16 October 2008
Shakespeare Character Analysis: The Character of Leonato in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing (Shakespeare)
In casually reading Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, the play centers around six major characters: Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon; his companions Benedick, of Padua and Claudio, of Florence; Hero, Leonato’s daughter; Beatrice, Leonato’s niece; and Don John, the bastard brother of Don Pedro (1416). If one analyzes the text closely, it becomes obvious that the minor character Leonato, governor of Messina, makes all the necessary connections needed for the plot of Much Ado About Nothing to succeed. The audience learns about Leonato through his words and responses. Observing the interactions of the six main characters, the governor of Messina is instrumental in the progression of the play. Through his verbal interactions, the audience perceives the full personality profile of Leonato. Throughout the rising action, climax, and resolution of the play, the character of Leonato is instrumental in every major scene and interacts with every major character. The governor’s importance and moral distinction are highlighted in the reception of the letter; the initial introduction and greeting of his guests; the guidance of his relatives; the interaction between other characters; and the response to his daughter’s dishonor. Even though Leonato, governor of Messina, is a minor character, he accomplishes a great deal within the one hundred and twenty lines in which he is given. A superficial analysis of Leonato is needed in order to grasp the close reading of his words and responses. The character remains in the Messina, a Sicilian city, throughout the duration of the play; the entire plot plays out within the confines of his estate. He is a round character that is original and memorable. Being dynamic, he experiences a transformation within the play. Leonato is hospitable to guests, concerned for loved ones, and an authority of what is just and fair. These superficial qualities allow the audience to perceive the deeper strengths in his character. Leonato, the governor of Messina, opens the play by receiving a letter from a man of honor. He states, “I learn in this letter that Don Pedro of Aragon comes this night to Messina” (1.1.1-2). From these lines, the audience realizes that Leonato’s social position is important and that he is hospitable. Leonato eagerly makes preparations for his guests. Thus, Leonato’s response gives clues into his character. Through his responses, the audience assumes that he is thoughtful and considerate, as well as important. The fact that Don Pedro is writing him and requesting temporary residence at his home conveys a sense of importance to the audience. In essence, the response, alongside his social standing, gives Leonato a trait that is characteristic of a compassionate man of importance. The characterization of Leonato makes the play possible or feasible in the eyes of the audience, and he is able to connect with the characters and the audience as well. Moreover, the importance of Leonato is highlighted when he introduces the guests through his conversation with the messenger, and when he initially greets his guests on their arrival. He remarks, “A victory is twice itself when the achiever [Don Pedro] brings home full numbers. I find that Don Pedro hath bestowed much honour on a young Florentine called Claudio” (1.1.7-9). In these lines, Leonato is informing the audience of the major characters within the play. From the beginning, through Leonato, the audience knows the prestige associated with the visit. Next, Leonato tells Beatrice, “Faith, niece, you tax Signor Benedick too much. But he’ll be meet with you, I doubt it not” (1.1.38-39). From this quote, the audience gains clues of the major character’s personalities. Furthermore, he explains to the messenger, “You must not, sir, mistake my niece. There is a kind of merry war betwixt Signor Benedick and her. They never meet but there’s a skirmish of wit between them” (1.1.49-51). Through these lines, the audience is given more information on the major characters, and the audience suspects a plot formation. Thus, elements of Leonato’s character are expounded on by displaying his position, words, and responses. Leonato introduces the major characters to the plot, and aids the audience in understanding the major characters. Furthermore, it is Leonato who greets the guests; thus, his level of importance is expounded upon. The audience also glimpses his character as a human being through his words and responses in this interaction. Upon greeting his guests, Leonato implies the need for the social linguistics that take place between social authorities. Leonato states, “Never came trouble to my house in the likeness of your grace [Don Pedro]; for trouble being gone, comfort should remain, but when you depart from me, sorrow abides and happiness takes his leave” (1.1.80-83). Through the interaction, the audience further recognizes the “governly” status of Leonato. Moreover, the governor addresses Don John, the bastard brother of Don Pedro, in the same manner of courtesy. He states, “If you swear, my lord, you shall not be forsworn. Let me bid you welcome, my lord. Being reconciled to the Prince your brother, I owe you all duty” (1.1.124-126). From these lines, the audience is aware of Leonato’s graciousness and social importance. He connects with the audience; when the major characters disappoint him, it is Leonato who commands the pity from the reader. Leonardo epitomizes a good human being. Through the greeting, the audience becomes aware of his graciousness and outstanding character. The greeting allows the audience