Illustration of Hero wearing a mask

Much Ado About Nothing

by William Shakespeare

Start Free Trial

How is Don John's character presented in Much Ado About Nothing?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Shakespeare portrays Don John as a scoundrel meant to cause mischief and harm from the onset of the play.  The Dramatis Personae classifies Don John as "Don Pedro's bastard brother," letting the audience know from the very beginning that Don John is not an equal to his brother, at least in terms of breeding.  In Act One, scene three, Don John reveals his contempt for his half-brother's status and the fact that he always must play the role of sycophant to Don Pedro, stating that he "rather be a canker in a hedge than a rose in his grace" (I.iii.21-22).  Moreover, Don John makes his malevolent feelings clear when he states:

In this, though I cannot be said to be a flattering honest man, it must not be denied but I am a plain-dealing villain (I.iii.23-24)

Shakespeare clearly depicts Don John as the play's villain, characterizing him as a man who has bitter feelings toward his brother and Claudio.  By the end of Act One, Don John reveals both his malcontent and his plans to uncover "any model to build mischief on" (I.iii. 37) as he learns of Claudio's plans to woo Hero.  

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Discuss the character of Don John and his role in Much Ado About Nothing.

Don John is the half brother of the prince, Don Pedro.  He is the bastard brother since his parents, unlike Don Pedro's, weren't married.  He is angry and bitter and he is jealous because he is only the bastard brother and not a prince like Don Pedro.  For this reason, he wants to destroy any joy or happiness that Don Pedro might have, even if it's only peripheral happiness at seeing one of his (Don Pedro's) men happy.  That is why Don John decides he wants to create havoc and ruin the relationship between Claudio and Hero.  Claudio is one of Don Pedro's best officers and one of Don Pedro's best friends.  Don Pedro likes his friend, Claudio, so much that he tells Claudio that he will woo Hero for him.  Don John finds out that Don Pedro is doing that and purposely lets Claudio "find out" that Don Pedro is wooing Hero for himself.  When that misconception is cleared up and the wedding is set, Don John again decides to destroy the relationship.  This time, Don John makes it look like Hero is cheating on Don Pedro with one of Don John's men.  In the end, Don John and his deceits are exposed and he is arrested.  He is the antagonist in the play.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What are the characteristics of Don John in Much Ado About Nothing?

Don John is the prince Don Pedro’s illegitimate half-brother. When the play begins, the brothers have only recently reconciled. Don John is a surly and quiet fellow. He describes himself as being “not of many words.” Beatrice mentions that he looks “tartly” and speaks little. He is unhappy in his situation with his brother, refusing to be thankful for Don Pedro’s acceptance of him: “I am trusted with a muzzle and enfranchised with a clog.” Don John does not find true freedom in his position.

Because of this, he is spiteful, looking to lash out at Don Pedro and his friends: “I had rather be a canker in a hedge than a rose in his grace.” He has no problem entangling the innocent Hero into his schemes. He even pointedly scolds Hero at her wedding: “Thus, pretty lady, / I am sorry for thy much misgovernment.” Don John hates to be told to be happy. He plans to rejoice when he alone has cause to celebrate. Don John resents his position as a bastard and appears to be jealous of Don Pedro and those he deems more fortunate than he.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is Don John's character profile in the play Much Ado About Nothing?

Don John is the villain of Much Ado About Nothing. By all appearances, he is sullen and quiet. When Leonato welcomes him into his home, Don John says that he is “not of many words.” Beatrice says that he looks so “tartly” she is “heart-burned an hour after.” She compares him to “an image [that] says nothing,” and Hero admits that he “is of a very melancholy disposition.”

The reason for his gloom is because he is the prince Don Pedro’s illegitimate brother. They have only recently reconciled, and Don John resents his position. He is also jealous of Claudio for stealing Don Pedro’s affection. Don John refuses to show any gratitude, stating that he will “smile at no man's jests” and laugh only when he is merry. He explains quite clearly how bitter and disagreeable he is:

I had rather be a canker in a hedge than a rose in his [Don Pedro’s] grace, and it better fits my blood to be disdained of all than to fashion a carriage to rob love from any: in this, though I cannot be said to be a flattering honest man, it must not be denied but I am a plain-dealing villain.

Don John and his friends devise a plot to shame Don Pedro, Claudio, and Hero, Claudio’s innocent fiancée. He first manipulates Claudio into thinking Don Pedro wants Hero for himself and then “proves” to Claudio and Don Pedro that Hero is having an affair with the drunkard Borachio. (It is actually Borachio and Margaret, not Hero, who have the liaison.) Don John’s cruel devices put a damper on the celebrations in Messina.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on