Essential Passage 1: Act 1, Scene 1, Lines 50-59
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 between
Alas! He gets nothing by that. In our last conflict
four of his five wits went halting off, and now is the
whole man governed with one; so that if he have wit
enough to keep himself warm, let him bear it for a difference
between himself and his horse; for it is all the wealth
that 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
You may light on a husband that hath no beard.
What should I do with him? dress him in my
apparel and make him my waiting gentlewoman? He that
hath 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 youth
is not for me; and he that is less than a man, I am not for
him. Therefore I will even take sixpence in earnest of the
bear-ward and lead his apes into hell.
Well then, go you into hell?
No; but to the gate, and there will the devil meet me
like an old cuckold with horns on his head, and say ‘Get
you to heaven, Beatrice, get you to heaven. Here's no
place for you maids.’ So deliver I up my apes, and away
to Saint Peter—for the heavens. He shows me where the
bachelors sit, and there live we as merry as the day is
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...
(The entire section is 1469 words.)
Essential Passage 1: Act 1, Scene 1, Lines 280-288
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
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.
What proof shall I make of that?
Proof enough to misuse the prince, to vex Claudio,
to undo Hero, and kill Leonato. Look you for any other
Only to despite them I will endeavour anything.
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....
(The entire section is 1857 words.)