Context: Beatrice, the charmingly witty niece to Leonato, Governor of Messina, is determined never to marry. She says she "could not endure a husband with a beard on his face," and could have no use for an unbearded one unless it was to "make him (her) waiting-genltewoman." When she dies, she says, she will go to the gate of Hell but will be told to go to Heaven, for there is no place in Hell for maids. Then she continues:
BEATRICE. . . So deliver I up my apes, and away to Saint Peter. For the heavens he shows me, where the bachelors sit, and there live we as merry as the day is long.
Context: Claudio, a young lord of Florence, and Benedick, a young lord of Padua, are discussing love and marriage. Claudio is falling in love with Hero, who he thinks is the greatest "jewel," the "sweetest lady that ever (he) looked on." Benedick, a witty self-styled woman-hater, confesses that he is glad that his mother was a woman, but he "will live a bachelor." Don Pedro, Prince of Arragon, tells Benedick that he will fall, "in time the savage bull doth bear the yoke." To this Benedick responds:
BENEDICKThe savage bull may, but if ever the sensible Benedick bear it, pluck off the bull's horns, and set them in my forehead; and let me be vilely painted, and in such great letters as they write, here is good horse to hire, let them signify under my sign, here you may see Benedick the married man.
Context: Hero, daughter of Leonato, Governor of Messina, is promised in marriage to Claudio, a young Florentine lord. However, Don John, the unhappy brother of Don Pedro, determines to frustrate the marriage. He plots with Borachio to cause Claudio to doubt Hero's honor. At the wedding ceremony, Don Pedro and Claudio denounce Hero, and she falls into a swoon. It is then given out that Hero is dead. Claudio visits the Leonato tomb and there reads from a scroll, which he then hangs up on the tomb:
CLAUDIODone to death by slanderous tongues,Was the Hero that here lies.Death, in guerdon of her wrongs,Gives her fame which never dies.So the life that died with shameLives in death with glorious fame.
Context: The principal comic device of this play is an elaborate intrigue in which Don Pedro, Claudio, and Leonato attempt to provoke romantic interest between Benedick and Beatrice, the mocking anti-lovers. By arrangement, each while eavesdropping overhears a declaration of the other's love, and each in turn feels an attraction for the other which he erstwhile has refused to admit to himself, let alone to others. One of the great comic moments comes with this public admission. After all, the jeerers at love have a reputation for barbed wit and cynical jests–directed especially at each other–and difficult indeed is the admission that they who were love's mockers are now love's victims. The comic anticipation is high, then, as Benedick comes on stage for the first time since the eavesdropping scene. His friends, primed for lighthearted taunting, wait to see how he will face down his change of attitude. Ironically, the gallant who has always been the first to accept the gage of verbal combat now finds himself unable to compete, unable even to defend himself against their jibes concerning his cleanshaven, washed face and his well-kempt hair:
DON PEDRO. . . I will only be bold with Benedick for his company, for from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot, he is all mirth. . . .BENEDICKGallants, I am not as I have been.LEONATOSo say I, methinks you are sadder.CLAUDIOI hope he be in love.. . .BENEDICKI have the toothache.DON PEDRODraw it.BENEDICKHang it.CLAUDIOYou must hang it first, and draw it afterwards.DON PEDROWhat? Sigh for the toothache?LEONATOWhere is but a humour or a worm?BENEDICKWell, every one can master a grief but he that has it.CLAUDIOYet say I, he is in love.
Context: As the play opens, the victorious forces of Don Pedro are returning to Messina. Among them is a young gallant named Benedick, with whom Beatrice–the niece of Leonato, Governor of Messina–has engaged in a rhetorical war of comic badinage in action antecedent to the play. Before the soldiers return, she mockingly asks a messenger whether "Signior Mountanto [thruster]" has returned from the wars and how many he has killed ("for indeed I promised to eat all of his killing"). Leonato explains to the confused messenger that "there is a kind of merry war betwixt Signior Benedick and her. They never meet but there's a skirmish of wit between them." Their repartee forms a major thread of the comedy throughout the play. Moreover, with each claiming to be invulnerable to Cupid and with each supposedly holding the other in utter disdain, they are primed for falling in love despite their articulations to the contrary. Don Pedro, Leonato, and Claudio scheme to let each overhear a conversation in which the other's love is described as strong but reticent in the face of mockery. The bait takes, and the comedy concludes with a wedding of these anti-lovers. As predicted in the first scene, when Benedick and other soldiers enter, their war of words begins almost immediately. She tartly interrupts Benedick's conversation with Don Pedro:
BEATRICEI wonder that you will still be talking, Signior Benedick. Nobody marks you.BENEDICKWhat my dear Lady Disdain! Are you yet living?BEATRICEIs it possible disdain should die, while she hath such food to feed it, as Signior Benedick? Courtesy itself must convert to disdain, if you come in her presence.BENEDICKThen is courtesy a turncoat. But it is certain I am loved of all ladies, only you excepted. And I would I could find it in my heart that I had not a hard heart, for truly I love none.BEATRICEA dear happiness to women, they would else have been troubled with a pernicious suitor. I thank God and my cold blood, I am of your humour for that. I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow, than a man swear he loves me.
