There’s a point in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing where I get frustrated with the characters and think/say, “This never would have happened if they had only TALKED to each other.” Now, most of the action of the play wouldn’t have happened either, but that’s kind of my point. The entire premise of the play is built on people acting without talking to each other. Shakespeare is trying to make a point to us, the readers and viewers, about communication. What is that point? So much of life’s chaos could be avoided if people only talked to one another.
Crazy idea, right? Who would ever do that?
Clearly the characters in our play didn’t. There are several moments in the play where a character ought to have sought out another character and discussed something with the other and didn’t. Plot and action occur because of this lack of communication, so it’s not the worst thing ever. Plot and action are what we want in our entertainments. But these are not things we want in our real lives. If I found myself in Beatrice’s and Benedick’s shoes, I might not be so happy that my friends were manipulating me (into realizing that I am in love with a person to whom I am extremely well suited).
If Beatrice and Benedick had talked to one another after the staged overhearings in Act II, Scene iii, they might have found out that their friends were lying to them. Now, those lies were well-intended (and they further the plot) but the fact remains that they were lies. In many ways, this lack of communication actually led to a better outcome for the involved parties. (Actually, people, feel free to trick me like that if you find a person to whom I’m extremely well suited but I struggle to treat with kindness and respect.)
But other communication failures in the play are more dangerous. The biggest example of this is Don John’s manipulation of his brother and Claudio. Instead of talking to Hero about these actions that they’ve seen that do not line up with any of their previous knowledge or experiences of her, the pair just off and publicly denounce her. They refuse to trust her previous reputation. They refuse to talk to her.
And in doing so, they hurt Hero and those she loves. Claudio and Don Pedro damage (at least temporarily) Hero’s relationship with her father. They develop an unexpected foe in their former friend, Benedick. On the other hand, this rupture is caused by Benedick choosing to ally himself with Beatrice and Hero. Benedick is suspicious of what he hears from his friends at the failed wedding and chooses to communicate with a person he believes to be trustworthy in order to find the truth.
This is where communication comes into play. Leonato makes the (incomprehensible to me) choice to immediately believe the accusations hurled upon his daughter by Claudio and Don Pedro. (Sexism mayhap?) Before jumping to conclusions, Benedick and Friar Francis both stop and start asking questions.They talk to Hero, they figure out what is happening, and they formulate a plan to hopefully resolve the situation.
Then Beatrice and Benedick talk privately. This conversation is not an easy one for Benedick because the woman he likes wants someone to challenge his closest friends to a duel. But the two of them communicate. They talk about what Beatrice wants from Benedick AND why she wants him. “It is a man’s office but not yours,” she explains. (Act IV, Scene 1) Propriety does not allow women to fight duels, and Benedick is not closely related to Hero, which means that he does not need to defend her honor. Someone from her family ought to do the defending. Nevertheless, Beatrice explains her position, and Benedick comes to understand her to the point where he accepts her challenge.
Benedick is obviously partially motivated on this path by his feelings for Beatrice, but as the action continues we come to understand that he is also genuinely frustrated by his friends. As Act IV continues, they seem almost unaware of the impact of their actions on Hero’s family. They view their confrontation with Leonato and Antonio as something of a joke. Even after Benedick not only confronts them but threatens them, they still do not see the danger of their situation. It is only when they are confronted with Borachio’s confession that they realize what they have done, what they have misunderstood.
In the end, we have two weddings. But I have to suspect that one marriage will be happier than the other. Beatrice and Benedick seem to communicate well while Hero and Claudio seem to struggle in that regard. While we can hope that time and maturity will help them to grow in that area, it is not one of their strengths at the end of the play.