William Shakespeare - Much Ado about Nothing

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2005

13 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Main Part
2.1 Characterization of Don John
2.2 The Intrigues
2.3 Don John’s function in the play

3. Conclusion

4. Literature


William Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado about Nothing was written sometime between 1598 and 1599 because it was first performed in the year of the comic actor Will Kemp, who played the role of Dogberry. This makes the play one of Shakespeare’s later comedies. Although it is nowadays not regarded as one of Shakespeare’s most brilliant works it was said to be very popular during his days and the following century. The play itself is often described as an atypical Shakespearean comedy. Even though it is comic, it has some disturbing elements because the plot is too serious for a comedy and occasionally the play seems only steps away from becoming a tragedy. Although, like in other Shakespearean comedies, no character dies during the play, Hero’s pretended death makes the topic of ‘death’ more vividly present in this play.

The comedy consists of four plots altogether: the main plot of Hero’s and Claudio’s love, the contrast plot including Benedick’s and Beatrice’s battle of wits, the subplot with Don Pedro, Father Francis and the subject of grace and, finally, Don John’s intrigue against Claudio and Hero.

The aim of this term paper is to analyse the plot of Don John’s intrigue against the aristocrat couple Claudio and Hero. Therefore, Don John’s character has to be pointed out in detail in a first step. The focus is put especially on the question how he is presented in the play and how and when the reader realizes that he has dedicated himself to evil. Afterwards, the Bastard’s intrigue will be described and examined in depth. Actually, Don John carries out two dark schemes during the play: A first one which fails soon and a second one which is mainly known as ‘the intrigue’ today. Both attempts to foil the intended marriage of Claudio and Hero will be illustrated, before the focus is put on Don John’s function in the play. Here the purpose of his existence and his actions will be questioned and analyzed.

Finally, the subject whether the whole intrigue could have been prevented by anyone will be discussed briefly and especially Don Pedro’s and Claudio’s behaviour and its consequences for the whole plot will be in the centre of attention.

2.1 Characterisation of Don John

Undoubtedly, Don John is the villain of Much Ado about Nothing. All his actions in the play aim at craving mischief and destroying the lives of the people who surround him. He does not only try to ruin Hero’s and Claudio’s happiness by sabotaging their wedding, but also tricks his brother Don Pedro who naïvely believes his intrigue. For the reader it seems as if Don John is a rather stereotypical character, because he openly admits that he has a wicked nature right from the beginning. But how is the character exactly presented during the play? From which point on does the audience definitely know about his evil function and what are the motives for his committed villainies?

The Bastard first appears in the play in act one, scene one when he enters the stage with his brother Don Pedro and his soldiers, who are returning from war. The reader learns that Don Pedro was at war with his own brother, but nevertheless announces that he has reconciled with his brother again. Although his first words in the play seem to be very polite, the audience already has a bad impression of Don John because of his background. First of all, he is generally introduced and known as Don John, Don Pedro’s bastard brother. Although this term was not unusual at that time for describing that he was the Prince’s illegitimate brother the expression always implies a negative connotation. Already by now, the reader and the audience know that Don John cannot be a hero of this play, but must be somehow the antagonist. Furthermore, the negative connotation of his nickname is intensified by the information that Don John had started a rebellion against his admired brother. These two aspects soon give the reader a first bad impression of Don John. Although one knows not much of him, one can guess that he is an evil character.

Don John’s first big entrance takes place in act one, scene three, when the Bastard talks to his assistants Borachio and Conrade. While he behaved quite pleasantly at his first appearance, now his true character is revealed. Asked by Conrade why he looks so sad, he answers that he is very depressed and sullen by nature and never tries to hide his melancholy. “I cannot hide what I am: I must be sad when I have cause and smile at no man’s jests.”[1] Don John here unmistakably explains that he does not want to put on an act just to suit other people and that he neither makes a secret out of his feelings nor of his evil character at all. He rather declares that he is naturally bad in a conversation with Conrade: “though I cannot be said to be a flattering honest man, it must not be denied but I am a plain-dealing villain.”[2] From this point on, at the latest, the reader knows that Don John’s only function in this play will be committing villainy and this impression is supported instantly by Don John’s reaction on the news Borachio brings to him. When his second companion tells the Bastard about Claudio’s and Hero’s planned wedding, his mood is getting better soon because he immediately intends to sabotage the marriage: “Will it serve for any model to build mischief on?”[3] His statements on the news give the impression as if he was simply bored and looking for villainy to pass his time, because finally he concludes that the intended wedding “may prove food to my displeasure.”[4]

But what are Don John’s real motives? Why does he intend to harm those people who liberally reconciled with him after his revolt instead of punishing him? At first glance it seems as if there would be no strong motive for his villainy except boredom. But after taking a closer look on the whole conversation between Don John, Borachio and Conrade it gets clear that the Bastard is longing for taking revenge on those principal figures that defeated him at war: Claudio and Don Pedro. Taking revenge is Don John’s central motive for his deceit and villainy.

