Much Ado About Nothing is a romantic comedy by William Shakespeare. The play was first published in 1600 and first performed in the winter of 1598-99. It is set in the picturesque and scenic town of Messina in Italy. Leonato, the governor of Messiana, lives with three relatives. Hero, his shy and “short” daughter, Beatrice his witty niece, who is an orphan and lastly his elderly brother Antonio. The play follows the lives of the two couples, Benedick and Beatrice and Claudio and Hero. In the first scene, Claudio declares his love for Hero to his best friend Benedick, whom after his argument with Beatrice expresses his extreme dislikeness for the very idea and love in general. Don Pedro (the prince of Aragon) along with the other characters, decide to spend their week in Messina to get their close friends Benedick and Beatrice to stop arguing and declare there love for each other, as they are clearly made for each other. Benedick, who is alone in the orchard at the time, considers the changes he can see in Claudio’s character now he’s in love with Hero. Meanwhile, Don Pedro, Leonato and Claudio set the trap, which will completely reform Benedick’s character.
They pretend to talk amongst themselves, knowing full well Benedick is listening. They discuss how Beatrice is “madly in love” with Benedick. He falls for the trick in an instant and almost becomes a new person. The same trick is then played on Beatrice by her cousin and her maid. Based on a rumor, Claudio disgraces Hero later on in the play for loosing her virginity before marriage, she then faints and Claudio and Don Pedro exit the stage. The friar and Benedick recommend Leonato to pretend Hero is dead, to allow time to think how the mess can be solved. After, Beatrice and Benedick are left on the stage together and declare there strong and true love for each other. Beatrice summons Benedick to a very difficult task, to kill Claudio. Later on, Benedick goes up to Don Pedro and Claudio and tells them Hero is innocent and that Claudio is immature and has killed a “sweet and innocent lady”. He then challenges Claudio warning him he will be seeing him again. In act 5, Benedick continues to flirt with Beatrice; however she is far more interested in Claudio. In the final scene, Benedick and Beatrice declare their love to everyone in the play at last and plan their wedding. Claudio and Hero also plan to get married.
In the first lighthearted scene, Shakespeare introduces us to Benedick and the audience immediately gets the impression he is an intellectual man and extremely witty with language. Shakespeare evokes this idea through Beatrice and Benedicks small but significant argument. Beatrice begins the argument by informing Benedick that “nobody marks (him) you”. For an Elizabethan audience this would have been rather humorous, we must remember during this time period men were far more superior to women and dominated society in most nations. It would have been a huge embarrassment if a man were to be challenged by a woman, even more so if he lost. However, this time the audience see Benedick prevail, although it appears a great challenge to over power her, “Benedick: God keep your lady ship still in that mind!
So some gentleman or other shall ‘scape a predestinate scratched face” Beatrice, unlike most Elizabethan women, snipes back to gain autonomy over Benedick, “Scratching could not make it worse an t’were such a face as yours were”. And it continues like this for a while, both sniping back until eventually, Benedick says “I would my horse have the speed of your tongue”. This stops Beatrice and she surrenders to him. Maybe Shakespeare is trying to illustrate to us through Beatrice’s character, that even though we had a strong and powerful female monarch at this time, men were still in control. At this early stage, the audience can already tell this is going to be a comedy focusing on this troubled but flirtatious couple. The lighthearted atmosphere reinforces this idea. For an Elizabethan audience, the term “comedy”, often meant that in most cases there was going to be a wedding at the end, so the ending would not surprise them as much today’s audience.
But why does Benedick show so much detestation towards Beatrice? This scene only shows the audience Benedick’s and Beatrice’s present relationship but if the reader studies this scene carefully, they can gather enough information to explain why they are like this. The audience can tell there is a history between the couple when Beatrice says “I know you of old”. By using this quote, Shakespeare has engaged us and we soon want to read on and find out more about this troubled couples past. When Benedick tells Beatrice he is “loved of all the ladies” only Beatrice “excepted”. Not only does this term suggest they have a past, but have had an argument and fallen out of love. Also, by using the term “truly” loves none; Shakespeare has helped us understand that Benedick is so set in his ways that even if a woman were to love him he couldn’t possibly love her back. Why is he so afraid of love? Shakespeare has now made it clear to us that Benedick at this stage is very excited his joking around and thinks allot of him self for winning the war and is very triumphant. Also the brevity of this quote suggests Benedick’s has given into the idea of love, and is certain of his thoughts.
