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Much Ado About Nothing - Language

Test yourself on language in this GCSE English Literature quiz. Much Ado About Nothing contains dazzling wordplay as Beatrice and Benedick conduct their verbal sparring. The play, which ends in two marriages, includes much language about love. But beneath the wit and the talk of love lie hints at something much darker. Look out for the language of violence, betrayal, mistrust and shame. The play relies much upon deception and disguise, patterns marked in Beatrice’s speech, which rarely holds a single meaning, instead preferring to toy with multiple meanings.

Most of the characters in Much Ado About Nothing use language in a straightforward manner when they are not trying to deceive someone else. Pay attention to the words and phrases which are repeated in different scenes and by different characters.

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How do these help you understand the play’s themes? A very useful revision technique is to collect examples of vocabulary related to each of the themes of the play. Think about the language assigned to each character as you list your examples, and consider what the implications might be for their specific choices.

Analysing language in a text

When you read a play, you are not exposed to its full effect, which can only be gained through watching a performance. Individual actors add their own interpretations through pace, tone and gesture. Although you do not have access to these living interpretations while reading, the written language is the foundation and substance through which a play’s meaning is conveyed.

Authors are precise when it comes to choosing words. Beyond the literal meaning of each word lies any number of symbolic meanings and other associations. Metaphor, simile and personification each play a part, adding shades and layers of meaning. Be aware of subtle effects, in addition to those which practically leap off the page.

Paying close attention to the language of a text is always worthwhile. In this way, you will be able to develop a deeper understanding of what you read. Always try to look beyond the surface meaning, asking yourself what else might be going on besides the obvious. Authors take great care with their language. Shakespeare, of course, is famous for this! So ensure that you also spend time and care on the language. Practising this skill will help you to decipher the text’s deeper meanings.

Answer the questions below to develop your understanding of the way language choices affect our interpretation of Much Ado About Nothing.

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  1. "Will your grace command me any service to the world's end? I will go on the slightest errand now to the Antipodes that you can devise to send me on. I will fetch you a toothpicker now from the furthest inch of Asia." Benedick here indulges in which of the following?
    Benedick wishes Don Pedro to know that he would rather go on the most extreme and foolish errand, such as fetching a toothpick all the way back from the furthest point of Asia, than to spend time in Beatrice's company
  2. BEATRICE: Against my will, I am sent to bid you come in to dinner.
    BENEDICK: Fair Beatrice, I thank you for your pains.
    BEATRICE: I took no more pains for those thanks than you take pains to thank me. If it had been painful I would not have come.

    What is the source of humour in these lines?
    For Beatrice, language is to be used in mockery. Overly courteous language such as Benedick's is ripe for mockery
  3. LEONATO: Well, niece, I hope to see you one day fitted with a husband.
    BEATRICE: Not till God make men of some other mettle than earth. Would it not grieve a woman to be overmastered with a piece of valiant dust? — to make an account of her life to a clod of wayward marl?
    Which words give the impression that Beatrice does not think very highly of men?
    Beatrice is referring to the Biblical account of man being made of dust. Here she contrasts these lowly origins with society's expectation that women will obey men as their superiors. She continues by explaining that she sees men as "brethren" and therefore not suitable for marriage
  4. "But for my will, my will is your good will / May stand with ours this day to be conjoined / In the state of holy matrimony." What does "will" mean here?
    Playing, as ever, with language, Benedick refers to his intention (will) to marry Beatrice and his desire (will) that Leonato will be pleased and will wish them well (good will)
  5. In which of the following lines does a play on words remark on deceptive appearances?
    Claudio believes Hero's fair and pious exterior to hide a foul and impious interior. "Piety" refers to faith, specifically religious faith, but Claudio also employs it with respect to himself (i.e. Hero should be faithful to him)
  6. "You have among you killed a sweet and innocent lady. For my lord Lackbeard there, he and I shall meet, and till then, peace be with him." What does Benedick imply by his use of the term "Lackbeard" for Claudio?
    Benedick challenges Claudio to a duel, insulting the other man by referring to him as an immature coward who is not afraid to attack a young woman
  7. HERO: O, my father,
    Prove you that any man with me conversed
    At hours unmeet, or that I yesternight
    Maintained the change of words with any creature,
    Refuse me, hate me, torture me to death.

    How does Hero suggest Leonato "prove" her?
    Hero calls upon the violent imagery of torture as a method of questioning a suspect, suggesting that her father should torture her in order to discover the truth (thus asserting her confidence in her own innocence)
  8. "He hath borne himself beyond the promise of his age, doing in the figure of a lamb the feats of a lion." What does the messenger mean by comparing Claudio to a lamb?
    Claudio, the messenger implies, looks like a lamb but is as fierce as a lion
  9. "Now, divine air! Now is his soul ravished. Is it not strange that sheep's guts should hale souls out of men's bodies?" Benedick contrasts the unlikely material from which musical strings are made (sheep's guts) with which of the following?
    The beauty of music, he says, draws souls out of bodies. Both he and Don Pedro are disappointed with the quality of the singing, however
  10. "God restore you to health. I humbly give you leave to depart, and if a merry meeting may be wished, God prohibit it." What does Dogberry actually mean to say?
    Dogberry muddles up his words, especially when he tries to use polite vocabulary. Everyone around him understands precisely what he means despite the mix-ups

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