Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 593
New Characters: Margaret and Ursula: waiting gentlewomen to Hero
While Leonato's household awaits the arrival of the maskers, Beatrice tells us that no man is her match and she advises Hero on how to answer the prince when he seeks her hand. The maskers arrive and we are treated to a variety of deceits as they dance. Don Pedro, pretending to be Claudio, takes Hero aside. Beatrice, pretending that she does not know that she is speaking with Benedick, uses the opportunity to call him a fool. All exit except Don John, Borachio, and Claudio.
Don John and Borachio purposefully mistake Claudio for Benedick and tell him that Don Pedro is in love with Hero and swore he would marry her that night. Claudio, believing their deception, is joined by Benedick who teases him about losing Hero. Claudio leaves and Benedick reflects on his conversation with Beatrice.
Don Pedro, Hero, and Leonato return. Don Pedro assures Benedick that his wooing was on Claudio's behalf. When Claudio and Beatrice return, Benedick exits to avoid Beatrice. Don Pedro announces that he has won Hero for Claudio, and Leonato concurs. When Beatrice leaves, Don Pedro observes that Beatrice would be an excellent wife for Benedick, and enlists Leonato, Claudio, and Hero to aid him in making a match.
The masquerade ball, fashionable in Tudor England, and the guessing game it engenders, emphasizes the problem of knowing/ not knowing, which leads to harmony/ disharmony. In this scene, Shakespeare offers us both actual music and musical metaphor (Don Pedro teaching birds to sing, i.e., to love).
Claudio's inclination to jealousy and his reliance upon sense information not only leads him to believe Don John's deceit but foreshadows the tragic action he will take at his nuptials. Hero, too proper to do anything but acquiesce in her father's choice, reveals nothing about her feelings for Claudio. Benedick, stung by Beatrice's description of him as little more than a court jester, wonders how she can know him and not know him, ignoring the fact that he said her wit was out of the Hundred Merry Tales, a coarse book. The infection of this sting swells toward the end of the scene-when he requests that Don Pedro send him on any absurd mission rather than have three words with Beatrice-and will not be lanced until the end of the act. Beatrice reveals her previous relationship with Benedict when she speaks of his heart (265-68):
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.
Only Don Pedro, dazzled by her lively sallies with him on the topic of marriage, exhibits a flash of intuitive knowledge as he moves past the outer appearance given by Beatrice's mock logic and clever comedy to see her as "an excellent wife for Benedick."
This scene begins and ends with emphasis on Beatrice's unwillingness to consider marriage, which parallels Benedick's diatribe on marriage and sets the tone for the double gulling scenes to come; the counterplot to Beatrice and Benedick's seeming disaffection for each other.
Fashion imagery is continued in this scene. Benedick describes Beatrice as "the infernal Ate" (Greek goddess personifying foolhardy and ruinous impulse) "in good apparel," and Beatrice tells Don Pedro, "[y]our Grace is too costly to wear every day." Note the appearance of rhymed fourteeners (87-8) and Claudio's speech of 11 lines of end-stopped verse (159-69).
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