Printer Friendly

Deforming sources: literary antecedents and their traces in Much Ado About Nothing.

IN ONE OF HER most verbally expansive moments in Much Ado About Nothing, Hero directs her attendant "gentlewomen," Ursula and Margaret, on where to have Beatrice positioned to overhear the "honest slanders" and other misrepresentations through which Beatrice is to be led to believe that Benedick loves her:
 And bid her steal into the pleached bower,
 Where honeysuckles, ripened by the sun,
 Forbid the sun to enter, like favorites
 Made proud by princes, that advance their pride
 Against that power that bred it.
 (3.1.7-11) (1)


Leaving aside the temptation to hear in it a topicality that editors routinely admonish us to resist, (2) and disregarding the malice toward Beatrice it implies, what surprises us at first about the political commonplace (3) in Hero's comparison is simply who says it, or, as Harry Berger reminds us, that "Shakespeare oddly allows the usually quiet Hero to break into epic simile." (4) Its deeper effect, however, is to challenge us to recognize why we should feel surprised, and to discern the discursive demarcations the play asks us to accept as integral to its geography. In part, of course, these are demarcations of gender: how little we know Hero that we should take this utterance as surprising is a reminder of how little we hear her voice in "mixed" company elsewhere in the play and how much she is kept infantilized within the bounds of the "pleached bower" erected for her by the social and linguistic segregation of the sexes in the play, a segregation that Beatrice, on the other hand, at once italicizes and renders herself conspicuous by transgressing. (5)

Yet at the same time, we also hear in Hero's simile an evocation of the martial, heroic romance world of the writings most commonly taken to be the literary antecedents of Much Ado About Nothing, works by Bandello, Ariosto, et alia, works which provide the core elements of the Claudio-Hero plot in the play and which are metamorphosed into the determinedly holiday world of Messina. (6) Decontextualized and rendered conspicuous in its incongruity, Hero's simile reminds us of the way in which references to these writings populate Much Ado About Nothing. Surprising us in varying degrees of incongruity, evocations of its literary background cling to the play as a kind of scattered verbal residue by means of which the play summons its antecedents only, it seems, to distance itself from them, investing their recollections with the force of ironic, parodic allusions, or elements of a foreign fictive economy intruding upon the dramatic fiction that is Shakespeare's Messina. Indeed, the charge Benedick levels at the teasing Don Pedro and Claudio is applicable to the play as a whole: the "body of [its] discourse is sometime guarded with fragments, and the guards are but slightly basted on neither" (1.1.286-87).

Drawing upon the compilations and discussions of putative, probable, and possible sources so helpfully arraigned by Charles Prouty, Geoffrey Bullough, and Kenneth Muir, (6) reading Much Ado by reading its reading of these antecedents, I propose to look at the way in which juxtapositions of the sort introduced by Hero's simile help to shape the peculiar dramatic space the play configures and our experience thereof. In part, of course, what we encounter in Much Ado About Nothing merely offers a paradigm of the problematically furtive and mutually revealing relationships Shakespeare's plays regularly assume with the materials that influence them. More particularly, however, I would argue that in the degree to which Much Ado deflects even as it glances at the various literary productions that are its nutrients, it mirrors in this relationship a more significant furtiveness and ambivalence that mark its representation of character, of politics and power, and, indeed, of representation itself. With the multiple meanings of its title, Much Ado About Nothing teases us to "note" the divers ways in which it makes good on its eponymous claim to make much ado about nothing; beyond the ways that critics have already enumerated, (7) in the degree to which it renders its sources shadows, decoupling itself from the tropes and topoi to which it is heir, we find one more sense in which the play brings much and nothing into a precarious and comic proximity.

To be sure, discussions of Shakespeare's use of sources have not infrequently been colored by a regard for Shakespeare's integrative powers and a Coleridgean appreciation for his ability to assimilate, to "weave" disparate source materials into organically and dramatically coherent fabrics. (8) In italicizing elements drawn from the idioms of literary romance and decontextualizing them through incongruous juxtapositions, Much Ado About Nothing veers away from the sort of assimilation for which Shakespeare is praised and exposes the rough edges of its own fictive world, or, rather, exposes itself as a world of rough edges, of dissidences that give voice to the margins of a discourse and undo, to recall Derrida's coinage, its "unicity." (9)

Indeed, even as the play labors sociologically to form a comic community in Messina from its disparate assortment of domestic lords and family, "friendly" interloping overlords, hangers-on and loyal retainers with divided loyalties, designated malcontents, and socially insecure petty officials and commoners, so the discursive divisions asserted by recollections of their literary antecedents expose the faultlines and fissures in that community. "Do you question me, as an honest man should do, for my simple true judgment? or would you have me speak after my custom, as being a profess'd tyrant to their sex?" (1.1.166-69). So Benedick quizzes Claudio when Claudio quizzes him early in the play as to whether he has "noted" Hero and whether Hero is "not a modest young lady" (165); Benedick's question, in fact, the parrying of questions in the exchange as a whole, is interesting, not only for the mutual guardedness it reveals between these two supposedly fast friends, and not only for the evidence it affords of the inability of anyone in this play to speak the truth about anything that matters, (10) but also for the sense it conveys of two characters who communicate, if at all, along discursive frontiers erected by the kinds of works to which the play is heir and behind the characteriolgical masks those conventions entail. We have seen Benedick elsewhere, Benedick implies, and his insight into and ability to distance himself from his own conventionality render him only more discursively wary of Claudio's. (11)

