Deception, “the quality of being fraudulent”1 or”to cause to accept as true or valid what is false and invalid”2 is a major theme in both plays ‘Much Ado about Nothing’ and ‘The Rover’. However there is a certain dichotomy for deception here as it is both malign and benign, intentionally good and intentionally bad. Another proof of this is that the two plays are comedies meaning some deceptions have got to be taken lightheartedly and blithely. These are shown in Benedick and Beatrice’s gulling and Lucetta’s gypping of Blunt aided by Sancho and Philippo.
There are two main comic deceptions in Much Ado these are benign and harmless to the people they are directed against. When Claudio professes his love for Hero to Pedro who strangely, immediately offers his help to woo her for him, he at first sounds too eager to help his friend (as if he has something else in mind) but we soon learn his intentions are well meant.
“I will assume thy part in some disguise, and tell fair Hero I am Claudio and in her bosom I’ll unclasp my heart and take her hearing prisoner with the force …”3

This of course acts as an introduction to the theme of deception and shows us, the audience how easy and tolerated deception is in the world of Messina .It shows how easy it is to control a person’s life and manipulate anyone’s feelings. This is reflected in the second example of the benevolent plans set by the characters; the gulling or tricking of the two, presumably past lovers, Benedick and Beatrice. This deception can be seen as a “white lie”4 .The two characters are tricked by a larger group of characters including the respectable and estimable Leonato whose involvement is one of the main reasons the gulling was successful:
“I should think this is a gull but that white bearded fellow speaks it”5
This underlines that no character in Shakespeare’s world or in Messina is above deception. A better example of this is the Friar’s plan to deceive the prince and Claudio
“Your daughter here the princes…, let her awhile be secretly kept in, and publish it that she is dead indeed”6
This shows that even a high-ranked holy/spiritual person could turn to deception. This is actually another example of deception with good intent. The Friar deceives the princes to change the nasty accusations for sorrow and make everyone pity her and remember all her civilities and people will see her loveliness as more precious after she has gone.
Examples of deception in the rover include: Pedro’s deception of his father’s orders for Florida to marry don vincentio and instead finds her a better suitor, Antonio who turns out to be an even worse suitor for going behind Pedro’s back to court Angelica, this causes them to fight and drives the two into a duel where Antonio yet again deceives Pedro by sending in Bellville to fight in his place. Bellville sees this as an opportunity to get Florinda, deceptively in Antonio’s name “this minute let me make Florinda mine”7 and expectantly, Willmore blows Belville’s cover and ruins their plan.
The tricking of Beatrice and Benedick is shown in two of the most comic scenes in the whole play, these scenes are also the best examples of deception in the play and this goes to show that a lighthearted or benign deception is very possible in Messina. It underlines the fact that deceit can be useful and can bring two people together even if its “one of Hercules’ labours”8.
Beatrice and Benedick’s scam can be used as a mirror for the gulling of blunt in ‘The Rover’ but not in the sense that it brings two people together or in the sense that it ends happily but in the comic sense, it is the funniest scene in the play and so reflects that deception if taken lightheartedly can be benign or harmless.
There are also examples of harmful deceptions which create the dark and ugly side of the world of Messina, the main catalyst for this is of course the Prince’s half brother, Don John. One critic9 blames his evilness on jealousy and/or the bitter resentment of a society “that looks down on those like him who are conceived out of wedlock” I personally believe he is just a typical villain, “mere, unmixed evil”, an “ill-conditioned, base and tiresome scoundrel”10 created by Shakespeare for the audience to hate and fear. Don John’s intentions are completely and utterly malefic. He tries to talk Claudio into thinking Don Pedro is wooing Hero for himself- “I heard him swear his affection” in the masked ball.
The audience is not so sure whether this is true or not since Don Pedro was very eager to get Hero for Claudio earlier but we soon learn Don John was simply being the scoundrel he is. One thing that can be noted is Don John’s deceptive tongue or his ability to persuade many or most of the other characters in the play easily. This is also true for Willmore in ‘The Rover’. He woos Angelica Bianca and gets her to sleep with him even though she was infuriated by him minutes earlier for taking down her picture; he turns it against her and rails at her for seducing him and all the other poor men who cannot afford her. He also leads her to deceive herself and Moretta’s soliloquy in this scene illustrates the extent to which Angelica has “lost” herself and her career which is “the fate of most whores”11 in her opinion.
There is a certain parallel or mirrored idea in the two plays. Balthasar’s song12 is of course echoed throughout Much Ado, it is around deception it speaks, or the deceptive nature of men. This is mirrored through Wilmore’s defensive comment after being accused of cheating on Angelica he said “For I never heard of a mortal man, that has not broke a thousand vows”13.
