We are first introduced to these two characters in Act I Scene 1, but before the two characters actually meet, there is a discussion about Benedick between Beatrice, Leonato, Hero and the Messenger. In fact, the very first thing that Beatrice says is:
“I pray you, is Signor Mountanto returned from the wars or no?”
In this question, Beatrice is inquiring as to the whereabouts of ‘Signor Mountanto’ who in fact is Benedick. From this quotation, it is possible to argue that Benedick always seems to be on Beatrice’s mind and that they are well matched, for he is the first person to whom she refers.
The quotation also conveniently anticipates us for Benedick’s entrance. When he does eventually enter, it is evident how well-matched the two really are owing to their similar perceptions of how to live their lives. In their ‘merry war’, there are ‘skirmishes of wit’:
“I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me.”
This metaphorical statement impresses on the minds of the audience the thought that Beatrice is actually much more fond of Benedick than it appears. Then comes an exchange in which the two engage in repartee (where they are equally quick-witted):
Benedick: God keep your ladyship 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 yours were.
They delight in this badinage; this scratching exchange in particular illustrates their mutual antagonism. From this repartee, it is evident that both Beatrice and Benedick do act like ‘two bears’ who ‘bite one another when they meet.’ Neither is prepared to be outdone by the other, proving they are well-matched in terms of their verbal wit; ‘so forcible’ is their wit that they complement each other. Another example is the names used by Benedick to describe Beatrice (‘Lady Disdain, Lady Tongue.’) In addition, the two are matched in terms of their souls. Whereas a complete man is required to display action, education and passion, a woman should possess beauty, chastity and passion. Beatrice and Benedick (‘I will live a bachelor’) however refuse to expose the passionate sides to their characters; therefore neither of them has a complete soul. Rather, they indulge in hubris, which is illustrated in the above statement. Not only do the two show signs of hubris, but they also play the parts of a misandrist (‘piece of valiant dust’, ‘clod of wayward marl’) and a misogynist (‘professed tyrant to their sex’), displaying how similar they both are and how, since both of their souls are incomplete, they need to undergo the same sort of education in order to admit to lives of passion.
Both Beatrice and Benedick are proven to be even more well-matched when it comes to their gulling scenes – these scenes are practically identical, apart from the people in the scene. It is almost as if Shakespeare is using these scenes as exact copies in order to prove just how well-matched the two really are. For example, the same sort of method is used – in Benedick’s case, he enters the stage, sees Don Pedro, Leonato and Claudio and then hides, thinking that he hasn’t been seen. These three characters and the audience hold an advantage over Benedick. There is dramatic irony at Benedick’s expense as the audience and the other three characters know where Benedick is while he thinks they don’t. The exact same thing happens to Beatrice, but in this case Hero, Ursula and the audience hold an advantage over her.
In each of the gulling scenes, the two have to listen to the people saying such things about them that they never thought about before and, since they cannot reply because it would give away the fact that they are hiding, they have to listen to what is being said; this is how the two receive their educations about themselves. In Benedick’s gulling scene, his friends rebuke him for being contemptuous of women (‘hath a contemptible spirit’). In Beatrice’s gulling scene, her friends castigate her for the same moral flaw, being contemptuous of men (‘she is so self-endeared’.)
The interesting thing to note is that, at the end of each gulling scene, the gulled one comes forward and delivers a soliloquy. In Benedick’s case, he speaks in prose and admits disingenuously that he really did have feelings for Beatrice all along and, whilst he used to be against the idea of marriage, ‘doth not the appetite alter?’ Beatrice, however, speaks in verse and recognises the fact that she has been too proud of being a virgin (‘maiden pride, adieu.’) As a result of the gulling scenes, the two individuals undergo an education about themselves that convert them from hubris to nemesis and they resolve not to bicker like ‘two bears’ any longer.
After having been educated and understanding that they are not morally complete, they both take time to come to terms with the fact that they are in love, ending up suffering from lovesickness. As soon as we meet Benedick after he has been gulled, we can immediately detect in him a change of character and he confirms this by saying to his fellow companions on stage, ‘Gallants, I am not as I have been’, almost immediately going on to justify this by saying ‘I have the toothache.’ Beatrice too tries to defend herself by saying that she has a cold (‘I am stuffed, cousin, I cannot smell’) and Margaret a few lines later comments on how ‘Benedick was such another and now is he become a man’ and on how Beatrice is likewise no different (‘methinks you look with your eyes as other women do.’) From these quotations, it is evident that, from both Beatrice and Benedick’s body language, it can be detected that they have feelings for each other, even if they still refuse to acknowledge them.