Now such dissociative allusions have generic implications as well and ignite in Much Ado a powerful metatheatricality through which the play seems to insist upon its generic difference from the very sort of materials from which it proceeds. To be sure, as Jean Howard has maintained, one way in which Much Ado intensifies its theatricality is in its addition of something its antecedents are commonly taken to lack, namely the plot involving Beatrice and Benedick, a plot which in turn provides the site for Don Pedro's theatrically contrived manipulations of the pair. (12) Nor, though, is it in merely supplying what is not in the sources that Much Ado asserts its theatrical difference from them. Rather, as elsewhere in Shakespeare's plays, Much Ado recalls the textual character of or textual elements within the works that inform it only to marginalize texts and writings or italicize them as problematic or suspect, or, at least, not worth the "ado" they receive: "Thou will be like a lover presently, / And tire the reader with a book of words" (1.1.306-7), a bibliophobic Don Pedro chides Claudio when the latter with unwonted loquacity confesses his infatuation with Hero (296-305), the "book of words" a hendyadic gibe at both the volume of Claudio's effusions and their bookishness. (13)

Indeed, marginalization of the written begins at the very beginning of the play, as Much Ado opens by simultaneously alluding to and taking leave of a missive laying out the circumstances bringing Don Pedro and company to Messina (1.1.1-11), effectively recalling the literary background provided in Bandello only to foreshorten it. And when writing next appears it is as a site of empty epistolary formalities invoked by Claudio and Don Pedro in mockery of Benedick's conversational forms (1.1.281-84). How estimable can texts be, after all, the play seems to ask, if Dogberry insists upon being inscribed in one (4.2.86-87)?

Texts are problematic, of course, not simply for who wants to be written down--or up--in them, but for how they are used and for what gets written in them. As to the former, in the assorted love scribblings attributed to or adduced as so many literas ex machina against Beatrice and Benedick, the play mocks the amorously compromising and intercepted missives conventional in its sources, (14) reminding us, as if in a comically irreverent anticipation of Lacan, that as long as there is a destination letters will always exist to arrive there. At the same time, playful as its use of such writings is, through them the play also underscores its oxymoronic proximity to a world it ostensibly shuns, offering comic reminders of what it could be even as it insists upon being something different, eschewing only to associate itself with a literary world whose "slanders" are not of the "honest" sort with which Hero proposes to "stain" Beatrice (3.1.84).

And no less problematic are texts for the aphorisms and sententiae they often purvey and toward which Much Ado, again, like other of Shakespeare's plays, articulates an ironic skepticism. (15) "Shall quips and sentences and these paper bullets of the brain awe a man from the career of his humour?" demands Benedick in mocksoliloquy (2.3.240-42), and even as Much Ado answers this rhetorical question by permitting us to smile at Benedick's ability to rationalize his way against the very stock of quips, sentences, and paper bullets of the brain that had been his barricades against emotional humors, it exposes the sententious as a particularly flimsy fortification. Thus, Leonato, whose badinage at the opening of the play with the facile Messenger--soon to be rhetorically disarmed by Beatrice (16)--voices the sort of platitudinous sententiae (1.1.8-9, 26-29) that lard commonplace books and conduct books, comes after Hero's disgrace to spurn precisely this kind of textually predigested, one size fits all wisdom when Antonio invokes it as a sop for Leonato's grief. For Leonato such "counsel" comes to represent an attempt to "[p]atch grief with proverbs" wholly inadequate to the grief of his experience, a point he will rehearse with considerable vehemence in more than thirty lines of proverb-laden and sententious declamation against proverbs and sententiae (5.1.3-32, 34-38), a solipsistic speech whose emotion Barbara Everett has called "surely something odder than passionate": (17) a speech occasioned, presumably, by the misfortunes of Hero, but in which Hero rather disappears, a speech that sounds like an elegy, but for someone we know and Leonato knows hasn't died, a speech through which Much Ado daringly collapses the distance between the world of Messina and the paternal grief-smitten world of its literary antecedents even in the act of parodying its--to use a word that reverberates significantly in the play--"fashion."

Still, in no instance does Much Ado About Nothing seem more to trumpet its distinctness from at least its non-dramatic antecedents than in the moment when, paradoxically, it seems most loudly to recall the narrative form of those works and eschew its own theatricality, keeping unstaged what its antecedents show in perfervid detail. That moment, of course, comes in Shakespeare's curious decision not to stage what would seem to be the eminently stageable impersonation, faux-infidelity, balcony scene in which the on-looking Claudio and Don Pedro are led by Don John to believe that Borachio is making love to Hero, only to have the event reported later by Borachio in his bibulous homily against the "deformed thief," "fashion" (3.3.95-172). In the works Much Ado recalls it is a moment that, as Katharine Eisaman Maus has demonstrated, metonymizes the duped lover's emotional susceptibility and, pace Othello, his masochistic obsession with ocular proof. (18) And in a play which, starting with the homophonic joke in its title, persistently makes much ado about noting (1.1.162-64, 2.3.54-57, 3.2.55, 4.1.158, 5.1.260), and which seems otherwise not reluctant to render its action theatrically, it is a moment conspicuous for its absence. In electing to leave it unstaged and recorded, instead, in the inebriated Borachio's narrative, Shakespeare has been accused by one quizzical critic of forgoing "a transparent record of the event for a fuddled divagation." (19)

It could be argued that in leaving this event invisible, Much Ado, true to its name, is only underscoring the infidelity that hasn't occurred, one more instance of the eponymous nothing that the play makes much ado of. More important, in banishing the scene offstage and representing the visual through Borachio's ragged reportage, Much Ado pays homage to the narrative nature of much of its putative source material--but pays homage to its unreliability, to what it doesn't represent.

