Bastard of the Week: Claudio from Much Ado About Nothing

If you think I sound bitter, that’s because I am. Since first studying ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, probably my favourite Shakespeare ‘comedy’, I have always thought that Claudio was a bastard. Now, I know that everything has a ‘happy ending’. It’s a comedy so everyone gets married which, given the circumstances, is uncomfortably hilarious. Just before we go on you should know that whilst this is very technically an analysis of Claudio, I am probably the most bias person you could meet on the subject. Beatrice x Benedict.

We open the play with a Claudio love-fest. Everyone’s besotted with the guy. He’s young, he’s dashing, without a notable family he’s a self-made man. To be completely fair to his fellow men-of-war, if I was going into battle I’d want the most blood-thirsty guy on my team too. Because despite all the heroics, that’s essentially what Claudio is; the most brutal guy amongst some very experiences soldiers. Just how violent is this guy to impress these old hands? At worst he has violent tendencies, but taking this first parade of Claudio into account, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. Let’s put it down to passion. He’s a passionate guy when his blood is up. In war and in love, he is quick to feeling, and quick to injure.

This gallivanting group pitch up at the doors of our stonking great castle, where the bewilderingly beautiful Hero lives with her father the owner of this magnificent estate and the awesome Beatrice, her witty cousin (though they are raised more like sisters). Now, not to be pessimistic, but this is a gigantic castle. The man who marries Hero and legally inherits all of this, that is going to be one well-off guy. I’ve dithered on this point for years. Is Claudio really in love with Hero? Or (paraphrasing Shakespeare’s messenger a bit here) is our lamb attempting the feat of a lion by securing Hero, and the lands, to be the head of a pride?

Claudio’s pride throughout the whole play is a force to be reckoned with. But he does seem to thrive in his work, why should he want to trade that in to play the country gent with responsibilities rather than orders? And to be amazingly frank with you, I’m not certain that he’s really clever enough to be calculating. I think the thought process here is more: pretty girl. And uh, that’s about it.

It may seem harsh to cast off Claudio as a classic meathead at this early stage, but quite honestly, the ammunition behind such an argument is astounding. Minutes after meeting Hero, he declares himself to be in love. A little conversation later, mostly with his mates and then with Hero’s father and he’s suddenly engaged. Right, fine, given the time period I do concede that conversation is more of a hindrance than an aphrodisiac to a marriage proposal, let alone a marriage.

Of course, as with all comedies a tricky situation over a pound note ensues. Only it’s not so much a tricky situation as it is a political/personal crisis, and it isn’t so much a pound note as it is Hero’s virginity (translation: her worth as a human being). Evil is afoot, convoluted plans ensue and before you know it Hero’s servant Margaret is having sex with an unsavoury gentleman. In Hero’s room. Of course, our lamb-man Claudio is lured there to see two figures in Hero’s room getting amorous.

Without being overly dramatic; when is this set? Is it April? Claudio, were you literally born yesterday? What kind of sheltered upbringing does this man have; he is lured, in the dead of night, to watch to shadowy figures have sex in Hero’s room. He doesn’t see her face, doesn’t hear her voice. He believes the dodgy lot who say that Hero is secretly a loose woman, will cuckold him and turn him into a laughing stock.

On this circumstantial evidence he public denounces Hero as a whore.

He doesn’t listen to her pleas of innocence; he doesn’t see her distress. He ruins her reputation entirely. In front of her friends, her family, her guests, her household; he denounces her love as play-acting and spurns her. Her father feels so utterly humiliated, he wishes for his only child’s death. Which is creepy within itself. Claudio does not have the respect, not even for her father and his host, to retract his proposal in private. 

In another convoluted plan, this time on the side of good. The presiding Friar decides to fake Hero’s death (a natural reaction). To prove her innocence. Which, to me at least, always sounded about as logical as drowning women accused of witchcraft. Claudio must then deal with the guilt of causing her death. Here we learn that pain and pleas are contemptible; they are worth nothing unless you actually die.

An accessory to the crime admits to the deception, and Hero is cleared of all involvement in the matter. Guilt motivates Claudio. Public mourning motivates Claudio. He is asked to marry a woman in recompense, to which he readily agrees. Eye for an eye. Or bride for a bride. If an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, a bride for a bride would have half the world dead and the other half married.

But here is my issue: an problem with this piece that haunts me. Claudio’s humiliated pride at the idea that his fiance is sleeping around I can almost reconcile. His public renunciation, I cannot accept. It ruins not only their love, but their lives. After this mix-up is cleared up, how would it have looked if he had simply apologised and moved on? Ingenuous, to a man who was supposedly very much in love. Heartless to a man, supposedly overcome with grief. Would it not have been a very short leap in this world of gossip to think that Hero’s father and family, a clan of great influence had paid for this revelation? Exacted Hero’s tattered reputation with an after-thought apology?

No. Marriage is the only balm. It could not be a cure. Their mutual naivety dies within days of meeting one another. Perhaps this is where a type of comedy lies: Imagine a partner who never believed you, you’d be faking your death a few times ever week.

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