DON PEDRO 'Tis once, thou lovest, And I will fit thee with the remedy. I know we shall have reveling tonight. 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 take her hearing prisoner with the force And strong encounter of my amorous tale. (1.1.313-320)
Don Pedro will manipulate Hero into falling in love with Claudio. It’s a little shady that Don Pedro will get Hero to fall in love with his words, thinking they’re Claudio’s words. Claudio and Don Pedro don’t care if they manipulate the girl under false pretenses, as they’ve got their eyes on the prize of winning her (even if she is deceived into being won by a guy she doesn’t know and has never spoken to).
DON PEDRO You embrace your charge too willingly. [Turning to Hero.] I think this is your daughter. LEONATO Her mother hath many times told me so. BENEDICK Were you in doubt, sir, that you asked her? (1.1.101-104)
The first mention we have of a married couple (Leonato and his absent wife) is a joke about whether that wife may have deceived Leonato about the parentage of their child. Marriage is set up to be lampooned, but it seems that deception is expected as a natural part of marriage.
BENEDICK Why, i' faith, methinks she's too low for a high praise, too brown for a fair praise, and too little for a great praise. Only this commendation I can afford her, that were she other than she is, she were unhandsome, and being no other but as she is, I do not like her. CLAUDIO Thou thinkest I am in sport. I pray thee tell me truly how thou lik'st her. (1.1.167-172)
Claudio can’t accept that Benedick has nothing more to say about Hero than that she’s short, dark, and too small. He thinks Benedick is lying about his honest feelings, which supports the notion that Benedick doesn’t often say what he thinks. Benedick prefers to deceive humorously over speaking truthfully.
CLAUDIO Can the world buy such a jewel? BENEDICK Yea, and a case to put it into. But speak you this with a sad brow? Or do you play the flouting Jack, to tell us Cupid is a good hare-finder and Vulcan a rare carpenter? Come, in what key shall a man take you to go in the song? (1.1.177-182)
Benedick, in turn, can’t believe that Claudio is really being honest either—he wonders whether Claudio can possibly love this girl—maybe because the young man noticed her just ten minutes ago, maybe because Hero’s not attractive.
BENEDICK That a woman conceived me, I thank her; that she brought me up, I likewise give her most humble thanks. But that I will have a recheat winded in my forehead or hang my bugle in an invisible baldrick, all women shall pardon me. Because I will not do them the wrong to mistrust any, I will do myself the right to trust none. And the fine is, for the which I may go the finer, I will live a bachelor. (1.1.234-242)
Benedick says his main obstacle to love is that he’ll never do a lady the disfavor of mistrusting her. At the same time, he’s certain he can’t bring himself to trust a lady, so it looks like he’ll be ladyless. It’s not that he thinks love itself is awful (maybe), but that he finds deception to be inherent to women (and love).
Act I, Scene iii
DON JOHN I wonder that thou, being, as thou say'st thou art, born under Saturn, goest about to apply a moral medicine to a mortifying mischief. I cannot hide what I am. I must be sad when I have cause, and smile at no man's jests; eat when I have stomach, and wait for no man's leisure; sleep when I am drowsy, and tend on no man's business; laugh when I am merry, and claw no man in his humor. (1.3.10-17)
This is a particular bit of irony—Don John says he’s not really capable of deception. He can’t hide what he’s feeling, or what a villain he is. You’d think this was crazy, because Don John does so much deceiving in the play.
Come to think of it, he never actually made a great show of being a good or warm guy to begin with. He skulks around the castle, and while he tells direct lies to others in the service of evil, no one could ever say that he tried to pretend to be someone he’s not. In that case, who’s more at fault, Don John for being a trickster, or Don Pedro and Claudio for trusting him? Deception is a complex thing.
Act II, Scene i
LEONATO There's little of the melancholy element in her, my lord. She is never sad but when she sleeps, and not ever sad then, for I have heard my daughter say she hath often dreamt of unhappiness and waked herself with laughing. (2.1.335-339)
Here, Beatrice might be practicing self-deception. She knows there’s a lot to be miserable about in the world, but it’s easier to laugh than to cry at things you have no control over. This sleeping self-deception casts some light on Beatrice’s ability to be happy in the waking world, even though she might reasonably be sad that she’s so alone.
BEATRICE I have a good eye, uncle; I can see a church by daylight. (2.1.80-81)
Beatrice responds modestly to her Uncle Leonato’s compliment that she’s an observant girl. Her reply suggests that she’s not uncommonly observant, and can only see what’s in clear view (like a church— often the tallest building in a town—in daylight). Still, this is a misguiding statement. Beatrice seems to be demurring out of modesty, but we know she actually doesn’t see everything. The most obvious example is how she doesn’t recognize her strong (positive) feelings for Benedick. Later, Beatrice also misses the fact that she’s being manipulated into loving Benedick.
URSULA Come, come, do you think I do not know you by your excellent wit? Can virtue hide itself? Go to, mum, you are he. (2.1.119-121)
This is a nice little piece of parallel commentary, as Ursula dances with Antonio before the scene turns over to Benedick and Beatrice at the masquerade ball. Even Ursula, who is not nearly as bright as Beatrice, can recognize the man she’s dancing with based on his wit, which she calls a virtue.
