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The playwright William Shakespeare wrote the play Much Ado About Nothing, and through his writing, shows dominant ideologies that were present at the time. Shakespeare allowed audiences new ways of understanding the human mind and behaviour. This play is a light-hearted comedy that travels through the lives of lonely people in Elizabethan England that find love through the seeds of deception. The life of each character is not fixed as they learn more about themselves or each other as events take place. Shakespeare added incidents and conflicts which further highlight the dominant beliefs and ideologies of Elizabethan era. The dominant ideologies include the expectations of men and women, which is associated with gender, the socially constructed ideas to do with class, and ideas about dominant institutions which deal with the foundations of the church and marriage.

The roles for different sexes is a major ideology in the play. Sex is referred to biological differences while gender is referred to social and cultural differences that are caused by sexual difference. The gender issue affects the way all of the character behaves. During the time, everything was male-orientated which means that men are dominant in all aspects of the walk of life. The traditional male sphere consists of war, honor, triumph, chivalry, and heroism. This explains for their individualistic aspirations, assertiveness, and narrow rationality. Women were considered a possession of men. Women were stereotyped into groups by Elizabethan men. This was to control and justify the place and role of women in society. Women were either a wife-which puts them as a possession of men, or a whore-which was soon to be bought. It was not surprising to see women blamed for the faults of the world as they were a favorite targets for satirists. This shows that any woman who spoke up, or showed a little more power over the men were branded ‘a shrew that needed taming.’ Nonetheless, women were also portrayed as goddesses as a courtly lover places them on a pedestal to be worshipped. This idolatry submerges the woman as an individual, and as a human being. In summary, women in a patriarchal world had very little say in all aspects of everyday life.

This ideology of women’s role in Elizabethan society was very much reflected all through this text. In this play, major conflicts occur between the female characters with the male characters, and society in general. The on-going dilemma with Beatrice and the men of society is caused by this difference in female ideology and the dominant ideology of that time. Beatrice was a modern women in a male-coordinated world. She is independent and refuses to be boxed into the inferior role. “A dear happiness to women, they would else have been troubled with a pernicious suitor. I thank God and my cold blood I am of your humour for that I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me.” (I.i 5-8). Beatrice comments on the reason why women should stay single to escape the a suitor like Benedick. The only reason that Beatrice is able to rebel and not her cousin Hero, further strengthens this point of the inferiority of women. Hero is “hidden” from the world by her father, while the orphaned Beatrice can see and witness the way the world is run-that is the way men run the world. Hero, conversely, does not have the capability of lift herself up against the division of masculinity and femininity. She is under her father’s control and is not able to make decisions for herself. Her whole life is about pleasing her father, and making sure that nothing comes in the way of that. The minimum quantity of dialogue from Hero proves that she is suppressed from expressing her own ideas and beliefs. “Daughter, remember what I told you if the prince do solicit you in that kind, you know your answer.” (II.ii 48-4). Leonato makes sure that Hero will accept the Prince’s offer for her hand in marriage. The reader does not hear what Hero’s personal opinions on this matter. She has no choice but to accept what is laid upon her. Beatrice’s rebellion against society, and Hero’s empowerment both show the role of women in Elizabethan times.

Class and status is more of an issue back in the Elizabethan era than it is now. People were born into different ranks of society. Each rank that are allocated to people, serves a different purpose in society. Because of this system, there is a triangle of power which divulges the amount of power, influence, and responsibility restricted to each class. At the top of the triangle lives God and the Angels, the king is underneath them, followed by princes, nobles, working men and women, and at the very bottom are the witches and the insane. The arrow of power works downwards from the triangle which means that the higher the place on the triangle, the more power they have over the lower parts of the triangle. Power intervenes with influence and this works the same way as power works downwards from the triangle. On the contrary, the arrow of responsibility works upwards from the triangle. Thus, the lower down the triangle their class is, the more responsibility that they have over a number of issues. Each class has their own expectations and has to behave according to these expectations. These expectations includes the following of special etiquette such as politeness, and the language they use to address people in different ranks.