Claudio has a very important role in Benedicks character development, and help shapes his character before his dramatic reform later on. Later on in scene one, Benedick asks Claudio if he has “any intent to turn husband?”. Perhaps Shakespeare wants us to see here that Benedick is very fond or Claudio and that he considers them to be good friends, and his looking out for him. Benedick is clearly worried for his friend. However, more questions remain in the audience’s minds. Is this concern on Claudio’s behalf? Or is it just jealousy? Its certain he is against this possible marriage between Claudio and Hero.
Maybe Benedicks scared of loosing Claudio to a woman, his enemy. He lost Beatrice, his worried he will loose his best friend too. Claudio really brings out Claudio’s strong detestation towards love, marriage and women. Shakespeare uses Hero to show this. Benedick refers to her as ” too low for a high praise” the use of this term suggests she is small and unworthy, making Benedick feel his has yet again the upper hand over a women. He also says she is “too little for a great praise”, which turns us to think she is nothing special. This quote ends with Benedick expressing the fact he does not “like her”. This conversation with Claudio makes the change later on in the play even more dramatic and without this interaction; we would understand Benedicks character before reform as fully as we do.
After the audience have encountered this conversation, we see yet another in this scene. However this time, Don Pedro is involved. This does not bring any new aspects of Benedicks character however concludes his great dislike ness towards marriage and women. By the end of this scene the audience knows Benedicks thoughts and opinions on topic thoroughly. They begin with discussing the possible marriage between Claudio and Hero, “Don Pedro: Amen, if you love her; for the lady is very well worthy”. After, Benedick expresses his opinion about the situation again, and Benedick explains why he is so afraid and against love. He mentions the fact of becoming a cuckold, “pluck off the bull’s horns and set them in my forehead”. He insists he will “live a bachelor”. The stubbornness and brevity of this quote helps the audience to see that Benedick is certain he will never marry or love, and that his failed relationships have turned him against the thought of marriage completely.
At this point in the play it’s clear that Benedick has also lost his trust in women, “I will not do them wrong to mistrust any”. Although he has insisted he will never love again, Don Pedro and Claudio know this is not the case. “Don Pedro: I shall see thee, ere I die, look pale with love”. The scene ends with the audience waiting to see what will happen between this couple. Benedick however remains highly cynical against love and marriage. Also in this conversation, we see for the first time at this early stage Benedick being controlled by another character. When Don Pedro “Charges him on his alliance”, to reveal the secret he does it straight away with no hesitation. Benedick clearly understands his limits and Shakespeare has shown here that Don Pedro is a very important person, and all the other characters respect him. The use of this term also suggests Benedick is a little sexist, he listens to men, however not women. But, we must remember the attitudes towards women this time; it wouldn’t be classed as sexism then. However a person for the 21st century may take this view. This also means that as we were not Shakespeare’s intended audience, we will see dome context of the play differently, which highlights how much society has changed from then, to now. Shakespeare has almost fully developed a main character within a few pages of the play.
In act 2 scene 1, the ball scene we see more humorous but exchanges between Beatrice and Benedick. Shakespeare wants us to be aware at this point in the play of major differences between the two couples. He makes it clear that Claudio and Hero is a typical Elizabethan couple whereas Benedick and Beatrice have a rather unusual relationship for this time period. Claudio’s love for Hero is conventional and very romantic. We see this when Claudio makes his first speech to her, “Lady as much as you are mine, I am yours”. Claudio suggests Hero is perfect too, “can a world buy such a jewel?’. However, at the ball, Don John easily tricks Claudio. The reason Beatrice and Benedick are extremely different. The romance is hidden in their constant bickering.
Equally, in this scene we see Benedick beyond furious with Beatrice. “Alas poor hurt fowl! Now will creep into the sedges. But that my lady Beatrice should know me and not know me!” The thought of her turns him from jolly to exasperated suddenly. Shakespeare clearly wants us to see here that Benedick must have feelings for Beatrice if he is able to declare himself hurt. As the audience, we are interested in Benedick and Beatrice; they make the play a comedy and a far more realistic and witty. Claudio and Hero we find tedious. Shakespeare has used the traditional mask technique to enhance the humor in this scene. Also, Shakespeare at this point in the play has shown us that Benedick is not as strong as he appears to be when arguing with Beatrice and that in a way; she is in control of their argumentative relationship.