Context: Don Pedro, Claudio, and Leonato have decided that it would be the height of jests to provoke a romantic liaison between Benedick and Beatrice, two young rebels who delight in mocking love in general and each other in particular. An elaborate intrigue is arranged in which each will overhear a conversation describing the other's love. According to these remarks, the partner who is romantically inclined has been desperate to withhold the truth of his passion lest it be jeered and mocked by the other. Benedick is the first to fall victim to this trap of comic exposure. He eavesdrops as Leonato describes his niece's desperate infatuation with Benedick, the more so since Benedick's mockery of love renders her affection hopeless. And her actions betoken her condition: she writes him love letters, only to tear them up and rail at herself for writing to one who would flout her; she falls upon her knees, ". . . weeps, sobs, beats her heart, tears her hair, prays, curses–O sweet Benedick, God give me patience." When Benedick hears these protestations of her love, he suddenly finds himself sympathetically interested in her, a condition which renders comic the presumptuous hateur of his soliloquy a few lines earlier. In other words, he is now faced with the necessity of denying his former position on grounds which, to him at least, appear rational. His former attitudes, his "paper-bullets of the brain," must now give way to more mature considerations:
BENEDICK. . .Love me? Why it must be requited. . . . I did never think to marry. I must not seem proud. Happy are they that hear their detractions, and can put them to mending. . . . I may chance have some odd quirks and remnants of wit broken on me, because I have railed so long against marriage. But doth not the appetite alter? A man loves the meat in his youth that he cannot endure in his age. Shall quips and sentences, and these paper-bullets of the brain awe a man from the career of his humour? No, the world must be peopled. When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married.
Context: Beatrice, the merry and quick-tongued niece of Leonato, Governor of Messina, stoutly claims that marriage is not for her. However, she especially directs her gay and often chiding repartee at a particular young gentleman, Benedick. At a masked ball Beatrice, who covertly recognizes Benedick, rails at him, saying he is just a jester for the prince, Don Pedro, first laughed at for his slanderous jokes and then beaten for them. After the ball, Benedick tells the prince of his humiliation at the tongue of the quick-witted Beatrice:
BENEDICKO she misused me past the endurance of a block. An oak but with one green leaf on it would have answered her; my very visor began to assume life, and scold with her. She told me, not thinking I had been myself, that I was the Prince's jester, that I was duller than a great thaw; huddling jest upon jest, with such impossible conveyance upon me, that I stood like a man at a mark, with a whole army shooting at me. She speaks poniards, and every word stabs. If her breath were as terrible as her terminations, there were no living near her, she would infect to the north star. I would not marry her, though she were endowed with all that Adam had left him before he transgressed.
