At the end of the play, Benedick makes a significant comment on the state of man, saying, “for man is a giddy thing and this is my conclusion”. This is a theme throughout the play, concerning the inconstancy of human nature and it shines a light on the lessons learnt by the major characters in the play, and asks that they be allowed to grow in maturity through their foolish mistakes and rash judgements.
The first event in the play that portrays giddiness, and through it causes sudden changeability, is when Claudio declares his love for Hero. He has just returned from battle, and has only to lay eyes on Hero to fall madly in love with her. Before he left for battle, he had only looked on her with a “soldier’s eye”, one of lust, but now he declares, “she is the sweetest lady that ever I looked on” with love. This is a very swift and impulsive change in his feelings towards her, and when the exchange is made by his kinsman Don Pedro, by wooing Hero for Claudio, Claudio wishes to be wed the next day, but is made to wait a week. This is all very sudden, like so many of Claudio’s actions throughout the play. His character is very changeable and he is quick to judge.
This is best represented when both he and Hero’s father (Leonato) jump to conclusions at the news of Hero’s infidelity before their wedding. This is a rapid change, as Claudio decides to believe the accusations made by the deceiving bastard Don John (Don Pedro’s brother), and publicly humiliates Hero and shames her. He then also continues to slander and loathe Hero for her believed actions, and is aided in this by Don Pedro, calling her a “wanton” and a “common stale”, both suggesting she is a whore, and unworthy of marriage to him. When Claudio learns of Hero’s death however, he is filled with remorse and is disgusted at what he has done to her. He vows to go to her tomb every year and perform a ceremony in honour of her memory, and claims she was wrongly accused of being unfaithful. In honour of what he has said, Claudio promises to marry Leonato’s niece, but is immensely relieved when Hero’s face is revealed underneath her wedding veil. Their love is restored, and Claudio is forgiven.
Claudio is not the only one with a change of heart during the painful process of Hero’s accused infidelity. Her own father believes that it is true, and publicly shames and disowns her, only to change his mind again and take on the role of a caring father after the initial shock has worn off. Leonato is very bitter and impatient during this time, and feels no-one can understand his suffering or humiliation. Leonato holds Claudio responsible for Hero’s death saying, ‘thou hast killed my child”. He and his brother Antonio even challenge Claudio and Don Pedro, for they do not “fear” them, even though Claudio and Don Pedro are considerably younger than the two older men, and would be the victors if any fight were to take place. They both consequently mock the two older men and make light of this fact, making the exchange sour and unpleasant. This shows a great change in Leonato’s relationships with others in the play. He firstly shames his own daughter, but then wishes to avenge her by challenging the man that was to wed her. His only relationship that stays stable is his brotherly relationship to Antonio.
The only explanation for both Claudio and Leonato’s irrational and unreasonable responses are their pride. They are both very proud men, and are both very embarrassed when they believe that Hero has been unfaithful and would stoop so low as to sleep with Borachio, and therefore do not want to be associated with such a shameful act in society. But they both believed the cunning and deceiving Don John, who is know for his evil ways, over the honest and caring Hero. This just proves the prejudice of that time, which favoured men over women, especially when the men were in a higher class. So maybe it is understandable that Leonato in the first instance believed the accusations against Hero, for why would two esteemed princes lie? But it does not excuse his betrayal of his own daughter when she needed him most.
Another character that is very giddy is Benedick. By the end of the play, his perspective of life has changed drastically, from being a witty sardonic free man who didn’t believe in marriage, he falls in love and becomes probably the most respected of the main characters. He starts off by mocking others; especially Beatrice, and they share many sarcastic remarks and sour conversations. Their relationship is one of scornful distain, but develops into one of love. Benedick shows countless times that he disapproves of marriage. When Claudio first confesses his love for Hero to him, he chastises him and is sure he will “never see a bachelor of three score again” and names his infatuated friend, Monsieur Love. He is also sure he will never marry, for “till all graces be in one woman” he will not have merely one woman. This changes when Claudio, Leonato and Don Pedro hatch a plan to bring Benedick and Beatrice together. They dupe Benedick into believing Beatrice has “enraged affection” and a love “past the infinite of thought” for Benedick. Benedick transforms infront of the audience after he overhears them speaking of Beatrice’s unspoken feelings for him.
He is bold over by the idea that Beatrice feels this way, and immediately decides to “requite” her love and tells himself that he must not “seem proud” and mock her loving. Beatrice is similarly tricked into loving Benedick, as Ursula and Hero provoke her pride by saying “she is too distainful” and “a haggard of the rock” and would not know how to return Benedick’s doting love for her. This whole scene is concentrated on the theme of change and deceit, and is the starting point of Benedick and Beatrice’s relationship. This is probably the biggest change in the play, and only at the end do they publicly announce their love for one another. Benedick is so devoted to Beatrice that he disassociates himself from his friends Claudio and Don Pedro, and challenges Claudio, at Beatrice’s bidding. Benedick’s honest desire to restore Hero’s honour and right the wrongs that have been done, raises his status dramatically. He is no longer the cynical joker, but a serious gentleman, wishing to restore a maiden’s besmirched honour. He chose his love for a woman over friendship, something that would never have happened in the beginning of the play. The fact that Benedick is the one at the end of the play to comment on the uncertainty and instability of life shows how much he has changed and learnt through the course of the play.
There are characters, which contradict what Benedick says at the end of the play, such as Hero.. She is constant; not uncertain or unbalanced, even when she is accused of infidelity. She stays composed even when hurt, and is innocent and pure. She does not seek revenge on Don John and she forgives her father and Claudio with no complaint. Her character could be seen as weak, as she has no independence and follows the bidding of the other characters.
Another constant character is Don John. He is continually devious and unpleasant, and shows no remorse for his actions. He is also responsible for most of the events that cause change and disruption, and stays composed in his dishonesty.
Beatrice is both stable and giddy. With Hero, she is always composed and serene, yet with Benedick she is confusing and irrational in her ways. She can be mocking and carefree, but when Hero is shamed she stands by her.
I believe Benedick’s assessment to be a good one; for the play and in life. For people are often unsteady and uncertain. This comment is very broad and can be interpreted in many ways, but it can be voiced at the end of the play to end in a light-hearted manner. For the events portrayed are imitations on life itself, and we can only laugh when they are over.