Viola and Beatrice both take on men's roles, Viola that of a manservant and Beatrice that of the perpetual bachelor and the clown: "I was born to speak all mirth and no matter," she says to Don Pedro [II.i.343-4]. They appear to be actors and manipulators, much more so than their female predecessors, who are mostly reactive and manipulated, such as Hermia, Helena, Titania, and Gertrude. None of these women seemed in charge of her own destiny, but tricked by the schemes of men and later scorned or humiliated as a result of male machinations. Viola and Beatrice, although they both seem fiercely independent and comfortable in a man's world, reveal themselves to have only the trappings of manhood, and not its full capacity for action. They are undone by unrequited love, made desperately unhappy by their inability to woo the man of their choosing. In the end, it is only coincidence and the plotting of other characters that bring the true nature of their affections into the open and thus force the plays to their respective matrimonial conclusions.
Beatrice is deceived by Hero and the others, but the nature of deception is not on a par with the scheming of Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream or Claudius in Hamlet. The supposedly false premise on which Don Pedro's plot against Beatrice is based -- Benedick's passionate love for...
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...ke patience on a monument, smiling at grief." [II.iv.117-8] Her matching jests with the clown cause him to actually dislike her as a rival. Beatrice, after swapping a fine round of jokes with Benedick, must respond honestly to his question of "And how do you do?" with "Very ill." [V.ii. 93-4]
So, while Viola and Beatrice are not completely free of typecast feminine failings, they are not helpless pawns. Although they do not confront their problems with masculine directness equal to their masculine wit, they are nobody's fools.
Much Ado About Nothing. The Riverside Shakespeare, 2nd ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1997. 366-398.
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