Don Pedro, Don John, Borachio and Conrade (Much Ado about Nothing)
I stuck Don Pedro and Don John on the same page, because they are very cleverly written opposites. Borachio and Conrade can only be understood by their association with Don John.
Note first, please, that Don Pedro and Don John are the highest ranking humans in the play. Shakespeare likes to write about kings (even Othello is a king), but Don Pedro and Don John are only princes. The king in this play is Dogberry, the King of the Universe.
They are also named after two of the Apostles: "Pedro" is of course Spanish for "Peter" (who himself appears in the play; see Verges) and Prince John is presumably named after "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (John 20:22). But Shakespeare has taken the minimal information we have about these apostles and extrapolated it a way that a lesser writer would never have dreamed of.
They represent the opposite sides of the struggle between good and evil. Don Pedro's goodness comes out in his actions; Don John describes himself: "It must not be denied I am but a plain-dealing villain" (Ado I.3.29). Borachio refers to John as "the devil my master" (Ado III.3.148). At the beginning of the play, they have all returned from the war between Don Pedro and Don John, which Don Pedro won, as good must always triumph. Their war is a miniature of the great war between God and the Devil.
Let's take Don Pedro first: he is, like God himself, overflowing with unselfish love. In I.1 he instantly falls in love with Hero, and ignores Leonato to talk to her. But when Claudio expresses an interest in Hero, Don Pedro instantly offers to be his advocate.
When he sees Beatrice in distress at the harsh things Benedick has just said about her, he immediately proposes:
When Amber Voiles did this scene for me at NYU, and I told her to weep at "Good Lord, for alliance," she looked at me in disbelief: "Are you serious?"
In faith, lady, you have a merry heart.
Yea, my lord; I thank it, poor fool, it keeps on the windy side of care.
(HERO whispers in Claudio's ear.)
My cousin tells him in his ear that he is in her heart.
And so she doth, cousin.
Good Lord, for alliance! Thus goes every one to the world but I, and I am sunburnt. I may sit in a corner and cry 'Heigh-ho for a husband!'
(BEATRICE walks DS from the others, to hide the fact that she is weeping--see below)
Lady Beatrice, I will get you one.
I would rather have one of your father's getting. Hath your Grace ne'er a brother like you? Your father got excellent husbands, if a maid could come by them.
(DON PEDRO walks up to BEATRICE and kneels--my SD, but others have done it)
Will you have me, lady?
No, my lord, unless I might have another for working days: your Grace is too costly to wear every day. But I beseech your Grace pardon me. I was born to speak all mirth and no matter.
Of course I was serious. Beatrice has undergone the humiliation of being horribly insulted in public by the man she truly loves, Benedick, and then she sees her younger(!) cousin Hero, who has always worshipped Beatrice, leaving to become happily engaged. And Beatrice is a spinster! She might be 21 or 22! Yes, she weeps, but only Don Pedro sees it.
And instantly Don Pedro falls in love with Beatrice, and proposes marriage. This compounds Beatrice's misery. By not curbing her tongue, she has influenced Don Pedro to propose to her--and he's a wonderful man, and a royalty--and she doesn't love him, and hse has to turn him down! It's no wonder she's runs away quickly, forgetting to curtsey to the prince until her uncle reminds her.
Don Pedro, jilted, holds no rancor for anybody. As soon as Beatrice exits, he says:
Contrast Don Pedro's unselfish desire to see others happy with Don John's attitude towards the rest of the human race. When someone loves Don John, he accepts it without understanding, and without any desire to reciprocate. Borachio, for reasons unknown to us, offers to sacrifice his loving relationship with Margaret to gain Don John's ends; as soon as Don John learns that Claudio is to marry Hero, than he expresses his displeasure.
By my troth, a pleasant-spirited lady.
There's little of the melancholy element in her, my lord. She is never sad but when she sleeps, and not ever sad then; for I have heard my daughter say she hath often dreamt of unhappiness and wak'd herself with laughing.
She cannot endure to hear tell of a husband.
O, by no means! She mocks all her wooers out of suit.
She were an excellent wife for Benedick.
O Lord, my lord! if they were but a week married, they would talk themselves mad. (Ado II.1.315-26)
Why is Don John so eager to smash up Hero and Claudio's marriage?
It is so. The Count Claudio shall marry the daughter of Leonato.
Yea, my lord; but I can cross it.
Any bar, any cross, any impediment will be med'cinable to me. I am sick in displeasure to him, and whatsoever comes athwart his affection ranges evenly with mine. How canst thou cross this marriage?