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One of the major conflicts in the play, and also a cause of conflict in the play, is Don John. Don John’s alibi for planting the seed of revenge deals with the issue of status. Don John is literally a bastard, the result of illicit coupling. He does not have a place in the class triangle, therefore he is socially unaccepted by society. The interference of an ‘outsider’ into the family was not acknowledged. Compared to his brother, Don Pedro, Don John is nothing what Don Pedro is, and everything what Don Pedro is not. Don Pedro is very much respected and adored by society, and Don John’s only respect that he gets comes from the fact that he is Don Pedro’s brother. Don John has rebelled against his brother before and is only accepted after the reconcilement. “Let me bid you welcome, my lord, being reconciled to the prince your brother.” (I. i 11-115). This instigates his motivation of causing misery. Don Pedro’s right-hand is Claudio. Don John is taken by this felony to avenge Claudio.

Don John Will it serve for any model to build mischief on?…

Borachio Marry, it is your brother’s right hand.

Don John Who, the most exquisite Claudio?…A proper squire! (I.iii 4-)

This was a dialogue between Don John and Borachio when Borachio informs Don John that Claudio is about to wed Hero. This jealousy is created on account of Don Pedro putting more power and trust on Claudio than on his own brother. This great deal is so strong that Don John claims “…only to despite them I will endeavour anything.” (II.ii 4). The comedy aspect to do with social status comes from Dogberry, the Constable of Messina. He is a confused man as he fails to differentiate between social classes. During Dogberry’s cross-examination of Borachio and Conrade, Dogberry causes a fault of addressing people according to their status.

Dogberry …Yours, sirrah?

Conrade I am a gentleman, sir, and my name is Conrade. (IV.ii 11-1)

Dogberry calls Conrade “sirrah” and this a customary form of addressing someone less inferior. In this play, the conflict dealing with status was one cause of deception, misery, and also comedy.

Cultural traditions during Elizabethan England were also evident in this play. Marriage was expected to accustomed in a certain way. The tradition of courtly love was very much accepted. The art of wooing is a typical manner of bringing two lovers together. It was expected that marriage was to be with someone in the same social class and that the woman had to be a virgin. Virginity was a major issue dealt with a lot of young women in the Elizabethan times. Adultery was an unforgivable sin and the chastity of a woman was highly valued. Once a woman was indicted with wrongdoing their chastity, they are soon deprived of their status, honor, inheritance, and worth. These expectations of women were to prevent a bastard intruding the succession of a family and inheriting the family’s wealth.

In this play, the story of two lovers, Claudio and Hero, were joined together by the masked Don Pedro. “I will assume thy part in some disguise, and tell fair Hero I am Claudio, and in her bosom I’ll unclasp my heart…and the conclusion is she shall be thine.” (I.I 4-154). Without Don Pedro fertilising the seeds of love of Claudio in Hero’s heart, there would not exist the plot between Claudio and Hero. But between the love of Claudio and Hero, traditional views of marriage coincides with their love for each other. Don John’s vow to avenge Claudio results in the dishonor of Hero. “…Give not this rotten orange to your friend…Not to be married not to knit my soul to an approv├Ęd wanton…I stand dishonored that have gone about to like my dear friend to a common stale…” (IV. i 5-104). At the wedding of Claudio and Hero, Claudio and Don Pedro publicly humiliates Hero and seize her reputation, worth and honor. Claudio refuses to marry her even though she has not been proven of the accusation she was blamed for. Hero’s own father, placing his status higher than his own daughter, claims how he regrets having her, and wishes that she were dead instead of him living with the shame of having such a daughter. “Do not live, Hero, do not ope thine eyes…this shame derives from unknown loins…she is fallen into a pit of ink, that the wide sea hath drops to few to wash her clean again…” (IV.i 11-16). Leonato here reflects on the shame he feels now that her honor has fallen into this pit of ink. The speeches by both men show that Hero is just a little more than a pawn on a masculine chessboard.

Through this play, William Shakespeare uses conflicts to depict the ideologies that were present during Elizabethan England. These conflicts highlight the ideologies of the imbalance between men and women, the supremacy of higher-ranked people, and the institutions of marriage and chastity. Today, these ideologies has altered to a certain extent. People higher placed in the social ladder, the government for example, has more power over people in the lower part of the ladder. In some countries, even in some families, traditional values of marriage and women chastity still exists. But the greatest amount of change is the uprising of women power as women have the same if not greater power than men.

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