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Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing" - Beatrice and Benedick

Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar) 2005 13 Seiten

Anglistik - Literatur


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Analysis of Beatrice

3. Analysis of Benedick

4. Change of Attitude

5. Conclusion

1. Introduction

In the seminar about Much Ado About Nothing we worked with one of William Shakespeare’s comedies. It is a play that greatly combines different elements such as hilarity, melancholy, love and marriage. In this paper we focus on two characters of Much Ado About Nothing that represent these elements best, namely Beatrice and Benedick. Although they are not characters of the main plot, which actually is about the relationship between the two lovers Hero and Claudio, their dialogues belong to the most entertaining elements of the play, evoking most of the acting interest. This is also emphasized by the fact that the play was once staged under the title “Beatrice and Benedick”[1], proving their importance for this play and their popularity.

We will therefore start with characterizing the powerful characters of Beatrice and Benedick which will then lead to a further analysis of their relationship. The main part will focus on their attitude towards marriage and will prove that both characters undergo a transformation from two persons carrying on a war of words insulting each other to a loving couple, because their “merry war” may lead to different conclusions. Right from the start, the audience can observe that there is a fight going on between the two characters. In the course of the plot, both continue to affront one another showing their antipathy. Their behaviour can on the one hand be interpreted as an aversion towards each other because they do not miss an opportunity to emphasize their scorn. But on the other hand, their struggle can as well be regarded as a screen used to hide their true affection. Certainly, the relationship between Beatrice and Benedick cannot be seen as a love affair in a common sense but can nevertheless be interpreted as a sort of game between two lovers. This game can be described more detailed by looking at the characters more closely.

2. Analysis of Beatrice

Beatrice is one of the female characters appearing in Much Ado About Nothing. Although not being one of the characters of the main plot – which actually revolves around the affair between Hero and Claudio – Beatrice’s persona is one of the aspects that make the play entertaining. She is an orphan, the niece of Leonato, the governor of Messina, and close friends with her cousin Hero, Leonato`s daughter. Her wit and her sharp tongue make Beatrice one of the most striking characters in the play. Unlike her cousin Hero, who “is polite, quiet, respectful, and gentle”, Beatrice can be characterized as “feisty, cynical, witty, and sharp”.[2] Because of her traits of character and behaviour, Leonato is concerned that she will not get married: “By my troth niece thou wilt never get thee a husband, if thou be so shrewd of thy tongue”.[3] The state of not being married, however, does not seem to be a problem for Beatrice because throughout the play she confirms several times that she does not intend to marry:

“What should I do with him – dress him in my apparel and make him my waiting gentlewoman? He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man; and he that is more than a youth is not for me, and he that is less than a man, I am not for him”.[4]

This witty explanation by Beatrice does not only show that she is not willing to marry but also that she has demands that are difficult to fulfil. “There is no man who would be a perfect match for her”[5]. Some of her remarks in the first acts of the play sound as if she is “grateful that she has no husband” and that “she intends never to have one – not at any rate.”[6] She “knows that a married woman must put her integrity at risk by submitting herself to a man.”[7] In her typical witty manner she reacts on Leonato’s comment to see her married one day:

“Not till God make men of some other mettle than earth. Would it not grieve a woman to be overmastered with a piece of valiant dust? – to make an account of her life to a clod of wayward marl? No, uncle, I’ll none. Adam’s sons are my brethren, and truly I hold it a sin to match in my kindred.”[8]

Beatrice has one favourite target, named Benedick, a young Lord, who she has known for some time. She makes sneering remarks at him without him being present, such as: “He is no less than a stuffed man.”[9] In the very first scene of the play, she asks a messenger about Benedick, calling him “Signor Mountanto”[10]. “Beatrice could be using this term to mean a move in fencing, which is an upward thrust. Also, the way she pronounces it, Mount-on-to, could describe a specific sexual connotation pertaining to intercourse.”[11]

A change in her attitude can be observed after Hero, Margaret and Ursula play a “trick on Beatrice, having her overhear that Benedick is pining on her. The contrivance is a spectacular success.”[12] Especially the words spoken by Hero, Beatrice’s cousin, might be a mirror to Beatrice concerning her behaviour:

“But nature never framed a woman’s heart of prouder stuff than that of Beatrice. Disdain and scorn ride sparkling in her eyes, misprising what they look on, and her wit values itself so highly that to her all matter else seems weak. She cannot love, nor take no shape nor project of affection, she is so self-endeared.”[13]

For the first time in the play, Beatrice makes up her mind about the way she behaves: “Stand I condemned for pride and scorn so much?”[14] In this respect, the ‘conspiracy’ of Hero, Ursula and Margaret is a true success. Moreover it has the effect that Beatrice starts thinking over her feelings towards Benedick, the man she has insulted so many times:

“Contempt, farewell; and maiden pride, adieu. No glory lives behind the back of such. And Benedick, love on. I will requite thee, taming my wild heart to thy loving hand. If thou dost love, my kindness shall incite thee to bind our loves up in a holy band.”[15]


[1] Müller-Schwefe, Gerhard: William Shakespeare: Welt, Werk, Wirkung. De Gruyter, Berlin 1978, 24

[2] 11.12.2005

[3] Shakespeare, William. Much Ado About Nothing. In: Greenblatt, Stephen (Ed.). The Norton Shakespeare Based on the Oxford Edition. WW Norton & Company, New York 1997, 2.1, 16-17

[4] Vgl. Shakespeare, 1997, 2.1, 29-32

[5] 08.01.2006

[6] Zesmer, D.M. Guide to Shakespeare. Barnes&Noble Books. New York 1976, 211

[7] Vgl. Shakespeare, 1997, 1386

[8] Vgl. Shakespeare, 1997, 2.1, 50-54

[9] Vgl. Shakespeare, 1997, 1.1, 47

[10] Vgl. Shakespeare, 1997, 1.1, 25

[11] _Fighters.shtml 23.04.2005

[12] Vgl. Zesmer, 1976, 209

[13] Vgl. Shakespeare, 1997, 3.1, 49-56

[14] Vgl. Shakespeare, 1997, 3.1, 109

[15] Vgl. Shakespeare, 1997, 3.1, 110-15


ISBN (eBook)
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Institution / Hochschule
Universität Kassel
Shakespeare Much About Nothing Beatrice Benedick




Titel: Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing" - Beatrice and Benedick