Act Four Scene One is the scene where it is proven to us that Beatrice and Benedick are truly well-matched. This is the scene for which the audience has been waiting from the moment when Beatrice and Benedick were introduced, but unfortunately things do not go to plan. It would have been expected that, after the gulling scenes, Beatrice and Benedick would happily profess their love for each other. The scene takes place after the whole Claudio-Hero scenario, which is most unfortunate because Hero happens to be Beatrice’s cousin and Claudio is Benedick’s best friend; consequently, the two are torn between their love for each other and other people to whom they are close. It is extremely romantic, however, on Benedick’s part, when he asks Beatrice if she was weeping because of the incident; when she answers yes, he comments ‘I will not desire that’, showing that he does indeed care for her.
Then, he goes on to say the line for which we have all been waiting, yet it is in such a serious part of the play that the audience cannot be entirely pleased about what they have heard; rather, they feel even worse after seeing what Beatrice and Benedick are having to go through: ‘I do love nothing in the world so well as you. Is not that strange?’ Beatrice appears shocked that Benedick has had the courage to say this, but it proves beautifully that Benedick really is now a complete man. It is not long, however, before Beatrice also says, ‘I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest.’ This serene statement illustrates how Beatrice too has become a complete woman. In this exchange, the two no longer try and outdo each other like ‘two bears that bite one another when they meet’, but instead say how much they love each other in a mature manner.
However, the atmosphere changes after just a few more lines when Beatrice demands something of Benedick that truly tests his feelings: ‘Kill Claudio’, basically telling Benedick to kill his best friend! Had these lines not been in the play, one would have thought that Beatrice and Benedick would have just professed their love for each other and tried to fix the Claudio-Hero problem together; however, they were never ones to ‘woo peaceably.’ At first, Benedick refuses to kill Claudio, yet by the end of the scene it is obvious that he feels so strongly for Beatrice that he actually resolves to challenge Claudio to a duel.
Shortly after this vital scene in the growth of Beatrice and Benedick’s characters, in Act V Scene II, Benedick’s new sense of character is tested again, but this time by Margaret. In this particular scene, she comes on to Benedick, with flirty lines (‘will you then write me a sonnet in praise of my beauty?’), as well as making some extremely sexual references (‘to have no man come over me?’, ‘we have bucklers of our own’). Nevertheless, the fact that Benedick keeps calm and level-headed by complimenting her ‘wit’ – rather like Beatrice’s – (‘thy wit is as quick as the greyhound’s mouth’) shows how committed Benedick is to Beatrice and how loyal he is.
Act V Scene 4 contains the most beautiful exchange between Beatrice and Benedick and especially illustrates in verbal and moral terms how well-matched the two are. Within this scene, in three separated occasions, Shakespeare makes a familiar use of syntactical parallelism:
Benedick: Do not you love me?
Beatrice: Why no, no more than reason.
Beatrice: Do not you love me?
Benedick: Troth no, no more than reason.
Benedick: They swore you were almost sick for me.
Beatrice: They swore you were well-nigh dead for me.
In particular, Beatrice’s emphasis on the word ‘dead’ receives its vitality from the complementariness of these sentence-structures and therefore expresses her comic indignation upon realising that she has been both deceived and self-deceived. It is from this scene that we can truly understand how much the two love each other (yet are still not completely confident of fully expressing it). This particular form of stichomythia confirms how well-matched they are. Their language is completely symmetrical, displaying exact accents and correspondences. The two seem to copulate rhetorically.
Beatrice and Benedick (since they are ‘too wise to woo peaceably’), continue this intelligent form of syntactical parallelism without actually professing their love until it is evident that Benedick has had enough, so he bites the bait and eventually, to stop Beatrice from talking, says: ‘Peace, I will stop your mouth’ and kisses her. Given that their verbal duels were always suggestive of the repressed sexuality between them, it is fitting that this moment should be sealed with a passionate kiss. This kiss represents the love of these two well-matched individuals and also confirms their love. Don Pedro then goes on to tease Benedick saying, ‘How dost thou Benedick, the married man?’ This teasing unnerves Benedick who concludes that ‘man is a giddy thing’, meaning that people often make mistakes in life and their souls are not always complete, but that they also undergo educations in life that help them on their way to man/womanhood.