Benedick. This contrast between the two couples is made evident in Act 4 Scene 1 when Benedick admits that he loves her and Beatrice responds with the sentiment that she loves Benedick “with so much of [her] heart that none is left to protest” that she loves him. When compared with Claudio’s endless talk about Hero’s “looks”, Shakespeare’s message that love is internal rather than external is clear.
The theme of external versus internal is explored thoroughly in this scene and we see Shakespeare expressing some radical opinions about the effects of appearances and the roles of women. Whether or not these opinions would have been accepted in the same way, or even recognised, at the time of publication is unknown, however audiences of today take note of the sexism and feminism and favour those characters who act because of their internal feelings rather than because of appearances or gender. Clergy were regarded as good in Shakespeare’s time and so the fact that Friar Francis puts his faith into Hero, a woman, over Claudio, a man, makes us think that he was aiming to bring attention to sexism. The Friar is also not influenced by the way things look and in this way Shakespeare influences his audience to act in the same way. Act 4 Scene 1 is a definite turning point for many characters and throughout the scene the audience’s perceptions change greatly; hence it is significant in many ways.
Claudio is about to be married to Hero in the church. When asked by the Friar if anyone has any objections, he stops the proceedings. Dramatically, he gives Hero back to her father Leonato, claiming he has been tricked by her deceptive, maidenly appearances. He compares her to animals “that rage in savage sensuality,” (4.1.61) and tells everyone how he saw her with a lover on the previous night. Leonato is so shocked that he asks aloud if these accusations could possibly be true, and if he might be dreaming. Claudio replies with the rhetorical question “are our eyes our own?” (4.1.71) meaning that everything he’s said is obviously true. Don John and Don Pedro speak up in support of Claudio. Finally, Claudio accuses Hero directly. When he refuses to believe in her denial, she faints from horror. Leonato asks if anyone has a dagger for him to kill himself with. Having done what they came to do, DonPedro, DonJohn and Claudio depart.
Claudio’s decision to leave Hero at the altar so dramatically underscores the theatrical nature of love in the play. Claudio compares Hero to an animal, highlighting the connection made between love and the loss of self-control. Claudio’s rhetorical question might seem like a way of saying “Obviously,” but the question he asks can also be taken seriously. The “eyes,” of the characters in Much Ado are often not their own at all: they see what other characters have tricked them into seeing. The dignity of Leonato’s old age disappears in this scene: his threat of suicide seems over-the-top, better suited to the passion of one of the younger characters.