History Behind Much Ado About Nothing





Shakespeare’s play “Much Ado About Nothing” takes place in Messina, a city-state of Renaissance Italy. The Renaissance was a period in European history believed to have been between AD 1300 and AD 1600 with a feudal society of agricultural economy and church dominated culture. It was during the Renaissance that Europe was transformed into a society dominated by central political institutions with education, arts and music heavily influenced by the Christian religion. In Italy, cities such as Florence, Ferrara, Milan, and Venice flourished. These cities were able to finance cultural achievements. Medieval Italian merchants developed commercial and financial techniques such as bookkeeping and bills of exchange. Italian city-states were transformed from communes into territorial states, each of which wanted to expand at the expense of others. Diplomacy was established when the Italian city-states began embassies in foreign courts. In general, the Italian Renaissance was a time of flourishing ideas and prosperity.
“Much Ado About Nothing” is a play intertwining two love stories. One story follows the romance of a young woman Hero (daughter of Leonato, governor of Messina) and a young officer Claudio. When Claudio returns from war, he realizes he’s deeply in love with Hero. With the help of his commander, Don Pedro, Claudio proposes to her. The other is a less likely couple, Beatrice (Hero’s cousin) and Bene*censored* (another officer). Both being witty, strong-willed and outspoken, the two seem to bare distaste for each other. However, when their friends arrange for them to overhear conversations revealing how much each is loved by the other, it doesn’t take long before they declare their love for one another. Meanwhile, self-proclaimed villain Don John eagerly carries out mischief against his brother (Don Pedro) and Claudio. One of John’s men enacts a scene at Hero’s window with a woman who appears to be Hero. When Claudio and Pedro observe this, they are easily deceived and Claudio angrily denounces Hero to be hidden as though dead until Claudio regains his senses. When the constable, Dogberry, arrests John’s men, who then readily confess their guilt, Claudio is forced to admit his error in thinking Hero would deceive him. He then mourns for her and agrees to marry her cousin. The cousin turns out to be a disguised and forgiving Hero. After all this “ado” the two couples are married and Don John is arrested.
Don Pedro is a linking character, playing many key roles in the play. In many ways, he shows the influence of the time period. Being the prince of Aragon, a region in northeast Spain, he carries the title of respect “Don”. He seems to be the stereotypical leader of the Renaissance times, enjoying being in charge as well as possessing the ability to woo young women. He also shows the time period in the situation with his brother Don John. Because he was born outside of marriage, Don John has no official claim on any of his family’s wealth or position. He then tries to overthrow Pedro in battle.
Other characters positions also illustrate the time period. For example, Dogberry and Verges who are the constable and deputy constable. Their rough habits and garbled speech show the mannerisms of the Renaissance peasants. Hero’s maidservants’ occasional vulgar comments also demonstrate actions of less educated servants. The life of the nobles is shown by Leonato and his estate. Hero herself represents a young woman in tune with the traditions of the time: seen but not heard, deferential to her father, and awaiting a suitor to take formal steps to court her.
This play has taught me several things about lifestyle in the Italian Renaissance. First of all, I learned about the political structure of the Italian city-states. This is shown with the governor of Messina, Leonato, and also with the prince of Aragon, Don Pedro. The political systems are also shown by the fact Don John was denied claim to his family’s wealth because he was born outside of marriage. Secondly, I learned about household positions in Renaissance Italy. As displayed by the play, a noble household was headed by a man (Leonato) with daughters waiting to be courted (Hero/Beatrice), and maidservants (Margaret/Ursula). A third lesson was in medieval courtship. In those times, the girls were to be wooed and