Shakespeare also focuses on Benedicks pretentious use language in this scene. He is clearly trying to engage the audience by using unnecessary long answers to make himself appear intelligent. He refers to Claudio as a “schoolboy. Benedick is being critical towards Claudio’s character, suggesting he is immature. Benedick is correct here; Claudio has relied upon Don Pedro’s support to woe Hero, and now has gone off sulking because of a childish rumor. At this point, for the majority of the audience, Benedick is their favorite character. His funny, witty and we also agree with him that Claudio is exceedingly immature. This is a very complicate and complex speech. Shakespeare clearly wants to show us Benedick’s wit and intelligence here. This is a very long explanation for such a simple question, “What is his fault?”. Benedick clearly wants to feel he has a higher status than all the other characters, especially Beatrice and achieves this well through his language. However, even without this technique, Benedick would still be a favorite, there’s an attraction about him and all the audience are really interested in is Benedick and Beatrice, nobody else.
The overhearing scene (act 3 scene 3), is the most amusing, most dramatic and is the pivotal scene in the play. Before the trick is played he yet again condemns his cynicism for love. Shakespeare heightens the impact here with the use of a romantic love song. After the song is played, Benedicks first comment it “he had been a dog that should have howled thus, they would have hanged him”. This concludes to the audience that Benedick is “hard” hearted, and never wants to have any part in love. The fact he is relating to a love song to a dog being hanged concludes this idea, without the use of this song, the scene would be far less dramatic and the audience wouldn’t fully see the sudden change in personality. Benedick continues with more excuses explaining how love transforms a man into an “oyster”. Yet again Benedick is afraid of love turning him into a fool.
Earlier he expressed his fear of becoming a cuckold, now his worried about love turning him into the lowest form of life. When Benedick is describing his perfect women, he is clearly doing it so it has no resemblance with Beatrice or nobody who exists, the use of this excuse suggests Benedick knows what he wants in a women, but hates them, because none of them can be all the things he desires “rich…wise…fair…mild…of good discourse, an excellent musician”. He also uses instruments to describe how love has changed Claudio in a negative way. “I have known when there was no music with him but the drum and the fife; and now had he rather hear the tabor and the pipe”. By using of these terms Benedick is making his philosophy clear to the audience. Love changes men/soldiers from strong, powerful and tough, into fools, the lowest form of life and poetic, everything a man in his opinion shouldn’t be. His entire tirade against love does support his opinions clearly and the scene before the trick concludes his thoughts.
The trick is then played on him by Don Pedro, Claudio and Leonarto, and his opinion changes so suddenly, that the audience is both stunned and amused. Shakespeare has used the love song to emphasise how quickly Benedick has changed. He is now a transformed character. He thinks its “no trick” because “the conference was sadly borne” and its clear at this point that the trick has worked. Its here when all of his opinions are explained and. The audience can tell he didn’t hate Beatrice; he has an outburst of emotion overwhelm which suggests he has kept his thoughts in for so long he can’t hold it in any longer. The whole bickering episode in the earlier scenes was clearly unmeant This idea is developed form the term “horribly in love”. He then realises some aspects of his perfect women he mentioned earlier can be found in Beatrice. ” fair…virtuous…wise…witty” , these characteristics can be found in Benedicks character which is why the audience knew they were made for each other in the beginning, just a few lines ago, nobody met his standards.
He also puts a woman before himself for a change and admits his not better than Beatrice, she is “wise” but not” for loving” him. For the first time he is not trying to make himself superior and is noticing faults in himself. Another feature of change in his character is his opinion on Hero, in the first scene he mentioned how he did “not like her” now his expressing how trustworthy she is “They have the truth of this from Hero”. He is also for a change not being selfish and self observant but wondering how he could repay Beatrice for her love “why, it must be requited”. Shakespeare has not only shown a sudden change of opinion of love but also other aspects of his character which affect his interaction with others. The fought of being an becoming an “oyster” has left his mind, and his for once being slightly honest to himself. Earlier also just before the trick was played, Benedick was expressing his anger towards Claudio’s transformation, now his turned into everything he was once being critical of. Shakespeare clearly wants us to see that Benedick has a hypercritical side to him; we haven’t seen this before in the play.
However some personalities still remain in Benedicks character, his use of pretentious is still remaining. Even without reading this long-winded speech, from the structure we can tell this is going to be yet another of Benedick clever and intelligible speeches. Also another characteristic that has remained the same is excuses.
By using the term “When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married”. Shakespeare has shown the audience why Benedick keeps his true feelings hidden, because he doesn’t want to look a fool. Benedick is making excuses here because the other characters would humiliate him if he were truthful about his love for Beatrice; he has constantly told them in the previous scenes how adamant he is to remain a bachelor. As the audience, we know this is not the case and isn’t what he was implying. Benedick is still putting himself, and his reputation before a woman here. Is he making these excuses for himself too? Maybe he doesn’t want to admit to himself that the other characters were right, and that he is still clever. Beatrice clearly isn’t the most important aspect of his life, this comes later at the wedding scene. This quote also helps the audience understand about the many wars fought in the Elizabethan era too. Benedick clearly understands here the risks of war and believes that he will die young.
