Two of the most important scenes in Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ are undoubtedly the gulling scenes between Benedick and Beatrice. These two scenes are inextricably linked, but similar as they are in how they are carried out and in purpose, there are also several differences.
Before we can compare these two scenes and what effects they have on Benedick and Beatrice, we first need to understand the two characters.
Benedick is presented in general as a nice person, the ‘good guy’. He is lighthearted and fun, and there is nothing really to dislike about him. He provides entertainment for the other characters; for example, Don Pedro and Claudio find his conversation about how he will never marry quite amusing [1.1. 208-238]. However, when there is some wish to be serious, it cannot be when Benedick is around. After the aforementioned conversation, Don Pedro has to ask Benedick to leave (not directly, but by asking him to give a message to Leonato) so that they can have a serious conversation about Hero. One gets the feeling that Benedick can sometimes be slightly annoying and quite hard work, and hid utter lack of ability to ever be serious must be very difficult to live with. Nevertheless, Benedick is obviously popular with his fellow characters, and this would make him popular with the audience also.
Beatrice is also presented as a ‘good’ character. As with Benedick, there is no real harm or malice in her, only a great deal of wit and sarcasm. Also, like Benedick, she too is a great source of entertainment for her fellow characters. For example, in the first scene of the play we see her jesting with the messenger and the other characters about Benedick. One also gets the feeling that Beatrice is also slightly perplexing to her fellow characters. She is not like any other lady – for example “She cannot endure to hear tell of a husband” [Don Pedro, 2. 1. 307]. However, I think that her family and friends love her for it, indeed Don Pedro seems to admire her all the more for it and says she is a “pleasant-spirited lady” and that “[her] silence most offends [him]”.
Benedick and Beatrice have an extremely complex relationship with each other. They have very similar personalities; they are both very witty and sarcastic, and are always sniping at each other. Indeed, as Leonato says, “There is a kind of merry war betwixt [them]”. Also, neither can bear the idea of marriage:
Beatrice – “I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me” [1. 1. 114-5].
Benedick – “And let me be vilely painted…’Here you may see Benedick the married man'” [1. 1. 231-234].
There are also some hints that something has happened between Benedick and Beatrice in the past, for example in Act 1, Scene 1, Beatrice says, “I know you of old”, and in Act 2, Scene 1, she says, “he lent it [his heart] me awhile, and I gave him use for it”.
Shakespeare’s use of language in the two gulling scenes varies slightly from the rest of the play.
In Act 2, Scene 3 – Benedick’s gulling – the language is almost entirely in prose. This is usual for Benedick, whose speech throughout the play is mainly prose. It may seem slightly unusual for him to speak in prose during the play, because Benedick is one of the noble characters, who usually speak in verse. However, as Benedick is more of an informal character and is always joking, prose suits him better. The only verse in the scene is when the other nobles first enter the orchard, to when Balthasar leaves after singing his song [2. 3. 35-88]. The song would be in verse anyway, and as this is more of a serious part of the scene, as opposed to when the trickery begins, verse is more appropriate. The rest of the scene is humorous therefore it is in prose. (This is a usual thing for Shakespeare to do – tragedy and romance is in verse, comedy is in prose.)
However, in Act 3, Scene 1 – Beatrice’s gulling – the entire scene is in verse – a direct contrast to Benedick’s scene. This is because Hero and Ursula are ladies, noble women, and also because this scene, although still amusing, is less obviously funny than Benedick’s gulling; it is about love and therefore it is in verse. Beatrice’s short soliloquy at the end of the scene is also in verse – this is unusual, as Beatrice, in the same way as Benedick, is a comedic character and usually speaks in prose. This marks a new side of Beatrice – she is thinking about love and being serious.
Beatrice and Benedick are both quite witty characters, and in Benedick’s gulling he makes several sarcastic asides to the audience. However, Beatrice makes no such comments. This might be because Beatrice was more affected by the news, after all we have reason to believe that she loved Benedick before but that it didn’t work out – “he won it [her heart] of me with false dice”, and she might have secretly loved him since. Shakespeare might also have been trying to emphasise that she was more affected by it because no matter how hard she rebells against being a woman (‘Oh that I were a man!’ – 4. 1. 310), and all that goes with it, underneath she is, and might be more affected by ‘that kind of thing’.
The structure of the two gulling scenes is quite similar, and the events take the same order.
Both scenes start off by catching Benedick/Beatrice’s attention by saying that the one loves the other. They then continue as if part of a conversation.
Firstly, the statement that the one loves the other is made, followed by a description of how the speakers came to know about this.
Then the listener is told why the other will not speak of their love. In both cases this is because they are afraid that the other will “make but a sport of it” [2. 3. 148]. This explains to Benedick why Beatrice is still being as nasty as ever to him, because “she will die ere she make her love known” [2. 3. 165-6].
