Illustration of Hero wearing a mask

Much Ado About Nothing

by William Shakespeare

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Student Question

Discuss the characterization of Don John and Borachio in Much Ado About Nothing.

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Don John is the illegitimate brother of Don Pedro. He is seen by other characters as sad and is criticized for not being talkative. His social status as “the Bastard” relegates him to the fringes of society. He envies his brother’s position in society and the opportunities it affords him to marry and fully participate in communal activities. Don John’s illegitimacy motivates his desire to cause mischief, and later malice, toward those who possess what he wishes he had—a place among society.

Despite being a villain in the play, Shakespeare characterizes Don John in such a way that the audience sympathizes with him. While every character in the play at some time deceives or misleads another, Don John is noteworthy for his honesty. When Conrad remarks about his reserved personality, Don John counters, saying, “I cannot hide what I am. I must be sad / when I have cause” (Act I, Scene 3, line 10). When Don John plots to ruin Hero and Claudio’s happiness, he is in some ways just acting out the part society has already written for him at his birth. He has been rejected by society, and rather than being regarded as a nobody, he chooses to at least be noticed as a villain.

Borachio, meaning drunkard in Italian, assists Don John in scheming against Hero and Claudio. He accidentally reveals the plot when he is drunk, leading to the discovery of the villainous act. Unlike Don John, Borachio does not seem to have a clear motive for this scheme, aside from later receiving payment from Don John as compensation for his involvement in the plot. While Borachio is a somewhat minor character, the conflict of the play revolves around his first fabricating the scheme to stop Claudio’s and Hero’s marriage and later his confession, which revealed the plot.

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