For, indeed, whether the narrative antecedents for this scene actually produce a "transparent record" or are any less "fuddled" than Borachio's "fuddled divagation" is questionable. For duped lovers in such scenes seem invariably not to see a lot, as it were, by watching, or, at least, see only what their jealous susceptibilities allow them to see. (20) Exemplary is Spenser's contribution to the genre in which the deceived Squire, Phedon, not one to allow his emotional convictions to be deterred by the absence of corroborative physiognomic facts, recalls that at the critical moment at which he was led to believe that his lady Claribell, impersonated by her "handmayd," Pryene, was being unfaithful to him, "Her proper face / I not descerned in that darkesome shade, / But weend it was my love, with whom [the treacherous "friend," Philemon] playd." (21) And indeed, that jealous lovers will see and hear through representation what they are inclined to see and hear is a lesson turned into a brilliant piece of theater, we will recall, by Iago when he contrives to have Othello see and hear what his jealousy has led him to expect in Iago and Cassio's locker room banter over Bianca (4.1).

Already "blinded with the veil of jealousy," as the narrator in La Prima Parte de le Novelle del Bandello captiously remarks of his protagonist, Timbreo, (22) the deceived lovers in these narratives find a correlative for their blindness in the opacity of narrative itself, in its ability to filter data and conceal under the very pretext of revealing, whetting the lover's voyeurism while impairing his physical--and intellectual--sight. So it is that representations of the scene in Shakespeare's antecedents tend to be obsessively cluttered with visual detail, with descriptions of balconies, ladders, occluded sight lines, women's apparel and gems, and, in varyingly titillating degrees of breathiness representations of amatory embrace. Nowhere, perhaps, more breathily and distractingly fulsomely than in Peter Beverly's Ariodanto and Jenevra (1565-66?), an enlargement and reworking in 'fourteeners of an episode involving lovers of the same name from Ariosto's Orlando Furioso. In this account, it is the Don John surrogate, the villainous Duke, rather than an underling, who personally takes charge of making love to the woman, Dalinda, impersonating the lady, Jenevra, she serves, the lady whom the Duke seeks to defame in the very sight of her lover, Ariodanto:
 but see, with glistring light
 Of gould, Dalinda doth appeare lyke angell to the sight.
 And as the Duke had given in charge so she in bravest wyse:
 With Shining robes, [w.sup.t] Diamonds set that gleme before the
 eyes
 Lyke burning torch in winter night is come into this place:
 Whet Polinesse like Judas doth her scorned limmes imbrace,
 And to th'end, [Ariodanto] should more perfectly behould:
 His loving toyes, her kisses eke, and how his armes do fould
 Her griped wast he doth approch as nere as window will
 Geve leave to him, to [Ariodanto's] sight that he mought yew his
 fill
 Therof, & how she clasps her armes about his stretched necke:
 Whose store of kisses do declare, her mynd voyd of suspect. (23)


Aglow in a "glistring light of gold" that blinds rather than illuminates, the description draws attention to the impersonated lady's "[s]hining," diamond studded dress. Ubiquitous in the erotic decor of these deception narratives, "the dress" is expressive of an amatory rhetoric in which clothes and other adornments are not simply representative but constitutive, rendering the women beneath isomorphic and hence interchangeable. (24) So it is that one of the impersonators actually recalls feeling that in donning her mistress's robes she felt herself "very like her," (25) while in Orlando Furioso the lover, Ariodante, is deceived, in part because he "stood so farre aloof," but also because he "beleev'd against his owne behoofe, / Seeing her cloth[e]s that he had seene her face." (26)

Banished offstage with the rest of the balcony panto, and excised from Borachio's account in 3.3, "the dress" in Much Ado is displaced only to be analogically resurrected in 3.4 in Margaret's prenuptial conversation with the presciently apprehensive Hero on the superiority of Hero's gown to the gown of the Duchess of Milan "that they praise so":

Margaret: By my troth's but a night-gown [in] respect of yours: cloth a' gold and cuts, and lac'd with silver, set with pearls, down sleeves, side sleeves, and skirts, round underborne with a bluish tinsel; but for a fine, quaint, graceful, and excellent fashion, yours is worth ten on't.

Hero: God give me joy to wear it, for my heart is exceeding heavy.

(3.4.16, 18-25)

At once proleptic and retrospective, it is an exchange that anticipates the "ado" we know lies just ahead, but simultaneously reminds us in Margaret's comparative discourse on Hero's and the Duchess of Milan's gowns of what we haven't seen, echoing with a sartorial inflection the word "fashion" (3.4.15) so central to Borachio's intoxicated harangue in the previous scene, gently reminding us in her detailed description of the Duchess of Milan's dress that Margaret is "into" clothes and may well recently have been "in" Hero's.

