Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1453
Essential Passage 1: Act 1, Scene 1, Lines 50-59
LEONATO:You must not, my lord, mistake my niece. There is a kind of merry war betwixt Signior Benedick and her.They never meet but there's a skirmish of wit betweenthem.BEATRICE:Alas! He gets nothing by that. In our last conflictfour of his five wits went halting off, and now is the whole man governed with one; so that if he have witenough to keep himself warm, let him bear it for a differencebetween himself and his horse; for it is all the wealththat he hath left to be known a reasonable creature.
Beatrice, niece to Leonato of Messina, is hearing news from a messenger of the approach of Don Pedro and Aragon and his company. Included in that group is Benedick, with whom Beatrice has a long-running battle of wits. Acting as though they despise each other, Beatrice and Benedick exchange continual barbs on every occasion that they meet. Each proclaims his or her contempt of the other, with each one proclaiming victory. In terms of "battle," and in conjunction with the return of the army after a military excursion involving the repression of a rebellion on the part of Don John (the illegitimate brother of Don Pedro), Beatrice describes for the messenger her last encounter with Benedick. He lost that battle but managed to survive with “one wit” left. Now, according to Beatrice, he is functioning with his one remaining wit, her point being that he is even less than a half-wit.
Essential Passage 2: Act 2, Scene 1, Lines 27-42
LEONATO:You may light on a husband that hath no beard.BEATRICE:What should I do with him? dress him in myapparel and make him my waiting gentlewoman? He thathath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man; and he that is more than a youthis not for me; and he that is less than a man, I am not forhim. Therefore I will even take sixpence in earnest of thebear-ward and lead his apes into hell.LEONATO:Well then, go you into hell?BEATRICE:No; but to the gate, and there will the devil meet melike an old cuckold with horns on his head, and say ‘Getyou to heaven, Beatrice, get you to heaven. Here's noplace for you maids.’ So deliver I up my apes, and awayto Saint Peter—for the heavens. He shows me where the bachelors sit, and there live we as merry as the day islong.
Leonato is holding a masked ball for the entertainment of his household guests. Beatrice and her uncle Leonato are engaging in a conversation about the guests, and the topic runs from Benedick to men in general. Beatrice states that she would not want to marry a man with a beard. She would rather sleep with a sheep. Her uncle suggests that she might marry a man who had no beard. This suggestion is met with Beatrice’s usual sarcasm. She would have no use for a beardless man, because that would mean he is not grown up. She may as well dress him up as a woman, perhaps meaning a court eunuch. Beatrice proclaims that a beardless man would be too young for her. Yet a man with a beard would mean he is too old for her. Thus she has no use for any man. As the belief that an unmarried woman would be punished by leading apes into hell, Beatrice...
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proclaims that she is ready to do so. Her uncle asks her, with some concern, if she means to go to hell. Beatrice replies that she will lead the apes to the gates of hell, where the gatekeeper will declare that there is no use for virgins in hell, so she may as well go to heaven. Beatrice then states that in heaven, she will find where the bachelors are staying to make fun of them for all eternity.
Essential Passage 3: Act 3, Scene 1, Lines 109-118
BEATRICE:What fire is in mine ears? Can this be true?Stand I condemned for pride and scorn so much? Contempt, farewell! and maiden pride, adieu!No glory lives behind the back of such.And, Benedick, love on; I will requite thee,Taming my wild heart to thy loving hand.If thou dost love, my kindness shall incite thee To bind our loves up in a holy band;For others say thou dost deserve, and IBelieve it better than reportingly.
