Women during Shakespeare's time were supposed to do what women have done throughout history: stay home, clean the house, have babies, and obey their husbands. In this comedy, however, Beatrice is the controversial character who challenges these social rules and uses a quick wit to win many debates on the subject. The following exchange between Beatrice and Leonato helps to show the role of women for that time, too:
With a good leg and a good foot, uncle, and money
enough in his purse, such a man would win any woman inthe world—if 'a could get her good will.
By my troth, niece, thou wilt never get thee a husband
if thou be so shrewd of thy tongue (II.i.13-17).
The next passage comes soon after the first one mentioned above and clarifies women's roles again:
Yes faith. It is my cousin's duty to make courtesy
and say, ‘Father, as it please you.’ But yet for all that,
cousin, let him be a handsome fellow, or else make
another courtesy, and say, ‘Father, as it please me.’
Well, niece, I hope to see you one day fitted with a
Not till God make men of some other metal than
earth. . .(II.i.45-52).
It is interesting that the value of a woman's life seems to be based on whether or not she finds a husband.
As the plot thickens, however, and Hero is slandered, Beatrice becomes the voice of all that is wrong with patriarchal societies--the fact that a woman's voice means less than a man's.
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 (IV.i.310-315).
Whether she likes it or not, Beatrice does fall in love and Benedick winds up loving her. In their relationship, though, they seem to find what can be right in marriage by becoming loyal friends as well as lovers. Beatrice even calls Benedick her "friend"(V.ii.60). Beatrice, like many women, do not want to conform to society because it seems as if society places too much of a woman's worth on her marital status.