Rendering invisible the scene various of its narrative antecedents labor hard to detail, Much Ado makes risibly audible the kind of moralizing, sentimentalizing editorialization those narratives not atypically voice. "But Fortune," Bandello's narrator exclaims--waxing especially indignant by investing Fortune's normally impersonal operations with a malevolence of intent to match its "unfortunate" effects--"which never ceases to work against the wellbeing of mankind, found a novel means of stopping a marriage so agreeable to both the parties concerned." (27) As "noted" earlier, a hint of this editorializing voice comes in the platitudes Leonato at first purveys and then reviles. It is ventriloquized more volubly, however, in the digression by Borachio on "the fashion" that disrupts and displaces his account of the "villainy" against Hero he performed for Don John (3.3.107-38). With its obsessive reiteration on "fashion," Borachio's account brings a narrative "fashion" of the play's antecedents into comic alignment and parodic nexus with the tendency in Much Ado to turn human behavior, like wedding gowns, into "fashions," a "fashion" epitomized here when Borachio, trying his auditor Conrade's patience (140-43), turns Don John's malefaction into an exemplum, evil a la mode, digressively subordinating the "tale" he had promised to tell, the "what" that happened, to the "what" it represents. And parody turns to outright travesty when in one of the more enduring bits of misprision in the play, one of the Watch misconstrues Borachio's allegorical personification of the "deformed thief" that is fashion as a reference to the "vile thief" named "Deformed" (125). Here the literalism of the Watch produces at once a "deformation" not only of what Borachio has said, and of the allegorizing "fashion" Borachio at once deplores and indulges, but also an inadvertently apt reflection of Borachio's truly "deformed," genuinely preposterous narrative-where what should come first comes last (144-48, 154-63), where declamation on the tyranny of "fashion" precedes the account of the event that has occasioned that declamation (117-38), and where the account of the event "vildly"--by Borachio's own admission--inverts reportorial decorum in leaping ahead to what was seen before saying who was looking, and how or why they came to be there and whether they could see anything "afar off" (148-52): an account, that is, whose narrative imperfections show as through a glass darkly the misprision abundant in Much Ado's antecedents.

On the other hand, for whatever dramatic possibilities it passes up in leaving unstaged the scene in which Hero is falsely represented, Much Ado more than compensates in bringing to melodramatic life the scene in which Hero is falsely accused, giving expressionistic form to the patriarchalism and misogyny of its sources through what Marta Straznicky has called the "frantic incantation" of Leonato's filicidal denunciation of Hero. (28) With a willingness to judge character by physiognomy and take blushes for guilt--"Could she here deny / The story that is printed in her blood"(4.1.121-22)--and a deference to status--"Would the two princes lie?"--Leonato asks, rhetorically, why he ever had a daughter? why not have adopted "a beggar's issue at my gates,"
 Who smirched thus and mir'd with infamy,
 I might have said, 'No part of it is mine;
 This shame derives itself from unknown loins'?
 But mine, and mine I lov'd, and mine I prais'd,
 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 fall'n
 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!
 (4.1.129-43)


Here the misogyny and sexual defensiveness that shadow, for example, Leonato's humorous bantering with Benedick early in the play about Hero's paternity (1.1.105-8) seize the foreground; and we feel them all the more keenly here for their absence, or comparative mutedness, in the outcries of Leonato's counterpart, Lionato, 0in the work that most closely anticipates this part of Shakespeare's play in detail, La Prima Parte de le Novelle del Bandello. To he sure, when Bandello's Lionato is presented by his presumptive son-in-law Timbreo with the accusation that his daughter Fenicia has been guilty of fornication and that the impending nuptial must be cancelled, he hardly takes the news well and evinces a defensiveness of his own. Yet his defensiveness is socioeconomic; unlike Shakespeare's Leonato, who takes Don Pedro and Don John's nobility as a guarantee of their credibility and assumes the worst of Hero, Bandello's Lionato suspects the noble Timbreo of social snobbishness and assumes the best of his daughter. "Friend," Lionato declares, in an harangue equal in volume--and, perhaps, paranoia--to his Shakespearean counterpart's, if different in theme,
 I always feared, from the first moment when you spoke to me of this
 marriage, that Sir Timbreo would not stand firm to his request, for
 I knew then as I do now that I am only a poor gentleman and not his
 equal. Yet surely if he repented of his promise to make her his
 wife it would have been sufficient for him to declare that he did
 not want her, and not to have laid against her this injurious
 accusation of whoredom. It is indeed true that all things are
 possible, but I know how my daughter has been reared and what her
 habits are. God ... will one day, I believe, make known the truth.
 (29)


And if the kingly father figures in the more heroic antecedents to Much Ado are more restrained in their responses, a restraint imposed on them in part by their positions as upholders of chivalric laws, still, their authors strive to make us feel the fathers' grief, a grief left uninflected by the kinds of recriminations that punctuate Leonato's. Hence, in a sequence recalled in Much Ado, in which the accused woman slips into a death-like trance from the trauma of the accusation, the king in Beverly's Ariostan Ariodanto and Jenevra--and unlike Shakespeare's Leonato, who thinks that Hero would be better off dead and isn't much cheered when she recovers (4.1.154, 170-75)--labors hard to revive Jenevra from her swoon and is much cheered by her recovery:
 The aged King that sees this fitte, nye caught with like disease,
 With shaking hands her temple rubs and seekes eche way tappease
 These choking griefs, but all in vain he rubs and chafes his
 childe: For death hath nummed every part, and life is now exilde.
 Til panting hart with strained might receives his wonted force:
 And lets in wholsome breath againe into the senceles corse.
 Which joyful king (with hart revyved) doth see and driveth feare
 Away, and strayning his sprites, he thus the Princes doth cheare.
 (30)


Still, though Leonato's paternal counterparts manage to behave a bit better, the misogyny that informs the credence Leonato gives to Hero's accusers is hardly absent from the works Much Ado recalls. "Oh, they are full of deceit, cogging, flattery, foisting, twittle-tattle." So the duplicitous Pedante of Anthony Munday's Fedele and Fortunio (1585), the proverbial pot calling the kettle black, advises the disillusioned lover Fedele that woman's inconstancy is a theme, a "genus demonstravum," so large that "[a]ll the tongues in the world are not able to set it out," and adds that "[w]hen they anger you, bid the Devil take them all, and make no more ado." (31)

