Much Ado About Claudio
June 8, 2013 9:45 PM   Subscribe

Shakespeare Filter, Much Ado About Nothing Subfilter: Why does Hero still marry Claudio when he is the MEANEST PERSON IN THE WORLD?

I just watched the Kenneth Branagh Much Ado About Nothing film, in preparation for seeing the Joss Whedon version, because apparently I have never seen nor read this play somehow. So Claudio sees the fake sex that Don John sets up to break up the wedding, waits until they're at the altar at the wedding, and then everything takes a REALLY DARK TURN and Claudio is pretty much as mean as it is possible to be to poor, innocent Hero. But then, name cleared, she goes ahead and marries him anyway!

I enjoyed the play/film overall and found Branagh's interpretation (which I understand to be abridged) generally lighthearted and joyful, but the first Claudio/Hero wedding scene is WAY dark, and I do not understand even a little why Hero is so eager to go back to Claudio other than the fact that Robert Sean Leonard is pretty.

Maybe this is what I'm supposed to get from it, this very very dark, harsh view of love at first sight? Maybe it's set in comparison to Beatrice and Benedick? Help me out here, Shakespeare-loving MeFites.
posted by Eyebrows McGee to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Because she still loves him and it was a misunderstanding and even today women marry assholes and forgive them?
posted by discopolo at 9:47 PM on June 8, 2013

Also, women back in the day were often counseled not to be too picky and to do stuff like forgive and forget. I mean, damn, that's all the advice my fellow Indian women get from our moms who desperately want grandchildren today by any means necessary. Dude has a weird porn habit? Forgive and forget. Dude loses him temper? Why did you make him so mad? Dude has a boyfriend on the side? Look the other way!

Don't be naive, girlfriend. It wasn't written by Willa Shakespeare.
posted by discopolo at 9:52 PM on June 8, 2013 [10 favorites]

Does she have a choice? Her father did agree to it, putting aside that whole "I will kill you for impugning my daughter's honor" thing, and marriages in those days were family contracts more than love matches. You could also argue from the point that, since the first marriage was cancelled and Hero's honor impugned, following through with the marriage (plus the whole public-grave-sobbing thing, which I always fast forwarded through when I was twelve and skipping to B&B wit battles) is the only way to publically clear her name, without which as a woman of that era she had no other future.

The short answer, though, is that it's a comedy. Comedies end with misunderstandings cleared up and weddings.
posted by theweasel at 9:52 PM on June 8, 2013

Best answer: since the first marriage was cancelled and Hero's honor impugned, following through with the marriage [...] is the only way to publically clear her name, without which as a woman of that era she had no other future.

Exactly. Claudio's accusation has shattered Hero's reputation, and therefore in a very real sense ruined her, not only emotionally and socially but financially. As Beatrice says:

O, she is fallen
Into a pit of ink, that the wide sea
Hath drops too few to wash her clean again
And salt too little which may season give
To her foul-tainted flesh!

The soundest, surest way for her to be vindicated is to marry --- publicly, in full sight of those who saw her accused --- the very man who voiced that accusation, who now recants it fully.

I wrote about this a bit here:
For the men in this society, marriage is a sideline, a secondary pursuit. A felicitous match will enhance their domestic lives, solidify their social standing, and perhaps make their fortunes, but their society gives them freedom to pursue their goals outside of marriage as well. For the women, marriage is their career, is their domestic life, is their fortune. Without a rightful marriage, their prospects go from narrow to nil — become first slim, then grim.

Every character in the play — and everyone sitting in the play’s original audience — knows that. This tacit knowledge underlies every moment that goes before. When the plot forces us, the modern audience, to confront the precariousness of Hero’s position, the earnestness buried in the preceding action is revealed: under the surface, all that flirtatious folderol is deadly serious. The friends and family who plot to wed Beatrice? They’re playing and teasing and amusing themselves, sure, but they’re also trying to secure Beatrice’s future before it’s too late.

