Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 793
New Character: Boy: sent by Benedick to fetch a book
The scene takes place in Leonato's garden. Benedick reflects on love and marriage. He hides himself in the arbor when Don Pedro, Leonato, and Claudio enter. Pretending not to note his presence, they listen as Balthasar sings a song about the deceptions of men. Then they speak of Beatrice's love for Benedick, which they claim they learned from Hero. Benedick does not believe it to be a gull because Leonato is involved. They detail the depth of Beatrice's passion and frustration, fearful that she will harm herself because of it, then list her virtues. They agree that Benedick is too scornful to be told of the matter and exit. Reflecting on what he has just heard, Benedict acknowledges to himself his love for Beatrice. Beatrice, sent by Don Pedro to call Benedick to dinner, is perceived by Benedick in a new light as he looks for evidence of her affection for him.
The second movement of action, which propels this play into high comedy, begins now and continues through the first scene of Act IV. Highly theatrical, this is Benedick's chief scene in the play, the one his lines have been building toward and the one on which the validity of the rest of his actions depend. The phrasing of the soliloquies, well-written for stage delivery and the actor's memory, require a balanced performance with inventive stage business (player's actions that establish atmosphere, reveal character, or explain a situation) to succeed. The scene takes place in the evening, before supper. It is written in prose except for 21 lines of blank verse spoken by Don Pedro and Claudio (36-56). The new character, the boy, perhaps serves as an image of innocence, or possibly the line was written for the child of one of the company members to play.
Ironically, in Benedick's pre-gulling soliloquy, amply full of his usual self-satisfied, machismo rhetoric, he wonders, for a moment, if he may be so converted as to see with the same eyes of love he has just expressed contempt for. In this moment, Benedick's character initiates a new level of awareness by stepping out from his position as clever onlooker and seeing himself as part of the comedy of human behavior. Although he immediately dismisses the thought, he proceeds to share his ideal woman with us (25-33):
One woman is fair, yet I am well; another is wise, yet I am well; another virtuous, yet I am well; but till all graces be in one woman, one woman shall not come in my grace. Rich she shall be, that's certain; wise or I'll never look on her; mild, or come not near me; noble, or not I for an angel; of good discourse, an excellent musician and her hair shall be of what color it please God.
Shakespeare references and thereby emphasizes the title of this play with a musical extension of the pun on "noting" and "nothing" before Balthasar sings a love song, which serves to soften Benedick, although he dismisses Balthasar's singing as a dog's howl. As the gullers proceed to speak of Beatrice's love for him, Benedick's comments about them abate, and he eavesdrops in blank amazement. They cite in her the very virtues he demanded before their arrival. The irony is that Don Pedro, Claudio, and Leonato think they are lying about Beatrice's love for Benedick, when, in fact, they are telling the truth.
In his post-gulling soliloquy, a chastened Benedick steps forward and speaks directly for the first time (217-226):
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. I hear how I am censured. They say I will bear myself proudly, if I perceive the love come from her; they say too that she will rather die than give any sign of affection. I did never think to marry. I must not seem proud; happy are they that hear their detractions and can put them to mending.
The passage reveals that Benedick has undergone an attitude adjustment from which he emerges with an expanded conscience, a humbled ego, and an intuitive understanding of his real feelings for Beatrice, then he bursts into his old effusiveness with the declaration that he will love Beatrice "most horribly" and climaxes with the comedic hyperbole, "the world must be peopled." At this point, Shakespeare sends in Beatrice, which heightens the comedic value of the scene as Benedick, a confirmed bachelor turned love fanatic, spies "some marks of love" in her curt speeches. This is a prose scene except for 21 lines of blank verse.
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