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It is interesting that this play is supposedly a comedy, when in fact, as with so many of Shakespeare's "comedies," there lies within it a very dark and disturbing message that seems to detract from the funny antics and follies of the various characters. What Shakespeare shows in this play is that society is so completely male-centred that a woman, if she has her reputation challenged, falsely or otherwise, is as good as dead. This is evidenced in the famous marriage scene, in Act IV scene 1, where Claudio, instead of refusing to marry Hero quietly and allowing her to escape the situation with dignity, insists on publicly shaming her and her father on her wedding day in front of a full audience. Not only is Claudio's act reprehensible, but what is far more disturbing is Leonato's response and the way that he obviously believes Claudio over his daughter. Note what he says about Hero:
O, she is 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.
His words, said in anger and shock, actually convey great truth. Hero's name, now that she has falsely been accused of lascivious behaviour, is as good as dead. This world is so male-centred that there is no hope of her regaining her reputation, and it is only through metaphorically "dying" and being resurrected in the form of her cousin that Hero is able to gain any sort of life back again. The message that Shakespeare reveals about society in this play is therefore that virtue for women in the most prized possesion, because if they lose it they are as good as dead. This is a double standard that disturbs the comedy to its very core.
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