Much Ado about Nothing by William Shakespeare

Categories: Shakespeare

This essay will explore the presentation of Benedick in light of the developing relationship between Beatrice and Benedick. It is crucial to explore the importance of Benedick alongside Beatrice as they are the characters who Shakespeare uses to draw out humour and sympathy through the theme of love. From the moment Shakespeare introduces us to Benedick, the audience is immediately amused.

His quick wit when he enters the scene and makes the joke about Hero; ‘If Signor Leonato be the father she would not have his head for all Messina’, instantly enlivens the audience and when he and Beatrice meet, the ‘merry war’ between them creates a jovial and humorous atmosphere.

Despite their determination to conceal their true feelings for each other; ‘Is it possible Disdain should die, while she hath such meet food to feed as Signor Benedick? ‘ Shakespeare indicates to us that Beatrice’s language is infact ambiguous, the word ‘meet’ also has sexual connations as it fits in with the pun ‘meat’ and ‘mate’.

The ambiguity in Beatrice’s language indicates us that Beatrice has deeper feelings for Benedick; her insults may appear to be harsh, but underneath her rebellion there are emotions which she tries to mask. Shakespeare hints to us that Benedick is the perfect match for Beatrice not only because they are similar in their attitudes but their styles of wit mirror each other. At the beginning Beatrice mocks Benedick’s status and says ‘Has Signor Mountanto returned from the wars or no? ‘ When Benedick comes onto stage he mocks Beatrice in the same sarcastic tone, making a fool out of her age.

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‘My Dear Lady Disdain is you yet living?

During the Elizabethan era to live at a great age and to have a great name was an honour. This conversation with Beatrice, demonstrates how Benedick is an irreverent, cynical character, who mocks age and status. We find this amusing as Benedick is unaware that he is mocking himself. We do not simply admire Beatrice and Benedick for their confidence and strong minds but we admire them for the relationship between them. When Shakespeare unites them together the romantic tension between makes the audience feel great sympathy for them, because they are so attracted to each other but are afraid of falling in love.

However, where they give themselves away is through the language that they use to insult each other. Benedick uses metaphoric language to describe Beatrice; ‘Theres her cousin, an she were not possessed with a fury such beauty exceeds in her as May doth of last December’ Shakespeare’s use of figurative language through Benedick implies that he has profound feelings for Beatrice. He uses the word ‘Possessed’ which is a word linked to power and authority. This implies that Shakespeare is telling us that Benedick himself is ‘possessed’ with so much fury that he cannot bring himself to tell Beatrice how much he loves her.

On the surface, Benedick appears to be a character who is insensitive to love ‘That neither I feel how she should be loved nor how she should be worthy, is the opinion that fire cannot melt out of me’ he uses a negative metaphor to describe Hero, however, Benedick’s cynicism towards love and marriage is a sign that he is infact sensitive to love and that perhaps he is afraid by being cuckolded by another women. ‘… but that I will have a recheat winded in my forehead, or hang my bugle in an invisible baldrick all women shall pardon me… Cuckoldry during Elizabethan era was not only shameful and unforgivable but it put down men’s ego. Benedick refuses to compromise his ego or even more his heart for woman in fear that he will get hurt.

Shakespeare reveals Benedick’s weak side in more detail through the theme of deception when he comes across Beatrice at the fancy dress party for the second time. Benedick is inferior as he is held back by his mask, and dramatic irony is created in the sense that Benedick has no control over the situation, but Beatrice is aware of this and deliberately insults him; ‘Why he is a princes jester, a very dull fool.. while Benedick is trapped and cannot defend himself; ‘When I know the gentlemen I’ll tell him what you say. ‘ In both of the opening scenes despite the fact that Benedick appears to be a strong, self assured character, Shakespeare highlights to us that when he comes close to Beatrice he is not so strong. This scene particularly reflects the emotional tension between the couple; both characters have feelings for each other but do want to conform to society’s conventional ideology about love. Although this scene amuses the audience and is highly ironic, Shakespeare indicates to us that there is more behind this emotional tension.

