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Classical Imagery In Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing

3776 words - 16 pages

The romance of history has lured many of the worlds greatest authors to search for their subject matter in the pages of time. William Shakespeare serves as a unfailing embodiment of the emotion of days past; yet he also turned to those before him. The comedy Much Ado About Nothing is a poignant love story, riddled with stunning imagery and allusion. An examination of the development of certain characters, the imagery and allusion, diction, and structure illustrate that the author wrote in a style heavily influenced by the classical movement of Ancient Greece and Rome. The classical thread strengthens the tapestry which is Much Ado About Nothing.
The play is staged in the rural district ...view middle of the document...

A horrified Hero sinks to the earth in a faint so deep it convinces everyone that she has died of the heartbreak. This sinister plot is unravelled through the bumbling of the Constable Dogberry--in the capacity of the Shakespearean fool. At the conclusion of the play, Hero is restored to her soulmate Claudio and Benedick and Beatrice quite nonchalantly take each other in marriage. The plot is rather convoluted, yet it serves as the perfect vehicle for Shakespeares distinct style.
Much Ado About Nothing is unique due to its obviously classical sources. The play was written in 1598 during the reign of Elizabeth I of England. The following statement certainly rings true of William Shakespeare:
English authors in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries
made extensive use of classical mythology, in drama and
narrative poems, as ornaments in lyric poetry, and by means
of mythological allusion in prose and verse works.1

The mythology of Ancient Greece and Rome appears in the characterization, imagery, allusion, and theme of this play. The references to the classical period are both bold and subtle as Shakespeare weaves them into the work.
The opening scene immediately sets the stage as well as introduces the characters and their relationships, thus allowing the playwright to ply his stylistic trade. Shakespeare uses a subtle ploy: the setting of the scene is Italy, which was the very heart of the classical world. Messina seems to exist as a peaceful town, nestled in nature. The pastoral setting is characteristic of the Renaissance movement which itself was a return to the classical glorification of nature. As the play unravels, it becomes evident that many conventions were selected due to their specifically classical undertones.
The beginning is reminiscent of the epic genre: the first scene starts in medias res with the announcement of Don Pedros triumph in battle. The epic style is characterised as possessing \"a hero of great national or even cosmic importance, a setting ample in scale, characters who relate their moral attitudes through set speeches, and a beginning in the middle of things.\"2 The audience perceives that the Prince is a very important man whose activities greatly influence the lives of the other characters. This quasi-epic style continues with the knowledge that the men who fight at the side of Don Pedro are not native to Aragon. They are noble and foreign--their allegiance lies with one man who fights on the side of all that is good. Like Agamemnon and the Greek troops who fought for the restoration of the lovely Helen to Menelaus at Troy, Don Pedro fights for the right thing. He defeats his half-brother John for what the audience assumes is the title of Prince. Though the opening scene is not epic in the true sense, it is clear that the author wished to imitate this genre. Shakespeares lack of description of any other place enforces the idea that Italy is the entire world. A...

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