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Much Ado About Nothing

by William Shakespeare

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What can we infer about cultural and social conventions of the time in Act 2, scene 3 of Shakespeare's Much Ado about Nothing?

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There are many inferences of social and cultural conventions of the day in Act II, scene iii of Shakespeare's Much Ado about Nothing (pronounced note-ing). One inference reveals attitudes relating to servitude. In the beginning of the act, Benedick calls to his servant with an imperious, depersonalizing "Boy!" The servant comes instantly and replies with "Signor?" There is not much in the single word itself to reveal the servant's attitude but his following line, after being asked to bring a book, reveals good humour (and maybe some intentional stupidity!) if in no other way than though the lack of resentment and bitterness: "I am here already, sir." The conclusion follows that one socio-cultural convention was for masters of servants to be rude, curt, and disrespectful while at least some servants responded with readiness in carrying out commands and good humor, with a touch of intentional or unintentional stupidity.

Two other socio-cultural conventions pertaining to a soldiers life are exposed in Benedick's Act II, scene iii monologue about Claudio. He reveals that soldiers take a serious interest in their accoutrement's of war ("would have walked ten mile a-foot to see a / good armour") and that this interest can be side-tracked by feelings of love, as is the case with Claudio: "now will he lie ten nights awake, / carving the fashion of a new doublet." Benedick also reveals that soldiers "speak plain and to the purpose." Yet again, love may turn them from their habitual plain ways, as is also the case for Claudio: "his / words are a very fantastical banquet."

Two other socio-cultural conventions inferred relate to music and love. Music was a household constant. Wealthy individual had household musicians as is testified to by the presence of Balthasar and his musicians; this is a socio-cultural convention confirmed in As You Like It by the presence of the singer in the forest of Arden with the deposed Duke Ferdinand Senior. Love always follows music, and music always accompanies love, so it is no surprise that from Balthasar's music we learned that the socio-cultural convention of disappointment in love was the same as it is today:

troubles in love as now / … /
Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never:

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