And, indeed, what happens to Hero hints at the slight inconsistency we find throughout these antecedents: women are presumed guilty of sexual misbehavior as representatives of their sex; they are exonerated as individuals, the exceptions that leave the rule intact. In his translation of Orlando Furioso Harington offers a sly variation on the norm when to a misogynist imprecation in the text condemning the compromised heroine and "all her kinde," Harington gallantly adds the marginal gloss, "Not all women kind, but faithlesse women," thus calling attention to the canard while pretending to qualify it. (32)

Representative of the misogyny that inflects the genre, Leonato's speech anticipates his monody in solipsistic grief that we have considered in act 5, and like that speech his words here have the remarkable effect of making the person who occasioned them disappear, rhetorically a greater challenge in this instance since Hero is actually physically present throughout. But with a self-absorption aurally punctuated and intensified with the reiteration of the word "mine," Leonato manages, not only to advertise himself as the party to whom condolences should be addressed, but to divert attention from the person who has occasioned this grief, Leonato's rhetoric putting into violent execution the violent directive with which the speech had opened: "Do not live, Hero" (4.1.123). And, true to his word, Leonato turns the daughter he addresses in the outset of his tirade into a third person topos at its terminus.

Yet in the process, Hero is not only de-personified but conventionalized. "[F]allen," dropped, rather, "[i]nto a pit of ink," defamed and immersed, Hero becomes indistinguishable from the other defamed women whose misadventures she now shares, and, as the scene unfolds, "little more than a pawn," as Janice Hays puts it, "on a masculine chessboard," (33) an object of contending theories of moral physiology, and of a divergence of opinion among Claudio, Leonato and Friar Francis on how to read blushes: do blushes reveal guilt? do they reveal innocence? do they reveal at all (4.1.34-40, 121-22,158-61)?

Thus, in the relationship of Much Ado to its sources, a certain paradox emerges, for the play makes use of the sources it evokes, not to gloss character, and characters, in the play, but to call attention to the possibility of their unknowability. The more recognizable Hero is as a convention, the greater her tangency with other defamed, ink-pitted women, the more we question who she is and how we shall know her.

Recalling the misogyny of its narrative antecedents in its own representation of gender, Much Ado would seem simultaneously to distance itself from the heroic romance values and tropes those narratives embody. Yet the heroic is not absent from Shakespeare's Messina; rather, it is summoned just enough to remind us of how unheroic the world of Messina is, the foreignness of the heroic subliminally reinforced with every reference to Hero's name, a Hero with no Leander in sight. "Kill Claudio," Beatrice commands Benedick (4.1.289), a remark which in casting Beatrice in the unfamiliar role of a lady imposing a love test, assigns to Benedick the equally unwonted, and apparently unwanted, part of champion, an assignment which in confronting Benedick with the necessity of choosing between love and friendship, renders him momentarily, and uncharacteristically, at a loss for words--"Ha, not for the wide world" (4.1.290)--and shoves the play into a parodic tangency with the chivalric ethos of Ariosto and his imitators, where the duel and trial by combat are the preferred methods of conflict resolution and the means by which libelled ladies get exonerated. Resolving to "challenge" Claudio (4.1.331), Benedick proves he is no Rinaldo, nor even an Ariodanto, and his failure is revealingly discursive: underscoring the interjection of the heroic as some alien idiom, and underscoring the degree to which it is assumed by what Harry Berger calls the Men's Club of Messina (34) that Benedick the quipster is never fully serious, Benedick has a difficult time making his departure from levity understood by Clandio and Don Pedro, and making his challenge understood by its designated target, Claudio (5.1.143-95).

Yet the aborted irruption of the heroic into the discursive space of the play is but a transitory reminder of a more obtrusive incursion into the physical and political space of Messina, that of Don Pedro of Arragon, along with Leonato, one of the two characters whom by name and position Shakespeare draws from Bandello's novella. In Bandello, Don Piera occupies the frame of the story. An imperialist interloper--indeed, for Belleforest "ce Roy inhumain (35)--from Spain who, taking advantage of the void in Sicily caused by the slaughter of the French in the Sicilian Vespers, "came quickly thither with his army, and made himself lord of the Island," (36) he disappears from the romantic fable at the center of Bandello's story involving two of his knights and the daughters of Lionato, only to reimpose himself, if more benignly, at the end, investing Lionato's daughters and the knights they marry with the sorts of dowries which Lionato, it is made clear, cannot afford to provide, and to which Don Piero feels any knights of his are entitled.37 In turning Don Piero into Don Pedro and giving him a prominent presence throughout Much Ado, Shakespeare elides the two aspects Don Piero bears in Bandello, muting his territorial aggression and subsuming it and his royal magnanimity within a no less aggressive proclivity for matchmaking, as evinced in the proactive guises he adopts, both in personally wooing Hero for Claudio, and more vicariously, but no less manipulatively, in getting Benedick and Beatrice to think each in love with the other, a campaign which if successful would, Don Pedro brags, in a gush of gloire, displace Cupid: "his glory shall be ours, for we are the only love-gods" (2.1.384-87)--once an hegemonist, it seems, always an hegemonist!

