A short response assignment for English 211, Major British Authors: Medieval to Neoclassical, a sophomore British literature survey course taught by Rita Jones-Hyde, written on 28 September 2006 at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Metaphor and Homonym in Much Ado About Nothing
by Matt Wallace
Good morrow, masters. Put your torches out.|
The wolves have preyed, and look, the gentle day,
Before the wheels of Phoebus, round about
Dapples the drowsy east with spots of gray.
— Much Ado About Nothing, Act V, Scene 3, Lines 24-27
In Much Ado About Nothing, Scene 3 of Act V serves as a transition between the conflict of the earlier part of the play and the resolution of the final scene. The scene takes place in a cemetery just before dawn. Having learned that they have been duped by Don John, Claudio and Don Pedro, with their entourage, are there to post an epitaph to the "remains" of the falsely accused Hero whom they believe has died of shame. They do this as preparation for a wedding of atonement to Hero's "cousin" (the "resurrected" Hero) as suggested by Hero's father, Leonato (V.1.270-283). The time of the scene is a metaphor for the purpose of the scene. Just as the dawn serves as a transition from night to day, this penultimate scene serves as a transition from confusion to order.
In the quatrain above, the phrase "The wolves have preyed" has several functions. Taken somewhat literally, it is a metaphor for "night is ended" as wolves often hunt at night. Also "wolves" is perhaps a reference to Don John and Borachio whose treacherous scheme (II.2) leads to the breakup of Claudio and Hero's marriage, hence Hero's "death"; in this case, the phrase is a metaphor for "the damage has been done." As unwitting dupes, Don Pedro and Claudio could also be counted as "wolves" which allows a play on the homonyms prey and pray; they were part of the preying on Hero and also the praying for her.
The quatrain also includes the phrase "Put your torches out" which is perhaps a metaphor for putting aside one's misapprehensions in favor of true understanding. A torch provides imperfect light in the darkness of night. With the approach of dawn, the promise of the perfect light of the sun renders torches unnecessary.
The scene also contains an implicit homonym which plays on the action and the time. Don Pedro and Claudio are mourning Hero just as the morning is arriving. Mourning becomes morning.
In a very brief scene, Shakespeare masterfully sets up the end of the play with potent metaphor and deft implied homonym. The night is ending and with it misapprehension, confusion, and all things dark. The morning is arriving with clear illumination and the promise of a new beginning. Suspicion and jealousy must yield to the power of true love.