Dramatically, the two scenes in which the friends of Beatrice and Benedick deceive them into believing that the love of the other is whole-heartedly directed towards them, is very appealing, and on of the reasons for this is the dramatic effects.
Shakespeare delves into the deeper and more continuous themes of the play in this scene, both through the language and the visual actions, and one of the themes explored is the emerging of true emotions from behind a mask. When Don Pedro, Leonato and Claudio enter, Benedick mocks “the Prince and Monsieur Love!” and hides “in the arbour”. As well as Benedick’s outward demonstration of the cynicism he has towards affectionate emotions being humorous for the audience, it also implies a deeper impact that the developing relationship of Claudio and Hero is having on him.
The audience has learnt from Act 1 Scene 1 his seemingly obvious distaste for love, as Benedick proudly states that he would look pale “with anger, with sickness, or with hunger … not with love”. This demonstrates that he considers it dull and inhibiting, and further that it makes a man a domestic creature, leaving him only to “sigh away Sundays”. Yet in the same scene, when Claudio tentatively requests Benedick’s opinion of Hero, he replies,
“Do you question me as an honest man … or would you have me speak after my custom, as being a professed tyrant to their sex?”
Benedick utters this with a dismissive tone, and yet it implies that inwardly he struggles with the persona that initially he willingly created for himself, yet now is assumed by others.
There is a slight vulnerability suggested through the way Benedick hints at a subconscious desire to experience love despite his tendency to scorn it, and Shakespeare uses this to allow his friends to manipulate and play upon his emotions. Don Pedro initiates the comical deception, asking whether the others have noticed “where Benedick hath hid himself”, and thus the gulling begins.
The exploration of this theme is mirrored with the women and Beatrice’s deception. Beatrice and Benedick are similar in several personality traits that they portray, perhaps indicating the suitability of their match, and Beatrice too struggles with the restrictions of adopting a contemptuous attitude to both love and Benedick. She claims that she would rather hear her “dog bark at a crow that a man swear he loves” her, and again although this is very convincing, there is a suggestion later on that this is not entirely honest. After the dramatic scorning of Hero by Claudio on their wedding day, Beatrice vehemently declares,
“O that I were a man for his [Claudio’s] sake”
and this is because she understands she cannot rebel against the traditional man-woman divide. This indicates that to compensate for this, her words have become her weapon, and therefore her sharp distaste for love may not be true.
Another theme that Shakespeare develops in the gulling scenes is that of traditional values, and again this is both through language and actions. There is a clear gender division throughout the play as this reflects the way society was in the time of Shakespeare, and the most clear indication of this is the way that Benedick is deceived by men – Claudio, Leonato, and Don Pedro – and Beatrice is deceived by women – Ursula and Hero. This is a very symbolic, and is furthered by the use of different language.
The men’s gulling scene is entirely written in prose, with the men using powerful and emotive imagery, for example, that of Beatrice loving Benedick with “an enraged affected” that “is past the infinite of thought”. As well as emphasising the masculinity of the scene, this also outlines the effect that flattery has on people. Claudio comments that he “never did think that lady would have loved any man”, and thought to the audience it is clear that this is spoken with an edge of humour, to Benedick it appears entirely serious as he is unaware of their knowledge of his presence. Therefore the frenzied and angry love that the men profess Beatrice must, in his opinion, be anything but false, and this Leonato confirms by saying.
“Counterfeit?! There was never counterfeit of passion came so near the life of passion as she discovers it.”
The affect of this revelation is a subtle weave of both pity and obsequiousness. Benedick is astounded and immensely pleased, and he displays his clear pleasure in saying,
“By this day, she’s a fair lady! I do spy some marks of love in her.”
Yet on the other hand, when he declares that “it must be requited”, his tone implies that this is just as much a favour to Beatrice as to himself, and is merely trying to save her from the way “she falls, weeps, sobs, beats her heart, tears her hair, prays, curses”, as Claudio disclosed.
The women’s scene is contrasting, as it is written in blank verse, which is far more poetic, and suggests a richness and value which symbolises the femininity of the characters. The imagery is far more delicate, as Hero talks of “honeysuckles, ripen’d by the sun”, and the “sweat bait” that they are laying for Beatrice. The latter image is particularly effective, as it suggests a beautiful reward at the end of their light-hearted deception, and steers away from the men’s use of particularly forceful language. The scene also differs slightly in a different employment of flattery. Whereas the men launched firstly into language that would relax Benedick and so encourage him to believe their supposed falsehoods, Hero, knowing Beatrice can hear her, calls her “disdainful”, “coy and wild”
The ironic comedy played on Benedick in the previous scene is repeated here on Beatrice. Shakespeare ensures audience participation in the plot enacted by Hero and Ursula, while Beatrice is unaware of it. By indulging in the pretense that Beatrice is too scornful to accept Benedick, who is presented as both wise and noble, they produce the intended reverse effect. Beatrice decides she is in love with Benedick. Appearance and reality are constantly juggled to produce the desired effect. This appears to be the stock theme in most of Shakespeare’s comedies.
The trio of Claudio, Leonato, and Don Pedro are extremely ingenious in executing their plan, originally conceived by Don Pedro. Benedick automatically falls into the trap because of his great respect and trust for Leonato, whom he cannot believe guilty of such deception. Don Pedro’s conversation with his friends appeals greatly to Benedick’s self-love. That a lady of such an excellent nature as Beatrice should be attracted to him boosts his pride greatly. It increases his opinion of himself. His soliloquy gives ample proof of his thoughts and is one of the best examples of comic irony in the play. His views on marriage have all of a sudden undergone a drastic change. “The world must be peopled,” he emphasizes.
There is a great deal of audience participation in this scene. The supposed plot gives an additional role to the audience in that its members share in the inside story–the fooling of Benedick. The irony lies in the fact that the plotters know that Benedick is listening to them. Benedick does not ‘note’ that the conspirators know his hiding place while the audience ‘notes’ both deceptions.