Context: Don Pedro, Leonato, and Claudio have undertaken the Herculean task of provoking a romantic affair between the comic anti-lovers Benedick and Beatrice. To that end, they scheme to allow each to overhear a conversation in which the other's love is described. In both cases the refusal to admit romantic interest openly is said to be a result of the fear of mockery and disdain by the other. In what would appear to the spectator as one continuous scene, first Benedick, then Beatrice, is–by careful arrangement on the part of the intriguers–an eavesdropper on the conversation. And in both cases the bait takes; the ultimate marriage of these mockers of love is one of the major resolutions of the action. As Benedick prepares for his moment of comic exposure, he delivers a lengthy soliloquy denouncing as foolish and stupid any man who falls in love; ". . . till all graces be in one woman, one woman shall not come in my grace." When he is led to believe that Beatrice is romantically inclined, however, his mockery turns to sympathetic interest and eventually to love:
DON PEDRO. . . Come hither Leonato. What was it you told me of to-day, that your niece Beatrice was in love with Signior Benedick?CLAUDIO[Aside to DON PEDRO] O ay, stalk on, stalk on; the fowl sits.–I did never think that lady would have loved any man.LEONATONo nor I neither, but most wonderful, that she should so dote on Signior Benedick, whom she hath in all outward behaviours seemed ever to abhor.BENEDICK [aside.]Is't possible? Sits the wind in that corner?LEONATOBy my troth my lord, I cannot tell what to think of it, but that she loves him with an enraged affection–it is past the infinite of thought.BENEDICK [Comes forward.]This can be no trick. The conference was sadly borne. They have the truth of this from Hero. They seem to pity the lady. It seems her affections have their full bent. Love me? Why it must be requited. . . .
Context: Don Pedro, Prince of Arragon, promises to woo Hero, daughter of Leonato, Governor of Messina, for Claudio, a young lord of Florence, who is in Don Pedro's suite. At a masked ball, Don Pedro asks Hero if she will walk with him. Banteringly Don Pedro brings the subject around to love, and as they step away from the others, he tries to bring the conversation to his real subject.
DON PEDROLady, will you walk about with your friend?HEROSo you walk softly, and look sweetly, and say nothing,I am yours for the walk, and especially when I walk away.DON PEDROWith me in your company?HEROI may say so when I please.DON PEDROAnd when please you to say so?HEROWhen I like your favour, for God defend the lute should be like the case.DON PEDROMy visor is Philemon's roof, within the house is love.HEROWhy then your visor should be thatched.DON PEDROSpeak low if you speak love.
Context: Dogberry, a constable, and Verges, a headborough, and the watch are on the street and are talking nonsense about what kind of man would make the most deserving constable, and then commenting on the duty of the watch. The directions are obvious contradictions. The watch must challenge every unknown man, but if the stranger refuses to halt, the watch is to consider itself lucky to be "rid of a knave." Drunken men are to be left alone "till they are sober." The flavor of this talk is revealed in the following dialogue, including the quotation, which is close to one in Ecclesiasticus, 13:1. ("He that toucheth pitch shall be defiled therewith"):
DOGBERRYIf you meet a thief, you may suspect him, by virtue of your office, to be no true man; and for such kind of men, the less you meddle or make with them, why, the more is for your honesty.SECOND WATCHMANIf we know him to be a thief, shall we not lay hands on him?DOGBERRYTruly by your office you may, but I think they that touch pitch will be defiled. The most peaceable way for you, if you do take a thief, is to let him show himself what he is, and steal out of your company.
Context: Dogberry and Verges, Shakespear's clownish constables, are charged with enlisting and supervising the night watch in Messina. As a result of overhearing a conversation between Conrade and Borachio, Don John's henchmen, they gain possession of information which could refute the false charges later brought against Hero by her fiancé Claudio at the wedding ceremony. For the constables learn that Borachio has wooed Margaret, Hero's maid, at Hero's window while Claudio observed from a distance assuming, as the villainous Don John charged, that his intended bride was entertaining a lover. The constables, though utterly naïve, at least have sense enough to realize this information should get to Leonato, Governor of Messina, immediately. But so laborious and repetitious is their report that the impatient Leonato, anxious to attend his daughter's wedding, leaves them to examine the prisoners themselves. If their ineptness very nearly permits tragic consequences, certainly in other ways it enhances the comic tone of the play. Like Hostess Quickly, they are linguistic bumblers whose malapropisms create comic confusion. Dogberry, having selected Hugh Oatcake and George Seacoal because they can read and write, issues his instructions to these night watchmen and, in so doing, illustrates the comedy of his verbal confusion:
DOGBERRYCome hither neighbor Seacoal. God hath blessed you with a good name. To be a well-favoured man is the gift of fortune, but to write and read comes by nature.SECOND WATCHMANBoth which master constable–DOGBERRYYou have. I knew it would be your answer. Well, for your favour sir, why give God thanks, and make no boast of it, and for your writing and reading, let that appear when there is no need of such vanity. You are thought here to be the most senseless [sensible] and fit man for the constable of the watch. Therefore bear you the lantern. This is your charge. You shall comprehend all vagrom men, you are to bid any man stand, in the Prince's name.