What aspect of family life was critical to make Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing convincing to an Elizabethan audience?
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One aspect of social and family life that is critical to understand in order to see Much Ado About Nothing as convincing for an Elizabethan audience is that girls were educated to be chaste.
In Elizabethan society, girls were not educated unless they were of noble birth. Leonato has a very high social rank as the governor of Messina and, thus, would have likely had his daughter Hero privately educated by a tutor, as well as his niece Beatrice. Hero's and Beatrice's education would have especially emphasized chastity and learning how to be a wife ("The Elizabethan Age," Shakespeare In American Communities). Chastity was especially important in this time period as society was still very closely connected with the church. Women were expected to remain chaste and pure until marriage, as we see portrayed in Much Ado About Nothing.
Benedick mentions the importance of chastity as he puzzles over why Claudio has decided to marry and argues that until a woman has every charm of beauty, wisdom, and virtue, he will have nothing to do with women (II.iii.23-26). He especially emphasizes the importance or virtue, meaning chastity, when he says, "Rich she shall be, that's certain; wise, or I'll none; virtuous, or I'll never cheapen her" (27-28).
The importance of chastity in women is especially emphasized when Hero is accused by both Claudio and Don Pedro of being with a man at midnight the night before Hero's wedding day. Claudio accuses her of no longer being a maiden, as we see in his lines:
Would you not swear,
All you that see her, that she were a maid
By these exterior shows [of blushing]? But she is none:
She knows the heat of a luxurious bed. (IV.35-38)
Since Claudio rejects accepting Hero as his bride based on his belief that she is no longer chaste, we see that chastity among women is central to the play. Not only that, it is central to understanding that it was vital for women in Elizabethan society to remain chaste until marriage, proving that the Elizabethan audience would be easily convinced of Hero's plight and the story line.
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