The Use of Suspense in Shakespeare's Plays 

William Shakespeare uses suspense in his plays. The suspense adds to the stories and shows different elements of it. The use of suspense in William Shakespeare’s plays not only develops the story but it also attracts the crowd’s attention. Two of William Shakespeare’s plays that include multiple elements of suspense are: Much Ado About Nothing and Julius Caesar. Suspense has different ways of showing itself. In both of these plays they include a villain and elements of foreshadowing.

Different parts of negative human behaviour is also a big part of the suspense, this is because it is giving the person clues to what is going to happen but the reader or viewer can never be sure.

 Villain-like Characters

Shakespeare involved villain-like characters into his plays for multiple reasons. Not only does the villain add to the story, but they also add a bit of suspense. In Much Ado About Nothing the villain is a character known as Don John.

One way that he adds suspense is by forcing things to happen in his favor. This is shown with what happens between Hero and Claudio, something that he had done due to the envy he had over his illegitimate brother, Don Pedro, who was given opportunities and power with a status. As a brief summary of what happens, Don John tricks Claudio into believing that his fiance Hero was unfaithful to him. This was done by having his associate Borachio be intimate with Margaret by a window, so that anyone who saw them from below would think it was Hero.

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This ruined what Hero and Claudio had been to each other and seemed like it would have changed the ending of the story. Previously the viewer would have believed that Hero and Claudio were going to be married and live a happy life together. This scene adds suspense by making the viewer begin to question the relationship between the two. This is because it was the start of the main conflict of the play, because of this it gained a lot of attention from the audience.

In Julius Caesar the villain is played by multiple characters. Overall the conspirators were the villains, although since they were led by Cassius he could be considered the villain of the play. The group of conspirators are the villains because they had gone against Caesar and killed him. Additionally they had lied to the people of Rome about who Julius Caesar really was. Cassius had been involved in both the death of Caesar as well as the manipulation of others. He also killed Caesar out of jealousy, rather than the reasons he spoke of. One of the thing’s he said was that him and Caesar were equals so neither should have more power than the other, “I was born as free as Caesar; so were you; We both have feed as well, and we can both endure the winter’s cold as well as he:” (Shakespeare 1.2.96-99). Throughout the beginning Cassius is clear with Brutus that he dislikes Caesar, although most of his reasons are simple things that are turned against Caesar. He faults Caesar while also exaggerating reality, “And this man is now become a god, and Cassius is a wretched creature and must bend his body,” (Shakespeare 1.2.116). This helps build suspense because Brutus had not had that same jealousy. When Brutus killed Caesar he believed it was honestly for the good of the people and that the others had the same intentions as himself. Cassius’ actions along with the actions of the others added large amounts of suspense into the story. This was because the story seemed to be constantly changing. Originally it suggested that no matter what, the people of Rome would praise Caesar. Later after Brutus’ simple speech they hated him. Cassius seemed as though he was friends with the others but he turned against them to get them to do what he wanted. This was shown with how he treated Brutus, he told him by letter that Caesar was a bad ruler and that he should be killed for the good of the people. The suspense continues to follow Cassius to the end of the play where he was killed. Suspense here would be that this was unexpected, the crowd just found out that Brutus and Cassius were winning but both of them killed themselves. Cassius died after hearing false information from Pindarus that Lucius had been captured by enemy forces. Afterwards Brutus also commanded for himself to be killed after the death of Cassius. The viewer would really want to know what would happen next since all of their assumptions were shot down and they are uncertain of the ending.

