William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing
Length: 1328 words (3.8 double-spaced pages)
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From the very first scene in the play, Beatrice is shown as a character who is very prideful, and very protective of it. Benedick's line "What, my dear Lady Disdain! Are you yet living?"(1.1.114) gives a clue to how much pride Beatrice has. Benedick's reference to Beatrice as "Lady Disdain" shows how Beatrice thinks she is much better than everyone else. At the masquerade, Beatrice gives a perfect example of how protective she is of her pride. Her encounter with Don Pedro shows how Beatrice uses language as a shield for love, providing a firm foundation for the giant sign declaring her autonomy. When Don Pedro proposes to Beatrice, her immediate response is "No, my lord, unless I might have another for working-days yours grace is too costly to wear every day."(2.1.320), which is a clever joke to steer away from love. Coupled with the metaphor of wearing Don Pedro's grace, this diversion also shows how quick Beatrice is to assert her independence. Although Beatrice's personality starts out as a woman of great pride and protection, Benedick proves to be not much better.
Benedick's character begins not only as a character of clever wit, but also a character of arrogance, especially for the female gender. Firstly, Benedick is a self-proclaimed sexist. This is obvious with his analysis of his own personality: "would you have me speak after my custom, as being a professed tyrant to their sex?"(1.1.162-164). Also, Benedick proves his own arrogance in his description of Hero: "methinks she's too low for a high praise, too brown for a fair praise and too little for a great praise"(1.1.166-168). This description shows that Benedick feels Hero is below him, even though she is the daughter of a high man. But probably the most prominent characteristic of Benedick in the first half of the play is that he is gravely opposed to love. Benedick's declaration to Beatrice: "it is certain I am loved of all ladies ... for, truly, I love none."(1.1.120-123) shows not only that Benedick's ego is so large that he feels all women love him, but also that he is so opposed to love he won't love any woman, even though he may choose from all of them.
Also, when Benedick states "I will do myself the right to trust none ... I will live a bachelor ." (1.1.235-237), he is claiming that he is so opposed to marriage, he will remain a bachelor until he dies. However, even with Benedick and Beatrice being so stubborn, two key events will turn them into better people.
The scene that begins the change in Beatrice is the scene where Ursula and Hero, in Leonato's garden, trick Beatrice into believing that "Benedick loves Beatrice so entirely" (3.1.37). Although this trick seems extremely transparent, Beatrice does not catch on, "And her response, in formal verse, clinches the success of the manoeuvre"(Storey, 22). Immediately after declaring Benedick's love for Beatrice, Hero proceeds to inform Ursula (and Beatrice) of Beatrice's faults, describing how "Disdain and scorn ride sparkling in her eyes"(3.1.51) and how Beatrice "cannot love, Nor take no shape nor project of affection,"(3.1.54-55). Once Hero and Ursula leave the scene, Beatrice has time to think over what has been conversed. Beatrice questions her own personality, "Stand I condemn'd for pride and scorn so much?"(3.1.108), and concludes that she will change her ways. She throws away her old self, stating "Contempt, farewell! and maiden pride, adieu!"(3.1.109). She also choses not to be so protective of her independence and declares love for Benedick, claiming "I will requite thee, Taming my wild heart to thy loving hand"(3.1.111-112). However, the true change in Beatrice does not show until the first church scene in which Claudio publicly humiliates Hero. Beatrice shows deep concern for her cousin Hero, the first time in the play where Beatrice shows concern for another. She is the first to claim Claudio is a liar and declare "on my soul, my cousin is belied!"(4.1.145). Beatrice then proves once again that she is a better person by demanding justice for Hero is met. Through Benedick, Beatrice plots to right the wrong and asks Benedick to "Kill Claudio"(4.1.290). It is in this scene as well that Beatrice, proving a complete turnaround in behavior, confesses to Benedick that "I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest "(4.1.287-288). This shows Beatrice transforming from someone who would scoff at marriage and love, declaring things like "I may sit in a corner and cry heigh-ho for a husband"(2.1.312-313), to someone who easily embraces love from the person she once mocked. But such a dramatic change is seen in her love as well.
Benedick's change begins the same way in which Beatrice's transformation commences. In Leonato's garden (once again), Claudio, Leonato and Don Pedro all trick Benedick into believing "Beatrice was in love with Signior Benedick"(2.3.94-95). Amidst describing how passionately Beatrice longs for Benedick, the three hint at Benedick's faults, claiming things like "for the man, as you know all, hath a contemptible spirit."(2.3.180-181). In doing this, the trio causes Benedick to rethink his position on many things. Benedick decides "I must not seem proud"(2.3.226), choosing to revert from the once arrogant sexist to a better person. He also determines, although seemingly in competition with Beatrice, to "be horribly in love with her."(2.3.232). This is a drastic change from the marriage-hating person he once was. At the church, after Claudio has humiliated Hero, Benedick receives a chance to prove he has truly changed. With the first chance he gets, Benedick professes his love to Beatrice, stating "I do love nothing in the world so well as you"(4.1.268-269). Admitting alone that he is in love proves a dramatic switch, but Beatrice tests it once more by asking Benedick, in the name of their love for each other, to kill Claudio and avenge Hero. Although it takes some convincing, Benedick claims "Tarry, good Beatrice. By this hand, I love thee."(4.1.326-327) and agrees to prove his love, and himself as a better citizen, by killing his best friend.
By realizing their erroneous pride, Benedick and Beatrice are able to correct their faulty characteristics and not only become better citizens, but fall in love. Graham Storey proves this by stating:
Benedick and Beatrice are both, or course, perfect examples of self-deception: about their own natures, about the vanity their railing hides ... about the affection they are capable of in need of when the aggression is dropped, about their real relations to each other. This gives the theme of deception in their plot the higher, more permanent status of revelation. (Storey 22-23)
Storeys' "status of revelation" refers to Beatrice and Benedick becoming better citizens. Beatrice begins the play as a person filled with pride, but with the deception of her friends she becomes a better person and falls in love. Concurrently, Benedick starts off as a man of arrogance and pride, but through the deception of his friends, he in turn becomes a better citizen and falls in love. But whether it is through others deception, one's introspection, or the combination of both, "Much Ado About Nothing" shows that one way or another, people tend to strive to become better in society, and hopefully pick up a little love at the same time.
Shakespeare, William. "Much Ado About Nothing." The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. John Dover Wilson. Great Britain: Hennerwood Publications, 1982. 125-147.
Storey, Graham. "The Success of Much Ado About Nothing." Twentieth Century Interpretations of Much Ado About Nothing. Walter R. Davis. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1969. 22-23.