’Tis certain so, the Prince woos for himself. Friendship is constant in all other things Save in the office and affairs of love. (A2,S1)
Claudio doubts Don Pedro’s loyalty aloud, having instantly believed Don John’s lie that Don Pedro intends to steal Hero’s affections. Though the play makes room for the idea that deception can be a force for good, here deception brings out the characters’ worst tendencies. Claudio’s instant willingness to take Don John at face value indicates a dangerous gullibility, and while Claudio initially seems like the victim here, innocent Hero is the one who will eventually suffer for Claudio’s surface-level thinking.
Claudio, the time shall not go dully by us. I will in the interim undertake one of Hercules’ labors, which is to bring Signor Benedick and the Lady Beatrice into a mountain of affection, th’ one with th’ other. (A2,S1)
Don Pedro’s suggestion to matchmake for Benedick and Beatrice presents an alternative to Don John’s callous scheming. Don Pedro is suggesting a coordinated deception of his friends, but in this case, he intends to better those friends’ lives. Don Pedro’s plan complicates the question of whether lying is always morally wrong. In Don Pedro’s eyes, the ends justify the means, but along the way to the ends, the means harm multiple innocent bystanders. However, Beatrice and Benedick are truly happy when they admit they love each other, and would likely never have done so without Don Pedro’s interference.
Look what will serve is fit. ‘Tis once, thou lovest, And I will fit thee with the remedy. I know we shall have reveling tonight. I will assume thy part in some disguise And tell fair Hero I am Claudio, And in her bosom I’ll unclasp my heart. (A1,S1)
Don Pedro reassures Claudio that his meddling is a great idea. Don Pedro has proposed that he disguise himself as Claudio at a masked dance and woo Hero in Claudio’s place, since Claudio is clumsier with words. The reader likely shares Claudio’s hesitance here. Even if the plan works perfectly, Hero is still falling in love with an imposter, which is morally questionable. Don Pedro, however, does not share the play’s ambiguous view of deception. To him, there is no moral issue at all: Two people will be married, marriage is a good thing, and that’s all that matters.
“I am sick in displeasure to him, and whatsoever comes athwart his affection ranges evenly with mine. How canst thou cross this marriage?” “Not honestly, my lord, but so covertly that no dishonesty shall appear in me. (A2,S2)
Here, Don John and his underling Borachio plan to ruin Claudio and Hero’s marriage, outright calling themselves conniving and dishonest. Don John forms the flip side of Don Pedro’s coin. They may have opposite intentions for their lies, but neither feels an ounce of shame about their meddling, acknowledging exactly what they are doing. Curiously, both of their plans result in harm one way or another, suggesting that perhaps the real mistake is a belief in moral absolutes.
But if all aim but this be leveled false, The supposition of the lady’s death Will quench the wonder of her infamy. (A4,S1)
A friar at Hero and Claudio’s ill-fated wedding recommends a select few attendees pretend Hero is dead, hoping the tragedy will spur others to drop their anger at her supposed infidelity. Deception is woven so completely into the fabric of the characters’ world that even their religious officials spin elaborate lies. True, the friar’s plan is likely to work perfectly, shrewdly playing on people’s tendency to put the deceased on a pedestal. However, shrewd manipulation is an odd skill for a pious monk to exhibit.