to care about his state of being. Also, the audience cares about the character of Leonato because he is concerned with the well-being of his family. Leonato provides guidance to his relatives. He is instrumental in the union between Claudio and his daughter, Hero. The governor has been informed of the conversation between Don Pedro and Claudio. He states, “No, no. We will hold it as a dream till it appear itself. But I will acquaint my daughter withal, that she may be the better prepared for an answer if peradventure this be true. Go you and tell her of it” (1.2.17-20). From this quote, the audience realizes that Leonato is wise and discrete; if he had acted on the information provided to him, he would have been in error. Simultaneously, the audience was aware that nothing happens without Leonato’s awareness, thus highlighting his importance. The audience assumes that Leonato is in control and acts justly and cautiously. Thus, when Don John and Claudio betray Hero’s honor, the audience is cognizant of Leonato’s graciousness in the past and is able to identify with him. Leonato’s character matters, because without him the audience will not have a moral standard to judge the major characters. Moreover, Leonato’s guiding hand is illustrated in his correction of Beatrice, his orphaned niece. It is Leonato that calls attention to the severity of Beatrice’s language. He argues, “By my troth, niece, thou wilt never get thee a husband if thou be so shrewd of thy tongue” (2.1.16-17). From these lines, the audience acknowledges Leonato to be a social standard. The audience realizes that he is straightforward in nature. Also, his words and responses are indicative of the correct form of communication; he is in a position of authority of what is socially acceptable and what is expected. Through Leonato, Beatrice’s inadequacies and abruptness in language are highlighted. Furthermore, Leonato has the authority to give social advice to Hero. He urges, “Daughter, remember what I told you. If the Prince do solicit you in that kind, you know your answer” (2.1.55-56). Through these words, the audience recognizes the guiding hand of Leonato. He is motivated to keep his family on the right path. The audience draws the conclusion by analyzing Leonato’s words and responses, thus offering insight into his nature as a human being. Throughout the play, Leonato possesses the moral code and strives the do what is right and proper. Furthermore, Leonato is important in the personal relationships of his relatives. It is Leonato who blesses the union between Claudio and Hero. He states, “Count, take of me my daughter, and with her my fortunes. His grace hath made the match, and all grace say amen to it” (2.1.263-265). From these lines, the moral code of Leonato is reaffirmed. The audience is able to judge Leonato by what he does. He shows kindness and concern; therefore, he is a good and upright man. Leonato is also instrumental in the union between Benedick and Beatrice. He participates in the deception that unites the couple. In the garden, he remarks: No, nor I neither. But most wonderful that she [Beatrice] should dote on Signor Benedick, whom she hath in all outward behaviours seemed ever to abhor…By my troth, my lord, I cannot tell what to think of it. But that she loves him with an enraged affection, it is past the infinite of thought…I would have sworn it [her spirit] had, my lord, especially against Benedick. (2.3.89-91, 93-95, 108-109) From these quotes, the audience acknowledges that Leonato knows the difference between good and evil. He willingly deceives Benedick in order to achieve a greater good. In essence, Leonato knows what is best for Benedick and Beatrice even if they, themselves, do not. Thus, Leonato is able to adapt to the situation; he is a dynamic character. Moreover, the governor is aware of his influence on social matters. Complementing Leonato’s age and perceived character, Benedick believes that Beatrice loves him because it is verbalized by Leonato. Benedick states, “I should think this is a gull, but that the white-bearded fellow speaks it. Knavery cannot, sure, hide himself in such reverence” (2.3.110-112). From these lines, the audience is reassured of Leonato’s character and moral standing. He is perceived by those around him to be a man of stature and authority. He is a respected and honest man; therefore, Benedick must believe what he overhears. Also through these lines, the audience catches a glimpse of what Leonato looks like; we know that he is an older man. Benedick’s comment of Leonato’s “white-beard” makes the point clear. In sum, the audience is able to perceive Leonato’s importance and view what motivates the character. Leonato’s importance is also highlighted in his interaction with other characters. The audience glimpses another view into the character of Leonato from his interaction with the Dogberry, the constable and Verges, the headborough. Despite the fact they are of a lower class, Leonato greets them with respect. Leonato says, “What would you with me, honest neighbour?...What is it, my good friends” (3.5.1, 7). In bidding them farewell, he remarks, “Drink some wine ere you go. Fare you well” (3.5.46). From these lines, the audience realizes Leonato is a good person, a moral standard. He treats the men with respect, thus adding insight into his character. Leonato epitomizes the social standard and creates the “mark” that all the other characters are judged against. The roundness and dynamicity of Leonato comes to fruition during his words and responses to his daughter’s dishonor. When the unrealized marriage scene between Claudio and Hero takes place, the audience, through Leonato’s words and responses, recognizes the severity of the scene. Leonato, who