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I have recently been very fascinated by the notion that there are many times that we choose not to do or say something based on our fear of what people might think of us. I am planning to do further study about this in the field of psychology, but I never thought I would find this manifest in one of Shakespeare's plays. However, after reading the first act of "Much Ado About Nothing," this very theme came up in a Slack discussion.
As we were brainstorming themes, my partner on Slack, Sarah Bennet, said, "There seems to be a theme of hiding yourself/ being true to yourself." We started talking about how there were multiple characters with this problem. Beatrice and Benedick are never truthful about how they are really feeling. They hide how they feel from those around them and sometimes they even hide how they feel from themselves. Even Claudio who is open about his feelings to those around him, isn't able to fully come forward to the one he loves, and another character goes to "scout out" how Hero feels about Claudio. I had noticed the strange expressions of emotions, but it wasn’t until Sarah mentioned the theme of hiding that I made the connection to their actions being based in their being self-conscience of what others were thinking about them.
I began asking myself questions to try to explain their actions. Benedick for example, “I will not do them the wrong to mistrust any, I will do myself the right to trust none; and the fine is, for the which I may go the finer, I will live a bachelor” (1.1.239-242). Why wouldn’t Benedick want anyone to know he could be in love? Is showing love a form of weakness? Why won’t he let himself fall in love? If he or others around him do see love as a form of weakness, then the obvious answer to the first and last questions would be that he is worried about what other people would think of him if he did fall in love.
While Claudio has a different problem, his problem has the same roots. He is afraid of what Hero thinks of him. If he were to openly profess his love for her and she reject him, then he would be crushed and emotionally scarred. He has become so reliant on what others, specifically Hero, think about him, that he is willing to risk not expressing his true feelings to Hero. Luckily, Claudio has a good friend who is willing to take the risk for him.
I would like to look into these situations and what psychologists have said about this disabling phenomena. Do the characters base all their actions on their fear of what others “might” think? Are there certain opinions that have a greater power to disable? Are any of the characters able to overcome this problem? If so, then how?