How is deception in society during the time period of the Renaissance implicated in Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In order to examine how deception in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing implicates (i.e., implies, infers) deception in Renaissance England, we'll draw some guidance from Ann Wroe's 2004 book, The Perfect Prince: Truth and Deception in Renaissance Europe, in which Wroe offers an accurate historical description of the role of deception in the Renaissance:

The other vital accomplishment was to be silver-tongued: ... a self-promoter. Outspokenness was a virtue, but the best of all was to "boast and lie like a trooper," ....  Dissembling was both game and burden. (The Perfect Prince, p. 25) 

While speaking of the upper classes, deception, as Wroe describes it, was necessary not only to advance one's position in society but to maintain it as well. There were intrigues and manipulations as individuals vied for the favor of wealthy or courtly protectors and patrons. There were lies being told to bolster one's own position (or one’s friend’s position) and to detract from others’ positions. Thus deception had a dual necessity: deception was active in corrupt advancement and betrayal and equally active in protecting, defending, and revealing truth.

All this is precisely reflected in Much Ado About Nothing. We see this deceit of betrayal in the play's central deceit, that of Brachio's plot to discredit Hero's honor on behalf of Don Jon's outraged ego. We see this deceit of advancement in the plot to trick Benedick into believing Beatrice loves and pines for him. We see this deceit of protection in Friar Francis's plot to reclaim Hero's honor and discover the truth behind Claudio's accusations. We clearly see the dual necessity of deception as godly Friar Francis perpetrates deception in order to restore honor and discover truth; this is a seeming paradox: truth is defended and sought by deception.    

    There is some strange misprision in the princes.
    Your daughter here the princes left for dead:
    Let her awhile be secretly kept in,
    And publish it that she is dead indeed;
    Maintain a mourning ostentation
    And on your family's old monument
    Hang mournful epitaphs and do all rites
    That appertain unto a burial.
    For to strange sores strangely they strain the cure.
    Come, lady, die to live: ....

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Much Ado About Nothing

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