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Imagery in Much Ado About Nothing: Fashion & Clothing

Instructor: Celeste Bright

Celeste has taught college English for four years and holds a Ph.D. in English Language and Literature.

In ''Much Ado About Nothing,'' fashion is used as a metaphor for romantic relationships and public image. We'll look at some imagery in the play and discuss how fashion contributes to its meaning. We'll also learn about Elizabethan couture!

Husbands and Marriage as Wardrobe Essentials

Celebrity marriages are notorious for being short, and the media usually focus on engagement rings and wedding dresses rather than the couple's compatibility. As a play about appearances versus reality, Much Ado About Nothing also compares love and marriage to essential garments or accessories.

In Act 2, Scene 1, Beatrice complains about the scarcity of appealing eligible men. When Don Pedro jokingly proposes to her, she answers: ''No, my lord, unless I might have another for working-days. Your Grace is too costly to wear every day.'' Here, Beatrice compares the prince to formal clothing, such as an evening gown. She playfully implies that a man like the prince is too grand for her.

Costly royal attire as worn by Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales
Costly royal attire as worn by Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales

Hero also compares marriage to fashion - and says Beatrice has no fashion sense. In a staged conversation with Ursula for Beatrice to ''eavesdrop'' on in Act 3, Hero complains that Beatrice is too critical of men. ''So turns she every man the wrong side out,'' Hero says, using an image of an inside-out piece of clothing.

Beatrice rethinks her rejection of Benedick when she hears Hero's assessment: ''No, not to be so odd, and from all fashions, As Beatrice is, cannot be commendable.'' Hero means that Beatrice needs to pick some style of man to wear.

Love as Fashion and Claudio as a Trend-Chaser

Falling in love is also compared to fashion. In Act 2, Scene 2, Benedick laments his changed relationship with Claudio, which was once defined by bachelorhood and military service together. He claims that Claudio is fickle for falling in love with Hero, and Benedick can't relate to him anymore - especially since he's sworn himself to permanent bachelorhood.

Using music imagery, Benedick complains: ''I have known when there was no music with him but the drum and the fife, and now he had rather hear the tabor and the pipe.'' Claudio is trading military music for festival or wedding music (a tabor is a small drum; the tabor and pipe were played at happy social occasions).

Similarly, Benedick refers to military clothing versus fashionable civilian dress: ''I have known when he would have walk'd ten mile afoot (on foot) to see a good armor, and now will he lie ten nights awake carving (planning) the fashion of a new doublet.'' A doublet was a type of men's jacket worn from the 15th to the 17th century. Presumably, Claudio wants to look his best for Hero, prioritizing fashion over function.

A doublet was a type of jacket men wore from the 15th to the 17th century.
Unknown Man in a Red Doublet (painting by Hans Eworth)

In short, because Claudio is passing from one life stage to another, Benedick accuses him of being a trend-chaser. Claudio certainly does seem flaky when he shames Hero at their wedding altar because of a malicious rumor. However, we know that Benedick too will change his mind later when he falls in love with Beatrice.

Bad Fashion: The Conspiracy Against Hero and Claudio

For a villain, Don John's henchman Borachio has an oddly nagging conscience. In Act 3, Scene 3, he pours out his guilt to Conrade, comparing the conspiracy against Hero and Claudio to a bad trend. ''But seest thou not what a deformed thief this fashion is?'' Even if the beauty of love and marriage are subjective, destroying them for innocent people is, for Borachio, in undeniably bad taste.

Referring to pieces of art as examples of how painters can distort a subject's appearance, Borachio explains how he and Don John have done the same thing using the darkness of night and Margaret's costume of Hero's clothing. Together, they've distorted the truth for Claudio and fabricated Hero's bad image.

In discussing the damage that his callously enterprising behavior causes, Borachio implies that the male gender is likely to be guilty. It's the play's main female characters, Hero and Beatrice, who scrutinize men as clothes or accessories. Barachio, however, observes: ''Thou knowest that the fashion of a doublet, or a hat, or a cloak, is nothing to a man.''

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