Up ’til now, the play has been a light banter of romance and comedy, but in a few simple machinations, suddenly an honorable woman of good family and with her future happiness seemingly secured — a girl much like Beatrice herself, but with more felicitous prospects — has been dashed into the dirt on the word of the man who loved her. She has been dishonored, with all the world-shattering implications that word carried at the time. For a man to be dishonored would be unfortunate: he would be barred from the best houses, his social and career prospects would suffer. For a woman, of the time, whose social prospects were her career, it would be destruction.

If Hero’s friends did not scheme to restore Claudio’s love, if they did not stand beside her and pledge to restore her honor, she would be ostracized. In modern parlance, ostracism means not sitting at the popular kids’ table or not getting invited to parties or even being cut off from your family — but for Beatrice, and for Hero, ostracism was death, or the nearest thing to it. A woman cut off from her family and her marriage prospects, from her home and fortune, from her friends and social circle, had no future. By condemning Hero as a whore, Claudio has condemned her to the fringes of society, and so to death. As she swoons in terror and shame, Hero’s own father urges her toward death: “Do not live, Hero. Do not ope’ thine eyes.”

Given the impossibly restricted socio-economic choices of women in her time and class, with her fiancé rejecting her and her father rebuking her, what are Hero’s prospects? Perhaps she could make her way to a city and eke out a living as a whore. She would be utterly without protection, without home, without support. She would doubtless be cheated, abused, and raped. She would have no recourse in law or in family. Claudio has not just denounced Hero; he has as good as killed her.

The sudden peril of this moment tints all the romance that goes before and after. If a match of such unblemished felicity as that between Hero and Claudio — a betrothal blessed by love, family approval, the endorsement of a noble patron, the couple’s shared temperament and character, and seemingly suitable in every way — can so readily be shattered, what security can there be for any woman? A chaste and blameless girl can be denounced as a wanton and destroyed in a few words; Beatrice and all Hero’s female family must feel the chill of that precariousness blow past them.
posted by Elsa at 10:05 PM on June 8, 2013 [49 favorites]

Consider also that the audience in Shakespeare's day wasn't stupid and knew this was at heart a comedy not to be taken seriously. Modern readers tend to think Elizabethan audiences weren't sophisticated, but they were just as smart as everyone else. For example, the idea that someone can die of a broken heart? Us modern readers think the Elizabethans really, actually bought that as a possibility, when Shakespeare was just winking at the audience, and they knew it.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:19 PM on June 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think the assumption is that if Hero had been sexually active before marriage, she would have deserved to be shamed for it and dumped at the altar. According to the characters in the play, the problem isn't that Claudio was mean to Hero, it's that he slandered her.

It's been a while since I studied the play, but I just skimmed some of the dialog around the Hero-Claudio situation and the characters are pretty consistently concerned with the truth or falsehood of Claudio's accusation, rather than the "meanness" of his treatment of Hero. Even Beatrice, who is Hero's most vociferous advocate (more vociferous than Hero herself), puts it in these terms: "What, bear her in hand until they come to take hands, and then with public accusation, uncovered slander, unmitigated rancour—O God that I were a man! I would eat his heart in the market place." The problem is not so much that Claudio was not nice when he was accusing Hero of sexual activity, although that is a bit of a problem ("unmitigated rancor"); it's more of a problem that he was accusing her falsely ("with public accusation, uncovered slander") and directing his "rancour" at someone who had not earned it.

Once the slander is cleared up and Hero's good name is restored, everyone is happy to return to the status quo ante.
posted by Orinda at 10:25 PM on June 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

There's also the subtext that jusssssst about everyone involved believes that if Hero had behaved as Claudio claims she has --- as Claudio believes she has, because he thinks he's seen it with his own eyes! --- his outrage and cruelty would have been justified. Even Hero's doting father wails that she should die rather than live in such ignominy:

Wherefore! Why, doth not every earthly thing
Cry shame upon her? Could she here deny
The story that is printed in her blood?
Do not live, Hero; do not ope thine eyes:
For, did I think thou wouldst not quickly die,
Thought I thy spirits were stronger than thy shames,
Myself would, on the rearward of reproaches,
Strike at thy life
. Grieved I, I had but one?
Chid I for that at frugal nature's frame?
O, one too much by thee! Why had I one?
Why ever wast thou lovely in my eyes?
Why had I not with charitable hand
Took up a beggar's issue at my gates,
Who smirch'd thus and mired with infamy,
I might have said 'No part of it is mine;
This shame derives itself from unknown loins'?
But mine and mine I loved and mine I praised
And mine that I was proud on, mine so much
That I myself was to myself not mine,
Valuing of her,--why, she, O, she is fallen
Into a pit of ink, that the wide sea
Hath drops too few to wash her clean again
And salt too little which may season give
To her foul-tainted flesh!

[self-correction: the lines I quoted earlier aren't Beatrice, but Leonato, as you can see here.]

Hero marries Claudio because she loves him, because his ardent willingness to marry her proves publicly that she is above reproach, and because (tacitly) she exists in a social world where Claudio's humiliation of a supposed wanton would be justified, if a bit overblown. The discussions and arguments surrounding Claudio's accusations are concerned with their veracity, not their cruelty or appropriateness.
posted by Elsa at 10:26 PM on June 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

On another axis of the play, Claudio's mean spirit in accusing Hero at their first altar is the fuel for Beatrice to insist that Benedick fight Claudio, to force Claudio's hand in recanting what Beatrice deeply believes is Claudio's slander. In fact, Claudio's denunciation of Hero, and Beatrice's hot response on behalf of her cousin Hero, are the "much ado" from the title of the play. Without insult from Claudio that is so sharp as to be mortal to Hero, if true, there is no sufficient reason for an experienced soldier like Benedick to challenge Claudio, which was to be a mortal test, and so the most serious fate that could befall Claudio, just as Claudio's accusation, backed up by 'proof' from the Prince Don Pedro, was a mortal accusation for Hero.
posted by paulsc at 11:30 PM on June 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

I think the assumption is that if Hero had been sexually active before marriage, she would have deserved to be shamed for it and dumped at the altar.

Exactly. Him being "mean" to her is not remotely the point; in the context of the play, he isn't being "mean," he's reacting as a normal person would be expected to react to the information he was given. The fact that the information is false is the trouble. Hero's goal is for him to believe her and accept her side of the story; once her honor is proven and he believes her, the whole misunderstanding is cleared up and they are happy.
posted by celtalitha at 11:41 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

To elaborate, it all goes back to the importance of honor and purity in a woman's reputation and identity. It's about face. Dignity. Not just love. See, the goal of the lie was not just to say "ha ha, your woman is cheating on you, suckaaa" but more to say "ha ha, your woman who you think is a pure perfect little flower is actually a nasty dirty whore, and everyone probably knows it, and you think you're all tough and royal but really you're being played like a fool in your own castle." So naturally Claudio wants to get back at her and defend his rep/tough guy-ness, so he thinks "ha ha, I'll show HER" and he goes to the wedding and then makes a big scene. And she's wracked with misery not only because she lost her love, BUT because the accusation is unjust, on a whole core-of-personal-identity level, and all her honor in being the good pure flower has been ruined and her life is pretty much over. When the whole life-ruining slander dealio is cleared up, her honor is restored and everyone is like "oops, my bad, actually you aren't a whore, carry on" and so she does. And yes, there is a little bit of a hint throughout the story that Hero is a pretty codependent, wilting-lfower type of girl, but that's the norm (as opposed to Beatrice who is a bit more headstrong/demanding/independent).

(My little brother has a tattoo of Shakespeare's family crest on his ribcage and quotes Hamlet at holidays, and this is how he tells the story basically.)
posted by celtalitha at 11:56 PM on June 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: What Elsa says so eloquently is also the basis of the Cinderella myth, which in its pure form is a positive spin on this narrow idea of marriage as a woman's career and fortune. The story presents a girl who has nothing in material wealth, an unloving family, no particular talent or intellect. The only thing she has to offer is that she is good-- in that era's idea of what makes a woman good: she is unselfish, kind, modest, forgiving, patient, chaste. Because she is good, she is rewarded with the best life a woman could dream of: a spectacularly attractive marriage to a powerful man who genuinely cares for her.

