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Wit in this context means the clever, interesting, and funny ways of speaking which various characters use in order to get their way or to prove their skill.
The main relationship between Benedick and Beatrice revolves around wit. For example, at the very start of the play, Leonato says to a messenger bringing word that Benedick will soon arrive in Messina's court:
"You must not, sir, mistake my niece. There / is a kind of merry war betwixt Signior / Benedick and her: they never met but there's / a skirmish of wit between them" / (I.i.61-64).
It is a duel of wits and of will that informs the relation between the two main characters of the play, and is especially revealing when the play speaks about the differences between men and women.
Sorry, the quote I meant to put at the start of the play:
"You must not, sir, mistake my niece. There is a kind of merry war betwixt Signior Benedick and her: they never met but there's a skirmish of wit between them" (I.i.61-64).
Wit is characteristic of a metaphysical poetry as a style, and was prevalent in Shakespeare period, who admonished pretension with the phrase "Better a witty fool than a foolish wit". It may combine word play or manipulation of words with analytical thinking, as a kind of verbal showing requiring deep attention, without intending to be humorous ; in fact wit can be a thin disguise for more inner feelings that are not shown directly towards the audience.
Wit is frequently portrayed through both irony and puns.
We see Shakespeare use verbal, situational, and even dramatic irony to create wit in the play. Plus, in some instances, the types of irony overlap. Beatrice uses verbal irony a great deal, especially in her verbal attacks of Benedick. One instance of this that we see in the opening scene is that when the Messenger defends Benedick's valor in the recent victorious wars, saying to Beatrice, "And [he is] a good soldier too, lady," Beatrice ironically responds by twisting the Messenger's words and saying, "And a good soldier to a lady; but what is he to a lord?," meaning that only a woman would be so easily deceived by him to think of Benedick as a valiant soldier while the real men he fights with would not be so easily fooled (I.i.44-45).
An instance of wit portrayed through both situational and dramatic irony can be seen with relation to the fact that both Beatrice and Benedick vehemently proclaim that they would never marry; however, both are easily tricked into believing that the one is in love with the other, thereby falling in love with each other. This is an example of situational irony because the audience is at first expecting the characters to stay true to their word and continue to denounce the idea of love and marriage as well as continue to denounce each other. Ironically though, this is also an example of dramatic irony because while the audience knows that Hero never confided in Claudio, telling him that Beatrice was sick over love of Benedick, Benedick still believes it to be true. Likewise, the audience also knows that Claudio never told Hero that Benedick was ready to die over love of Beatrice; however, Beatrice believes it to be so. Since in dramatic irony the audience knows what the characters do not yet know, this is also a perfect example of dramatic irony and shows us how Shakespeare used irony to create wit.
Wit can also be created through the use of puns. Puns are found all throughout the play. One such pun can be found in the scene of the masquerade ball when Claudio becomes duped by Don John into believing that contrary to his word Don Pedro has actually courted Hero for himself instead of Claudio. When Don Pedro and Beatrice notice that Claudio looks unjustly angry, Beatrice refers to him as a "civil count," meaning civilized, or complaisant, but then she refers to him as being as "civil as an orange" (II.i.259). In this phrase, she is making a pun out of the word civil, which spoken can also sound like the word Seville, a type of orange that is known for its bitterness. Hence, she is remarking on his uncivilized attitude and also accusing him of being jealous, as we see from her next phrase in which she describes him as having "something of that jealous complexion" (259-260).
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