And yet the elision is hardly seamless. From the opening lines of the play, and the deixis with which Leonato, scanning the letter the Messenger has brought, couples a reference to "this action" with the news of Don Pedro's arrival (1.1.1-6), the play by preterition permits us not to forget what it pretends to suppress, attaching references to Don Pedro's anterior, martial self and to his status as an outsider, even as it would appear to labor to integrate him in the comic community and doings of Messina. We hear, of course, a typically simultaneous evocation and displacement of things Spanish in the verbal joke fusing "civil" with "seville oranges"--the citrus of choice, it seems, in Messina, where "seville" oranges make civil hands unclean (see 2.1.294, 4.1.32). (38) Apart from this playfully casual allusion, however, the play incarnates in Don Pedro--and in the importunate residual "baggage" the play creates for him in the figure of the sociopathic Don John--traces of some greater world, a world of political imperium, intrigue, and power relations, a world toward which Hero's simile in the "pleached bower" fecklessly gestures. So it is that when roughly halfway through the play, and before Claudio's marriage, Don Pedro announces that he will soon be leaving the community in which he has recently been so active a player. Claudio's offer to accompany him, coupled with the Prince's demurral that he will settle for the company of the unmarried Banedick instead, serves not only to remind us of division between the sexes in the play and the tenuous grip even the predisillusioned Claudio has on his relationship to Hero, but to bring to the foreground an orb of political claims that the insulation of male camaraderie and the merrymaking of the play repress (3.2.1-14).

In turn, ambiguities in the nature of Don Pedro's relationship to the community of Messina expose the hybrid nature of Messina itself, almost masking its status as a client city-state39 behind the genial civil disarray that is its "normal" civil rule, a rule enforced on the street by a constable who would have hypothetical transgressions addressed by ignoring them, and who solves real crimes despite, and not through, his best efforts. (40) To be sure, in demoting Don Pedro to prince from the king he had been in Bandello and Belleforest, Much Ado may soften Don Pedro's authoritarian edges and make him a more approachable fellow whose offers of wedlock Beatrice can decline with a joke and seeming impunity (2.1.326-33), but it renders the nature and extent of his authority in Messina, and, for that matter, the nature of his relationship to that other figure of authority in Messina, Leonato, unclear, and surely less clear than the relations between their counterparts in Bandello. Certainly, in Much Ado Leonato greets Don Pedro with a rhetoric sufficiently obsequious as to suggest the posture of a political, if not social, inferior (1.1.99-102). At the same time, as Straznicky has argued, Leonato's tirade against Hero and his subsequent maneuvers to compel Claudio to bow to his pleasure in the re-nuptials as readily suggest a concern with status and power and the desire to maintain and regain them against Don Pedro and Claudio as they do the grief of a father for a daughter shamed. (41) In fact, it is a measure of the ambiguity of Don Pedro's relationship to the power structure of Messina that when Dogberry calls his crew "the Prince's watch" (3.3.6), tells them that they may "bid any man stand in the Prince's name" (3.3.26), and reminds them that they are to "meddle" only with "the Prince's subjects" (3.3.33), we could ask "Which Prince?" For though we would surmise that it is Don Pedro to whom Dogberry refers--for lack of any other prince in town--still, nothing in the play clearly articulates that Don Pedro is in charge, and the situation only grows more confusing when in the very next scene Dogberry, with an instinct, if not aptitude, for deference, assures Duke Leonato that he and his watch are "the poor Duke's officers" (3.4.20).

At the end of Much Ado About Nothing, and in that recuperative rush toward nuptials and festivity Howard has anatomized, (42) the curious presence Don Pedro assumes as something of a "fifth wheel"--a status his counterpart does not bear in Bandello, where he comes fully mated with a queen--is symptomatic, not only of the tensions of his own status in the play, but of the curious relationship Much Ado negotiates with its source materials, particularly, in this case, Bandello's story. (43) For like Much Ado About Nothing, Bandello's story looks beyond the bounds of its romantic fiction when at its very end its narrator begins to enumerate the noble progeny to descend from the union of Timbreo and Fenicia, only to catch himself, coyly, in the act of violating generic decorum, for "without noticing it, I have digressed from telling stories to making panegyrics!" (44) In Much Ado the slippage for which Bandello's narrator archly apologizes is folded into its dramatic action and discourse, making us aware of what it excludes, something rather like Don Pedro himself, something integral to our experience of the play but not fully assimilated, our sense of which gives our experience of Much Ado About Nothing its peculiar richness.

Notes

(1.) All references to Much Ado About Nothing and other plays by Shakespeare come from The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans, 2d ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997), and are cited parenthetically.

(2.) See George Lyman Kittredge, ed., Much Ado About Nothing, rev. Irving Ribner (Waltham, MA: Blaisdell Publishing Company, 1967), 44; A. R. Humphreys, ed., The Arden Shakespeare Much Ado About Nothing (London: Methuen, 1981; rpt., Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, U.K.: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1997), 143-44; F. H. Mares, ed., Much Ado About Nothing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 90; Sheldon Zither, ed., The Oxford Shakespeare Much Ado About Nothing (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 139. Following Horace Howard Furness, Much Ado About Nothing: A New Variorum Edition (New York: American Scholar Publications, 1966), xvii, Mares cites Furnivall's speculation that the simile is a reference to Essex and his misadventures, albeit "a late two-line addition" to a play generally taken to have antedated the insurrection by two years (90).

(3.) The figure of the intractable honeysuckle offers but a negative variation on the behavior described in the contemporary prose character of "a loyal Subject [who] like [the] Marigold should open and shutt with the Sunn"; cited in W. J. Paylor, The Overburian Characters (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1936), 111. Both Mares, 90, and Zither, 139, underscore the likelihood that as part of her aristocratic upbringing Hero would not have been unlikely to have encountered such a sententia. But the point here is not that Hero is incapable of employing such figures, but that such figures, and a tendency to employ them, are nowhere else a part of her verbal repertoire.