Both Beatrice and Benedick’s language is saturated with wit which amuses the audience; on the other hand, it is this same wit which draws out the tragic and more serious side of love. Shakespeare uses Beatrice and Benedick’s wit as two- edged sword in the sense that they speak in prose at the beginning to create laughter; ‘… God help the noble Claudio! If he caught the Benedick,’ but it can also be used to wound ‘She speaks poniards and every word stabs’. We also see this at the end of the play when they finally fall in love and speak sincerely about love .

The language changes from prose form to verse form, causing the audience to mock their former witty selves because it parodies their new found status as lovers. In contrast, Hero and Claudio are characters who represent the traditional, conventional couples of Shakespearian times. Shakespeare presents their relationship as one that is innocent and new found. Their soppiness and lack of humour cause us to admire Beatrice and Benedick all the more, because we do not sense the romantic frustration between them.

Benedick is an assertive character whereas Claudio is more of an introvert character who seems eager to see himself as a lover than to feel any passion for Hero. He only seems to express this love in empty clichi??s; ‘Can the world buy such a jewel? ‘ Even though this clichi?? is completely ordinary in the sense that it does not arouse humour among the audience, Shakespeare makes a mock of it and brings laughter back on stage through Benedick who says; ‘Yea, and a case to put it into’.

This joke raises an uproar of laughter in that the word case does not just mean a jewel case but it is also the Elizabethan slang for vagina because it ‘sheathes the sword’. Although this clichi?? is completely transformed into a satire, it is because of Claudio’s lack of witticism that we are able to see the jocularity in Benedick jokes. Shakespeare uses Claudio as a foil to emphasize the irony of Benedick’s joke. Shakespeare makes it clear to us that Hero and Claudio are ‘ideal’ couple, he presents Hero as a timid, obedient young woman who accepts the identity forced on woman by men in Shakespeare’s day.

Hero’s character can be an admirable character for her graciousssness and innocence however the way in which she arouses our interest is not in the same way as Beatrice. Unlike Beatrice who is confident and outspoken, Hero is shy and reserved. We become aware of this lack of confidence in Hero when she has to be told by Beatrice; ‘Speak cousin; or if you cannot, stop his mouth with a kiss… ‘ Throughout the play Shakespeare juxtaposes Hero and Claudio against Beatrice and Benedick to draw out the humour and irony in their jokes. Hero and Claudio enable us to gain insight into the follies of love.

Towards the end of the play we see through the theme of deception how Benedick is tricked into marriage against his heart as he overhears himself being criticised by his friends in the garden: ‘This can be no trick’ The repetitive use of ‘I’ in Benedick’s soliloquy allows the audience to gain sight into Benedick’s thoughts. As the tone of the language tranquil, the audience is presented with a rational Benedick; for an instant he leaves his wit and jocularity to one side as he starts to question his own attitude towards love; ‘Love me?

Why it must be requited. I hear I am now censured; they say I will bear myself proudly if I perceive the love the love came from her’. Despite Benedick’s effort to keep his pride; ‘I must seem proud’ Benedick, through his own reasoning, not only admits that he sees qualities in Beatrice; ‘… And virtuous tis so I cannot reprove it’ but after weighing Beatrice’s virtues: ‘… They say the Lady is fair… ‘ finally comes to the conclusion that he is ‘horribly in love’ with her. The figure of speech in this soliloquy questions, Benedick’s language itself. Shall quips and sentences awe a man from the career of man? No the world must be peopled. This suggests that Benedick may be ‘horribly’ in love with Beatrice but Shakespeare tells us that literary clichi??s ‘Paper bullets of the brain’ can not take the wit and the humour from him as even when he is in love he still uses his wit and to come to his own conclusion. ‘When I said I would die bachelor, I did not think I should live till I wer married’. The emphasis of the ‘I’ in the last two lines, gives us the impression that Benedick is addressing the audience.

Shakespeare explains to us that even though Benedick once stated imperiously that he ‘will live a bachelor’ the emphasis on the ‘I’ reassures us that he ‘will live a married man’ as it not forceful, instead it has soft lingering effect, causing the audience to trust what he says. When Beatrice enters the scene Shakespeare shows us how Benedick’s prose changes from sarcastic and sometimes base wit to a sincere and formal mode of address. In contrast to Benedick’s harsh bantering at the beginning of the play, he now addresses Beatrice in a soft, gentle manner.