Don Pedro, Hero, and Claudio are joined in a plot to get Benedick and Beatrice to admit that they are in fact in love with each other. By placing themselves where Benedick can overhear their conversation, Don Pedro and Claudio discuss the secret love that Beatrice has for Benedick. Benedick is surprised, yet after some thought it seems reasonable to him. He decides he will win her love and give up his vaunted claims to intend to die a bachelor. On the ladies’ part, Hero and her friends discuss Benedick’s love for Beatrice, having made sure that Beatrice can eavesdrop on the conversation. By stating that it will never happen, Hero and her companions discuss that Beatrice is too full of pride and sarcasm to ever let Benedick go far in his pursuit of her. She will make fun of him and drive him off, just as she has always done. She has a reputation of being prideful and scornful. After they leave, Beatrice is bothered by her newly discovered reputation. To prove them wrong, and to dispel this unwanted public perception of her, Beatrice vows to let Benedick love her and let herself be caught and joined with him in marriage. Because others say that Benedick’s reputation is high, she will set aside her objections and consent to become his wife.
Analysis of Essential Passages
Beatrice and Benedick are an early example of the stock characters of a romantic comedy, where a man and woman, professing to despise each other, eventually fall in love. Beatrice is one of the strongest women in Shakespearean drama and holds her own in any battle of wits with any man. Her professed bitterness toward men and marriage is a thread running through the play, on which much of the comedy, especially in scenes with Benedick, is based.
The play begins with the relationship between Beatrice and Benedick already established. It is suggested later that Benedick once played false with Beatrice, causing her to fall in love with him and then abandoning her or hurting her in some way. This basis of bitterness is not fully dealt with, but the eventual love between the two is thus given some history, lessening the sense that this sudden appearance of affection in the midst of hate is unrealistic. It is out of her hurt that Beatrice deals in such sarcasm and scorn, especially with men and on the subject of marriage. It is this past hurt that makes Beatrice, despite her cold and scornful manner, such an appealing character. The reader’s identification with her hurt allows Beatrice’s vulnerability to be apparent even through her sarcasm.
Beatrice is very much an independent woman. As an orphan being cared for by her uncle, her ties are a bit looser than the average, allowing her freedom to be herself. Her friendship with her cousin Hero is a friendship of opposites. Hero is much more passive than is Beatrice, submitting to others, especially men, in a way that Beatrice never would. Beatrice seems content with going against society’s dictates that an unmarried woman is an aberration. She does not find her identity in being a wife and mother, but in being her own person. She is an independent woman, much like Queen Elizabeth I, during whose reign Shakespeare did much of his writing. With the image of this self-reliant monarch in the minds of the audience, Beatrice comes through true to life in a way that probably would not have been possible at other times in history.
Beatrice’s eventual decision to love Benedick (or at least let him love her) on the surface appears to be more of a reaction to her dislike of the reputation as a scold that she has gained. She seems more intent on proving the skeptics wrong than to truly love Benedick. Even to the last, at their eventual marriage, she maintains her wit, holding Benedick a bit off at arm’s length, just to keep him in his place. Beatrice loses none of her independence or her spirit in being married: what she has been she will continue to be. It is doubtful that this “merry battle of wits” will end any time soon.
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1857
Essential Passage 1: Act 1, Scene 1, Lines 280-288
DON PEDRO: I know we shall have revelling to-night. I will assume thy part in some disguise And tell fair Hero I am Claudio, And in her bosom I'll unclasp my heart And take her hearing prisoner with the force And strong encounter of my amorous tale. Then after to her father will I break; And the conclusion is, she shall be thine. In practice let us put it presently.
Claudio, Don Pedro’s most trusted comrade-in-arms, is in love with Hero, the daughter of Leonato. Having returned from putting down a rebellion by Don Pedro’s brother, Don John, Claudio returns to Messina with the troops, who are invited to state with Leonato for a month. Claudio, along with the others, has been acquainted with the household of Leonato for some time. Claudio has noticed Hero prior to going off to battle, but has said nothing to her of his affections. Unsure of himself in love, Claudio is reluctant to speak to her. Don Pedro, out of friendship, suggests a solution by which Claudio may find out Hero’s feelings for Claudio without Claudio being vulnerable to rejection. Leonato that night is giving a ball for the troops, during which all the party-goers will be wearing masks. Don Pedro suggests that he, disguised by his mask, pretend to be Claudio. He will then woo her, securing her affections for Claudio, so that the latter can then approach her with full confidence of acceptance. Don Pedro will then speak to Leonato on Claudio’s behalf.
