At the masquerade ball in act 2, scene 1, Beatrice and Benedict are both in disguise and pretend not to recognize each other, even though they both know who the other is. While pretending not to know that she is speaking to Benedict, Beatrice teases him by calling Benedict a...
At the masquerade ball in act 2, scene 1, Beatrice and Benedict are both in disguise and pretend not to recognize each other, even though they both know who the other is. While pretending not to know that she is speaking to Benedict, Beatrice teases him by calling Benedict a fool. She says that Benedict is:
the Prince’s jester, a very dull fool, only his gift
is in devising impossible slanders ...
Her words to Benedict enrage him, and he tells Don Pedro he would rather be sent anywhere in the world "rather than hold three words' conference with this harpy."
Benedict's overreaction to Beatrice's words might tip us off that he is still in love with her.
Of course, we might feel some sympathy for Beatrice, too, as her insult follows his statement that her wit comes from a bawdy, off-color book. She complains that he said:
I had my good wit out of The
Hundred Merry Tales!
In reality, however, it is more than that insult that leads to Beatrice's sharp words against Benedict. When she talks to Don Pedro, we find out that Beatrice has had a history with Benedict. He has apparently hurt her in the past, and this has left her bitter. Don Pedro, who thinks Beatrice and Benedict would be a good match, has just listened to Benedict go on a tirade about how impossible Beatrice is. Don Pedro tells her she has lost Benedict's "heart" or goodwill. She responds:
Indeed, my lord, he lent it me awhile, and I gave him use for
it, a double heart for his single one. Marry, once before he
won it of me with false dice. Therefore your Grace may well
say I have lost it.
In other words, Beatrice gave him double the love her gave her, but his love proved to be false.
When Don Pedro asks if she would marry him, she says no, because he is too grand a personage for her:
Your Grace is too costly to wear every day. But I beseech
your Grace pardon me. I was born to speak all mirth and no
In fact, from Beatrice's overreaction to Benedict's insults, which mirrors his overreaction to hers, we might suspect the real reason Beatrice doesn't want to marry Don Pedro is that she is still in love with Benedict, just as he seems to be still in love with her.