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Much Ado About Nothing

by William Shakespeare

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In Much Ado About Nothing, why do Claudio and Don Pedro publicly denounce Hero instead of speaking to Leonato privately?

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When Don John first tells Claudio and the Prince that Hero is disloyal and unchaste, Claudio declares that if he sees anything that ought to prevent his marrying Hero, he will "shame her" in front of the whole "congregation" where they were meant to marry. The Prince also says that "since [he] wooed for [Claudio] to obtain her, [he] will / join with [Claudio] to disgrace her" (3.3.119-120). The Prince, then, seems to feel as though his honor is bound up with Claudio's; if Claudio is taken advantage of, made a fool of, by Hero and her alleged lack of innocence, then so is the Prince because the Prince wooed Hero on Claudio's behalf. Perhaps this is one reason why they decide to shame her so publicly: it is the result of their pride. Leonato has been a wonderful host to them, but they seem to believe that he must be aware of his daughter's corruption; therefore, they feel no need to protect his honor or hers, since they think that he was willing to risk their honor. During the wedding ceremony, the Prince says, "I stand dishonored that have gone about / To link my dear friend to a common stale" (4.1.67-68).

As a result, Beatrice asks Benedick to "Kill Claudio" (4.1.303). While her request may seem extreme to modern readers, Claudio and the Prince have essentially cast a shadow over Leonato's house and daughter forever. Their accusations have so stained Hero that she will never be marriageable, and the entire family will live in disgrace. Further, she has no recourse to punish Claudio in any other way. She is most alarmed by the way in which Claudio disgraced Hero:

What, bear her in
hand until they come to take hands, and then, with
public accusation, uncovered slander, unmitigated
rancor -- O God, that I were a man! I would eat his
heart in the marketplace. (4.1.317-321).

Hero was ruined so publicly and so mercilessly that Beatrice feels no compunction about requesting his death from Benedick. In truth, it would ruin Claudio's life in return for ruining Hero's.

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