In Shakespeare’s era character traits were often represented by humours. Benedick is predominantly influenced by the sanguine humour which gives rise to his friendly, happy, optimistic and generous nature. Don John [henceforth John], however, is portrayed as an introspective, solitary and vengeful character due to the melancholic humour.
Benedick and John are both egotistical and are aware of their personalities. Benedick has wit and charisma to enhance his popularity whilst John appears to be self obsessed and selfish. John’s overuse of ‘I’ indicates his egocentricity and his opening line is stiff showing that he knows he is on the fringes of society. ‘I thank you, I am not of many words, but I thank you’ suggesting that he does not feel comfortable engaging in social contact as he is an outcast [I.1.140-141]. He is a resentful outsider who cannot abide constraints as is shown when he complains to Conrade that he is ‘trusted with a muzzle and enfranchised with a clog’ [I.3.30]. John accepts his villainy and is almost proud of his underhand maliciousness, ‘I cannot hide what I am’… ‘I am a plain dealing villain’… ‘Let me be that I am, and seek not to alter me.’[I.3.12–34].
Benedick, conversely, is confident and sharp. He uses language skilfully although, like John, he can appear rather self-centred. He too is aware of his perceived persona, referring to himself in the third person twice as “the sensible Benedick...” and says “see Benedick…” exaggerating his importance as well as his self-dramatisation as a scorner of woman which would be a recognisable soci...
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John does not change but in fact gives the impression of coming full circle in his actions- Before the curtain opens on the play, John has been rebelling against Pedro, but these rebellions have been crushed. Whilst in Messina, these actions replay themselves: John causes problems for Claudio and Pedro, but he is quickly suppressed and when he tries to flee once more he is captured.
The lack of change in John is in keeping with the audience’s viewpoint that the bastard must continue to operate on the fringes of society. Benedick, however, does change and becomes an enthusiastic advocate of marriage thereby providing a desirable ending for a comic play.
William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing. Heinemann, 1979
York Notes, Much Ado About Nothing. Longman, York Press, 2004
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