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Metaphor in Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing is filled with metaphors, most notably those that relate love and courtship to war or Hero to various gems and jewels to suggest that she is very beautiful.

Metaphor Examples in Much Ado About Nothing:

Act I - Scene I

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"‘In time the savage bull doth bear the yoke.’..."   (Act I - Scene I)

Don Pedro employs a vivid metaphor to foreshadow Benedick’s eventual surrender to the forces of love. The phrase itself is drawn from the work of Elizabethan poet Thomas Watson. In Watson’s 1582 collection Hekatompathia, Sonnet 47 opens with the line, “In time the Bull is brought to wear the yoke.” That line was, in turn, taken from the Italian poet Seraphine, whose Sonnetto 103 begins, “Col tempo et Villanello all giogo mena/El Tor si fiero, e si crudo animale”—which roughly translates into Watson’s line. Shakespeare fittingly returns the metaphor to the mouth of an Italian character.

"she were not possessed with a fury, exceeds her as much in beauty as the first of May doth the last of December...."   (Act I - Scene I)

Shakespeare often built metaphors based on the seasons of the year. In this case, the metaphor works on two levels. On one level, the seasons represent different degrees of human beauty, with May indicating a greater amount beauty than December. On another level, the seasons represent different temperaments. May, with its warm weather, stands in for the “fury” of Beatrice’s personality, whereas December might point to a comparatively cooler individual.

"He hath borne himself beyond the promise of his age, doing in the figure of a lamb the feats of a lion...."   (Act I - Scene I)

The lion and the lamb are important mythological symbols, both commonly found in the Bible. The lamb represents meekness and docility, while the lion represents boldness and violence. The messenger’s metaphor suggests that Don Pedro’s frail exterior belies his forcefulness.

"that I stood like a man at a mark, with a whole army shooting at me...."   (Act II - Scene I)

“Poniards” are small, slim daggers. The fact that Benedick is so hurt by Beatrice’s pointed criticisms indicates that he cares very much about her opinion of him. Note again the imagery of weapons and battle in these lines, further emphasizing the theme of love and courtship as warfare. In a more general sense, Benedick and Beatrice’s constant verbal sparring also resembles a war of sorts.

"Why, he is the prince's jester, a very dull fool. Only his gift is in devising impossible slanders. None but(120) libertines delight in him; and the commendation is not in his wit, but in his villainy; for he both pleases men and angers them, and then they laugh at him and beat him. I am sure he is in the fleet. I would he had boarded me...."   (Act II - Scene I)

A “libertine” is a free-thinker who is unrestrained by convention, tradition, and morality. Beatrice implies that only the morally depraved enjoy Benedick’s company. Note too, that Beatrice uses naval imagery here to question why Benedick has not come to play a game of wits with her. Shakespeare again compares love and wit to warfare here, a metaphor that will continue throughout the remainder of the play.

"Would it not grieve a woman to be overmastered with a piece of valiant dust? ..."   (Act II - Scene I)

Once again, the readers witness Beatrice’s sharp tongue at work and her wittiness, which is specifically used to mock the idea of falling in love or getting married in this context. She believes that it will “grieve,” or be miserable for, a woman to be “overmaster’d” or committed to a man, who she calls a “piece of valiant dust,” or, in other words, a handful of dust. This metaphor implies that men are unreliable, and as a result, Beatrice despises the idea that women must be subservient to men.

"windy side..."   (Act II - Scene I)

To be on the "windy side of care" means to be out of care's way, or out of danger. This is a nautical allusion: the windy side is the windward side, which gives a ship enough wind to maneuver out of danger.

"I will but teach them to sing..."   (Act II - Scene I)

Continuing the metaphor of birds in a nest, Don Pedro is referring to Hero and Claudio.

"wooing, wedding, and repenting is as a Scotch jig..."   (Act II - Scene I)

Shakespeare cleverly uses the metaphor of dancing as a comparison to courtship, marriage, and an aging husband.

"for the ewe that will not hear her lamb when it baes will never answer a calf when he bleats...."   (Act III - Scene III)

In other words, the nurse is like an ewe who can't hear her own lamb bleating: if the nurse can't hear her child crying, don't bother with her—let the child's crying wake her up.  This is just another way the night watch manages to do its job by doing nothing.

"He is then a giant to an ape; but then is an ape a doctor(195) to such a man..."   (Act V - Scene I)

That is, when a man leaves his intelligence behind, he is like a giant to an ape, and an ape is as smart as a doctor compared to a man without intelligence.

"Sir, your wit ambles well; it goes easily...."   (Act V - Scene I)

That is, your wit is like the ambling gait of a pony—comfortable but boring.

"I shall meet your wit in the career an you charge it against me. ..."   (Act V - Scene I)

This is a metaphor based on jousting—Benedick responds that he will meet Claudio at full gallop (as in a joust).

" Fetter strong madness in a silken thread, Charm ache with air and agony with word..."   (Act V - Scene I)

Leonato is commenting on the uselessness of trying to soften true grief. He likens it to using silk thread to bind people who are crazy.

"Don(70) Worm, his conscience..."   (Act V - Scene II)

Shakespeare uses a common metaphor in his time based on a passage in the *Geneva Bible, *Isaiah 66:24 in which the conscience is compared to a gnawing worm.

"If a man do not erect in this age his own(65) tomb ere he dies, he shall live no longer in monument than the bell rings and the widow weeps...."   (Act V - Scene II)

That is, a man must sing his own praises while he lives because when he dies, his value will be remembered only as long as the ring of a bell or a widow weeps (implying that widows only weep a short time).

"Nothing certainer. One Hero died defiled; but I do live,(65) And surely as I live, I am a maid...."   (Act V - Scene IV)

“Maid” in this context means virgin. In order to rid herself of slander, Hero died a metaphorical death. This marriage to Claudio marks her rebirth as a chaste wife to a nobleman.

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