Much Ado about Nothing is particularly admired for the wit and intelligence of Benedick and Beatrice, the warring couple which are comically tricked into falling love. Benedick is a vain, confident bachelor who holds a very typical view of women: no lady is ever good enough for him and to increase his self-esteem, he never misses an opportunity to mock Beatrice. We can see this from their first conversation which takes place in Act 1. Benedick approaches her by saying “What my dear Lady Disdain!
Are you yet living? ” Through this, Benedick expresses his sarcasm towards Beatrice and his desire for her not to still be alive, mocking her existence in the conversation. Benedick is a character that represents vanity; he tells Beatrice “but it is certain I am loved of all the ladies”. The use of “certain” emphasises the confidence that he has within his character and creates an air of arrogance, as he obviously seems to believe that he is irresistible and that no lady would refuse his charm.
However, he is contradicting himself – he is loved by all the ladies, yet, he claims that he will “live a bachelor” because he finds women as not being trustworthy, as he states “I will do myself the right to trust none”. Therefore, Shakespeare uses Benedick’s vain and witty personality. Despite Benedick’s air of a very confident attitude, Benedick reveals a sensitive side to him. In Act 2, at the dance, Beatrice insults him; she pretends she does not know who is behind the mask, but she takes the opportunity to make Benedick feel miserable.
When left alone, he says “The prince’s fool! Hah, it may be I go under that title because I am merry” – this highlights that he is affected by what Beatrice has said about him, however, despite de insulting name calling that Beatrice has addressed to him, he finds a way to make himself feel better about the situation by saying that being “merry” is the only reason why he goes under that title.
This is ironic of him to say so, because as an audience we are clearly aware that he is hurt by the words she has said and that he is making “something out of nothing” – he is trying to block his emotional side and let the vanity take over, however it’s evident he cannot stand the assumptions Beatrice has made. Through this, Shakespeare creates comedy using Benedick’s contradictions regarding his self-esteem and ego – he won’t let it show that he has been hurt by a lady, even though inside he is hurting.
Penny Gay says that “Words are often less important than actions” (The Cambridge Introduction to Shakespeare’s Comedies 2008). This can be applied to Benedick’s situation – he claims that he is not hurt by what he has heard, but the simple act of just talking about it reveals his pain, constructing comedy as he is not matching his words to his actions. Benedick’s fixated ambition of always remaining a bachelor slowly dies as he hears the others talk about Beatrice’s love for him, creating comedy as his attitudes contradict.
Before Don Pedro, Claudio and Leonato begin to talk about Beatrice, he says “One woman shall not come in my grace…rich shall she be, that’s certain: wise, or I’ll none: virtuous, or I’ll never cheapen her”. This suggests that he is ignorant towards the women and that he is pretentious when it comes to choosing one: unless the perfect woman comes in his way, he will not do himself the wrong to look or search for any.
However, after he hears the men talk about how Beatrice is in love with Benedick but won’t tell, Benedick has a sudden change of heart. He says “When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married”. This is comic because his attitudes to love have changed at an unexpected speed, which normally would not happen. Also, comedy is created through the fact that he has, involuntarily admitted that somewhere, deep down he was waiting for this to happen, even though he claimed that he hated Beatrice.
Benedick is not the only one that is tricked; Beatrice is deceived by Ursula, Margaret and Hero into falling in love with Benedick. She had a very hostile attitude to marriage and love, mocking Hero and Claudio’s engagement by saying “I may sit in a corner and cry “Heigh ho for a husband”, however, despite her hard attitude, her vulnerable side is shown when she finds out that Benedick loves her and says “Taming my wild heart to my loving hand…if thou dost love, my kindness shall incite thee”.
The powerful phrase “wild heart” emphasises that she has been holding the love in her for a long time and now it is the perfect opportunity to express it towards Benedick. This is also humorous because throughout the play, she showed hatred and mockery towards Benedick but now she claims that she is in love with him too, solving the problem of hatred between the two lovers. This reflects Alexander Leggatt’s view that “A comedy, then, is a problem solving story, ending in resolution and order normally symbolised by marriage” (English Stage Comedy 1490-1990 (1998).
Once they admit their love for each other, it can be foreshadowed that a marriage will take place between Beatrice and Benedick – it is a comedy element that “the beginning is troubled, the end tranquil” (Euanthius: On Drama 4th Century). Not only deceived in love, but Beatrice is a witty, sarcastic and superior character. She seems to acquire pleasure out of mocking Benedick, creating humour because she is subverting her role as a woman – they were not usually superior over men, however, Beatrice goes against the norms.
Her sarcasm is portrayed in “But how many hath he killed? – for indeed I promised to eat all of his killings”: here, Beatrice is clearly stating that Benedick is a coward and that he will never be brave enough to be a good soldier. She also mentions that “he hath an excellent stomach”, mocking his appearance. When confronted by Benedick’s vanity, she claims that “I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swears he loves me”.
This is humorous because she is making comparisons between animals and humans and it is unusual to say that you would prefer an animal barking over someone dedicating their love to you; it gives a sense of coldness in her personality and that she is completely closed to love. However, this is ironic because later on in the play, she falls in love with Benedick. In conclusion, most critics concur that Shakespeare’s depiction of the relationship between Beatrice and Benedick far surpasses that of Hero and Claudio in depth and interest.
Scholars have often emphasized the fact that Shakespeare deliberately introduces the theme of the sparring mockers Beatrice and Benedick before the theme of the pallid romantics Hero and Claudio; and further, that when all of the principal characters are on stage together, the audience is drawn not to the tame love-at-first-sight relationship that develops between Hero and Claudio, but rather to the “merry war” between Beatrice and Benedick which later on in the play converts into a love relationship – this creates comedy because the audience is taken through endless wars of insults and mockery until foolishly and involuntarily admitting their love to each other, changing the mood of the relationship through the work of other characters, instead of being lovers from the beginning.
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