Janell Bemis, J.F. Kennedy Jr. High School, West Valley City, Utah.
Much Ado About Nothing 4.1.1-268
What's On for Today and Why
In this lesson the class will read and discuss historical information concerning marriage customs in the Renaissance and relate the information to the text of Much Ado About Nothing. The students will then discuss and debate the issues raised by Claudio repudiating Hero at the altar, focusing on the customs of the day, the laws concerning marriage, and Hero's case in particular. The students will stage a mock trial accusing Claudio of slandering Hero. The lesson will be summarized with a short writing assignment. The class should have read up to the beginning of Act 4 before this lesson.
This lesson will cover several class periods.
What You Need
Folger edition of Much Ado About Nothing
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts
Handouts on "Historical Background of Marriage" and "Marriage and Courtship in the Renaissance" (below); optional props for the trial (a judge's gown, a gavel, witness stand)
What To Do
1. The Background
Pass out Handout # 1, "Historical Background of Marriage Customs," which contains passages from documents concerning marriage customs and the laws governing marriage in Shakespeare's time. Split the students into small groups of four or five, and assign each group one or two passages to read and discuss. Then have each group share its findings with the class.
2. The Great Debate
Introduce Much Ado About Nothing 4.1 by assigning roles and having the students read aloud. Lead the class in a debate about Hero's situation. Was she a fit bride? Was Claudio wrong to accuse her? How about Hero's father? Why did he react the way he did? Why did Beatrice get so upset? What was the role of the Friar? Was hiding Hero a good solution to the problem?
3. The Trial of Claudio
Stage a mock trial. Assign all the roles: the prosecutor, Hero (or her father); the prosecuting attorney; the defendant, Claudio; the defense attorney; a judge; a jury; and witnesses. Give the students time to prepare for their roles. The only information they may use is the script of the play and the marriage customs handout.
Begin the trial. The judge announces the case and the prosecution begins its arguments with an opening statement. The defense also gives an opening statement. The prosecution then calls witnesses. The defense gets to cross-examine the witnesses. Then the defense calls its witnesses, and the prosecution cross-examines. The prosecution gives a closing argument, and the defense gives a closing argument. Then the judge gives instructions to the members of the jury, and dismisses them to consider their verdict. The jury deliberates, then returns and gives the verdict. If it is "not guilty," the case is dismissed; if it is "guilty," they give a recommendation for sentencing. The jury needs to defend its verdict, telling the judge how it came to a decision. The judge pronounces the verdict, and the case is over.
(If you don't have enough students to have a jury, an alternative could be to have the class vote on the verdict. In this case, have each student write a paragraph explaining his or her decision.)
4. Reflections on Consequences
Pass out Handout #2, "Courtship and Marriage in the Renaissance." Have the students complete the handout with relevant quotations from the play and statements that reflect their understanding of these issues in modern times. Assign the students to write a short paper about their reactions to the false accusations about Hero and Claudio's decision to publicly disgrace her. Have the students use the handout they have completed to support their opinions with quotations from the historical documents and the play. This paper could be started in class and/or completed as a homework assignment.
How Did It Go?
This lesson incorporates many strategies: research with historical documents, group and class discussion, debate, performance, textual analysis, and writing. There are many opportunities for assessments of the students' work through the entire process. Did the students make logical and well-supported arguments throughout? Did their writing reflect an understanding of marriage customs then and now and in the context of the play?
If you used this lesson, we would like to hear how it went and about any adaptations you made to suit the needs of YOUR students.