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In William Shakespeare's comedy "Much Ado About Nothing", the characters
Beatrice and Benedick are involved in what could only be called a "love/hate"
relationship. The play is a classic example of this type of relationship, and
allows us to view one from the outside looking in.
Both Beatrice and Benedick are strong-willed, intelligent characters, who
fear that falling in love will lead to a loss of freedom and eventually
heartbreak. This causes them to deny their love for each other and it is only
through the machinations of other characters in the play that their true
feelings emerge. When these feelings are finally acknowledged, both characters
are changed, but the changes are subtle. They are neither drastic nor
monumental. Both remain who they were before, but now they the two are one.
They gain everything and lose nothing. Whether or not their love would have
bloomed without the help of their friends, we will never know.
In the beginning of the play, Beatrice and Benedick do not seem to like
each other very much, if at all. This can be seen in Act I; Scene I, (line 121-
BENEDICK: God keep your ladyship still in that mind! so some gentleman
or other shall 'scape a predestinate scratched face.
BEATRICE: Scratching could not make it worse, an 'twere such a face as
BENEDICK: Well, you are a rare parrot-teacher.
BEATRICE: A bird of my tongue is better than a beast of yours.
BENEDICK: I would my horse had the speed of your tongue, and so good a
continuer. But keep your way, I' God's name; I have done.
BEATRICE: You always end with a jade's trick: I know you of old.
Were the reader to judge the relationship between the characters solely by the
above lines, they would come to the conclusion that these characters much
disliked, if not hated each other. This is most likely not the case. In
today's world, with its knowledge of psychology, we are aware that this
behaviour is most likely a cover-up for other feelings. In fact, many
relationships begin with the parties involved denying attraction to each other
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for various reasons. Others may see it, but those involved deny it so
vehemently that it seems to indicate dislike, if not actual hate.
Beatrice's opinion of Benedick is easy to see in the first act, she seems
to strongly dislike him for some reason and does not hesitate to tell all who
will listen. Regardless of her opinion, we can gather that Benedick is, in
actuality, a decent man from the other characters in the play. An example of
this can be seen in Act I; Scene I, (lines 31 & 40):
Messenger: O, he's returned; and as pleasant as ever he was.
Messenger: He hath done good service, lady, in these wars.
The lines of the messenger, someone who in all probability does not know
Benedick very well, lead us to believe that he (Benedick) is a respected man
who treats others fairly. That Beatrice says otherwise is purely an act of
denial on her part. She sees what she has convinced herself is there and that's
all there is to it.
At this point in the play, both Beatrice and Benedick are sure that they
want to spend their lives unmarried. This is shown by Beatrice in Act II;
Scene I, (lines 51-57):
LEONATO: Well, niece, I hope to see you one day fitted with a husband.
BEATRICE: Not till God make men of some other metal than earth. Would
it not grieve a woman to be overmastered with a pierce of valiant dust?
to make an account of her life to a clod of wayward marl? No, uncle,
I'll none: Adam's sons are my brethren; and, truly, I hold it a sin to
match in my kindred. and by Benedick, (lines 223-230):
BENEDICK: That a woman conceived me, I thank her; that she brought me
up, I likewise give her most humble thanks: but that I will have a
recheat winded in my forehead, or hang my bugle in an invisible baldrick,
all women shall pardon me. Because I will not do them the wrong to
mistrust any, I will do myself the right to trust none; and the fine is,
for the which I may go the finer, I will live a bachelor.
By the end of the play, both their feelings on whether they love, who they love,
and marriage, will change. For better or worse, we do not know, but assume
In the middle of the play, Beatrice and Benedick are "tricked" into
admitting their love for each other. This "trick" is carried out by the other
characters in the play. In the case of both Beatrice and Benedick, this is
accomplished by arranging for them to overhear a conversation pertaining to the
love one has for the other. For Benedick, the conversation was between Leonato
and Claudio in Act II; Scene iii, (lines 89-100):
DON PEDRO:...Come hither, Leonato. What was it you told me of to-day, that
niece Beatrice was in love with Signior Benedick?
CLAUDIO: O, ay: stalk on. stalk on; the fowl sits. I did never think
that lady would
have loved any man.
LEONATO: No, nor I neither; but most wonderful that she should so dote
Benedick, whom she hath in all outward behaviors seemed ever to abhor.
LEONATO: By my troth, my lord, I cannot tell what to think of it but
that she loves
him with an enraged affection: it is past the infinite of thought.
With Beatrice, this is accomplished in Act III; Scene I, (lines 24-28):
HERO: ...No, truly, Ursula, she is too disdainful; I know her spirits
are as coy and
wild As haggerds of the rock.
URSULA: But are you sure That Benedick loves Beatrice so entirely?
HERO: So says the prince and my new-trothed lord.
The fact that the other characters in the play arranged this "trick" leads the
reader to believe that they are more aware of the true nature of the
relationship between Beatrice and Benedick than they themselves are. This is
most likely due to the fact that they (Beatrice & Benedick) are so caught up in
bickering and denial that they cannot see their relationship for what it truly
is. It takes their friends and family to force them to realize that for them,
all they show is the opposite of what they feel.
At the end of the play, both characters have admitted their love for each
other, Act II; Scene iii and are to be wed. Their views on both love and
marriage have changed as much as their opinions/thoughts of each other. They
both readily admit their love for each other, and yet still hold on to the
strength they showed in the earlier parts of the play. The way that they speak
to each other has changed but little, they still throw quick jibes and quasi-
insults back and forth almost quicker than the reader can follow. What has
changed is the underlying feeling of their banter. Where before it was spoken
with disdain, now it is spoken with affection. A good example of this can be
found in Act V; Scene ii (Lines 50-61) when they are discussing each others
first realization of love for the other:
BENEDICK: ...And, I pray thee now, tell me for which of my bad parts
thou first fall in love with me?
BEATRICE: For them all together; which maintained so politic a state of
evil that they will not admit any good part to intermingle with them. But
which of my good parts did you first suffer love for me?
BENEDICK: Suffer love! a good epithet! I do suffer love indeed, for I
love thee against my will.
BEATRICE: In spite of your heart, I think; alas, poor heart! If you
it for my sake, I will spite it for yours; for I will never love that which
my friend hates.
BENEDICK: Thou and I are too wise to woo peaceably.
While this conversation may seem somewhat insulting, the two characters are
opening up to each other, and learning how to love and share with each other.
This does not mean they will change who and what they are, only that they will
share their feelings and thoughts, for better or ill.
In conclusion it should be noted that not both Beatrice and Benedick's
fears concerning love and marriage were unfounded. Even after admitting that
they love each other, they are still fundamentally the same people that they
were before. They are happier, even though they still "spar" verbally (even at
the alter), and their freedom does not seem to be suffering in any way. What
started out as what seemed to be hatred has turned to love.
Works Cited and Consulted:
Barton, Anne. Introduction. Much Ado About Nothing. The Riverside Shakespeare, 2nd ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1997. 361-365.
Lewalski, B. K. "Love, Appearance and Reality: Much Ado About Something" Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 8 (1968): 235-251.
Rossiter, A.P. "Much Ado About Nothing." William Shakespeare Comedies & Romances. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986.
Shakespeare, William. Much Ado About Nothing. Washington Square Press; New York, NY; New Folger Edition 1995
Vaughn, Jack A. Shakespeare's Comedies. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Company, 1980