Much Ado About Nothing… who’s the real villain?
OK, before I say anything I wanna make clear that I’m not taking this play away from anyone. Not the play, not the humor, not people’s enjoyment of it, and so on. This article is basically just meant to have you take a closer look at a character if you haven’t already, and the situations around him. I see Don John from Much Ado About Nothing as a sympathetic villain and someone deserving of empathy. And maybe… some of the other characters have things to learn. Also, you may see me as biased considering I uh… ::clears throat:: recently played Don John. 😊 (We switched it to Dawn Joan) But hey, who cares?
Don John was shunned by society until he snapped.
Let’s look at some facts. Don John has faced a lifetime of cruel mistreatment. Shunned, shamed, probably abused and neglected in at least one form—he’s faced all of this and more for something that’s not his fault: being born out of wedlock. Facing a lifetime of maltreatment and bad environments will make almost anyone snap, and at some point, Don John did. Most people who live a life of misery and are on the outside looking in, will eventually lash out; it’s only a matter of time. One passage that kills me is this: “how tartly that gentleman looks! I can never see him but I am heart burned an hour after”/”He is of a very melancholy disposition”. Beatrice, Hero, c’mon, why do you think he looks so tartly? Do you know nothing of the mistreated and downtrodden? At best, this is horribly insensitive.
Beatrice went from zero to 100 in a second.
I’m not excusing Don John’s actions. But the people he inflicted them on suffered for 10 minutes. (And yes, that’s deserving of sympathy.) Don John suffered all his life. This deed was all Beatrice needed to be out for blood. She ordered Benedick to kill Claudio, and while he was reluctant at first, Benedict obliged. Think what you will about Don John, but he never tried to kill someone! Just sayin’! The people Don John deceived were used to a comfortable, privileged life, where they were liked and coddled by everyone. Maybe this pain they suddenly experienced was a shock to them. But that’s all the more reason to treat it as a wake up call.
Perhaps while Don John is given “brave punishments” for his actions, which yes, he should take responsibility for, maybe society can think of braver punishments for letting Don John slip between the cracks. To me, nothing is braver than looking outside your bubble and extending empathy to your fellow human beings.
Let me close by saying again: I am not taking this play and the humor of it away from anyone, nor am I excusing Don John’s actions. I for one love this play. It was one of my first exposures to Shakespeare as a kid, and the bottom line is, it’s a fun play. I write this article as a reminder of the importance of empathy. If the other characters can go from happy go lucky to attempting murder in a matter of minutes, perhaps they can sympathize with Don John and realize the reasons for his collapse… and perhaps audiences can do the same. The other characters suffered innocently… so did Don John. Since they had a taste of what it feels like, and did worse things than Don John ever did, perhaps they can learn to show kindness to him instead of shunning him.
You can enjoy this play, but still consider these things. That’s the beauty of Shakespeare—there’s always more to think about.