Hero (Much Ado about Nothing)

It is time to mention that Much Ado about Nothing is one of the three plays Shakespeare wrote about people making a change from a same-sex to an opposite-sex relationship.

"Bah, humbug!"

Maybe. But it's my contention, based on little solid evidence, that Shakespeare considered himself a strictly gay man until he was quite advanced--say 25, or maybe older. His best friend, and mentor, was Christopher Marlowe, who was or wasn't openly gay, depending on which critic you read.

When Shakespeare discovered that he was attracted to women, his first reaction was total panic, partially generated by his own Oedipus complex. He then wrote three plays about his realization: Much Ado, in which everything heterosexual is wonderful, As You Like It, in which heterosexuality has various difficulties associated with it, some of them created by the Oedipus complex, and Hamlet, in which being a heterosexual male proves to be fraught with danger and terror and is ultimately fatal.

What this has to do with Much Ado: Hero is infatuated with Beatrice, if not actually in love with her.
Lady, were you her bedfellow last night?

No, truly, not; although, until last night, I have this twelvemonth been her bedfellow. (Ado, IV.1.148-9)
And Beatrice, who had been jilted by Benedick at some earlier time, is glad to have Hero's affection. But then Hero transers her affection to men in general and Claudio in particular. Loss of Hero's affectino is a crushing blow to Beatrice, and propels her into her ill-advised raillery with Don Pedro, which leads to his marriage proposal, which she has to refuse, which leaves pretty much everybody miserable except Hero and Claudio, and their happiness is due for a shock.

Men in general: I could make a good case that all of the following fall in love with Hero:
  1. Don Pedro
  2. Claudio
  3. Don John (!)
  4. Friar Francis (!)
  5. Leonato, her father (!)
--and I have put in an exclamation point where I expect screams of outrage from the reader (!).

Don Pedro: is a pretty straightforward choice. He falls in love with Hero in the first scene, and if you stage the play, you discover that Don Pedro ignores and walks right past Leonato to get to Hero.

Claudio: at the end of the first scene he and Don Pedro finally get the loquacious, prose-talking Benedick off the stage so that they can go into blank verse and talk about Claudio's love for Hero.

Don John: he joins the others in reviling Hero at the altar, which fits with his self-professed character as a villain. But his rebukes seem to have a personal regret in them. And why, if he's denigrating her, should he call her "pretty lady"?
Fie, fie! they are not to be nam'd, my lord,
Not to be spoke of;
There is not chastity, enough in language
Without offence to utter them. Thus, pretty lady,
I am sorry for thy much misgovernment.          (Ado IV.1.95-9)
Friar Francis: devises an elaborate scheme whereby he hopes that Hero's reputation will be restored. However, if it fails, he suggests that the best thing would be if she comes to live with him:
But if all aim but this be levell'd false,
The supposition of the lady's death
Will quench the wonder of her infamy.
And if it sort not well, you may conceal her,
As best befits her wounded reputation,
In some reclusive and religious life,
Out of all eyes, tongues, minds, and injuries.          (Ado IV.1.237-43)
Leonato: his outrage on hearing of Hero's supposed infidelity is more suitable to a wronged lover than to a doting father:

Why ever wast thou lovely in my eyes?
Why had I not with charitable hand
Took up a beggar's issue at my gates,
Who smirchèd thus and mired with infamy,
I might have said, 'No part of it is mine;
This shame derives itself from unknown loins'?
But mine, and mine I loved, and mine I praised,
And mine that I was proud on--mine so much
That I myself was to myself not mine,
Valuing of her--why, she, O, she is fall'n          fallen
Into a pit of ink, that the wide sea
Hath drops too few to wash her clean again,
And salt too little which may season give
To her foul tainted flesh!          (Ado IV.1.130-43)
If this isn't rough enough, he also offers to kill Hero, his own daughter, for her infidelities:
I know not. If they speak but truth of her,
These hands shall tear her.          (Ado IV.1.190-1)
(And we can note here that Shakespeare three times gives someone who intends murder a name which contains "Leo," for examples, Leontato here, Leonine, who gets hired to kill Marina in Pericles and Leontes in The Winter's Tale, who wants to have his wife Hermione executed.)

So it's pretty safe to assume that Hero is very, very attractive.


© Deloss Brown 2020

Back to CHARACTERS.