Then, reverse psychology is used on Benedick/Beatrice. Firstly all of the listener’s bad faults are listed, for example, “For the man…hath a contemptible spirit” [2. 3. 170], or “Nature never framed a woman’s heart of prouder stuff than that of Beatrice” [3. 1. 49-50]. This is followed by a list of all the good qualities of the other party, for example, “She’s an excellent sweet lady, and…she is virtuous” [2. 3. 150-152], or “He is the only man of Italy” [3. 1. 92].
The overall effect of this makes Benedick and Beatrice determined to love the other and to make the other love them back. At the end of both scenes, both Benedick and Beatrice vow that the love must be requited.
They are both contrary characters and so had to be tricked by reverse psychology – to do what they would not (ordinarily) be expected to do. The same technique is used in both scenes to trick both characters because they have very similar personalities and would therefore be tricked in a similar way. They are both so stubborn and determined that if someone said to them, “You must not fall in love with this person”, they would immediately do so.
Benedick’s gulling scene is also a great deal longer than Beatrice’s. This is because if the same technique is being used to trick both characters, it would be tedious for the audience to see the same thing twice. I also think that this is another reason why Beatrice’s scene is more serious than Benedick’s; Benedick’s is humorous, which is all very well, but the audience also want to see some romance, and if Beatrice joked about the situation too, the audience might feel it would not be realistic. Shakespeare probably wanted to point out that the love between Benedick and Beatrice, although reluctant, was also very real.
The staging of the two gulling scenes obviously varies depending on who is performing the play and where it is being performed.
At the time Shakespeare wrote ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, it would have been performed in his theatre, known as the ‘Globe’ theatre. The stage at this theatre was very simple, and had not much elaborate scenery. Therefore there was not a great deal of possibilities with regard to where Benedick or Beatrice could be placed. The most likely positions for them would be at the front of the stage, so that their reactions could be seen and heard by the audience, and to one side, possibly hiding behind a prop, a tree for example. Beatrice and Benedick could be on opposite sides of the stage for variation, but there was not much else that could be done. In any performance of the play, the staging would have to be quite similar up to a point, because the audience have got to be able to see and hear Benedick or Beatrice, yet they still must be hidden.
In the RSC production of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, Benedick was seen hiding behind a hedge, and he was constantly moving around so as not to be seen by Don Pedro, Leonato and Claudio. His reactions could be clearly seen and heard from anywhere on the stage, and altogether it was a very amusing scene. The staging for Beatrice was slightly different. At first she began like Benedick, running around behind hedges so she would not be seen, but then she hid behind some hanging plants at the side of the stage, where she could not be seen at all, so the audience could not see her reaction. This scene was also made to be funny because Beatrice became soaking wet after Hero watered the exact place that she was hiding in.
However, in the Kenneth Branagh film of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, the staging could be slightly more adventurous, because in films it is easier to experiment with the positions of people and things. For example, Benedick and Beatrice could be anywhere and go anywhere (within their earshot of the main speakers), because they would not have to be at the front of the stage. This gave a greater sense of variety to the scenes. However, there were still similarities. Both Benedick and Beatrice were kept hidden by bushes, which is natural because the scene is set in an orchard, and they were continuously running around to avoid the speakers, as in the play.
The audience’s response at the end of the two scenes would be amused because they are “in the know” and can therefore appreciate the humour of the scenes. They would also be left with a happy, expectant feeling; they are expecting some fun when Benedick and Beatrice meet after these two episodes.
Some people might say that it seems slightly unrealistic that within the space of a few minutes a person can go from disliking someone to being madly in love with them, for example, at the beginning of Benedick’s gulling scene, he makes a speech about how he will never be “so converted” by being in love with someone, and he says he will never be “such a fool” as Claudio by falling in love. Then after hearing one conversation he is “horribly in love with her” and vows that Beatrice’s love will be requited. Beatrice too, without any hesitation, immediately ‘realises’ she is in love with Benedick and vows that his love must be requited.
However, I think that there is more to it than that. There were hints of something between Benedick and Beatrice before, for example when Beatrice says that Benedick once lent her his heart and she gave him use for it [2. 1. 245-6]. It is known that they are obviously old acquaintances anyway, because Beatrice says, “I know you of old” [1. 1. 126], which also implies that she knows him well. If this is so, and they were in love before, then perhaps they still felt something for each other but kept it secret, possibly because, like it is said in the gulling scenes, they were afraid the other would laugh at them, or for fear that the other didn’t feel the same way. Maybe when they overheard what they thought was how the other felt, they admitted to themselves that they really did love the other. This would mean that they did not suddenly ‘realise’ all in a moment that they loved the other one, but that they had felt like that all along. Perhaps Shakespeare meant these scenes to prove that Benedick and Beatrice were in love all along.
I think that although there are differences between the two gulling scenes, they are very similar in purpose and how they are carried out, and even the people they are carried out on. They may differ slightly in some ways, but they had the same results – making two reluctant people realise they love each other.