Much Ado About Nothing: foreshadowing

Looking back on Much Ado About Nothing, I’m seeing some interesting, very subtle bits of foreshadowing.

In the opening scene, Don Pedro teases Benedick about his tyranny of female sex,

DON PEDRO
I shall see thee, ere I die, look pale with love.
BENEDICK
With anger, with sickness, or with hunger, my lord, not with love: prove that ever I lose more blood with love than I will get again with drinking, pick out mine eyes with a ballad-maker’s pen and hang me up at the door of a brothel-house for the sign of blind Cupid.
DON PEDRO
Well, if ever thou dost fall from this faith, thou wilt prove a notable argument.
BENEDICK
If I do, hang me in a bottle like a cat and shoot at me; and he that hits me, let him be clapped on the shoulder, and called Adam.
DON PEDRO
Well, as time shall try: ‘In time the savage bull doth bear the yoke.’
BENEDICK
The savage bull may; but if ever the sensible Benedick bear it, pluck off the bull’s horns and set them in my forehead: and let me be vilely painted, and in such great letters as they write ‘Here is good horse to hire,’ let them signify under my sign ‘Here you may see Benedick the married man.’
  • I.i.235-254

Benedick will “look pale with love” before the end of the play, well before the end of Pedro’s life. Also, by the end of the play, Benedick will bemoan his failings as a poet (a kind of “ballad-maker”). Most importantly, Benedick is so sure of his immunity to love that he challenges the prince to “set (the bull’s horns) in (his) forehead,” and as we shall see, this foreshadows a conversation that will come in the play’s final scene.

In a moment of ironic foreshadowing in Act Two, Scene Three, Benedick soliloquizes on how foolish are men in love:

I do much wonder that one man, seeing how much another man is a fool when he dedicates his behaviors to love, will, after he hath laughed at such shallow follies in others, become the argument of his own scorn by failing in love: and such a man is Claudio.
  • II.iii.7-12

Replace “Claudio” with “Benedick” and it’s a perfect (albeit unintentional) prediction. Later, in the same scene, Pedro asks the musician Balthasar,

I pray thee, get us some excellent music; for tomorrow night we would have it at the Lady Hero’s chamber-window.
  • II.iii.83-5

Here, Shakespeare–through Pedro–sets up the audience with the location of the major (though off-stage) turning point of the play: Hero’s chamber window, where Pedro and Claudio will witness the wedding-eve assignation between Borachio and Margaret. (Actually, this isn’t the first mention of Hero’s window, as Borachio references it a scene earlier when describing his villainous plan to Don John [II.ii.39].)

During the same gulling scene, the prince describes Beatrice as “an excellent sweet lady; and, out of all suspicion … virtuous” (II.iii.155-5). This lack of suspicion is crucial, as it also represents and foreshadows Hero’s state, one that will be sullied by Borachio’s scheme. Then during Beatrice’s gulling scene, Hero tells Margaret that in an attempt to dissuade Benedick, Hero will need to slander Beatrice, as “one doth not know // How much an ill word may empoison liking” (III.i.85-6). Too true, as we’ll see in the next few scenes when Claudio’s liking of Hero will be empoisoned.

Finally, in the play’s final scene, we see the foreshadowing of the opening scene come to fruition as Claudio says of Benedick,

I think he thinks upon the savage bull.
Tush, fear not, man; we’ll tip thy horns with gold
And all Europa shall rejoice at thee,
As once Europa did at lusty Jove,
When he would play the noble beast in love.
  • V.iv.43-7

The same “savage bull” that Pedro and Benedick discussed is recalled by Claudio, who also references Benedick’s forehead being adorned with that bull’s horns.

We’ve come full circle, and while there’s nothing earth-shattering here, certainly nothing that on a second viewing or reading would merit any kind of “dum-dum duuummm” musical sting, this foreshadowing does deepen the enjoyment and understanding of the play by the audience.

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