Suspense in Julius Caesar

Miscommunication together with group actions is a large aspect of both plays. In Julius Caesar communication was very important in how the events played out. Towards the middle of the play, after Caesar’s death, Brutus and Antony were speaking to the people explaining their reasoning for Caesar’s death. Brutus told the crowd negative things about Caesar. He said how he would have harmed the people and mistreated them, but also he said how he did it for the good of Rome. “If then that friend demand why Brutus rose against Caesar, this is my answer: not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more. Had you rather Caesar were living, and die all slaves, than that Caesar were dead, to live all freemen?” (Shakespeare 3.2.307). Brutus’ speech changed the crowd extremely fast, they had suddenly loved Brutus and hated Caesar. Then when Antony goes up to speak he tells the people about the great person who Caesar really was. He went on saying that Caesar had helped people and he weeped when others wept, “When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept; Ambition should be made of sterner stuff.” (Shakespeare 3.2.100). He was able to manipulate the words honorable man into changing the crowds opinion on Caesar. “I thrice presented him a kingly crown, which he did thrice refuse. Was this ambition? Yet Brutus says he was ambitious, and sure he is an honorable man.” (Shakespeare 3.2.105). The crowd instantly, yet again, changed their point of view and began to love Caesar once more. This adds suspense making the viewer believe that the people are going to hate Caesar due to the lies that Brutus is telling them, but then the new found point of view of the audience is changed after Marc Antony gives his speech. Also later in the play Julius Caesar there is Cassius’ death, which may also impact the point of view of the reader. Mentioned previously, Cassius had himself killed by a servant after being told that one of his soldiers had been captured by the enemy forces. In this case Cassius had believed that they were losing, and he did not want to be captured by the enemy forces, so he had Pindarus kill him. Suspense is also added with Brutus’ death.

Suspense in Much Ado About Nothing

For Much Ado About Nothing the suspense involves the situation with Hero. In this case Claudio had told people, who knew Hero very well, about how Hero was unfaithful. Even though these people had known Hero well they instantly believed Claudio since he had Don Pedro on his side. This had caused an issue with the relationship between Hero and her father as well as the other people of Messina. That relationship change caused as much suspense as Hero faking her own death. The scenario was set up so that it seemed that she had died out of grief and sorrow. This adds to the suspense by making the viewer realize the situation she is in. Also at this point, the viewer would really want to know what will happen next.

Use of Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing is used quite often in Shakespeare’s plays. In Julius Caesar, examples of this is not only the sighting of Caesar’s ghost but also the other strange happenings, but also the assumptions that are made by the different characters. When Brutus received the letters describing that Caesar should not be king, he is quick to assume that that is the word of the people. This action may confuse the audience because it is clear that Caesar is loved by the people of Rome and that they really do want him to be there king. Suspense here is more about how the viewer is questioning the actions of Brutus. Another time that this happens is when Brutus allows Antony to speak at Caesar’s funeral. This becomes a problem for Brutus since he is underestimating Antony and he does not see Anthony as a threat. This becomes suspenseful because Brutus’ plan turned against him and Brutus became disliked by the people.

Much Ado About Nothing has very different examples of foreshadowing. Beatrice and Benedick both promise to never get married. This is ironic since they do get married to each other in the end. With them making that promise at the start, it is telling the reader that it is unlikely for them to not get married because it was mentioned. This adds suspense to the play because the viewer is waiting to see if they do get married. Claudio was also able to add some foreshadowing to the play. It begins with the fact that he should have known not to trust Don John. After Don John shows Claudio the scene between Margaret and Borachio, he was quick to assume it was Hero and that she would be unfaithful. While the viewer is already aware that it is not her, they would also see it from a different point of view where they would realize Hero and Claudio’s relationship. This makes it clear that the two of them did not know each other very well since he did not trust her. Overall this creates suspense because the reader is beginning to wonder not only what will happen next but also if Hero and Claudio’s relationship should involve the two of them getting married so young.

Suspense in both of William Shakespeare’s plays add to the stories and attract the crowd’s attention. Much Ado About Nothing and Julius Caesar both include similar forms of suspense as well as similar topics. First there are the Villains Don John and Cassius. They both manipulate others into getting what they want, and their motivations are jealousy. Foreshadowing also added a lot of suspense to the plays. While foreshadowing was used very differently in each play, it helps show the reader the changes in character relationships. Different parts of negative human behaviour are involved in both plays and they play a huge role. Miscommunication, Jealousy, and the mob mentality are all parts of that. Suspense itself gives the audience clues to what is going to happen although the reader or viewer can never be sure. Shakespeare uses suspense to keep the play interesting and it adds to the story. His use of suspense may be part of the explanation as to how and why the plays became so popular both in the past and now.

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The Use of Suspense in Shakespeare's Plays . (2022, Mar 13). Retrieved from

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