In bud ere it be blown. But you

In Much Ado About Nothing by
William Shakespeare, references to cuckoldry are often used to discuss the true
feelings that characters have about the customs of marriage and the power of

Cuckold refers to a man whose wife has committed adultery. In
this Shakespeare play, horns or bulls often symbolize cuckoldry. The
idea of cuckoldry is expressed when the men joke about the doubts of marriage
and ultimately show their underlying fears. Gender roles are
exemplified through the usage of cuckoldry. The scholarly essay, A
Modern Perspective by Gail Kern Paster deeply explains cuckoldry and its
implications throughout the entire play.

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Traditionally in the Elizabethan
Era, wealthy, white, noble men had the authority in both society and marriage
and woman were powerless and submissive. These men considered women
as potential wives only if they were pure, untouched virgins. A
virgin woman is considered a more of a monetary commodity than a human being. “Virulent
suspicions of wifely chastity” (Paster)
is what destroys lives and marriages alike. A woman’s family status
depends on who she is married to and the reputation she upholds. In
Much Ado About Nothing, Hero portrays a typical woman of that era. She
is quiet and obedient, allows men to dominate her life. She falls in love
with Claudio and they decide to get married. Even though she is pure
and innocent, she is accused of being treacherous and a harlot during her
wedding. The smallest doubt in the pureness of a woman can ruin
everything. During the wedding Claudio responds to Hero saying, “Out on
thee, seeming! I will write against it. You seem to me as Dian in her orb, as chaste
as is the bud ere it be blown. But you are more intemperate in your blood
than Venus” (4.1.57-61). Claudio
is accusing Hero without any visual evidence, only false audio. He’s
saying she seemed like Diana, goddess of chastity, but instead she is more like
Venus, goddess of love but often shown as promiscuous.

Benedick has a fear of sexual betrayal
within marriage. Throughout the book, he expresses his suspicion of
woman as being “the agents of men’s humiliation and defeat” (Paster). Benedick
states, “All women shall pardon me. Because I will not do them the wrong to
mistrust any, I will do myself the right to trust none” (1.1.238-40). He
is showing his fear in wearing the horns of a cuckold. Instead of trusting
the wrong woman, he decides to trust no one to prevent himself from being humiliated
by the horns. “In a misogynistic culture, resistance to marriage is rational …
because misogyny— defined as the systematic denigration of women— gives men and
women well-founded reasons to suspect one another of adultery” (Paster). More
women are falsely accused than are actually guilty. The blatant disrespect of
women is evident when Benedick speaks about his mother, only calling her “woman
who conceived me” (1.1.234).

Cuckoldry is present amongst both
genders in different forms. Men make sexual remarks and nobody bats an
eye, it actually brings the men closer to each other as an important aspect of
their friendships. Some female characters participate in cuckoldry in
their own terms, ultimately setting themselves apart from the other women.

The application of cuckoldry in Much Ado About Nothing supports society’s
views of a man’s role as the power-holder. Beatrice defies gender
expectations by refusing to take on the role of a typical wife. Her
sharp tongue makes her uncle’s worry that she is “too curst,” (2.1.20) and will never get a
husband. Beatrice has a negative view of marriage. She says, “If God
send me no husband, for he which blessing I am at him upon my knees every
morning and evening,” (2.1.27-29).

She prays every day that the Lord will not send her a husband. Beatrice
stands out from the other women presented in the book. She is portrayed as
a more dominant character with masculine qualities.