(4.) Harry Berger Jr., "Against the Sink-a-Pace: Sexual and Family Politics in Much Ado About Nothing," in Making Trifles of Terrors: Redistributing Complicities in Shakespeare, ed. Peter Erickson (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997), 14.

(5.) That the women in Much Ado may internalize those barriers, see Carole McKewin, "Counsels of Gall and Grace: Intimate Conversations Between Women in Shakespeare's Plays," The Woman's Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare, ed. Carolyn Ruth Swift Lenz, Gayle Greene, and Carol Thomas Neely (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1980), 124-26.

(6.) For surveys of possible sources, see Charles Prouty, The Sources of Much Ado About Nothing: A Critical Study, Together with the Text of Peter Beverly's Ariodanto and Ieneura (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1950); and Geoffrey Bullough, ed., Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, vol. 2 (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1958); see also Kenneth Muir, The Sources of Shakespeare's Plays (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978), 113-15; Humphreys, Arden ed., 24, and Zitner, Oxford ed., 12. For speculation that the characterization of Benedick in particular may have been inspired not by literary sources, but by the courtier, poet, and translator of Ariosto, Sir John Harington, see Juliet Dusinberre, "Much Ado About Lying: Shakespeare and Sir John Harington in Dialogue with Orlando Furioso," in The Italian World of English Renaissance Drama: Cultural Exchange and Intertextuality, ed. Michele Marrapodi (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1998), 239-57.

(7.) For a summary of the significations found in the title of the play, see Zither, Oxford ed. 14-15. See also the titles of Dusinberre, cited above, n. 6, and Leo Salingar, "Borachio's Indiscretion: Some Noting about Much Ado," in The Italian World of English Renaissance Drama, 225-38.

(8.) Representative is A. R. Humphreys, Arden ed., 13, who treats the evocations of Bandello and Ariosto in Much Ado in terms reminiscent of the "secondary Imagination" and very much as a function of a controlling, assimilative artistry. "Interweaving Bandello's materials with Ariosto's," Humphreys observes, "Shakespeare shows a mind ranging over elements loosely similar but so markedly variant in tone and incidents that only the shrewdest of judgements could co-ordinate them into a theme of such tragi-comic force."

(9.) Jacques Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), xvi.

(10.) For Salingar, "Borachio's Indiscretion," 228, in Much Ado "[s]ocial transmission becomes a medium of distortion." This propensity in Much Ado is highlighted and counterpointed for Dusinberre, "Much Ado About Lying," 254, by the figure of Benedick, "a man who will wear his faith but as the fashion of his hat," and yet "is nevertheless an honest man."

(11.) To be sure, what have been seen as the oddities in Claudio's behavior, the misogyny that erupts so readily when he supposes that Don Pedro has "got" his Hero, the calculated violence of his rejection of Hero, the coolness with which he behaves when he supposes her dead, the tendency of the figure in the play most identifiable as a "lover" to act so amorously challenged, lead Prouty, in The Sources of Much Ado About Nothing, 39-47, to read Claudio, not as a conventionally literary lover at all, but as a product of social "realism," a figure for whom marriage is a practical, contractual affair, a mariage de convenance, and thus one for whom a prospective bride's virginity was central to the assessment of her "market" value.

(12.) Jean E. Howard, "Renaissance Antitheatricality and the Politics of Gender and Rank in Much Ado About Nothing," in Shakespeare Reproduced: The Text in History and Ideology, ed. Howard and Marion F. O'Connor (New York: Methuen, Inc., 1987), 173.

(13.) Recall the travesty of the literary in the ubiquitous letter writing of The Two Gentlemen of Verona and, most memorably, the reminder supplied the bookish Horatio by the no less bookish Hamlet that "[t]here are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy" (1.5.166-67).

(14.) Hence, in George Whetstone's The Rocke of Regard (1576), in Illustrations of Early English Poetry, ed. J. Payne Collier vol. 2 (London, 1866-70), 73, a forged missive imbedded by a jealous rival and a treacherous maidservant in a suggestively post-lapsarian apple poisons, at least for the next eighteen pages, the relationship between Rinaldo and Giletta, while in Ariodanto and Ieneura, daughter to the King of Scottes, in English verse, by Peter Beuerly (1565-66 [Prouty, 68]), The Sources of Much Ado About Nothing, 94, we find a letter from the eponymous heroine to the eponymous hero, the amorous contents of which are rendered so compromising in the repressive courtly society of the protagonists that it must be destroyed lest it fall into the wrong hands.

(15.) "Good sentences, and well pronounced" is Portia's drily dismissive response to the sententiae Nerissa invokes in her attempt to invalidate the feeling of world-weariness Portia expresses upon her entrance in The Merchant of Venice (1.2.1-10). See also the treatment of the sententious Friar Lawrence in Romeo and Juliet, whose moral apothegms may be "true," but are inadequate to cope with the irruption of events and "rude" human nature in the play, an irony remarked upon by G. Blakemore Evans in his introduction to The New Cambridge Romeo and Juliet (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 24-25.

(16.) Or, as Zitner, Oxford ed., 10, dubs him, the "caste-obsessed messenger with no concern for the merely common dead."

(17.) Barbara Everett, "Much Ado About Nothing: The Unsociable Comedy," in English Comedy, ed. Michael Cordner, Peter Holland, and John Kerrigan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 71.

