Essay by Maddie G: Fashion in Much Ado About Nothing

Posted by Maddie on November 14, 2011 at 6:45 PM

Thought this would be of interest to some followers. This may be my favorite essay, and my English teacher's favorite too. I wanted to explore the 13 unique ways that fashion in Much Ado, but instead found this essay more exciting. Streamlined, this essay is about why Shakespeare uses so many definitions of fashion, and that we should manipulate structure and tradition to our own use in order to be successful in fashioning plans... Enjoy! MG

Shakespeare's Multiple Uses of Fashion in Much Ado About Nothing by Maddie G

Shakespeare does not believe in following rules unthinkingly. He manipulates rules to suit his own purposes and uses multiple definitions of “fashion” to rebel against social convention. His casual word usage reflects his broader philosophy about the limitations of society: he uses “fashion” as a gauge to rate the complexity of his characters’ perspective of the world. With his varying and at times confusing definitions of fashion, Shakespeare hints that the world is more than simple ethics, and that characters’ understanding of the world’s complexity determines the success of their schemes. Much Ado About Nothing punishes the villains for their unsophisticated consciences—a result of upholding social conventions— and praises heroes for seeing beyond such simplistic terms and understanding the complexity of the world. Ultimately, Shakespeare reveals that a comprehension of human nature will liberate us from the limits of society and give us power to control the success of our schemes. Society’s imposing rules cause a blind duty to convention, limits its members by promoting shallow thinking, and makes choices for its members by applying ethics to all the facets that make us human. Villain Don John automatically assumes his status in society, and feels that he should fit and conform to his bastard place. Even when Conrade suggests faking a pleasant face for Don Pedro, Don John says: Being as thou sayst thou art, born under Saturn... I must be sad when I have cause…I had rather be a canker in a hedge than a rose in his grace, and it better fits my blood to be disdained of all than to fashion a carriage to rob love from any… I am a plain-dealing villain… let me be that I am, and seek not to alter me” (1.3.11-34). Don John sees his status in society as determined at birth and reveals that his fated demeanor is to “be sad,” for he was “born under Saturn.” His use of “born” makes it seem that society assigned him a predestined fate and use of “must” reveals his blind duty to following society’s set patterns. Additionally, Don John believes we have to uphold our loyalty to our identity; he thinks adopting a new demeanor, or “carriage,” is unethical because fashion “alters” identities and “robs” emotions. Ultimately, because society enforces strict rules, Don John assumes that there is one implication of fashion— its harmful thievery— and consequently does not realize fashion’s benefits. He uses “plain-dealing” to describe his villainous personality and the underlying simplicity that regulates ethics. He thinks it is “better” to assume his real identity, stating that he does not want to use fashion to cover what he is not, and would rather be a “canker,” than a “rose” because the ugly aspects of nature suit his illegitimate “blood.” Because Don John is accustomed to society’s order in which he must alter himself, he recoils back to his illegitimate status. Thus, Don John’s plans fail because he cannot take command of fashion and put it to a good end as Don Pedro and the Friar do. He says that it is “better” to “fit [his] blood,” which counters Shakespeare’s message on fashioning and manipulating. Shakespeare teaches us that we should fashion our surroundings fit to us, rather than we ourselves mold to our surroundings, which is the reason Don John is eventually captured and brought back to be punished. Shakespeare’s teachings about our role as individuals reveal that the world is always being manipulated and changes from person to person, like fashion, and should not be seen in structured ethical terms because we are supposed to manipulate the world ourselves. Shakespeare suggests the villains’ vision of life is too simplistic because society breeds thinkers to accept one interpretation. Borachio, in his conversation with Conrade, sees fashion one way: he believes that fashion is a thief. When telling Conrade of his immoral actions to help Don John, he digresses onto the subject of fashion perhaps because he was thinking about the discrepancy between clothing and identity when he crafted a plan to have Margaret impersonate Hero. In his conversation with Conrade, Borachio cannot understand Conrade’s point because society limits him to see another view of the same topic. Conrade and Borachio’s conversation about clothing highlights the confusion and limitations that victims of society encounter: Conrade: Yes, it is apparel. Borachio: I mean the fashion. Conrade: Yes, the fashion is the fashion. (3.3.113-8). Apparel is fashion without ethical implications, which Borachio cannot seem to accept because he cannot see the world without structured ethics. Borachio’s submission to fashion traps him to understanding one conventional usage and one interpretation. To him, fashion is a “deformed thief” and “giddily ‘a turns about all the hot-bloods between fourteen and five-and-thirty, sometimes fashioning them like Pharaoh’s soldiers in the reechy painting…where his codpiece seems as massy as his club” (3.3.129-33). Borachio views fashion as negative because it “deform[s]” individuals. The act to “deform” is considered to be a wrongdoing because society imposes a strict form and structure upon its members. Borachio observes that fashion makes young people “giddy” because they care about how they are