Essential Passage 2:Act 2, Scene 2, Lines 19-43
BORACHIO: The poison of that lies in you to temper. Go you to the prince your brother; spare not to tell him that he hath wronged his honour in marrying the renowned Claudio whose estimation do you mightily hold up, to a contaminated stale, such a one as Hero.DON JOHN: What proof shall I make of that?BORACHIO: Proof enough to misuse the prince, to vex Claudio, to undo Hero, and kill Leonato. Look you for any other issue?DON JOHN: Only to despite them I will endeavour anything.BORACHIO: Go then; find a meet hour to draw Don Pedro and the Count Claudio alone; tell them that you know that Hero loves me; intend a kind of zeal both to the prince and Claudio, as—in love of your brother's honour, who hath made this match, and his friend's reputation, who is thus like to be cozened with the semblance of a maid— that you have discovered thus. They will scarcely believe this without trial. Offer them instances; which shall bear no less likelihood than to see me at her chamber window, hear me call Margaret, Hero, hear Margaret term me Claudio; and bring them to see this the very night before the intended wedding—for in the meantime I will so fashion the matter that Hero shall be absent—and there shall appear such seeming truth of Hero's disloyalty that jealousy shall be called assurance and all the preparation overthrown.
Don John, the illegitimate brother of Don Pedro, has been defeated in his attempt to usurp his brother’s position. Not only that, he has come to despise Claudio, who is Don Pedro’s most trusted companion. Jealous of both for denying him what he feels is rightly his due, Don John seeks revenge against them. Borachio devises a plan that might effectively destroy all. Margaret, Hero’s friend, has been in love with Borachio for some time. Borachio suggests that he make love to Margaret (who will be dressed to look more like Hero) in an open window. Don John will bring Don Pedro and Claudio by as this is occurring so that it will appear that Hero is unfaithful to Claudio on the night before their wedding. Not only will this separate the close bond between Don Pedro and Claudio (for it was Don Pedro who brought the couple together in the first place), but it will destroy Claudio. The fact that Hero and her father will also be destroyed is of little consequence, since they are in close association with the “enemy” anyway. Don John agrees to this plan, and will get Don Pedro and Claudio to pass before the window as Borachio is seemingly making love to Hero.
Essential Passage 3:Act 5, Scene 1, Lines 251-282
LEONATO: Art thou the slave that with thy breath hast killed Mine innocent child?BORACHIO: Yea, even I alone.LEONATO: No, not so, villain! thou beliest thyself. Here stand a pair of honourable men— A third is fled—that had a hand in it. I thank you princes for my daughter's death. Record it with your high and worthy deeds. 'Twas bravely done, if you bethink you of it.CLAUDIO: I know not how to pray your patience; Yet I must speak. Choose your revenge yourself; Impose me to what penance your invention Can lay upon my sin. Yet sinned I not But in mistaking.DON PEDRO: By my soul, nor I! And yet, to satisfy this good old man, I would bend under any heavy weight That he'll enjoin me to.LEONATO: I cannot bid you bid my daughter live; That were impossible; but I pray you both, Possess the people in Messina here How innocent she died; and if your love Can labour aught in sad invention, Hang her an epitaph upon her tomb, And sing it to her bones—sing it to-night. To-morrow morning come you to my house, And since you could not be my son-in-law, Be yet my nephew. My brother hath a daughter, Almost the copy of my child that's dead, And she alone is heir to both of us. Give her the right you should have giv'n her cousin, And so dies my revenge.
