Study Guide

Much Ado About Nothing Lies and Deceit

By William Shakespeare

Lies and Deceit

Act I, Scene i
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).

You embrace your charge too willingly. [Turning
to Hero.] I think this is your daughter.
Her mother hath many times told me so.
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.


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.
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.

Can the world buy such a jewel?
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.

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

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.

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.

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.


How know you he loves her?
I heard him swear his affection.
So did I too, and he swore he would marry
her tonight.
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

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
Don Pedro

Now, if you are a maid, answer to this.
I talked with no man at that hour, my lord.
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

Signior Leonato, truth it is, good signior,
Your niece regards me with an eye of favor.
That eye my daughter lent her; 'tis most true.
And I do with an eye of love requite her.
The sight whereof I think you had from me,
From Claudio, and the Prince; but what's your will?
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

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

Do not you love me?
Why no, no more than reason.
Why then, your uncle and the Prince and Claudio
Have been deceived. They swore you did.
Do not you love me?
Troth, no, no more than reason.
Why then, my cousin, Margaret, and Ursula
Are much deceived, for they did swear you did.
They swore that you were almost sick for me.
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!)

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?!