dressed, sometimes copying the fashion of the paintings. Painters can to manipulate the perception people have of others to their advantage, by emphasizing what they want the audience to see by controlling the whole appearance—size, color, and clothing of subject— to the viewer, which is how Shakespeare believes we humans should behave. Conrade replies, “But art not thou thyself giddy with the fashion, too, that thou hast shifted out of thy tale into telling me of the fashion? (3.3.134-37). Conrade notices that Borachio too is “giddy,” even though Borachio lacks the insight to realize it. Ultimately, Shakespeare punishes the villains because they fail to understand how to have power over fashion without fashion overpowering them. Shortly after his statements about fashion, Borachio is caught by the watchmen and is eventually demoted to criminal status because he sunk to low means for money. The way society nurtures its members prevents them from ever being able to control and manipulate it. Thus, Borachio’s rigid belief and unsophisticated ideas cause his demise. While Don John and Borachio’s schemes are not successful because they are trapped by society’s one-faceted opinions, Don Pedro and the Friar are not influenced by society and can see beyond appearance and unforeseen situations. As a result, these two heroes notice and manipulate human tendencies and expose hidden emotions from their understanding of the complex nature of the world. Because Don Pedro understands human nature, he is able to unite two enemies of marriage. He tells his partners in crime how he plans to craft love between Beatrice and Benedick: I doubt not but to fashion it…I will teach you how to humour your cousin that she shall fall in love with Benedick; and I… in despite of his quick wit and his queasy stomach, he shall fall in love with Beatrice. If we can do this, Cupid is no longer an archer” (2.1.340-57). Don Pedro’s understanding of complex emotions and human weakness allows him to successfully manipulate his friends. His plan does not require differentiating right from wrong; rather, he concentrates on making two people who may love each other, open about their emotions. Don Pedro suggests using “humour” and taking advantage of “[Benedick’s] quick wit and his queasy stomach” to unmask their love. Don Pedro notes that he and his friends are assuming Cupid’s role of “an archer,” with the weapon being knowledge of valuable insight into his victims’ tendencies. His comparison to Cupid reveals the immense power and control he receives from having the ability to manipulate human nature. Don Pedro’s Cupid-like role provides a contrast from Don John and Borachio’s limited power in society. Becoming the role of Cupid allows Don Pedro to assume a powerful, even god-like s definitions. Like Don Pedro, the Friar too can gain insight about hidden situations and manipulate human nature to aid his scheming escapades. Because he understands human nature and the complexity of people, the Friar creates a plan to reunite Hero and Claudio. his plan is successful because he understands human nature and the complexity of people. When Hero’s reputation is tarnished, the Friar fashions a plan to reveal the truth behind the miscommunication and to instill pleasant memories of Hero into Claudio’s mind to repair their relationship: “What we have we prize not to the worth/Whiles we enjoy it, but being lacked and lost,/ Why, then we rack the value, then we find/The virtue that possession would not show us/Whiles it was ours. When he shall hear she died upon his words,/Th’ idea of her life sweetly creep Into his study of imagination... and doubt not but success/ Will fashion the event in better shape” (4.1.218-35). Human nature is the backbone to the Friar’s plan. The Friar says that humans have a tendency to place little value on what is ours until it is “lacked and lost.” In the same way Don Pedro took on the role of the Greek demi-god Cupid, the Friar assumes a God-like power in this scene in three ways: he is able to bring the dead back to life, erase the past, and instill good memories of Hero into Claudio’s mind. The great power that comes from living without society’s limitations is crucial to the success of schemes. For Don Pedro and the Friar, they are able to see what is hidden or overlooked, and are able to devise successful solutions to unite people and create joy. Ultimately, Shakespeare suggests through his use of “fashion” and these two heroes that we need freedom to successfully create plans and shows us that freedom and God-like power comes from understanding human nature differs greatly from the minimal freedom of an ethics-based lifestyle. Shakespeare tells us that society makes us think that we need to fit a certain standard to gain acceptance. The vague definitions of “fashion’ reflect the complexity of the world; with varying definitions of “fashion,” he purposely confuses us to reveal that there is no specific fashion or trend that exists outside of society because it is up to the individual to craft the world to how they see fit. He molds “fashion” to his writing and does not force himself to use one definition. His vague definitions force us to think harder about its effects on society and human nature, so we are insightful and multi-dimensional people like Don Pedro rather than shallow Don Johns. The successful outcomes of schemes in Much Ado About Nothing are a result of careful manipulation and deep insight into the nature of people. He reveals through Don Pedro and the Friar that if we understand the complexity of our world, we have the power to craft successful schemes, which ultimately illustrates Shakespeare’s philosophy about our roles as humans: the world is up for manipulation and we as individuals have the ability to challenge the definitions of society. 

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