Benedick and Claudio are the main male characters in the play. They are very contrasting in their action, words and approaches to love, which is shown throughout the play.
The first impressions we have of each are derived from their entrance and first words from Act1, Scene 1, when the soldiers have returned from war. Benedick shows he is a witty and somewhat cocky character from even his first line, in which he and Leanato are joking about the fact that Hero is Leanato’s daughter. Leanato says ‘Her mother hath many times told me so,’ Benedick’s reply being ‘were you in any doubt, sir, that you asked her?’ (1:1:79), showing his quick-witted and light-hearted nature. Claudio’s first words however, speak of Hero, ‘the daughter of signor Leanato’ and he makes known to Benedick that he thinks she is a ‘modest young lady’ (1:2:119-121), meaning she is sweet and he likes her a lot.
As the play continues we begin to establish more of the men’s characters. The remainder of Act 1, Scene 1 shows Benedick’s objections to love, for example his comment ‘shall I never see a bachelor of three score again’ (1:1:147) suggests that to him it seems all young men decide to get married but he doesn’t really understand why. This, along with the competitive argument he has with Beatrice earlier in the scene, gives the impression that Benedick is a woman-hater who doesn’t believe in love.
Claudio, on the other hand, appears to be a shy but romantic man. He refers to Hero as a ‘jewel’ and ‘the sweetest lady that ever (he) looked on’, (1:1:134 & 139) showing his admiration for her. However, he is also conventional in the way that he approaches the topic of marriage, he not only is sure that he loves her, but also that she is ‘well worthy’ (1:1:164) in other words of suitable status to be his wife. Don Pedro agrees to ‘assume (Claudio’s) part is some disguise’ and ‘unclasp (his) heart’ ‘in her bosom.’ (1:1:249) This demonstrates Claudio’s shyness, and possibly an observation of the convention of the time. Don Pedro was more senior than Claudio and could therefore put in a good word with Hero’s father, as at the time it was necessary to have the father’s consent and appraisal. This can be seen as both strength and a weakness as although it could show how sincere Claudio’s love is that he doesn’t want to do something wrong it could also serve as evidence of a weakness in the ability of the couple to confront one another.
Act 2, Scene 3 shows us a lot about Benedick’s characteristics. The other men decide that they will set up Benedick so that he overhears a conversation in which it is discussed that Beatrice is in love with Benedick, the girls do the same with Beatrice, as an attempt to get the two together. The scene makes clear that Benedick is somewhat gullible as he falls for the trick being played upon him. ‘This can be no trick’ (2:3:181) he says ‘Why it must be requited’ (2:3:183). He also shows himself to be secretly in love with Beatrice, ‘I will be horribly in love with her’ (2:3:191) This retracts the original perception we have of Benedick being a woman-hater.
This scene also gives also gives us a deeper insight into Claudio, the fact that he joins in with the joke shows he has a good humoured side. He encourages the others saying ‘He hath ta’en th’infection, hold it up’ (2:3:108) which makes clear he is actually involved, not just going along with the others.
Act 3, Scene 2 we see Benedick, a new man, or as he says ‘not as I have been’ (3:2:11). Benedick claims he has ‘the toothe-ache’ (3:2:16) but it is clear to both the other men and the audience that this changed image is due to his new-found love for Beatrice. The fact that he denies he is trying to impress her shows that perhaps he is embarrassed about his feelings though it could just be that he doesn’t want the others to know he was eaves dropping on their conversation.
Claudio again in this scene shows a romantic and sensitive side, saying ‘I hope he be in love,’ (3:2:13) which shows his friendship for Benedick, and also in a way could be a way of him expressing his love for Hero, in that he wants Benedick to have the chance to experience the same feelings.
However, this calm, sensitive, side is soon brought to a halt when at the end of this scene Claudio is told Hero is being ‘disloyal’ (3:2:76). Claudio is told that Hero is sleeping with Borachio, one of the men of much lower status than he. He is told by Don John yet still believes there is some truth behind it as he states that if it is true he will ‘shame her’ ‘in the congregation where (he) should wed’ (3:2:92). This is quite an unexpected reaction from the kind, loving sensitive Claudio with whom we have been presented up until now. It is also unexpected that Claudio should trust Don John, who is a previous war enemy, over Hero, daughter of a very highly regarded man and the woman to whom he apparently bears so much love and affection.
Act 4, Scene 1 is one of the great climaxes in the play. It is in this scene in which the roles of Claudio and Benedick are, in effect, reversed. Claudio reveals a selfish, hurtful side, humiliating Hero in front of the whole congregation, calling her a ‘rotten orange,’ (4:1:27) ‘an approved wanton’, (4:1:39) ‘more intemperate in (her) blood than Venus.’ (4:1:53) Not only do these accusations embarrass Hero, they also leave her and her family’s name disgraced although Claudio believes he is correct in his accusations, it was unnecessary to go about it in such an inconsiderate manor. We can merely speculate as to why he did so, but one would assume that it was simply out of spite and maybe the grief of loss of his love as in that time it would have been almost impossible for a man of his status to marry a girl who was not a virgin.
Whereas Claudio in this scene shows a more negative side, Benedick reveals a caring, loving, sensitive side. The scene ends with a conversation between Benedick and Beatrice in which Benedick admits to Beatrice he ‘loved nothing so well as (her).’ (4:1:259) He proves this love by saying ‘come, bid me do anything for thee.’ (4:1:278) Beatrice then asks Benedick to ‘kill Claudio’ (4:1:279) to which he replies he cannot do though he does agree to ‘challenge him,’ (4:1:313) this act of obedience to Beatrice confirms and strengthens Benedick’s loyalty to love.
Claudio continues to be shown as uncaring and insensitive in Act 5, Scene 1 as when told Hero is dead and ‘buried with her ancestors’ (5:1:69) he simply tells Leanato it is not his fault and that ‘(He) will not have do with (him)’ (5:1:77). The fact that Claudio shows no emotion when told his ex-fiance is dead suggests that he didn’t really love her. Though, further on in the scene we see Claudio’s reaction when he hears he has been tricked and that Hero was not ‘disloyal’, comparing the way he feels to that of someone who has ‘drunk poison’ (5:1:215) and telling Leanato to ‘Impose on (him) what penance (his) intervention can lay upon (his) sin.’ (5:1:240).
Benedick shows his affection for Beatrice by trying to write a speech for her in Act 5, Scene 2. He then assures her that ‘Only foul words’ (5:2:38) ‘hath passed between (him) and Claudio’ (5:2:36) showing again his dedication to Beatrice as he is willing to lose his friendship for her.
Overall I would say that both characters have their good points and their bad points, they each have different qualities which would make them preferable as a husband. Benedick’s witty, comical, light-hearted approach is attractive and would make him an entertaining partner. Beneath the outward bravado there is a sensitive side to Benedick; he loves deeply and is willing to back up this love with actions. These are important qualities to have in a husband. However, his cocky side can lead him to be antagonistic and argumentative at times and he does not always show his feelings making him sometimes difficult to understand.
Claudio is a kind, loving and sensitive romantic. As a husband he would be good at showing affection and would care deeply for his partner, but his sensitivity sometimes turns into over-sensitivity, making him too quick to jump to the wrong conclusion. When hurt or upset he can be thoughtless in the way he acts, as we see in Act 4, Scene 1. This could be a problem in a marriage, though once he realises his faults he is very apologetic and would go to great lengths to show how sorry he is.
So, in my opinion both men have advantages and disadvantages. In conclusion I suggest that they would both make good husbands, it just depends on individual preference, and in this play I think both couples are well matched.