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The play is all about gender roles. Men are much more flat than the women. Don John is a flat character, Benedick is rounder, and Claudio is too dense for words. But in Beatrice & Hero, Shakespeare has created an interesting study. Beatrice is strong & witty; Hero is her polar opposite, quiet & milktoast-like.
Beatrice's sharp words convey her active & intelligent mind (even if many of her barbs are directed at male oppression). Conversely, the reticient Hero is pushed around, unfairly blamed for infidelity, & miserable. Although audiences were not yet accepting of an unmarried woman, and Beatrice marries, Beatrice is still a postive female character.
Here are a couple of quotes that help make the pointed difference between Beatrice & Hero:
In Act 2, Scene 1, Beatrice denounces Benedick to her uncle:
"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."
In Act 4, Scene 1, Hero is falsley accused of cheating on her would-be husband, Claudio. Instead of standing up for herself as Beatrice would have, she simply tries, and fails, to defend her honor:
O, God defend me! how am I beset!
What kind of catechising call you this?
To make you answer truly to your name.
Is it not Hero? Who can blot that name
With any just reproach?
One of the best examples of the limitations of gender roles occurs after Hero is denounced. Beatrice is despondent that she, as a woman, can not challenge Claudio for what he has done. She wants to act out her rage at the injustice but her position as a woman and her weaker physical form limits her from doing so. Here is the exchange between herself and Benedick:
BENEDICK BEATRICE BENEDICK BEATRICE
Is there any way to show such friendship?
A very even way, but no such friend.
May a man do it?
It is a man's office, but not yours.
Is Claudio thine enemy?
Is he not approved in the height a villain, that
hath slandered, scorned, dishonoured my kinswoman? O
that I were a man! What, bear her in hand until they
come to take hands; and then, with public
accusation, uncovered slander, unmitigated rancour,
--O God, that I were a man! I would eat his heart
in the market-place. (Act IV, scene i)
She clearly identifies the position of challenging Claudio as a "man's office" and, like Lady Macbeth, desires to be a man so that she can fulfill her wishes.
The roles of gender, more specifically the role of women, are contrasted in Shakespeare's 'Much Ado About Nothing'. Hero is a quiet, obedient, shy and feminine woman who marries the valiant, manly and noble Claudio. Claudio acts as if he has purchased Hero, and she is his asset. This relationship was one view of the role of gender; a patriarchal family with a dominating male and an obedient female.
However, the relationship with Benedick and Beatrice is much more different. Beatrice is an outspoken, intelligent, witty and confident woman who possesses masculine characterisitcs, like a need for revenge. She enjoys exchanging insults with Benedick (which shows the instability of their relationship at the end of the play), and their relationship is almost equally run by both male and female (if it wern't for commonly accepted social trends that males ruled in this time, Beatrice would probably make the relationship matriarchal!)
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