(18.) Citing the recurrence of such scenes, Maus argues in Inwardness and Theater in the English Renaissance (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 120, that "[a]ttempts at surveillance are the way the cuckold ritually defines himself, inside and outside the playhouse."

(19.) Salingar, "Borachio's Indiscretion," 225-26.

(20.) That seeing should not always be believing is timelessly affirmed by Chico Marx in Duck Soup, when in response to Margaret Dumont's surprise at finding him in her bedroom when she had just seen him leave, "with my own eyes," he asks, "Well, who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?"

(21.) The Faerie Queene, in The Complete Poetical Works of Spenser, ed. R. E. Neil Dodge (Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1936), 2.4.28, 11.3-5.

(22.) Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources, 2:116.

(23.) Prouty, The Sources of Much Ado About Nothing, 115-16. For the corresponding scene in Ariosto, see Orlando Furioso, 5.42-51, in Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources, 2:92-94.

(24.) On the concern among contemporary antitheatricalist polemicists that clothes did, indeed, make the man and woman and that theatrical cross-dressing undermined the essence of gender distinctions, see Laura Levine, Men in Women's Clothing: Anti-theatricality and Effeminization, 1579-1642 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), esp. 1-25.

(25.) Such is Dalinda's recollection in Orlando Furioso, 5.49.5-8, in Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources, 2:94.

(26.) Orlando Furioso, 5.50.1-4, in Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources, 2: 94.

(27.) Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources, 2:114.

(28.) Marta Straznicky, "Shakespeare and The Government of Comedy: Much Ado about Nothing," Shakespeare Studies 22 (1994), p. 155.

(29.) Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources, 2:118.

(30.) Prouty, The Sources of Much Ado About Nothing, 127-28.

(31.) Anthony Munday, A Critical Edition of Anthony Munday's Fedele and Fortunio, ed. Richard Hosley (New York: Garland Publishing, 1981), 152.

(32.) Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources, 2:95. Consider, however, the argument that Dusinberre makes that Harington "thought of himself as a writer for women, aiming the Orlando at the queen's ladies to make them laugh," in "Much Ado About Lying," p. 241.

(33.) Janice Hays, "Those 'soft and delicate desires': Much Ado and the Distrust of Women," in The Woman's Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare, 87.

(34.) Berger, "Against the Sink-a-Pace," 14.

(35.) Not surprisingly, in the histoire by the French writer Belleforest, the arrival of the Don Pedro figure in Sicily hot upon the massacre of the French is viewed with considerable asperity. See Francois de Belle-forest, Le Troisiesme Tome Des Histoires Tragiques, Extraite des oeuvres Italiennes de Bandel (Paris 1572), 475.

(36.) Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources, 2:112.

(37.) Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources, 2:133.

(38.) A tart reminder, perhaps, of the minatory associations of things Spanish only sharpened by the heightened sense of nationalism in post-Armada England, recalled in A. J. Hoenselaars, Images of Englishmen and Foreigners in the Drama of Shakespeure and His Contemporaries (Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1992), 26-27. See also the simile "civil as a civil orange" in Nashe's Strange News, in The Works of Thomas Nashe, ed. Ronald B. McKerson, 5 vols. (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1958), 1:329.

(39.) Not that Much Ado is any more convincingly "urban" than it is "heroic." See Gail Kern Paster in The Idea of the City in the Age of Shakespeare (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1985), 178; and Salingar's symptomatically elusive reference, in "Borachio's Indiscretion," 229, to the play's "comparatively realistic urban atmosphere."

(40.) That Dogberry's precarious grip on power and authority may all too aptly have mirrored the lot of local constabularies, see Theodore B. Leinwand, "Negotiation and New Historicism," PMLA 105 (May 1990), 481-85; and Phoebe Spinrad, "Dogberry Hero: Shakespeare's Comic Constables in Their Communal Context," Studies in Philology 89 (1992), 163-69.

(41.) Straznicky, "The Government of Comedy," 155-56.

(42.) Howard, "Renaissance Anti-theatricality and the Politics of Gender and Rank," 179.

(43.) For Zitner, Oxford ed., 10, there is no tension: "Shakespeare dismantles Bandello's framework and reassembles it as irony," an irony that knocks Don Pedro from "Bandello's pedestal."

(44.) Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources, 2:134.

THOMAS MOISAN is Professor of English at Saint Louis University. Among his latest publications is a critical survey and assessment of recent criticism and productions of Romeo and Juliet for the newly reissued edition of the play by Cambridge University Press. At present he is at work on a cultural study of seventeenth-century England focusing on the poet Robert Herrick, the engraver Wenceslaus Hollar, and the gardeners and collectors, John Tradescant and son.
COPYRIGHT 2003 Associated University Presses
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2003 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Moisan, Thomas
Publication:Shakespeare Studies
Article Type:Critical Essay
Date:Jan 1, 2003
Words:8103
Previous Article:Black Hamlet: battening on the moor.
Next Article:"Your actions are my dreams": sleepy minds in Shakespeare's last plays.
Topics:


Related Articles
Critical Essays: Zora Neale Hurston.
Critical Essays on Charles W. Chesnutt.
New and noteworthy. (Reviews).
Zora Neale Hurston's their eyes were watching God: A casebook.
Reading Race in American Poetry: "An Area of Act".
Romantic Aversions: Aftermaths of Classicism in Wordsworth and Coleridge.
'Pornaganda'--thumbs down.
Michael D. Friedman. "The World Must be Peopled": Shakespeare's Comedies of Forgiveness.
Urban Theatre in the Low Countries 1400-1625.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |