Honor In Much Ado About Nothing By William Shakespeare

Honor is the high respect and esteem that one receives from others, in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, honor was the currency of time. During the time period of the play, the 1600s, a woman's honor was based upon her purity, fidelity, and obedience. For men, honor was based upon their noble and brave achievements while away at war. Men and women were not created equally when it came to honor and in that era losing one’s honor could result in a disastrous life. “The honor by which the characters define themselves is fundamentally unstable”.

Men were expected to show strength, courage, and bravery while away fighting. In the beginning of the play Leonato mentions, “I find here that Don / Pedro hath bestowed much honor on a young / Florentine called Claudio”. Before readers meet the character Claudio they are introduced to his reputation. He is not being judged by his deeds but by word of mouth. Like what is said about Benedick throughout Italy. According to Ursula and agreed to by Hero, he is considered the best man in looks, bearing, intelligence, and bravery which makes him highly honorable.

A woman was to obey her father, abstain from sexual relationships until married, and then show loyalty and obedience to her husband once married. Hero, the main female character, is the ideal woman. She is represented as “conventionally feminine; meek, self-effacing, vulnerable, obedient, seen and not heard, she is a face without a voice”. Hero's role is to meet or reflect others' expectations of an honorable woman.

“At all costs, not only honor, but also the reputation for honor, must be zealously preserved. Man's reputation depends on unsullied valor; woman's, on unstained chastity. Once lost, a reputation for either valor or chastity can never be wholly regained”. This gives meaning to the actions of both Claudio, Friar, and Leonato. When circumstances changes Claudio maintains his reputation by caring for his self-image. Convinced that Leonato and Hero have connived to conceal her unchastity without thought of ruining his reputation, Claudio publicly shames Hero.

Sweet Prince, you learn me noble thankfulness. —

There, Leonato, take her back again.

Give not this rotten orange to your friend.

She’s but the sign and semblance of her honor.

Behold how like a maid she blushes here!

Oh, what authority and show of truth

Can cunning sin cover itself withal!

Comes not that blood as modest evidence

To witness simple virtue?

Would you not swear,

All you that see her, that she were a maid

By these exterior shows? But she is none.

She knows the heat of a luxurious bed.

Her blush is guiltiness, not modesty.

If a man lost his honor, he could not proceed in politics. Claudio must maintain his appearance of masculine honor because his reputation depends on Hero’s chaste name. Protecting his honor means that he must react to what others say or think of him. For him the pursuit of honor is more about preserving his good name than about pursuing good deeds. Unfortunately, there is very little women can do to defend and protect their honor.

If a woman lost her honor she could be killed by her father. It could also bring about political issues for the family, as Leonato, Hero’s father, is the Governor of Messina. Leonato tells Friar that he wishes she will not revive and if she does he will tear her limb from limb with his own hands. Friar then suggests, ''let Hero awhile be secretly kept in, / And publish it that she is dead indeed” upon which her father agrees. Hero is the only child and these accusations; this loss of honor could lead to her death which is one way to be redeemed, forgiven, or forgotten. Friar’s suggestion is a way to redeem or restore Hero’s purity without her actual death. Ironically, it’s not truly restored until it is revealed that she is in fact pure or her honor is defended, whichever comes first. Trial by dueling was a traditional and frequent way to defend one’s honor. As a woman, Hero cannot defend her honor, and Beatrice cannot do so for her cousin. However, Benedick can do it through physical combat. For this reason, Beatrice asks Benedick to avenge Hero’s honor by dueling to the death with Claudio.

Beatrice: You have stayed me in a happy hour. I was about to protest I loved you.

Benedick: And do it with all thy heart.

Beatrice: I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest.

Benedick: Come, bid me do anything for thee.

Beatrice: Kill Claudio.

This request was not due to the need for revenge. Hero must be avenged. It’s Sicily, after all. To exact the vengeance is not a woman’s choice, and this enrages Beatrice: “O God that I were a man!” she cries. “I would eat his heart in the market place”. But where’s the man to do it for her? Her uncle Leonato is no help; a few minutes ago, he was threatening to murder his own daughter. If only Beatrice had a brother, a fiancé, a husband, or someone to fight for her. Her anger takes in not only Claudio but men in general… her rage is generated by her inability to 'be a man with wishing' and to do what men do. After listening to her, Benedick agrees to challenge Claudio for the wrong that he has done to Hero and for Beatrice’s sake. He keeps his word and challenges Claudio to a duel. 'You are a villain. . . / I will make it good how you dare, with what you/ dare and where you dare'. It is bittersweet for the characters that the duel doesn’t happen. In fact, Hero’s honor is restored, and Claudio is forgiven.

Honor, great respect received from others, is very significant in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. During the time honor for men meant courage and for women it meant chastity. Dueling was a way for the upper-class men to retain and defend their honor or the honor of a woman. In the end, honor seems to do more harm than good.

10 October 2020
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