Overall I beleive that Shakespeare deliberately decided to have two sets of lovers to provide the reader/audience with contrasting perspectives on similar situations. The themes of the play are courship, love, marriage and an individuals role in society. He has sucessfully acheived this. As a modern reader we are gven some insight into attitudes in Elizabethan England. This was a male dominated society. A woman’s options and future were often determined by society’s perception of her and her behaviour. Although this play is set in the ficticious place of Messina it comes across as set in English society.Both men and women were expeced to display certain qualities and adopt certain roles in society. In this play I think Shakespeare is questioning the society of the time. He uses the two sets on lovers to show a contrast between what was expected at the time with Claudio and Hero against the modern thinking Beatrice and Benedick. As a modern reader I would expect that on the whole sympathies and admiration would be directed towards Beatrice and Benedick. They both display individuality and are not afraid of voicing there own opinions.
Although this is normal behaviour in today’s society it would not have been the norm at the time. In Shakespeare’s day there was a correct code of condcut which meant conforming to the codes of society. The charater I found most appealing as a modern female reader was Beatrice. She goes against everything the Elizabethan audience would repect in a woman. On the othehand she displays all the qualties a modern female would admire. Our introduction to Beatrice is in Act 1 Scene 1. A messenger arrives with news that Don Pedro and his army will be shortly arriving in Messina. The messenger and Leonarto converse about the victory Beatrice interupts the conversation with: ” I pray you, is Signor Mountanto returned from the wars or no?” Athought this would go unnoticed in the society of today, at the time she would have come across as very bold. However, Leonarto allows her to get away with it. This is a huge contributing factor to the play, without this her character would have been unsuccesfull.
This is her first display of independance. Her behaviour is unconventional. To the modern reader she is somewhat of a heroine but to the Elizabethan audience she was breaking society’s rules. They would probably have found her boldness quite shocking. In contrast we have Hero. She displays all the qualities the Elizabethan audience would have admired in a woman. She knows her place in society. Her father is there to be obeyed. There is an absence of dialogue by Hero in the opening act. She is the ideal woman of her time. She behaves in the manner Society expects and does not question it. However, certain areas of the play allow us to see Hero in a different light. In Act 3 Scene 4 the women are discussing Heros attire for the wedding, she displays a certain firmness of mind when she says to Margaret on the subject ofn the dress: ” My cousin’s a fool, and thou art another, I’ll wear none but this ” This shows the audience that she does have a mind odf her own and with it she chooses to conform. Shakespeare also provides us with two very different male characters, each offering different perspectives on the themes of the play.
Benedick has very similar qualities to Beatrice and they appear to be ideally suited. He is outspoken, but he likes to use his wit to make light of many a situation. He has a wondeful sense of humour. His opening line is a joke and in Act 1 Scene 1 he jokes with Leonarto. Don Pedro asks whether Hero is Leonarto’s daughter to which her responds with inuendo: ” Were you in doubt sir that you asked her?”. He is a lively quick witted character who thoughily enjoys his batchelor lifestyle. When Claudio speaks of his feeling toward Hero, Benedick tries to make light of the situation. His memorable lines are: ” Is’t come to this? In faith , hath not the world one man, but he will wear his cap with suspicion? Shall I never see a batchelor of three scores again? Go to, I’faith and thou wilt needs thrust thy neck into a yoke, wear the print of it, and sigh away Sundays. Look, Don Pedro is returned to seek you ” We also have Claudio, the dashing young count returned from the wars in a blaze of glory. Claudio represents the romantic, his speach is lyrical, the speach of a lover. He says of Hero: ” Can the world buy such a jewel?” In Elizebethan times women were worshipped by their suitors.
They alsmost saw them as goddesses to be idolised and adored. Claudio behaves in this manner. He also follows convention in another way. He want to be sure that Hero would make a suitable bride before he pursues her. He asks Don Pedro: ” Hath Leonarto any Son, my Lord?” He want to be certain that she is worth his efforts. Would she make a worthy match. Although her appreciates her charm and beauty, he needs to know whether she is a safe financial choice. This would not be unreasonable at the time, suitors were expected to find a partner who was in similar financial circumstances to themselves. He also enquires about Hero’s reputation. Women were expected to be sweet and pure as well as submissive. He asks Benedick: ”Is she not a modest young lady?” This question would be highly inappropriate in the modern world. It would come across as offensive and sexist.
However there are still some cultures that adhere to these values even today. And so we have the four main players, each offering a variation of values and ideas which encourage us to debate the morals and values of the time. I think this was Shakespeare’s intention. During the play each character becomes a victim of deception. We have different reactions to the sequence of events. The central deception begins with Claudio. The masked ball is a very useful tool here. It allows disguise to play a part. In Act 2 scene 1 Don John and Borachio pretend they think Claudio is Benedick. Don John says: ” Signor, you are very near my brother in his love, he is enamoured on Hero. In pray you disuade him from her, she is no equal for his birth: you may do the part of an honest man in it ” The conversation develops and Claudio is left without a shadow of doubt that this must be true. He has heard it said and so it is certain. He is a man of honour and does not consider that another should be otherwise.
