Much Ado About Nothing: midpoint

Using Professor Rodes’ midpoint theory, let’s take a look at Much Ado About Nothing.

There are 2633 lines in in the play, which means the midpoint is at line 1317, or at Act Three, Scene Three, line 9. Now, Rodes’ theory postulated that you could find (within twenty lines either way) a speech that perfectly summed up the major theme of the play. The 20-line leeway was to help remove the differences in prose line lengths between individual editions; in a play with as much prose as Much Ado (77% of the lines are prose; only The Merry Wives of Windsor has more prose), this forty-line window is all the more important.

Go back twenty lines from the midpoint, and you find Don John’s accusation of Hero and his plan to prove it to Claudio and Pedro:

DON JOHN

go but with me to-night, you shall see her chamber-window entered, even the night before her wedding-day: if you love her then, tomorrow wed her; but it would better fit your honor to change your mind.
CLAUDIO
May this be so?
DON PEDRO
I will not think it.
DON JOHN
If you dare not trust that you see, confess not that you know: if you will follow me, I will show you enough; and when you have seen more and heard more, proceed accordingly.
CLAUDIO
If I see any thing to-night why I should not marry her tomorrow in the congregation, where I should wed, there will I shame her.
DON PEDRO
And, as I wooed for thee to obtain her, I will join with thee to disgrace her.
DON JOHN
I will disparage her no farther till you are my witnesses: bear it coldly but till midnight, and let the issue show itself.
DON PEDRO
O day untowardly turned!
CLAUDIO
O mischief strangely thwarting!
DON JOHN
O plague right well prevented! so will you say when you have seen the sequel.
  • III.ii.101-22

Note all the “noting” verbs (see what I did there?):

  • “see her chamber-window”
  • “trust that you see”
  • “I will show you enough”
  • “when you have seen more and heard more”
  • “If I see any thing”
  • “let the issue show itself”

and then the final statement:

  • “O plague right well prevented! so will you say when you have seen the sequel.”

It’s (almost) exclusively about vision and seeing, not hearing. Remember all the discussion of noting and hearing and listening that we did last week: the focus of the play hinges on that auditory sense. But here we have the villain repeatedly telling those he’s attempting to dupe to “see” what he will “show” them. It’s as if he knows that it will take more than hearsay to fool Claudio and the prince into believing Hero’s wantonness, it will take visual proof (while it only takes hearsay to prove to Beatrice and Benedick that they are in love).

What’s the old saying?

“Believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see.”

Yet the foolish watchmen need only to hear Borachio and Conrad to uncover the plot…

Are we seeing (pun intended) that seeing is necessary only to prove what is bad (Hero’s betrayal), but hearing may confirm what is good (the confession of the arrant knaves, and the love between Beatrice and Benedick)?

What then is Shakespeare saying about the concept of being an audience (audio… sound)? Is this why we, as an audience, do not see the “amiable encounter” (III.iii.150) between Borachio and Margaret? And what would he make of the more purely visual medium of film/video/television today (especially when those presentations of he play depict the encounter on-screen)?

Comment?