How are Leanato, Claudio and Don Pedro presented in their treatment of Hero?
The characters of Leanato, Claudio and Don Pedro are key to the plot of Shakespeare’s play, ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ and in act 4, Scene 1 we see a significant change in how these characters are presented compared to earlier on in the play; a transition which is highlighted through their treatment of Hero. Although the reasoning behind their behaviour (rumours of Hero’s assumed infidelity) is clearly evident, and may seem quite unjust to modern day audiences, it is important to first understand the mindset of audiences at the time.
In Shakespearean times, male hierarchy played an important role in the structure of society. Elizabethan women were dominated by the men in their family; first by their fathers and then by their husbands. They were seen as inferiors and were required to be submissive and obey men in all walks of life for their entire lives. In many aristocrat families, marriage was regarded as a contract where the woman brought wealth to the groom in the form of property and/or money. Whilst husbands were the bread-winners, wives were expected to take full care of the household and bear children. They were expected to remain loyal and faithful throughout and If need be, they were disciplined by their husbands. A woman was regarded as the property and honour of men, be it her father, brother or her husband. Honour meant reputation, status and respect and a man’s honour was earned through conduct in battle and the virtue of a daughter or wife. A woman’s honour on the other hand was based upon her chastity. She was required to be a virgin at the time of marriage and even rumours of any sexual involvement before marriage would ruin her respect and honour. She wold be shamed and disowned by not only her own family but by society as a whole and it is this concept of ‘the code of honour’ that somewhat explains the cruel behaviour that Hero faces by her father Leonato, Claudio and Don Pedro.
From early on in the play, we learn that Claudio is an idealistic lover who falls in love with Hero, Leonato’s daughter, over the course of one silent meeting. Although he is portrayed as an honourable and decent character, his passionate feelings and the enthusiasm with which he gives himself up hint towards his immaturity. He takes a liking to Hero based on her beauty as he asks Benedick “Can the world buy such a jewel?” before proclaiming that “she is the sweetest lady I e’er looked on”. However, Claudio’s words and interactions soon demonstrate that his feelings for Hero are superficial and that he is more interested in her wealth. This is evident when he first inquires to Don Pedro, “Hath Leonato any son, my lord?” he wants to know whether Hero will be the sole heir to her father’s property and wealth. Upon confirmation that she is the only heir, Claudio’s like turns to love and he expresses a desire to marry her. Her wealth and beauty will make her an ideal ‘trophy wife’....