Hero in Much Ado About Nothing: Character Analysis & Description

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  • 0:04 Shakespeare's Women
  • 1:14 The Good Daughter
  • 2:29 Swooning Hero
  • 3:00 The Foil
  • 4:11 Classical vs. Contemporary
  • 5:04 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy Roberts is an adjunct instructor in English, film/media studies and interdisciplinary studies.

This lesson looks at the character of Hero in William Shakespeare's ''Much Ado About Nothing:'' her physical traits and dramatic function in the play, and ways her character can be understood in the context of mythology and Elizabethan society.

Shakespeare's Women

Shakespeare's comedies are peopled with a repertoire of women: love interests, wives, mothers, maids, and temptresses. Beatrice's energetic monologue in Much Ado About Nothing testifies to the playwright's awareness of and concern for the representation of women: 'O God, that I were a man! I would eat his heart in the market-place... I cannot be a man with wishing, therefore I will die a woman with grieving.' Beatrice thus joins the ranks of Shakespeare's notorious women: Katherine (from Taming of the Shrew), Olivia (from Twelfth Night), and Rosalind (from As You Like It).

But Hero (Beatrice's cousin and female-costar in Much Ado) isn't one of Shakespeare's more notorious women. Hero is one of four main characters, including Beatrice, Benedick, and Claudio, but she speaks far less than the others. Hero is the constant topic of conversation in Much Ado About Nothing - her name is repeated 59 times throughout the play - yet this sweet, demure girl rarely opens her mouth. They might as well have wheeled a mannequin onto the stage.

Let's take a closer look at the character of Hero in Much Ado About Nothing in order to get to the bottom of this apparent contradiction.

The Good Daughter

Hero initially appears to be a one-dimensional character because her external, physical appearance reflects her personality directly. Dressed in white, lacy gowns, Hero is beautiful, innocent, and polite. We're left to wonder whether Hero is anything more than just a pretty face.

Like Bianca in Taming of the Shrew, Phoebe in As You Like it, and Miranda in The Tempest, Hero in Much Ado About Nothing is one of many examples of good, submissive, and passive women in Shakespeare's comedies.

Hero, the good girl, doesn't have much of a personality on her own. She is defined through her relationships with the other characters: Leonato's gentle daughter and Claudio's graceful fiancée. Take for example, this phrase form Act III, scene 2 of Much Ado About Nothing: 'Leonato's Hero, Your hero, every man's Hero.'

Or for Claudio, it's love at first sight: 'In mine eye she is the sweetest lady that ever I looked on.'

But Benedick has a different view of Hero, which he offers in his characteristically sardonic manner: 'I can see yet without spectacles and I see no such matter.' To Benedick, Hero is too short to be a woman of 'high praise' and her complexion too dark for her to be 'fair.' To Benedick, Hero is frail and waif-like. The only praise he can give her is that her face is pretty.

Swooning Hero

On her wedding day, Hero is met with the most unexpected of blows. Claudio, having learned of Hero's apparent infidelity, shuns her and casts her out of his life:

'Give not this rotten orange to your friend;
She's but the sign and semblance of her honour.
Behold how like a maid she blushes here!
O, what authority and show of truth
Can cunning sin cover itself withal!'

Hero is devastated. As the staging reads: 'Hero swoons, as in faints, overwhelmed by the aggravation and passion of the moment.

The Foil

In terms of characterization within Much Ado, Hero acts as a counterpart to Beatrice. Hero is a foil character, which is a kind of sidekick, like Holmes' Watson, Batman's Robin, or Jay's Silent Bob, for example. Whereas Beatrice is witty and verbose, Hero is meek and deferential. Still, Hero is an essential character because the plot could not exist without her. Even if she is a mannequin-like stock character, Hero is an empty vessel into which male characters pour their expectations and desires.

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