Poor Claudio has much to learn throughout the play. Don Pedro assures him that he wooed in Claudio’s name. This does not however, stop Claudio from being decieved again. The most appealing use of deception is with Beatrice and Benedick. Each character assumes they have overheard something they should have not. This is the only method Shakespeare could have used to sucessfully fool these two quick thinking characters. They would not have blindly accepted what they were told like Claudio did. An illusion was required here to get them thinking on another level. Benedick thinks he is hidden in the orchard, when the men approach.The three men praise Beatrice and insult Benedick. They use Hero as a tool in the deception. Pure, gentle Hero would not tell an untruth. It was she that said that Beatrice loved Benedick. Don Pedro addresses Leonarto: ” Come hither, Leonarto, what was it you told me of today, that your neice Beatrice was in love with Signor Benedick?” Because of the respect Benedick has for these men the deception is a sucess.
Likewise Beatrice is decieved in a similar way. She eavesdrops on two characters she trusts and values. Ursula says to Hero: ”But are you sure that Benedick loves Beatrice so entireley? ” Hero replies: ” So says the prince, and my new trothed Lord ” The parts are played so convincingly the Beatrice is fooled. Both parties consider the evidence however before making any judgement. In Act 2 Scene 3 Benedick says ”This can be no trick, the conference was sadly borne, they have the truth from Hero, they seem to pity the lady: it seems her affections have their full bent. Love me?” Similarly Beatrice reacts in Act 3 Scene 1: ” What fire is in mine ears? Can this be true? ” She beleives it because whe knows in her heart that it is true, the women have merely helped to convince her. Athough the two are influenced by others the outcome is thought up by there own knowlege of the situation. Unlike Claudio and Hero there own opinions are of more importance than what everybody else thinks. At the time this play was written this would have been unusual. What society thought about something usually came first. The play moves foward in Act 3 Scene 2 on a more serious note.
Don John begins to put his plan into place. He aks Claudio whether he still intends to marry Hero. ” You know he does” replies Don Pedro. Don John insinuates that Hero has been disloyal and that he has evidence to prove it. He says to Claudio when he questions it: ” Even she, Leonarto’s Hero, your Hero, everyman’s Hero. ” Hero is described as a posession as though she does not have a mind of her own. In Elizabethan society a woman’s honour was of utmost importance to a potential husband. A disgrace female was often outcast from her friends and family and would struggle to obtain a husband. However the men are more concered with Claudio’s reputation than that of Hero. Don John says he will provide the evidence to which Claudio responds: ” If I see anything tonight, why I should not marry her tommorow in the congregation, where I should wed, there I will shame her. ” Feelings of love have been forgotten. His honour is at stake, in order to save that he fully intends to destroy Hero.
Ultimately, in that period honour was more significantly important than love. Hero has to endure much at the hands of the men in this play. Initially she is led to beleive that the pricne wooes for himself. She is then given to Claudio. She is expected to accept what twists and turns life throws at her without resentment. She is treated cruelly by Claudio and her father on her wedding day and has to tolerate it. Beatrice or any modern woman would never tolerate such behaviour. When the truth finally comes out she is again given to Claudio the man who so cruelly spurned her. Throughout all this she remains silent and complies with what is expected of her. Today she would be described as a doormat. Her submisssive behaviour would be unacceptable to a modern thinking woman. But Hero really has no choice, at the time women were reliant on men for their existance.
She had no independance and no hope pf getting any, thus she behaved as a dutiful daugher to Leonarto. She acts on orders from others throughout the play even though as Shakespeare has shown us she does have her own ideas. In conclusion, this play tackles love, marriage, friendship and society in a cleverly crafted way. Without two pairs of lovers we would have been unable to compare expectations of society against individual expectations. Shakespeare sucessfully explored Elizabethan values and ideas with Claudio and Hero. He provided the modern reader with a hero and heroine in Benedick and Beatrice. He allowed the Elizabethan audience to see a pair of lovers who were not willing to conform.
The interest of the audience/reader is kept by the two plots running alongside one another. Without this the play would have been much less interesting and closed to certain discussion. He covers conventional, serious and often disturbing aspects of lover with Hero and Claudio, but contrasts them with the unconventional but meaningfull love of Beatrice and Benedick. All the themes chosen are as relevant today as they were when the play was written. I think it enables a modern reader to realise exactly what considerations had to be made with regard to love and relationships at the time and why.