Not honestly, my lord, but so covertly that no dishonesty shall appear in me.
Show me briefly how.
I think I told your lordship, a year since, how much I am in the favour of Margaret, the waiting gentlewoman to Hero.
I can, at any unseasonable instant of the night, appoint her to look out at her lady's chamber window.
What life is in that to be the death of this marriage?
The poison of that lies in you to temper. Go you to the Prince your brother; spare not to tell him that he hath wronged his honour in marrying the renowned Claudio (whose estimation do you mightily hold up) to a contaminated stale, such a one as Hero.
What proof shall I make of that?
Proof enough to misuse the Prince, to vex Claudio, to undo Hero, and kill Leonato. Look you for any other issue?
Only to despite them I will endeavor anything.
Go then; find me a meet hour to draw Don Pedro and the Count Claudio alone; tell them that you know that Hero loves me; intend a kind of zeal both to the Prince and Claudio, as--in love of
your brother's honour, who hath made this match, and his friend's reputation, who is thus like to be cozened with the semblance of a maid--that you have discovered thus. They will scarcely believe
this without trial. Offer them instances; which shall bear no less likelihood than to see me at her chamber window, hear me call Margaret Hero, hear Margaret term me Claudio; and bring them
to see this the very night before the intended wedding (for in the meantime I will so fashion the matter that Hero shall be absent) and there shall appear such seeming truth of Hero's disloyalty that jealousy shall be called assurance and all the preparation overthrown.
Grow this to what adverse issue it can, I will put it in practice. Be cunning in the working this, and thy fee is a thousand ducats.
Be you constant in the accusation, and my cunning shall not shame me.
Borachio, in love with Don John, readily sacrifices the happiness of all those other people to please John. He plans on using, as an unimportant instrument, the affection between himself and Margaret, whose reputation is left in doubt, even though she was merely innocently used.
- He hates Claudio, because Claudio fought well against him in his war against his brother, Don Pedro.
- Don Pedro was instrumental in arranging the marriage, and Don John is pleased to spoil any plan of Don Pedro's.
- Don John has, as he has told us, a malevolent nature, and hates to see anybody happy.
- Don John, like so many other men in the play, is himself in love with Hero (q.v.).
And when Don John learns of the sacrifice Borachio is willing to make for him, does he say "thank you"? It never occurs to him. It's not in his nature. He knows he should make some response, so he replies, "thy fee is a thousand ducats." Shakespeare has noticed that the Bible says that John was "the disciple whom Jesus loved," but leaves out any mention of what we assume: that John loved Jesus in return.
Borachio, in a muddled way, gradually becomes aware that he has thrown his love away on someone who was never deserving it. In a later conversation with Borachio, he muses:
Seest thou not, I say, what a deformed thief this fashion is? how giddily 'a turns about all the hot-bloods between fourteen and five-and-thirty? sometimes fashioning them like Pharaoh's soldiers in the reechy [sooty] painting, sometime like god Bel's priests in the old church window, sometime like the shaven Hercules in the smirched worm-eaten tapestry, where his codpiece seems as massy as his club?
If we understand that "the shaven Hercules" is in fact a tapestry of the shaven Samson, we realize that everything Borachio is talking about--Pharaoh's soldiers, the god Bel [Baal], the overthrown Samson--has to do with the worship of unworthy gods, which was Borachio's attitude towards Prince John.
So Don Pedro is bursting with generous love which he is ready to bestow on anybody (he has even forgiven his brother for making war on him), and Don John is like a heat-sink for the emotions. You can pour into him all the love you possess, and it simply disappears.
Conrade is not as worshipful of Don John as Borachio is, but he is a faithful follower and abetter. He gets on Dogberry's nerves almost instantly.
Dogberry is not fond of human pretenses. He has already expressed his indifference to George Seacoal's ability to write and read, and here's somebody who has "can read" in his very name.
Yea, marry, let them come before me. What is your name, friend?
Pray write down Borachio. Yours, sirrah?
I am a gentleman, sir, and my name is Conrade.
Write down Master Gentleman Conrade.
I do not mean to imply that in performance Conrade should affect pomposity. One of the first requirements for performing Shakespeare is to "talk like a human being," in Tim Monich's deathless phrase. You don't have to do any more than what's on the page, using your actor's instincts. However it is necessary to figure out why the free-wheeling Conrade is so almost completely silent in his last scene. We sent him on with a stick in his mouth and gagged, and I have since learned that I did not invent this idea, and others have done it.
© Deloss Brown 2020
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