Illustration of Hero wearing a mask

Much Ado About Nothing

by William Shakespeare

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What is the significance of music in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing?

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References to music are found all throughout the play. Music and dancing aid in courtship and, thus, also symbolize courtship. Paul N. Siegel points out that the entire structure of the play is laid out like a folk dance characteristic of this time period in which couples move about the floor, joining and separating and joining again in parallel movements ("Music and Dance," eNotes). At the masquerade ball, when Beatrice insults Benedick, pretending that she knows him as a fool, she makes a reference to dancing just as the music is striking up, saying "We must follow the leaders," meaning men, which shows an instinctive desire to be courted (II.i.130-131). However, she quickly sabotages and denies her instinctual interest in being courted by saying, "Nay, if they lead to any ill, I will leave them at the next turning," meaning that if men do anything wrong, she will quickly retreat (II.i.133-134). Hence, this one reference to music portrays Beatrice's rejection of courtship but also foreshadows her future acceptance of Benedick's courtship.

Later, Benedick makes a reference to music referring to Claudio's earlier resistance to courtship. Before Claudio met Hero, he was as disinclined to fall in love as either Benedick or Beatrice are, as we see in Benedick's lines:

I have known when there was no music with him but the drum and the fife; and now had he rather hear the tabor and the pipe. (II.iii.9-13)

This reference to music portrays Claudio as a man who would prefer to be single and at war than to enjoy the comforts of domestic life. The phrase "drum and fife" refers to the music played at a battle field, while "pipe" refers to dance music, and a "tabor" is the small drum that usually accompanies the pipe (Random House Dictionary). Hence, Benedick is mocking Claudio's change of heart by alluding to dancing, again, as a method or symbol of courtship.

We also see an important theme portrayed in the song performed in the scene in which Claudio and Don Pedro trick Benedick into falling in love with Beatrice by convincing him that she is in love with him. The song tells women not to grieve over the loss of men because men are "deceivers" and "unfaithful," as we see in the lines, "Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more, / Men were deceivers ever," and, "To one thing constant never" (II.iii.60-61, 63). One of the play's themes deals with perception vs. reality, showing us that what seems honorable is actually not that honorable and vise versa. Claudio seems to be an honorable man but turns out to be easily duped due to his jealous nature, which calls his honorableness into question. Since he appears to be more honorable then he truly is, we can say that he deceives Hero. However, no man is perfect and accepting imperfections is also part of the process of courtship. Therefore, again, this song portrays courtship throughout the play.

Hence, we see that the references to music in the play help to portray the ritual of courtship and also help to elaborate on themes found throughout the play

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