LEONATO If you swear, my lord, you shall not be forsworn. [To Don John.] Let me bid you welcome, my lord, being reconciled to the Prince your brother, I owe you all duty. (1.1.150-153)
Leonato deals with Don John justly, though the man is a proven villain. For Leonato, it’s enough that Don John has made amends with Don Pedro. This seems to have restored his reputation, which makes Leonato trust the former villain. Again, reputation isn’t based on deeds.
LEONATO I find here that Don Pedro hath bestowed much honor on a young Florentine called Claudio. (1.1.9-11)
Claudio’s reputation precedes him, literally—we’re introduced to Claudio’s reputation before we meet him. It’s important that in our first exposure to this central character, the man is judged not by his deeds, but by what people (in this case, Don Pedro) say about him. This ends up being the case for Hero also; her bad reputation doesn’t come about from her actions, but based on Claudio thinking poorly of her.
DON PEDRO Truly the lady fathers herself.—Be happy, lady, for you are like an honorable father. (1.1.108-110)
Don Pedro grants Hero a positive reputation by saying she is her father’s daughter. The important thing is that reputation is bestowed easily, so it can be taken away easily too. Looking forward, we know that even Hero’s father, the source of her reputation, will denounce her, destroying her reputation.
Act I, Scene iii
DON JOHN Will it serve for any model to build mischief on? What is he for a fool that betroths himself to unquietness? BORACHIO Marry, it is your brother's right hand. DON JOHN Who, the most exquisite Claudio? BORACHIO Even he. DON JOHN A proper squire. And who? And who? Which way looks he? BORACHIO Marry, on Hero, the daughter and heir of Leonato. DON JOHN A very forward March chick! How came you to this? (1.3.44-55)
Don John caricatures Claudio and Hero, belittling their good reputations (perhaps in preparation of spoiling their reputations altogether), and using their best qualities as though they were bad qualities.
Claudio, who is actually a count, is called a lowly squire, and Hero, who is known for her youth, is maligned as being a chick who has hatched prematurely. Don John seems resentful and wants to destroy the young lovers’ reputations, maybe because they are currently in such high standing.
Act II, Scene i
BEATRICE Why, he is the Prince's jester, a very dull fool; only his gift is in devising impossible slanders. None but libertines delight in him, and the commendation is not in his wit but in his villainy, for he both pleases men and angers them, and then they laugh at him and beat him. (2.1.135-140)
Beatrice cuts Benedick deep here by suggesting his reputation is not what he’s thought it has been. While he knows men love him for his merriness, he might not have considered that they also mock him for it. Reputation is a powerful thing, especially when you hear about your own reputation from others, and it turns out to be far from how you thought.
Act III, Scene i
BEATRICE What fire is in mine ears? Can this be true? Stand I condemned for pride and scorn so much? Contempt, farewell, and maiden pride, adieu! No glory lives behind the back of such. And Benedick, love on; I will requite thee, Taming my wild heart to thy loving hand. (3.1.113-118)
Beatrice is willing to love Benedick, but it seems that the main force behind the decision is to clear her own reputation.
Act III, Scene ii
CLAUDIO If I see anything tonight why I should not marry her, tomorrow in the congregation, where I should wed, there will I shame her. (3.2.116-118)
This is particularly nasty of Claudio. Rather than just canceling the wedding if Hero is disloyal, he’s hell-bent on disgracing her in front of the whole congregation. His plan is more about vengefully ruining her reputation than it is about escaping a loveless, dishonest marriage.
Act IV, Scene i
FRIAR FRANCIS She, dying, as it must be so maintained, Upon the instant that she was accused, Shall be lamented, pitied, and excused Of every hearer. For it so falls out That what we have we prize not to the worth Whiles we enjoy it, but being lacked and lost, Why then we rack the value, then we find The virtue that possession would not show us Whiles it was ours. (4.1.225-233)
The Friar thinks Hero’s reputation will be restored once people think she’s dead. She’ll become the object of lamentation, and people will repent ever having thought bad things about her. It’s the "you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone" idea. This continues to emphasize the point that reputation is not based on deeds; the Friar thinks that Hero’s reputation will improve simply by manipulating the emotions of the public.
LEONATO Friar, it cannot be. Thou seest that all the grace that she hath left Is that she will not add to her damnation A sin of perjury. She not denies it. (4.1.180-183)
Leonato raises a good point (though we are disappointed in him). It’s interesting to wonder why Hero didn’t deny more adamantly the charges against her. All she said was that she didn’t talk to a man at her window yesterday, but her whole character was called into question. If her own father—who likely wanted to believe her—wasn’t convinced by what she had to say, we’ve got to wonder why Hero didn’t try a little harder to stand up for herself.
PEDRO What should I speak? I stand dishonored that have gone about To link my dear friend to a common stale. (4.1.65-68)
Don Pedro is unduly harsh, but he doesn’t think so, as he earnestly thinks Hero is guilty. Not only has he compromised Claudio’s good name by linking the boy to a seeming harlot, but he’s also worried that his own good name is now on the line. Claudio and Don Pedro are selfishly worried about their own reputations.
