'O, what men dare do!' cries Claudio of Much Ado about Nothing: 'What men may do! What men daily do, not knowing what they do! When he exclaims thus on the ignorance of men in general, Claudio's own good sense has been overcome by false report and false show, and he is ready to denounce his intended bride at the altar. He does indeed accuse the innocent and gentle Hero, in terrible language, before friends, family, and priest:
Give not this rotten orange to your friend; She's but the sign and semblance of her honour. Behold how like a maid she blushes here! O, what authority and show of truth Can cunning sin cover itself withal! Comes not that blood as modest evidence To witness simple virtue? Would you not swear, All you that see her, that she were a maid, By these exterior shows? But she is none. She knows the heat of a luxurious bed; Her blush is guiltiness, not modesty.
It is a potent moment, simultaneously demanding multiple, equally urgent, and mutually contradictory responses. The finest of its effects, without which the scene would certainly be forceful but hardly distinguished, rise not from our simple perception of the action itself but from what occupies our minds as we perceive it. With the outer eye we see only what is shown; with the inner eye, by the light of special knowledge placed in our minds at just the right time, we review and reconstruct what is shown. Between the awareness that packs our minds and the ignorance that afflicts the participants lies a crucial -- and highly exploitable -- discrepancy.
This book attempts an approach to the comedies through one of Shakespeare's notable dramaturgical characteristics -- his uses of awareness and control.
The world's dramatists -- indeed, the world's story-tellers -- might be classified in a rather fundamental way according to their preferences in the handling of the relative awarenesses of audience and participants. Three possibilities are available to a dramatist: he can keep the audience less informed than the participants, equally . . .