Act II, Scene 3 Summary and Analysis
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...
(The entire section is 793 words.)