has been so aware of the social dealings within his home, is at a loss for wisdom in words and responses. He asks Claudio, “What do you mean, my lord?” (4.1.41). He is devastated and argues, “Dear my lord, if you in your own proof [.] Have vanquished the resistance of her youth [.] And made defeat of her virginity—” (4.1.43-45). From these lines, the audience realizes that Leonato, the social standard, has lost all awareness. He gasps, “Are these things spoken, or do I but dream?” (4.1.64). From this line, the audience understands there is a loss of all social order. The governor cries, “O fate, take not away thy heavy hand. Death is the fairest cover for her shame [.] That may be wished for” (4.1.112-114). Through these lines, the audience recognizes the total reversal of Leonato’s character. In previous scenes, the governor was wise and discrete; the audience is cognizant of the social chaos through Leonato’s words and responses. Leonato is fully alive and in pain; his plight is significant, because the author has established his importance. Toward the end of the scene, Leonato begins to regain stability, and questions the major male characters as they relate to his daughter’s dishonor. He announces, “If they speak but truth of her [.] These hands shall tear her. If they wrong her honour [.] The proudest of them shall well hear of it. Time hath not yet so dried this blood of mine, Nor age so eat up my invention” (4.1.189-193). From these quotes, the audience realizes that Leonato is a force to be reckoned with, and the audience is aware of his multi-dimensionality within the play. Still, Leonato remains the sounding board for the audience. He represents the social standard and by him all other characters are measured. Further highlighting his roundness and dynamicity, the governor provides the reader with a host of emotions and thus illuminates the plot of Hero, his daughter. Leonato states, “I pray thee [Antonio, his brother] cease thy counsel, Which falls into mine ears as profitless…Nor let no comforter delight mine ear [.] But such a one whose wrongs do suit with mine. Bring me a father that so loved his child” (5.1.3-4, 6-8). Through these lines, the audience understands the plight of Leonato and identifies with him. Through his grief, the audience remembers his character in previous scenes and cares about him. Leonato’s words and responses allow the audience to further analyze his character and consider his motivation. Leonato is a concerned family man who promotes harmony and unity within his household. He possesses the essence of humanity. Moreover, it is the governor who re-stabilizes in the play. He states, “My soul doth tell me Hero is belied, And that shall Claudio know, so shall the Prince, And all of them that thus dishonour her” (5.1.42-44). Also, it is Leonato that prevents Don Pedro and Claudio from leaving his residence until the truth is revealed. He challenges Claudio. Leonato argues, “Tush, tush, man, never fleer and jest at me…Know Claudio to thy head, Thou hast so wronged mine innocent child and me [.] That I am forced to lay me reverence by…Do challenge thee to trial of a man. I say thou hast belied mine innocent child. Thy slander hath gone through and through her heart, And she lies buried with her ancestors” (5.1.58, 62-64, 66-69). From these quotes, the audience recognizes a change in emotional stability. Leonato is actively reasserting his authority. The social standard has been resurrected. Leonato takes control of the situation and through his leadership Hero’s honor is restored. Toward the end of the play, the governor addresses the persons who aided Don John in his dishonorable scheme. He gnarls, “Art thou the slave that with thy breath hast killed Mine innocent child?” (5.1.247-248). From these lines, the audience envisions Leonato’s appearance as a man of authority and identifies with his motivations to preserve his daughter’s honor. In this scene, Leonato is illustrating his elite status and his position as a social authority. He heads the investigation, and the others follow his leadership. Leonato remains the social sounding board. After clearing his daughter’s name, he boldly asserts, “So are the Prince and Claudio who accused her [.] Upon the error that you heard debated” (5.4.2-3). From this quote, the audience sees Leonato as an authentic character that fights for his family and justice. These are attributes that the audience readily reverences. Furthermore, Leonato reaffirms his role as family guide, and he directs and orchestrates the actions of his relatives. He tells Hero and Beatrice, “Well, daughter, and you gentlewomen all, Withdraw into a chamber by yourselves, And when I send for you come hither masked. The Prince and Claudio promised by this hour. To visit me” (5.4.10-14). From these lines, the audience acknowledges that Leonato is back in control and all is well and back to normal. It is Leonato who possesses the guiding hand in which the major characters are directed. Without the governor, the plot could not have been feasible or successful. In summary, Leonato, the governor of Messina, is instrumental in the movement and actions of the major characters of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. He provides the audience with a “mark” to measure the other characters. Through his words and responses, the audience senses his morality and importance. Being a round and dynamic character, Leonato is not expendable in the plot of Much Ado About Nothing. It is through his character that the plot becomes feasible and believable. The character of Leonato is instrumental in every major scene and interacts with every major character; without Leonato there could not have been a Much Ado About Nothing.