Gossip is defined as idle talk or rumour concerning the personal affairs of others. It is one of the oldest and most common methods of sharing information and opinions. However, it does have a bad reputation because all too often gossip dramatically distorts the truth because of its tendency to be inaccurate. But gossip is an activity we all indulge in, so we must ask ourselves, is gossip good or bad?
The Shakespearean play ““Much Ado About Nothing”” answers this question for us as we analyse the motives behind the character’s gossip and the consequences of this gossiping. This play illustrates various types of gossip in several ways and includes intentional, malicious and innocent gossip, all of which appear in the first half of the play while the latter half of the play is dedicated to resolving its pernicious effects.
Antonio is the first gossip bearer in the play when he discloses to Leonato: “The prince and count Claudio, walking in a thick-pleached alley in mine orchard, were thus overheard by a man of mine: the Prince discovered to Claudio that he loved my niece your daughter, and meant to acknowledge it this night in a dance; and if he found her accordant, he meant to take the present time by the top and instantly break with you of it”. Immediately we are made aware that Leonato’s house is riddled with gossip, rumour, eavesdropping and false report.
Although the Prince and Claudio have talked in private, they have been overheard and Antonio’s man has not wasted a moment in passing on this news. Hero, the innocent victim of this gossip, is immediately informed of this misinformation and this incident clearly illustrates Messina’s gullibility, its impulsive credulity, and its willingness to trust in surface appearances whether they be visual or verbal. Gossip flourishes in Messina’s social world precisely because it is a world built upon surface appearances and an adherence to a strict code of behaviour. In Act 2 Scene 3 the most pivotal gossip flourishes.
Claudio, Leonato and Don Pedro design a plan that will trick the eavesdropping Benedick into believing that Beatrice loves him in the hope that he will change his misogynist ways and the ongoing merry war between these two will be resolved. “Come hither Leonato, what was it you told me of today, that your niece Beatrice was in love with Signor Benedick? ’ To which Leonato replies “By my troth, my lord, I cannot tell what to think of it, but that she loves him with an enraged affection, it is past the infinite of thought” Upon hearing this conversation, Benedick decides that if Beatrice is capable of loving him then he too is able to love her.
The justification in his sudden change of heart is simply explained, “The world must be peopled. When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live until I were married “. Similarly in the next scene it is Beatrice who is fooled by this fictitious gossip and it is Margaret and Hero who devise a story intended to persuade Beatrice to replace her feelings of contempt with ones of affection. She hears them “praise Benedick more than ever man did merit” and talk of how “Benedick is sick in love with Beatrice”.
Beatrice immediately looks upon her pride and scorn with guilt and decides that she will from now on admit her love for Benedick. Calling a truce on their contentious and hostile war, means that Benedick must rid himself of the male Elizabethan fear of cuckoldry while Beatrice must suppress her disapproval of conformity and overcome her fear of the constraints that marriage places on a woman. Comically they do become husband and wife, but theirs is a marriage with a difference.
The next incident of gossip has the exact opposite effect and instead of bringing together two people who supposedly love each other, it forces a giant rift between them. The victims of this spiteful, malicious and intentional gossip are Claudio and Hero, as the bastard brother of Don Pedro, Don John, jealously seeks to destroy the honour and happiness that his brother has bestowed upon his soldier at arms, Claudio. In this age, honour was an all or nothing affair, the customs of which were chiefly maintained by a species of taboo and falling from honour was a disgrace felt profoundly as an anathema.