Much Ado About … Clothes?

As I’m reading through Much Ado About Nothing again, I’m catching more and more references to clothing and fashion. So much so that I started to look for it in particular:

Benedick starts it off with a reference to a “cap” to be worn to cover a cuckold’s horns (I.i.189), then tying it to the concept of an animal’s yoke (I.i.191).

When Don John the Bastard describes himself, he gives himself the attire of a mad dog: a muzzle and a ball and chain (“a clog” [I.iii.29, 30]).

Benedick teases Claudio about wearing the symbol of forsaken love, the willow: “about your neck, like a usurer’s chain? or under your arm, like a lieutenant’s scarf” (II.i.181-2).

Beatrice uses a clothing metaphor when refusing Don Pedro’s offer of marriage: “Your grace is too costly to wear every day” (II.i.310).

Benedick complains of the changes he sees that love have made in Claudio:

I have known when he would have walked ten mile a-foot to see a good armor; and now will he lie ten nights awake, carving the fashion of a new doublet.
  • II.iii.14-7

Claudio has gone from one type of clothing, a soldier’s armor, to another, the civilian’s jacket (“doublet”).

To properly fool Benedick into believing Beatrice is in love with him, Leonato believes it’s necessary to include what she is wearing when she writes her love-notes: she’s in her “smock” (II.iii.129), or “a woman’s undergarment” (“smock, n.; 1a” OED Online.Oxford University Press, June 2014. Web. 15 October 2014.). For Leonato, it’s an important detail to have her in her underwear when she writes about her love.

When Hero want to leave the scene of her gulling of Beatrice, what’s her excuse? “Show(ing) (Ursula) some attires, and have (her) counsel // which is best” (III.i.102-3) for Hero’s wedding the next day.

Claudio tells Don Pedro that he is willing to follow the prince when he leaves for Aragon after Claudio and Hero’s wedding, but the prince refuses, saying that would be like “show(ing) a child his new coat and forbid(ding) him to wear it” (III.ii.6-7). Later in the same scene, Pedro describes the same changes in Benedick, as Benedick had seen in Claudio:

There is no appearance of fancy in him, unless it be a fancy that he hath to strange disguises; as, to be a Dutchman today, a Frenchman tomorrow, or in the shape of two countries at once, as, a German from the waist downward, all slops, and a Spaniard from the hip upward, no doublet.
  • III.ii.29-36

As if Benedick’s desire to wear the style of one country in his pants, and another country in his shirt (with no jacket–another style decision) is not enough, he now even “brushes his hat o’ mornings” (III.ii.38). Toe to head, it’s all about the clothes.

Before Conrad and Borachio are arrested by the watch, they have a long discussion on fashion, but we’ll get to that later.

Immediately after, on the morning of the wedding, Margaret and Hero discuss clothing, from the “Duchess of Milan’s gown” to “a nightgown” to “cloth o’ gold, and cuts, and laced with silver, set with pearls, down sleeves, side sleeves, and skirts, round underborne with a bluish tinsel” (III.iv.14, 17, 18-20).

Then at the worst wedding ever, the only way Benedick can convey his confusion is through the clothing metaphor: “I am so attired in wonder, // I know not what to say” (IV.i.144-5). And that diction is contagious; the Friar has it, too. He describes how Claudio will be haunted by what he has done:

The idea of her life shall sweetly creep
Into his study of imagination,
And every lovely organ of her life
Shall come apparell’d in more precious habit,
More moving-delicate and full of life,
Into the eye and prospect of his soul,
Than when she lived indeed
  • IV.i.224-30

But it’s more than all this talking about clothes and apparel.

It’s fashion.


A word used more in Much Ado About Nothing than in any other play in the Canon. How many more?

It’s late as I write this, so that is a discussion for tomorrow, my friends.

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