The audience sees this from soft sound of the vowels and the tone of the language; ‘You take pleasure then in the message? ‘ however Beatrice not even aware of this manipulates his own words to provoke him; ‘I took no more pains for those thanks than you took for me’ This scene is deeply ironic yet sympathetic in the sense that the audience knows that Beatrice is unaware of the situation, yet Benedick tries helplessly to hint to Beatrice that he ‘knows’ about her feelings for him.

Even when she leaves the scene he tries to seek another meaning in her words. ‘Ha! Against my will, I am sent to bid you to dinner-there are a double meaning in that… ‘ Rather than responding to Beatrice’s words which have an unflattering second meaning, Benedick turns inside out Shakespeare’s convention of repartee. He takes an insolent surface meaning, and uses all his wits to root out a hidden compliment in Beatrice’s insolence. Towards the end of the play Beatrice is also prompted into falling in love.

After hearing the conversation in the garden, Beatrice, for the first time speaks in verse form. ‘What fire is mine ears? Can this true? ‘ The verse line in Beatrice’s soliloquy mirrors that of Benedick and in the same way she becomes prey under the wings of cupid. This scene contrasts with the party scene in that Beatrice’s weeping enables the audience to see both characters as they are. The fact that that they are in church means that there is no place for deception or concealment; both characters are emotionally ‘naked’ before the other.

Shakespeare indicates to us that for Beatrice and Benedick who are so used to masking their true feelings with sarcastic remarks, church is dangerous because it is a place where ones true emotions are exposed. At this point in the play Shakespeare again creates a strong sense of sympathy amongst the audience. The emotional frustration between Beatrice and Benedick is so intense that the exchange of words between them becomes highly delicate; ‘Surely I do believe your fair cousin is wrong? ‘ and tense; ‘Is there any way to show friendship? The tension is broken from the moment Benedick declares his love for Beatrice: ‘I do not love anything in the world so well as you is that not strange? Beatrice still afraid of making her feelings visible to Benedick replies; ‘As strange as the thing I know not it were possible for me to say I loved nothing so well as you’ but is gradually brought to admit that her own love prompting Benedick to ‘become the argument of his own scorn’ by claiming the position of a romantic lover; ‘Come, bid me do anything for thee’.

When Beatrice says ‘Kill Claudio’ despite the seriousness of this command, the audience finds it difficult to take it seriously because it is so unexpected. However Shakespeare makes it clear to us through the sharps sounds of the first two letters in each word that it is a significant moment for Beatrice, because it is Benedick’s opportunity to prove his love for Beatrice. From this moment in the play, Shakespeare makes us aware of depth of Beatrice and Benedick’s relationship.

In contrast to Hero and Claudio’s relationship which seems to be formed around society’s ideology of love Beatrice and Benedick’s relationship is deeper than that. Their relationship is the embodiment of both the struggles and the pleasures of love. They are aware of the realities of love as they have been their before; ‘I know you of old’ Benedick knows that a married man must risk his honour by entrusting it to a woman while Beatrice knows that she must put integrity at risk by submitting herself to a man.

On the other hand, although they both manipulated into falling in love, Shakespeare illustrates that they can not settle into the language of conventional lovers. Towards the close of the play Benedick finds it difficult to compose a sonnet; ‘I mean in singing but in loving’ and Beatrice even admits that Benedick is ‘to wise to woo peaceably’. Through Benedick Shakespeare celebrates that love is not just poetry and clichi??s but that it is complex, and can also be plain and boring like prose. Benedick is the protagonist that embodies the themes of love, trust, honour deception, status and language.

His career from scorner, mocker to lover shows that alongside Beatrice he is the character who forms the framework of the play as ‘Much Ado about Nothing’ is based on these themes. Benedick is greatly admired by the audience by the way he demonstrates his emotions through language. He is a ‘weak’ character when it comes to love but he is also a strong character because he uses his own logic to accept love into his heart. For me, Benedick’s, character demonstrates the qualities of a ‘real man’.

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Much Ado about Nothing by William Shakespeare. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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