Irony in Much Ado About Nothing

Irony is a figure of speech in which the intended meaning of a word is different from the actual word. Shakespeare uses dramatic irony, in which the audience knows something that the characters on stage do not, for comedic effect in Much Ado About Nothing.

Irony Examples in Much Ado About Nothing:

Act II - Scene I 2

"Speak low if you speak love...."   (Act II - Scene I)

Don Pedro, disguised as Claudio, courts Hero, again comparing love and courtship to a masquerade. When Don Pedro says “Speak low, if you speak love,” he further relates courtship to secrecy, which is ironic because he is pretending to be Claudio and the secrets are actually being kept from Hero.

"You may light on a husband that hath no beard...."   (Act II - Scene I)

During the Elizabethan era, women were not allowed to perform on the stage, so men would play the roles of both female and male characters. Typically, female characters would have been played by young men without facial hair. Thus when a young man’s beard came in, it was a sign that he was old enough to begin playing adult male roles. Since a young man would have played Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, this conversation about beards becomes an ironic indirect reference to this tradition.

"all men are not alike, alas, good neighbour..."   (Act III - Scene V)

In this aside, Dogberry assumes that he and Leonato are in on the same joke: Verges is a simpleton who is not well educated. The irony in this joke is that to Leonato considers Dogberry to be just as simple as Verges. They are not equals laughing at the same person as Dogberry believes.

"As they say,..."   (Act III - Scene V)

Dogberry frequently speaks in proverbs and platitudes. Although he uses these references in order to demonstrate his “wisdom,” these sayings ironically demonstrate his lack of wit and thought because he does not have his own words to express these ideas.

"Palabras..."   (Act III - Scene V)

The noun “Palabras” refers to words words, especially ones spoken in an unnecessary, profuse, or idle nature. Ironically, Dogberry uses this to chide Verges for his idle comparisons during a conversation in which he uses such language with Leonato.

"O that I had been writ down an ass!..."   (Act IV - Scene II)

The comedy in this speech comes from Dogberry repeatedly calling himself an “ass.” By “O that I had been writ down an ass,” he means that he wishes the Sexton had been around to write down that Conrade called him an “ass” so that Conrade would be punished for this offense. However, the syntax of this second statement make it sound like Dogberry wants to be called an ass.

"Here's our own hands against our hearts...."   (Act V - Scene IV)

Notice that at the end, Beatrice and Benedick are brought together through their writing instead of their banter. Remember Benedick found it impossible to write a sonnet at the beginning of this Act. This suggests that the sonnet Beatrice reads is not well done; ironically, their worst language allows them to be wedded.