So why do the audience find this scene comical? It’s the fact Shakespeare has almost completely changed Benedick within a few lines. We don’t take him entirely seriously here. We are not sure what his personality is because it has changed so suddenly, which could be seen as a slight inconsistence. However it’s still amusing how he has become everything he hated, just a short time ago. This is the most important scene in the play as is where the most change occurs. We don’t see his reformed character fully developed until the final scene. Also, the fact that Benedick was always the one making jokes, “Act 1 scene 1: Were you in doubt, sir that you asked her?”
In act four scene one, the disastrous wedding scene, we see a much more caring and responsible attitude for Benedick. Shakespeare has developed a moral here; love changes us for the better. He tries to clam Beatrice down by showing he cares. “How doth the lady?”. Before, Benedick didn’t regard Hero very highly” I do not like her”, however now, he is worried for health. Also, this speech is of a very polite nature and Benedick has shown the audience, and for the first time the characters his sensitive side. When the accusations and panicking begins again, Benedick says to Leonarto, “Sir, sir, be patient”. At this point in the text it is clear Benedick has yet changed even more. The old Benedick would have made a big joke of this, however this time he is trying to keep everyone calm. He is also to some degree have more self control, his far more mature in himself and how he generally reacts to the situation. His far more brief with his language too. We see Benedick taking complete control of the situation when he tells Leonato to “let the friar advice (him) you”.
He also tries getting to the bottom of the argument by asking Beatrice if she was Hero’s “bedfellow last night”. Benedick is obviously aware of how much Hero means to Beatrice and Hero being accused of such a sin would destroy her. He is determined to stop this and does everything in his power he can. Although to a 21st centenary audience these all seems over the top, it’s not. During this era, sexual intercourse before marriage was one of the worst sins to commit. Although this was not his intention, Shakespeare has shown how the norms of British society have changed. He holds “John the bastard” responsible, he mentions Don Pedro too. However, Claudio’s name isn’t mentioned. By doing this Shakespeare has shown the audience that Benedick has changed dramatically but not completely. He wants to remain friends with Claudio and doesn’t want him to be held for such a serious offence. Benedicks far calmer, reassuring, caring and serious in this scene. At this stage the audiences are taking Benedick far more seriously because he has continued acting in this new manner for a few scenes now, and more aspects continue to change gradually until we reach the last scene.
Beatrice soon tests Benedicks loyalty and it’s in this scene that the audience can be sure that Benedick has changed. We see in this short scene another aspect of change. Beatrice summons him to a difficult challenge. At the end of the wedding scene, only Beatrice and Benedick are left on stage. At last their love is openly declared, “I do love nothing in the world as you: is not that strange?”. This is very unlike Benedick; however he is still too embarrassed to admit he loves Beatrice in front of the other characters. But, it is till a great transformation in his character. In the beginning we can see this couple have had a troubled past but the reformed Benedick finds it in his heart to forgive her, and Beatrice forgive him too. This also highlights the maturity that they both now have, a very important change in his character. He has finally matured and now has self-control.
However, aspects of his old character are seen in this romantic and honest conversation. A few lines after this, he yet again uses witty language and makes a joke of the situation, although not to the extent he would have done before, “Beatrice: Will you eat your word? Benedick: With no sauce.”. Although this is very minor, by using this pun, Shakespeare has shown the audience nobody changes completely; our old character always remains inside us. Beatrice then uses Benedick’s love to gain revenge on Claudio, asking him to “kill Claudio”. This has landed Benedick in a very awkward position. At this stage he feels he can’t possibly choose Claudio, his best friend, who he has been on a long battle with over a women, this is what the old Benedick would have been thinking, and for a minute I think he does believe this and take this approach, but the threat from Beatrice that she will leave him if he doesn’t, this changes his mind suddenly. “Benedick: Not for the wide world.”, Beatrice doesn’t leave it hear, she knows she can push Benedick’s love, she’s clearly testing his loyalty her, ” You dare make it easier be friends with me or fight with mine enemy.”
After, a few lines later, the audiences are in shock when Benedick agrees to take on the hardest tasks he has probably had to encounter; he declares to Beatrice he will “challenge him”. He is clearly reluctant to do it, as he denies do it at first but he will do anything for the women he admires and loves. However, yet again, Shakespeare has left questions in the audience’s minds to enhance the excitement. Is this true love or is Beatrice just using Benedick. The audience is also shocked here to some extent, this shows true love and a dramatic change in Benedick’s character. For the first time Benedick is putting a women first, we have never encounter this before in Benedick’s character. If we take a look back to the first scene we can just see how much he has changes for ourselves.