In another sense deception can be used to show who is boss, or to show off someone’s authority. For example the Prince of Aragon immediately marks his territory in Messina by grabbing the first opportunity he could, and that is through wooing Hero. By wooing Hero for Claudio he showed that he was the dominator or leader figure. Don Pedro also does that with Beatrice and Benedick and he succeeds in creating his “mountain of affection”14 and proof for this is that the pair are lovesick for one another. It is when Leonato falls under Pedro and Claudio’s side against his own daughter’ that we see the effects of the dominance Pedro gained from his earlier deceptions. Even though Leonato has seen Pedro’s deceptive nature in action he still follows him:
“Would the two princes lie, and Claudio lie, who loved her so, that speaking of her foulness, washed it with tears? Hence from her, let her die”15
The audience here would feel compassionate to Leonato. He is trapped and does not know who to believe but shortly falls on the Prince and Claudio’s side since the idea of the Princes lying is inconceivable to him. Lying was considered a much more serious offence in that time than it is nowadays;”it was a diabolical trick because Satan told Eve lies in the Garden of Eden, causing her to sin.”16 This is another type of deception the play talks about, deceptive reputations. The prince, Claudio and Leonato are Shakespeare’s idea of the perfect gentlemen but they all seem to make up their decisions and take drastic measures to regain their “honour” almost immediately without any real tangible proof of Hero’s crime
“I stand dishonoured, that have gone about to link my dear friend to a common stale.” 17
Another example of deception we encounter in the plays is deception between friends. Benedick in a sense deceives his friends in breaking the “patriarchal code of friendship”. This is quite shocking since he has known his friends longer than any of the people in Messina. Beatrice asks the messenger in a pun “a good soldier to a lady, but what is he to a lord?”18 .A Shakespearean audience would find this repugnant and not the appropriate behavior for a gentleman. Bonds between men, especially ones that were formed in war, were especially valuable and tight-knit in the Elizabethan era. This is also mirrored in ‘The Rover, the cavaliers, almost one by one sell Don Pedro out by marrying his sisters and Valeria(their cousin) .Even though they are old friends, the cavaliers deceive Pedro, their friend for a woman. Some critics have argued that “distrust of women is the basis of all male bonds”19 this is true in ‘The Rover’; Fredrick warns Bellville of Florinda’s intentions when she gave him the note with the instructions to meet her:
“Have a care, sir, what you promise; this may be a trap laid by her brother to ruin you”20
The cavalier’s initial distrust of women is as clear as Benedick’s initial misogynistic view of them. When Lucetta is introduced to Blunt all the men knew she was out to trick him, “cheat him of all, then have him well-favourly banged, and turned out naked at midnight”. They, however do not warn Blunt but instead get a front row seat to watch the humiliation of their friend begin.
There are many instances of self-deception in both plays actually. For example Benedick and Beatrice undergo a huge change in perspective after their gulling. Both fall helplessly in love with each other even though they were self-declared heretics of love. Beatrice says she will not love a man until “man be made from some other metal than earth”21 and Benedick claims he will die a bachelor and will not be “converted and see with (the) eyes (of love)” only if he met the perfect woman which, as he describes, is quite an impossible scenario. It is important to note Shakespeare’s placement of this scene exactly before the one with the deception so we can contrast the two views, before and after the deception.
The difference is crystal clear, Beatrice says “Benedick, love on. I will requite thee”22and that “(her) kindness shall incite (him) to bind (their) loves up in a holy band”23. Benedick says that he “will be horribly in love with her”24 and that when he said he would rather die a bachelor than fall in love (the scene before) he didn’t think he would live until he was married. We notice the same with Wilmore from The Rover. His whole life got turned around in the last scene with Helena when she convinced him to marry her and putting his past perpetually-amorous life behind him. He forgets his old ways and he is no longer the sexed up “Father Captain”25 who tries to rape Florinda…twice and is continuously rejected by almost every female character in the play! His promise which is “the bargain is now made”26 is his everlasting goodbye to women and a welcome mat to the woman.
He is completely self-deceived. Another similar example is Fredrick: at the beginning of the play we feel he has an unnatural distrust in women. He seems to warn every one of his friends about women, he even tries to get in on the action when Blunt tries to rape Florinda…a barbarous revenge. Claudio also deceives himself into believing he is in love with Hero when really he has not even met her. He falls in love with her because of his esteemed first impression of her and mainly because she looks like a pure, good virgin which was considered of great importance in Elizabethan England, a girls honour was entirely based on her chastity, if she loses that she would “lose all social standing” which is why the second thing he asks about her is “is she not a modest young lady?”.Don Pedro also deceives himself in thinking his brother, john the bastard has been washed clean and is now a clean and changed man. In reality he is the villain and the person behind every harmful deception in the play.
The two plays both exhibit deception in the most ambidextrous of ways. It is both malevolent and benevolent, in the sense that the plays end happily through all the obstacles that have been set throughout it.

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