Beatrice, by contrast, can’t recognize Benedick’s wit when he dances with her. This is an example of Shakespeare’s split screen habit, where the dull characters can figure out what the smart characters cannot, often because the smart characters are too caught up in themselves to notice the obvious (or see the church by daylight, if you will).
DON PEDRO I will teach you how to humor your cousin, that she shall fall in love with Benedick.—
and I, with your two helps, will so practice on Benedick that, in despite of his quick wit and his queasy stomach, he shall fall in love with Beatrice. If we can do this, Cupid is no longer an archer; his glory shall be ours, for we are the only love gods. Go in with me, and I will tell you my drift. (2.1.371-378)
Don Pedro and Claudio engage in some deception, but rather than tricking him into loving Beatrice, most likely they intend to manipulate Benedick into coming to a conclusion on his own. They can lie, but they can’t assume their lies will persuade: only what’s latent in Benedick can bring him to love Beatrice. Their deception is just helping that process along.
CLAUDIO How know you he loves her? DON JOHN I heard him swear his affection. BORACHIO So did I too, and he swore he would marry her tonight. DON JOHN Come, let us to the banquet. (2.1.165-169)
Claudio’s great failing is that he’s easily manipulated into suspicion, which leaves him wide open to be deceived.
Act III, Scene i
HERO Our talk must only be of Benedick. When I do name him, let it be thy part To praise him more than ever man did merit. My talk to thee must be how Benedick Is sick in love with Beatrice. Of this matter Is little Cupid's crafty arrow made, That only wounds by hearsay. (3.1.18-24)
When Hero employs the same process as Don Pedro and Claudio, she frames what’s really going on. They’re definitely deceiving Beatrice about Benedick’s supposed condition, but they’re arguably only guilty of planting hearsay (rumor). They only mean to let suspicion and hearsay lead Beatrice to the conclusion that she probably would’ve come to anyway. Maybe.
Act III, Scene ii
DON JOHN The word is too good to paint out her wickedness. I could say she were worse. Think you of a worse title, and I will fit her to it. Wonder not till further warrant. Go but with me tonight, you shall see her chamber window entered, even the night before her wedding day. If you love her then, to-morrow wed her. But it would better fit your honor to change your mind. (3.2.102-109)
Again, Don John uses manipulation to plant the seeds of suspicion. He doesn’t give any details about Hero’s disloyalty; but instead, he just says he’ll prove it to them later, and gives them the whole afternoon to imagine the girl’s transgressions. What’s true is often not as bad as what we can imagine is true, especially if we’re lured in by suspicion.
Act IV, Scene i
CLAUDIO Now, if you are a maid, answer to this. HERO I talked with no man at that hour, my lord. DON PEDRO Why, then, are you no maiden. (4.1.90-92)
In a fit of Shakespearean irony, Hero is condemned as a deceiver for telling the truth.
Act IV, Scene ii
BENEDICK Signior Leonato, truth it is, good signior, Your niece regards me with an eye of favor. LEONATO That eye my daughter lent her; 'tis most true. BENEDICK And I do with an eye of love requite her. LEONATO The sight whereof I think you had from me, From Claudio, and the Prince; but what's your will? BENEDICK Your answer, sir, is enigmatical. But for my will, my will is your good will May stand with ours, this day to be conjoined In the state of honorable marriage—
In which, good friar, I shall desire your help. (5.4.21-33)
Though Benedick and Beatrice essentially arrived at loving each other because of the manipulation of others, this is the closest they ever come to discovering Don Pedro’s scheme. However, this "good" deception is ultimately less important than Benedick’s love for Beatrice.
Act V, Scene i
FRIAR FRANCIS I have marked A thousand blushing apparitions To start into her face, a thousand innocent shames In angel whiteness beat away those blushes, And in her eye there hath appeared a fire To burn the errors that these princes hold Against her maiden truth. Call me a fool, Trust not my reading nor my observations, Which with experimental seal doth warrant The tenure of my book; trust not my age, My reverence, calling, nor divinity, If this sweet lady lie not guiltless here Under some biting error. (4.1.167-179)
The Friar trusts that his eyes, and everything he’s ever known about Hero, don’t deceive him. His judgment implicitly calls into question the judgment of her accusers. Something isn’t right, and Friar Francis is willing to bet his learning, observation, and even his Godliness on it. He knows he’s not deceived by Hero, therefore the others have been deceived by the accusers.
Act V, Scene iv
BENEDICK Do not you love me? BEATRICE Why no, no more than reason. BENEDICK Why then, your uncle and the Prince and Claudio Have been deceived. They swore you did. BEATRICE Do not you love me? BENEDICK Troth, no, no more than reason. BEATRICE Why then, my cousin, Margaret, and Ursula Are much deceived, for they did swear you did. BENEDICK They swore that you were almost sick for me. BEATRICE They swore that you were well-nigh dead for me. (5.4.76-85)
Benedick and Beatrice quip that everyone around them is very deceived about their love for each other, but they’re only fooling themselves. (Ooooh!)
LEONATO Well, daughter, and you gentlewomen all, Withdraw into a chamber by yourselves, And when I send for you, come hither masked. (5.4.10-12)
Deception continues to be used freely even after the entire earlier portion of the play has been fraught with mishaps caused by deception. There’s no good reason for Leonato to mask the women and keep up the charade of Hero’s death, but he’s going to do it anyway. Has no one learned his lesson?!