“I will not do them wrong to mistrust any, act 1 scene 1”. Here Benedick is expressing how you cannot trust a woman, now his believing Beatrice that Claudio, his best friend is the cause of this straight away. Also, in act 1 scene 1, Don Pedro tells Benedick that during some point in his life he will see Benedick madly in love. “I shall see thee, ere I die, look pale with love.” Benedick replies ensuring Don Pedro that he will not be love sick, and the only time he will be ill is either when his ” angry” sick or if he has “hunger” but never “with love”. In other words, Benedick is telling the audience here that he is strongly against love that he will never be in contact with the feeling, now his so madly in love his prepared to kill his best friend. Benedick has turned into everything he once hated, his even stepping down to a woman, a huge step for Benedick.
Although in this scene Benedick uses a witty pun, there is still great change in his speech. Without even reading the text, the audience can see by the structure that Benedick uses less winded responses and are much more to the point, gaining status is no longer the priority here, Beatrice is. “I do love nothing in the world so well as you: is not that strange?’. Not only is it brief, but also extremely romantic, something Benedick looked down upon before the trick, “now hath he turned all orthography; his words are a very fantastical banquet”. Beatrice in this scene is very critical of men, “O, god that I were a man!”. Benedick however, remains calm and doesn’t not insult Beatrice back, showing the audience that Benedick is also able to control his anger and that he is far more patient now, than in pervious scenes. ” Act 1 scene 1: Benedick: Well, you are a rare parrot teacher.”, this quote shows Benedick sniping back after Beatrice insults him in the opening scene, notice now how he simply lets Beatrice’s insults go, he can’t get angry with her. Shakespeare has concluded to the audience that Benedick is 100% in love with her.
In act five scene one, Shakespeare brings to light Benedick’s developed maturity, which leads the audience also to concentrate on how immature Claudio can be. Here, Benedick is still the audience’s favorite character, although he has changed dramatically from the early scenes, he has always had an appeal to him and Claudio has never really been in the audience’s interest. We want Claudio to be taught a lesson, and pay for being so foolish and gullible. It almost infuriates us how careless he is about Hero, the one he is supposed to love; at least Benedick is honest to us. Shakespeare does not just introduce us to more changes in character in this scene, but also gains Benedick popularity in the process. As soon as the scene begins, the atmosphere is very tense, “Benedick: Good day, my lord”. This is a very brief statement, and the brevity of this quote suggests Don Pedro is not who Benedick wishes to speak to, and that he wants to get this whole thing over, and is afraid that if he speaks in too much depth he will be discouraged from completing the task Beatrice has set him. It also brings it back to the audience how much Benedick has changed.
In the last scene, Shakespeare rounds up all the new personalities Benedick has and developed during the play to form a completely altered character. This reminds the audience the extent of transformation in Benedick. In spite of this, some new developments are also conveyed. For the first time in the play, Benedick declares his love for Beatrice in front of other characters,” Do not you love?”. Benedick clearly understands the consequences of displaying his affection in front of Claudio, as he for so long was adamant he would never marry. He is risking looking extremely foolish; clearly Beatrice is far more important than Benedick reputation.
Benedict for the duration of the play has been putting off telling Beatrice because of this, but he no longer cares. This clearly gives Benedick more confidence as he then persuades Don Pedro to “get (thee) a wife”. In the first scene, the audience encountered Benedick persuading Claudio to remain a bachelor, as it makes a man weak and foolish. Now his doing the complete opposite and is encouraging love and marriage, and even taking on the role himself. This change is beyond dramatic and it’s almost impossible to think someone could change their views this quickly and strongly. Some of his opinions may have changed but, his wit is still visible Maybe Shakespeare kept this aspect of character because it was Benedick’s main attraction, the audience, and without it we wouldn’t be drawn to him anymore and the play would become tedious and lifeless.
The audience has learnt how love can instantly change an individual. Shakespeare achieves this successfully through the sudden dramatic changes in Benedick’s character. He does this in three stages. In the opening act, Shakespeare introduces us to the original, as we know it Benedick. In act three scene three, the most vital and key changes are made in Benedick’s character, which almost completely contradict what he formerly thought about love and Beatrice. They are far more positive; however, Benedick still uses witty language up till the end of the play to make himself appear more intelligent. He also uses excuses to make him look less foolish. By the end, apart from his wit, we see hardly any more aspects of his past character remaining. His far more caring and concerned for Beatrice compared to his original selfish and witty attitude.