Theme of Appearance vs. Reality in Much Ado about Nothing

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      The theme of appearance versus reality has long been considered central to this play's structure and tone. All of the main characters deceive or are deceived by others at some point during the play. There is the masked ball, during which Beatrice reveals her feelings to Benedick, not knowing that she is speaking directly to him because he wears a mask. There is also the masked bride at the second wedding at the end of the play, so that Claudio does not know what woman he is marrying until Hero reveals herself.

      There are many other forms of deception, such as the schemes of Don John as he tries to trick Claudio, first, into believing that the prince is wooing Hero for himself, and then that Borachio is making love to Hero. When Friar Francis has Hero pretend to be dead, he enters into deception as well. On this theme of deception, many critics have observed that the title of the play contains an Elizabethan pun on the word nothing, with Shakespeare playing off the word noting, which means 'eavesdropping'. However, other critics believe that the key to the play's unity lies in equating the word noting with the meaning "to observe." In this view, the title suggests that one take note of a situation and make a judgment based on observation. In Much Ado about Nothing, there is a failure, some critics argue, to observe and to act sensibly. This is very true in the case of the prince and Claudio failing to grasp the lack of integrity in Don John, who had tried to deceive them before his ultimate trick of making both men believe that Hero was unfaithful. Why do the prince and Claudio not see Don John's true nature? Why are they so easily duped by Don John?

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