Appearance and Deception
A recurring theme in many of Shakespeare’s plays, and central to Much Ado About Nothing, explores how easily people are deceived not just by the false testimony of others but even by their own senses. Claudio, believing he was deceived by Don John, learned to place no trust in the words of others. With “Let every eye negotiate for itself,” Claudio expressed his new guiding principle. He would believe only what he saw and heard for himself. But that principle proved equally misleading. When he was told Hero was unfaithful, he decided to be his own eyewitness to her betrayal. When he thought he saw Hero with Borachio in the window of her room at night and believed he heard her speaking to Borachio, Claudio sought retribution by humiliating her at their wedding alter. This caused the play’s much ado that proved to be based on nothing.
Shakespeare’s theme of appearance, deception and truth deepens when most of the characters except Friar Francis and Beatrice are persuaded of Hero’s infidelity. Only Friar Francis’s faith, Beatrice’s love and the fools’ luck led them to see the truth. Beatrice proclaims Hero’s innocence, based on Beatrice’s love of her “kinswoman.” Friar Francis proclaims Hero’s innocence based on his faith in her virtue. In the end, the fools’ chance discovery of Hero’s innocence restores harmony to the household. Borachio succinctly sums up this theme with, “I have deceived even your very eyes. What your wisdoms could not discover, these shallow fools have brought to light.”