Claudio is not quite so good a catch as that, but in context he is still something of a catch, and Hero exhibits the "Cinderella" virtues in accepting him, i.e., forgiveness and patience. Men make mistakes, and it's up to women to clean up the mess.

It should be stressed that for Hero and Cinderella alike, marriage is not the sort of peer relationship we understand it to be (and expect it to be) today. So the rather limited set of virtues assigned to Cinderella should be understood as the qualities that best empowered women of the time to make the best of what was inarguably an inequitable relationship. This is one reason I'm not completely comfortable with "Cinderella" as a story for very young girls, as it assumes that a woman's position in society must without question be passive.
posted by La Cieca at 12:21 AM on June 9, 2013 [6 favorites]

Shakespeare's audience would have been very familiar with the tradition of tales of virtuous women who were loving, loyal, steadfast and true no matter what horrible things happened to them and how they were betrayed by their lovers or husbands, and Much Ado is meant to be part of that tradition.

Claudio's vicious cruelty to Hero is obligatory for the genre, and gives Hero the chance to ascend to the status of a Good Woman.

Chaucer's The Legend of Good Women displays the essential elements of the form:
The prologue describes how Chaucer is reprimanded by the god of love and his queen, Alceste, for his works—such as Troilus and Criseyde—depicting women in a poor light. Criseyde is made to seem inconstant in love in that earlier work, and Alceste demands a poem of Chaucer extolling the virtues of women and their good deeds.
For thy trespas, and understond hit here:
Thou shalt, whyl that thou livest, yeer by yere,
The moste party of thy tyme spende
In making of a glorious Legende
Of Gode Wommen, maidenes and wyves,
That weren trewe in lovinge al hir lyves;
And telle of false men that hem bitrayen,
That al hir lyf ne doon nat but assayen
The last line could be translated as 'Never failed to prove their worth in their entire lives'.

Hero must marry-- and love!-- Claudio as the final proof (assay) of her virtue.
posted by jamjam at 1:08 AM on June 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

La Cieca and jamjam point out some invaluable context. As they say, the forbearing, forgiving, long-suffering woman who sits patiently by while her powerful and privileged beloved lover or husband wrongs her publicly is a longstanding character, and Hero's role (though slightly more active, with the veiled trickery at her second wedding scene) is a play on that didactic trope. I hadn't thought of that aspect, but it makes perfect sense. How very The Patient Griselda of Hero.

To back up the observation that it's not Claudio's scourging public humiliation of Hero that's being questioned but rather the truth of falsehood of his accusations, it's instructive to see what other characters say about the accusation and the dispute. For example, after Hero's family learns about the mistaken identity and the ruse to implicate her in openly sexual behavior [Act V, Scene 4, emphasis mine]:

FRIAR FRANCIS: Did I not tell you she was innocent?

LEONATO: So are the prince and Claudio, who accused her
Upon the error that you heard debated:
But Margaret was in some fault for this,
Although against her will, as it appears
In the true course of all the question.

ANTONIO: Well, I am glad that all things sort so well.

Essentially, they're agreeing that Hero is blameless, but so are the witnesses to the staged sexual performance, including the man who so brutally rebuked Hero at the altar. They're relieved to have sorted out the seemingly irresolvable contradiction in a way that ends so happily for everyone: Hero and her betrothed are both seen as blameless dupes of a vilifying scheme.
posted by Elsa at 9:46 AM on June 9, 2013

If you think Much Ado about Nothing is bad for that, I assume you haven't read/watched The Two Gentleman of Verona.

Basically, dude still gets the girl who loved him at the beginning, even though he spent the majority of the play actively attempting to seduce his (and possibly rape) best friend's girl.

Shakespeare's comedies are often about the wacky shenanigans that young lads will get up to, and what makes them not tragedies is the fact that said shenanigans don't really have consequences for the lads -- so the girl has accept the guy, even when he's been horrible. It's kind of sucky.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:34 AM on June 9, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:59 PM on June 17, 2013

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