CLAUDIO No, Leonato, I never tempted her with word too large, But, as a brother to his sister, showed Bashful sincerity and comely love. HERO And seemed I ever otherwise to you? CLAUDIO Out on the, seeming! I will write against it. You seem to me as Dian in her orb, As chaste as is the bud ere it be blown. But you are more intemperate in your blood Than Venus, or those pampered animals That rage in savage sensuality. HERO Is my lord well that he doth speak so wide? (4.1.52-63)
It’s interesting here that Hero, instead of simply stating that she is completely innocent, asks Claudio how she "seemed" to him. However, Claudio’s entire point is that she seemed innocent, and was not. Unlike Claudio, Hero implies that her reputation should be based on her actions, rather than on accusations and other peoples’ opinions.
CLAUDIO Sweet Prince, you learn me noble thankfulness.—
There, Leonato, take her back again. Give not this rotten orange to your friend. She's but the sign and semblance of her honor. Behold how like a maid she blushes here! O, what authority and show of truth Can cunning sin cover itself withal! Comes not that blood as modest evidence To witness simple virtue? Would you not swear, All you that see her, that she were a maid, By these exterior shows? But she is none. She knows the heat of a luxurious bed. Her blush is guiltiness, not modesty. (4.1.30-42)
Claudio is hung up on how Hero appears – he thinks her image as a virtuous girl is false, masking her true nature. Reputation is linked with appearances – Hero blushes like a virgin, but Claudio thinks she isn’t one. Her reputation as a maiden rests on how she appears; in insisting that how Hero seems is not how she is, Claudio effectively undoes her reputation.
Act IV, Scene ii
CON Away! You are an ass, you are an ass! DOGBERRY Dost thou not suspect my place? Dost thou not suspect my years? O, that he were here to write me down an ass! But masters, remember that I am an ass, though it be not written down, yet forget not that I am an ass.—No, thou villain, thou art full of piety, as shall be proved upon thee by good witness. I am a wise fellow and, which is more, an officer and, which is more, a householder and, which is more, as pretty a piece of flesh as any is in Messina, and one that knows the law, go to, and a rich fellow enough, go to, and a fellow that hath had losses, and one that hath two gowns and everything handsome about him.—Bring him away.—O, that I had been writ down an ass! (4.2.75-89)
Dogberry lists all of the trappings he has that make him a gentleman, thinking he is actually securing his reputation. It’s an interesting insight into Dogberry’s insecurity, but it’s also echoed by a later conversation between Benedick and Beatrice (see 5.2.73).
When Benedick says he’s wise, Beatrice points out he is unwise to say so. We wouldn’t have believed Dogberry was a gentleman under any circumstances (given his backwards speech), but we’re especially sure he isn’t a gentleman now that he’s insisted that he is one... because that’s not gentlemanly thing to say.
Act V, Scene i
BORACHIO Yea, even I alone. LEONATO No, not so, villain, thou beliest thyself. Here stand a pair of honorable men—
A third is fled—that had a hand in it.—
I thank you, princes, for my daughter's death. Record it with your high and worthy deeds. 'Twas bravely done, if you bethink you of it. (5.1.276-282)
Leonato cuts deep when he refers to Don Pedro and Claudio as "honorable men." The men are seemingly honorable, but you might also interpret Leonato’s line as ironic, especially as he says the men should add his innocent daughter’s murder to their list of praiseworthy deeds. Leonato suggests their honor is undercut by their haughty credulity, or willingness to believe others and be so cocky about it to boot.
Act V, Scene ii
BENEDICK Thou and I are too wise to woo peaceably. BEATRICE It appears not in this confession. There's not one wise man among twenty that will praise himself. BENEDICK An old, an old instance, Beatrice, that lived in the time of good neighbors. If a man do not erect in this age his own tomb ere he dies, he shall live no longer in monument than the bell rings and the widow weeps. (5.2.72-80)
Beatrice suggests that a man’s reputation should be conveyed and earned by his actions and not his words, and especially not by his own words. Benedick points out that reputation these days is nothing but what men say it is. Who do you agree with more, Beatrice or Benedick?
Act V, Scene iii
CLAUDIO Done to death by slanderous tongues Was the Hero that here lies. Death, in guerdon of her wrongs, Gives her fame which never dies. So the life that died with shame Lives in death with glorious fame. (5.3.3-8)
This is a really telling commentary about priorities in the play. Claudio’s epitaph clears Hero’s reputation, but says nothing of his love for her.
Act V, Scene iv
HERO One Hero died defiled, but I do live, And surely as I live, I am a maid. PRINCE The former Hero! Hero that is dead! LEONATO She died, my lord, but whiles her slander lived. (5.4.65-68)
Hero doesn’t lament the damage that the men have done to her feelings, or even to herself, but instead excuses the men because her reputation has been cleared.
FRIAR Did I not tell you she was innocent? LEONATO So are the Prince and Claudio, who accused her Upon the error that you heard debated. But Margaret was in some fault for this, Although against her will, as it appears In the true course of all the question. (5.4.1-6)
Leonato has cleared Don Pedro and Claudio’s reputation. Once Leonato learned that the men had been misinformed, and that they acted on that misinformation, he declares the men innocent. Still, it’s dubious whether their actions are justified simply by their misunderstanding.