Obviously, the Bastard does not like Claudio, the well-respected young nobleman who is the Prince’s favourite, at all. Ironical expressions like “the most exquisite Claudio”[5] show that he seems to be envious on his rival, who earned all his glory in the war against him: “That young start-up hath all the glory of my overthrow. If I can cross him any way, I bless myself everyway.”[6] Consequently, jealousy on Claudio is another motive for Don John’s disloyalty and villainy.

But the Bastard does not only want to harm Claudio, but also his illegitimate brother Don Pedro. Here, revenge and envy also are important for his motivation. Although the Prince of Aragon treated his brother most generously after their quarrel, Don John is not satisfied with his situation. Unfortunately, the war itself and the circumstances of Don John’s uprising are not described in detail in the play. All the reader knows is that the Bastard started a rebellion against his brother, who put it down successfully with his army. It is remarkable here that once Don Pedro has declared his reconciliation with his brother, no further word is said about the rebellion that the latter has led. However, the reasons or circumstances remain unclear, probably because they were not significant for the plot of the comedy.

Don John’s reason for deceiving his brother might be lead back to his envy of the Prince’s social authority. As he is only Don Pedro’s bastard brother he is of much lower rank and possesses only little chance of rising in society. This motive could also reply to the question on the reasons for Don John’s uprising. Anyway, the Bastard is neither satisfied with his social rank nor with the relationship to his brother:

“I had rather be a canker in a hedge than a rose in his garden [...] I am trusted with a muzzle and enfranchised with a clog, therefore I have decreed not to sing in my cage. If I had a mouth, I would bite; if I had my liberty I would do my liking.”[7]

This quotation unmistakably shows Don John’s evil and greedy character. The jealousy on his brother’s authority as the Prince of Aragon does not allow the Bastard to be pleased with his situation but makes him long for more power, the more autonomy he gets and the more power he gains. This passage distinctly shows that Don John cannot be trusted, at all, and truly embodies the “plain-dealing villain”[8]. In contrast to his brother Don Pedro, the Bastard has devoted himself to evil. One can even compare these two characters as agents of good and evil[9], a hypothesis which could have been intended by Shakespeare in order to stress that they are illegitimate brothers. This fact leads to another motive for Don John’s wicked actions. The Bastard is not only jealous on his brother’s rank in society, but also in their own family, for he does not feel being a part of it.

Even though it cannot be disregarded that there do exist certain motivations for Don John’s evil behaviour, as taking revenge on Claudio and the Prince, it must be assumed that the central motive for committing villainy is his completely evil character, for his role as “a conventional stage villain”[10] is not elaborated very much, anyway, to search for deeper meanings in his deceits. Therefore, the mischievous and greedy Don John can almost be seen as “a true example of motiveless malignity, who does evil for the sake of evil”[11] and who is by some critics even compared to the devil because he “resembles the old enemy in wanting to make people suffer by appealing to their evil inclinations.“[12]

Concluding, it can be said that Don John himself delivers the best description of his character, admitting that he is a “plain-dealing villain”[13], for his only purpose seems to be destroying the lives of the people in Messina by craving mischief.


[1] Shakespeare, William. Much Ado About Nothing. New York: Bantam 2005, p. 27

[2] Shakespeare, William. Much Ado About Nothing. New York: Bantam 2005, p. 27

[3] Ibid., p. 29

[4] Ibid., p. 29

[5] Ibid., p. 29

[6] Ibid., p. 29

[7] Shakespeare, William. Much Ado About Nothing. New York: Bantam 2005, p. 27

[8] Ibid., p. 27

[9] See Hartby, Eva. MAN-figures in Much Ado about Nothing. University of Copenhagen 1988, p. 42

[10] Muir, Kenneth. Maturity: Much Ado About Nothing. In: Dominic, Catherine C. (Ed.): Shakespeare for Students. Book II. Detroit: Gale Research 1997, p. 235

[11] Muir, Kenneth. Maturity: Much Ado About Nothing. In: Dominic, Catherine C. (Ed.): Shakespeare for Students. Book II. Detroit: Gale Research 1997, p. 235

[12] Hartby, Eva. MAN-figures in Much Ado about Nothing. University of Copenhagen 1988, p. 42

[13] Shakespeare, William. Much Ado About Nothing. New York: Bantam 2005, p. 27

Excerpt out of 13 pages


William Shakespeare - Much Ado about Nothing
University of Kassel
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William, Shakespeare, Much, Nothing
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Tobias Herbst (Author), 2005, William Shakespeare - Much Ado about Nothing, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/64413


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