It has finally been discovered that Don John and Borachio lied about Hero’s unfaithfulness. Borachio is brought before Leonato, along with Don Pedro and Claudio, to hear the full account. Borachio is especially repentant because Leonato along with Friar Francis have given out the report that Hero has died from the accusation of infidelity, so that Claudio and Don Pedro may feel even more remorse for the falsity of their words. Don John has escaped, but the two remaining must pay. At Borachio’s confession, Leonato continues the charade of Hero’s death to inflict even more guilt on the two who so swiftly believed in her loss of virginity. Leonato mocks them for their “honor” now that an innocent maiden has died because of them. Claudio vows that he will do anything that Leonato wants. Leonato states that Claudio can post his grief on Hero’s tomb first of all. Then he must marry Leonato’s niece, who is similar in looks to Hero and is also the heir to both Leonato’s fortune as well as his brother’s. With this, Leonato claims, his revenge will be satisfied. Claudio readily agrees, not knowing that Hero is alive and that Leonato plans to surprise him at the wedding when his bride, the real and living Hero, is revealed.
Analysis of Essential Passages
The theme of deception is repeated constantly throughout the play. Its purpose is as varied as the situations in which it is utilized. The scheming and plotting of the characters drive the plot forward by creating situations in which the deception either works for good or evil, depending on the person.
The first purpose in which deception is used is for love. Claudio is a timid lover and is unable to confess his feelings to Hero until he is sure of her feelings for him. Don Pedro disguises himself and deceives Hero into believing that he is Claudio. However, Hero has been warned that Don Pedro will be approaching her with talk of love, but it is misunderstood to be for himself rather than Claudio. Not only does Hero believe this is Don Pedro’s intentions, but Claudio does as well, when Benedick reports to him what has happened. Torn apart, Claudio rushes off. Soon, however, he discovers the truth and that Hero is really his, willing to be his wife.
Another instance in which deception is used is pure evil. Don John is determined to have his revenge on Don Pedro and Claudio, so he joins with Borachio in an elaborate scheme by which Hero’s character will be destroyed and Claudio will be brokenhearted. Claudio, observing a woman whom he assumes to be Hero with another man, quickly rejects her, but he intends to wait to publicly denounce Hero at the altar. His own deception in refraining from breaking off the wedding before it occurs is also evil on a certain level. He is endeavoring to publicly humiliate Hero, destroying her standing in society as a wanton woman, thus preventing her from any honorable marriage in the future. The possibility that she would die (as Leonato deceives him into believing is the case) does not cross his mind. His lack of care for the reputation of others matches that of Don John. The depth of his love is in question, considering how quickly he believes an evil report about his intended wife. Yet even more is it in question that he would sink to the level of deception as that of Don John.
Leonato’s deception in pretending that Hero is dead leads to another situation in which both his own revenge and the redemption of Claudio is accomplished. With little regard for Claudio’s possible grief, he appeals to Claudio's guilt by forcing him to marry a woman whom he does not know. He perhaps correctly guesses Claudio’s mercenary intentions (as Claudio had previous to courting Hero ascertained that she was Leonato’s sole heir) when he mentions that this unknown niece is the heir not only of his own fortune but that of his brother as well. Claudio, again perhaps more out of guilt that greed, agrees to the marriage. At the wedding, he finds the bride in a mask (hearkening back to the ball), which is removed to reveal Hero herself. Thus Claudio is not only returned to the role of bridegroom, but also to his stature with Leonato and the others.
Shakespeare’s use of deception, especially in comedy, develops a deeper and more serious theme. As shown throughout Much Ado About Nothing, deception for whatever reason seldom goes according to plan. Although the eventual outcome may be that which was desired, people are injured, character is damaged, and relationships are destroyed. Although in a comedy the ending is happy, the deception that brought about this end is not usually dismissed as innocent. Although it may be quickly forgiven, as in the case of Leonato’s deception in Hero’s death and disguised wedding to Claudio, Shakespeare in a parallel subplot always portrays the harm that deception can cause. Even if deception is presented as “the ends justifying the means,” as well as a device to keep the plot moving along, Shakespeare makes it clear that there will always be victims along the way.