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Honor in Much Ado About Nothing: Theme & Quotes

Instructor: Amanda Wiesner-Groff

Amanda has created and taught English/ESL curricula worldwide, has an M.Ed, and is the current ESOL Coordinator for the Saint Louis Public School District.

This lesson will cover the theme of honor in William Shakespeare's ''Much Ado About Nothing''. We will go over honor, as it applies to both the male and female characters, as well as discuss how one goes about restoring honor once it is taken away.

Honor in Much Ado About Nothing

Have you ever felt honored by others, or experienced dishonor because of something wrong you have done? What does it even mean to have honor? Honor is the high respect and esteem that one receives from others, and is a major theme in William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. How that honor was earned, however, was not the same when it came to men and women. Men and women were not created equally in any means when it comes to honor in the play. We will go over these differences, with quotes and examples, as well as discuss how honor was restored after it had been taken away.

Honor for Women

During the time period of the play, a woman's honor was based upon her purity, fidelity, and obedience. A woman was meant to be obedient to her father, chaste while awaiting marriage, and then loyal and obedient to her husband once married. It is safe to say these behaviors are preferred nowadays, but expected of both women and men, right? Let's look at the ways Hero falls into these categories throughout the play.

Hero: A Woman of Honor

Hero, the main female character who is set to marry Claudio, another main character, is a strong example of what it looks like for women to uphold, lose, and then regain honor. She was very obedient to her father, which was evident when they discuss the upcoming visit from Don Pedro, the Prince of Aragon. Hero's father, Leonato, says to her '' Daughter, remember what I told you. If the Prince do solicit you in that kind. You know your answer.'' Of course, Don Pedro shows up with Claudio, who falls in love with Hero, but still questions if she is a woman of honor ''Is she not a modest young lady?'' Once Claudio can determine she is honorable enough to marry, Don Pedro makes a match with her father on Claudio's behalf; Hero obediently does as her father requests, and accepts this offer of marriage.

Hero Losing Honor

Hero's honor is quickly called into question when it is believed she has been unfaithful the night before her wedding. Since purity is such an important aspect of female honor, Claudio is very hung up on the need for Hero to exemplify this. At the end of Act III, Claudio is quick to lash out by saying, '' 'If I see any thing to-night why I should not marry her to-morrow…I will shame her.'' This is exactly what Claudio does; Hero is publicly shamed, and just like a scene from a soap opera, she is quickly dishonored in front of everyone.

Hero Regaining Honor

For a woman's honor to be restored, they needed to redeem their purity or have the men of their family restore honor for them. The friar suggests, ''let her awhile be secretly kept in, and publish it that she is dead indeed.'' The family agrees and waits for her purity, thus honor, to be restored while they pretend she is dead. Hero's father verbally duels back and forth with Claudio and Don Pedro; however, her honor is not truly restored until it is revealed that she is, in fact, still pure and chaste. Not likely a modern day scenario, but a quite dramatic series of events for a woman to go through for the sake of honor.

Honor for Men

For men, honor was based upon their noble and brave achievements while away at war. Men were expected to show strength, courage, and bravery while away fighting; imagine if that was the only way to receive honor in today's world!

Claudio: A Man of Honor

Just as Claudio judged Hero on her modesty, it was his actions at war that would tell Hero where Claudio stood in terms of honor and status. Rather than question others about him, she was more obedient and took the word of her father and other men. When her cousin Beatrice questioned, ''How many hath he killed and eaten in these wars'' Hero defended his honor by saying, ''He hath an excellent good name.''. Claudio was intent on keeping his name good, which was why he was so fearful of letting anything tarnish it.

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