Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Power of Appearance

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As I was reading Much Ado about Nothing I noticed the great lengths that the characters would go to hide their true selves from others. They all put on appearances, either through their dress, their words, or their actions.  It seems that appearance matters more than reality, in particular for women.  The main conflict in the story is caused by the appearance that Hero is cheating on Claudio, which is not reality. The worth of women in society depends on her appearance. 

In our slack discussion Karee Brown and I discussed how the appearance that Hero has been unfaithful destroys her worth in the eyes of her father, to the point that he thinks she would be better off dead, “Death is the fairest cover for her shame/ that may be wish’d for” (4.1).  This appearance also causes her fiancĂ© Claudio to go from ardent love to hatred and public humiliation, causing him to say, “Would you not swear/ All you that see her, that she were a maid/ By these exterior shows? But she is none” (4.1) in front of everyone at their wedding. Even the Friar, who is one of the only people to see through the deception, acknowledges that if they cannot resolve the issue, “you may conceal her/ As best befits her wounded reputation” (4.1). The power of appearance, even false appearance is enough to send Hero into concealment, because appearance, not reality, is ultimately what matters to the society.

I would also like to look at how when a women’s reputation is ruined she cannot defend it, or fix it on her own. Claudio is ruining Hero’s life by accusing her of infidelity in front of everyone she knows, and Hero is unable to resolve this problem without the help of the Friar. There is also a point in the play where Beatrice wants to help Hero and says “O that I were, a man! What, public accusation, uncovered slander, unmitigated rancor,-O God, that I were a man! I would eat his heart in the market-place” she wishes to defend her friend but is unable to because she is a woman, and therefore convinces Benedict to do it for her. Neither Hero nor Beatrice is able to defend her honor without the help of a man.  

I would like to look into the power of appearance across Shakespeare’s plays, and see if there this theme appears in other plays. I would also like to do some background research and see how women were treated, and what was expected of them during Shakespeare’s time to see if the ideas in this play reflected what was actually happening. 


  1. I would say check out "A Midsummer's Night Dream" and the "Tempest" if you are going to look at appearance verses reality. I also found this analysis that might be helpful when looking at the theme in Shakespeare's plays.

  2. Just an example that you could look at with the theme of appearance in Hamlet, "One may smile, and smile, and be a villain." This is almost like what we were talking about because he considering how a murder can hide his true identity with just a smile.

  3. I would also be interested in seeing if this theme of appearance as being of more worth than reality is also present in Shakespeare plays. If there is an ongoing theme, it could be interesting to see it in conjunction with the social, political, and economic situations of Shakespeare's day. What was going on that could have prompted Shakespeare to include that in his plays?

  4. Your classmates' comments are important, as the theme of appearances is very broad and could be tamed by bringing in specific comparisons or grounding this through history. Gender approaches are fine but can also be very broad, so be careful. Combining the two could help: what are the social dynamics of gender-based putting up appearances? Obviously the central plot of Much Ado turns on this. Just be careful that you don't end up arguing for truisms like women should be treated equally as men. Also, be sure you go beyond thematic, character, or cultural analysis to look directly at formal features in the text (which can complement and complicate those other approaches). Analyze the text (not just quote it).