Battles, beasts, and banquets: pattern of imagery in Much Ado About Nothing
Gammill, Karen Russell
Huston, J. Dennis
Master of Arts
To date, the three most important works on Shakespearean imagery are Caroline Spurgeon's Shakespeare's Imagery and What It Tells Us, Edward Armstrong's Shakespeare's Imagination, and translated from the German, Wolfgang Clemen's The Development of Shakespeare's Imagery. Surprisingly, though, only Clemen attempts to relate image-clusters to the theme of each play—and has nothing to say about Much Ado about Nothing. My thesis traces three patterns of imagery through the play and attempts to relate changes in the use of these three images to the development of the characters and the theme of the play. The image of battle pervades Much Ado on many levels, from the "skirmish of wit" between Beatrice and Benedick to the conflict over Hero's reputation and Beatrice's demand that Benedick "Kill Claudio." In Benedick and Claudio, Shakespeare gives us two variations of Miles Gloriosus; romantic and anti-romantic pride contrast in the two characters. Ultimately, Benedick's use of battle imagery confirms a change in his entire approach to life and love. His main concern is no longer to avoid humiliation, and Beatrice's "paper bullets of the brain" no longer deter him. The play finally comes full circle back to a comic use of battle imagery, with Benedick "dying" in Beatrice's lap by. the end of the play. Animal imagery serves to point up the changing patterns of predators within the play; characters are transformed from predators to prey very quickly. Also emphasized are the characters' efforts to bait or trap one another into love, anger, or deception. Animal imagery strengthens the undercurrent of sexuality between Beatrice and Benedick in particular, and ultimately highlights the changes these two characters undergo as Beatrice vows to "tame my wild heart" and Benedick shrugs off ridicule to assert that "the only reverent staff is one tipped with horn." I have divided banquet imagery into two separate chapters, one dealing with images of food and eating, the other dealing with images of song and dance; the movement of the two sets of images in the play is parallel. Much Ado begins with a homecoming feast and masque, and these traditional symbols of community are disrupted with the plottings of various attending characters. As the play then moves into darkness, images of eating become expressions of aggression, while the light songs of the early play become a dirge for Hero's "death." As do the other two images, the banquet metaphor comes full circle; Much Ado ends with a wedding feast and dance, and our awareness in this final scene of community is heightened by the changes that these three sets of images have undergone.