The characters Beatrice and Benedick in the William Shakespeare play “Much Ado About Nothing” can be described as sparring lovers. At the start of the play, it is difficult for them to converse without becoming involved in a “merry war” or a “skirmish of wit”. This attitude gradually changes as the play progresses. I shall analyse the way in which this attitude changes as Beatrice and Benedick engage in parlance.
From Act One, Scene One, Beatrice demonstrates hypocrisy when to Benedick she says “I wonder that you will still be talking, Signor Benedick, nobody marks you”. The ironic part of this is that she is actually listening to him. Therefore, as much as she may like to deny it, she is giving the man she “detests” her undivided attention, and is noticing him. Benedick, in a quick flash of wit answers back “What, my dear Lady Disdain! Are you yet living?” As Benedick asks Beatrice if she is living, it presents the witty assumption that Benedick has not been aware of Beatrice’s presence. A very well-put reply to this from Beatrice is that “Disdain” can’t die whilst Benedick is there “feeding” it to carry on. This battle of wit which occurs between the both of them illustrates the deep loathing that they appear to have for one another. As we shall discover further on in the play, this seems only to be a guise for the immense passion they have for each other. There is, here, however, a suggestion from Beatrice that both of them have had a relationship before: “You always end with a jade’s trick. I know you of old”. The aforementioned evidence of a possible relationship provides a reason for the skirmish of wit, and also implies there may still be romantic feelings between the two.
In Act Two, Scene One, Beatrice is dancing and having a conversation with a masked Benedick. It is not clear, and remains the decision of the reader whether Beatrice truly knows that she is speaking with Benedick. She goes on to describe him as “the prince’s jester, a very dull fool”. As there is a sense of possession “the prince’s jester”, it creates the impression that Beatrice sees Benedick as nothing more than a puppet. When speaking with Claudio, Benedick makes it clear he was shocked by this: “Lady Beatrice should know me, and not know me: the prince’s fool! Hah…” … “Every word stabs”. Here, Shakespeare has used a dramatic device, ie: the masqued ball, and the inherent identity confusion to make Benedick believe that Beatrice had all along intended to speak ill of him. It is for this reason that I believe that Beatrice knew full well that she was indeed speaking to Benedick.
In Act Two, Scene Three, Benedick is successful tricked into thinking that Beatrice is in love with him. However, this trick has not yet been carried out on Beatrice. In the garden, Beatrice approaches Benedick and announces “I do spy some marks of love in her”. This is ironic because there are none. The passion she shows is one of hate for what she is about to say: “Against my will I am sent to bid you come in to dinner”. When asked by Benedick if she “takes pleasure in the message”, she says “Yea, just so much as you may take upon a knife’s point” (ie: not at all). Benedick has got completely the wrong end of the stick in his soliloquy: “there’s a double meaning in that”, and thinks that she does not want him to come in, but instead to stay out in the garden with her. Hence, his going inside would not be a pleasurable message for her.
However, this is an example of dramatic irony as we know this is not the case at all. Shakespeare points out the truth beneath the character’s surface, as well as using language as his tool to juxtapose these feelings, in effect, switching the meaning around so that the connotations are what illuminate the truth. He is also able to use a technique to capture the truth beneath the surface of the characters. Everything that is spoken by the characters seems to have a deeper or double meaning under the words.
In Act Four, Scene One, Benedick declares his love for Beatrice. He does this so she will call upon him to right Hero from the terrible injustice that recently occurred at the wedding scene. He asks her if it seems strange that he loves her. This is again an example of dramatic irony, because the audience knows that it’s not strange – she knows already that he loves her. Beatrice, usually extremely able to articulate herself is strangely not able to here. The use of commas and colons break up the following speech, as she is overcome by fierce emotions. She is therefore not able to articulate anything but the fact that she feels sorry for her poor cousin who has been wronged. “It were as possible for me to say, I loved nothing so well as you, but believe me not, and yet I lie not, I confess nothing, nor I deny nothing.” Beatrice, therefore equivocates here – being deliberately ambiguous or unclear in order to mislead or withhold information, ie: her love for Benedick. This is particularly emphasised by the long sentence length.
Benedick’s immediate rejection at the idea of killing Claudio “Not for the wide world!” elicits anger, and impatience in Beatrice who doesn’t wish to converse with Benedick any longer. After much deliberation, knowing it will please Beatrice, Benedick agrees to “use” his hand “in some other way than swearing by it”. In other words, he has agreed to engage Claudio in a duel. Beatrice’s reason for wanting him killed is that “he is now as valiant as Hercules”. This allusion to Hercules implies that Claudio has become too boastful, too big for his boots.
In conclusion, it’s clear to see how the attitude between the two changes, and the relationship progresses. Shakespeare employs the use of juxtaposition to mask true feelings. The best illustration of this juxtaposition masking is of the relationship between Beatrice and Benedick. Their incessant banter and wit-battles mask the true feelings each has for the other.