Personification in Much Ado About Nothing: Examples & Meaning

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will define personification and identify examples of this literary device in William Shakespeare's ''Much Ado about Nothing''. In this play, personification is used to express the strong emotions of Benedick and Claudio.

Background and Definitions

Michael Jackson uses human actions to characterize fear in his song 'Thriller', ''You try to scream but terror takes the sound before you make it. You start to freeze as horror looks you right between the eyes. You're paralyzed.''

Personification is attributing human qualities to something that is not human, such as emotions. Like terror 'taking sound' or horror 'looking you' right in the eyes.

In William Shakespeare's Much Ado about Nothing, personification is used to add color to this comedic love story of Beatrice and Benedick, who are sparring partners that realize there is more to their relationship, and Claudio and Hero, who immediately love each other, but let miscommunications come between them.

Let's look at some examples of personification from this play.

Benedick and Beatrice's War of Words

While teasing Benedick, Beatrice says that even courtesy turns to disdain when he's around. Benedick replies, ''Then is courtesy a turncoat.'' Benedick is personifying courtesy as a traitor, because if it could so quickly turn on someone.

Benedick and Beatrice's ongoing war of words is somewhat playful, but sometimes hurtful. Benedick explains to Don Pedro, ''She speaks poniards (daggers) and every word stabs.''

While words do not literally have the ability to stab, they do have the capacity to hurt a person's feelings. By personifying Beatrice's words, Benedick is able to describe how he feels when Beatrice verbally attacks him.

Claudio and Hero's Relationship

Claudio is also prone to using personification to describe his emotional state. When Leonato agrees to give Claudio his blessing to marry his daughter, Hero, Claudio is speechless. He finally says, ''Silence is the perfectist herald of joy.'' Claudio is personifying his silence as an announcement of his intense happiness.

Claudio is fooled by Don John into thinking that Hero has been unfaithful to him. When he goes to the church to marry her, Claudio confronts her publicly about being unchaste. Don John tries to stop him saying, ''There is not chastity enough in language, - Without offense, to utter them.''

In other words, there is no way to describe her vile acts without offending people. Don John is personifying language as having the ability to be chaste to convey how disgusting Hero's supposed behavior is.

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