Love is a heart wrenching yet common emotion recognised worldwide. Fairytales consist of two people falling in love, getting married and living happily ever after, because we believe that love is illusory. However, ‘things are not as rosy as they appear’ and it is only by Shakespeare cleverly centring his play ““Much Ado About Nothing”” upon the eternal battle between the sexes and manipulatively crafting two pairs of contrasting lovers that he answers our burning desire of how to love.
Claudio and Hero are the fairytale couple who personify the idealisation of love, but interestingly it is Beatrice and Benedick who we identify with because intrinsically we connect with these outspoken individuals and secretly we would like to be like them. Witty, spontaneous and gutsy, they are portrayed with a certain depth, possessing the more serious human virtues. They mellow in the course of the play as they come to experience a sincere love that the other characters are incapable of feeling and inevitably it is these two who create a marriage of true minds, a union of equals.
““Much Ado About Nothing”” is not merely a play about the composition of courtly love, because Shakespeare pits our protagonists against both their society and the social conventions of Messina. As we watch Beatrice and Benedick grapple with their world we see their quizzical, witty and ironic commentary on the various aspects of love and understand the necessity of deciphering illusion in our own lives. We realise we must step up and become individuals like Beatrice and Benedick if we are to love and succeed in gaining what we truly want from love.
As individuals both Beatrice and Benedick are unique. Benedick is a realist, not an idealist which makes him single minded. Perhaps his most redeeming features are his self awareness, for he is almost always able to laugh at himself. He is the eternal bachelor soldier, a professed tyrant to women, but clearly open to change as he himself later admits. He is smart, good looking, funny and stubborn. His responses are always a witty response to other’s taunts and he always has to have the last say.
As an entertainer he perceives life as a joke, but Benedick becomes more than just a figure of fun when events in the play lead him to a new maturity and a rejection of his former comfortable male comradeship. Initially, Benedick is rather mean when it comes to matters of love, possibly because he spends most of his time railing against marriage. His reasons are complex though, because unlike Beatrice, who thinks no man will ever be good enough for her, Benedick seems more hung up on not being tied down. However, after he overhears his friends speaking of Beatrice’s love for him, he immediately takes the bait and his decision is instant.
Beatrice’s love must be ‘requited’, which instantly produces a new maturity in his words. Things change for Benedick once he hears that Beatrice loves him. At the end of the scene after Beatrice has bidden Benedick to come in to dinner, he picks over the details of her words, seeing a ‘double meaning’ in everything she says and quickly turns her words into messages of love. This is self deception at its most magnificent. Initially he decides to pursue Beatrice, not because he is prepared to admit that he is in love with her; but rather because he is focused on proving that he is not scornful and proud.
As Benedick decides to approach lovesickness in a conventional way by writing Beatrice love poetry, he realises that he is just not a conventional lover. He discovers that it is the strangeness of the formalities of romance which makes love alien to him and that he does not have a particular fear of love itself, which is perhaps why he is willing to be so forward in the love affair. When Beatrice calls him to dinner, he is sweet, and it is Benedick who is the first one of the pair to confess that he is actually in love.
To explain his former immunity to the charms of women, he gathers his thoughts and finds a plausible reason for his lightening change of heart, “ a man loves the meat in his youth, that he cannot endure in his age”, When I said I could die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married”. Now his antithesis is being used to argue exactly the opposite of what he was saying moments before. Even when he is finally forced to admit that his earlier stance against marriage was wrong, he does it so whole heartedly that he turns mockery into respect.
In fact, his final admission of his earlier foolishness could almost sum up the whole play, “for man is a giddy thing, and this is my conclusion”. Benedick’s antithesis Beatrice is honest, energetic, witty, intelligent, free spirited, feisty but also lonely. Interestingly Beatrice comes from the Latin beatrix, meaning “she who blesses. ” She has an independent spirit and does not want to rely on anyone for support, making it clear from the beginning that she neither wants nor needs a husband, claiming she would rather “hear her dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loved her”.
Beatrice has an absolute hatred of the hypocrisy of the age and the sham nonsense that the social hierarchy controls. She has no patience with all the military hyperbole and bravado and is detached from all the courtly ceremony and ritual. Beatrice not only challenges the accepted opinion of war, but is also critical of masculine values and questions the received wisdoms of the male hierarchy. She is an intelligent woman who rages against the masculine solidarity which can so easily destroy a woman’s reputation.
She has the sharpest of barbed wits and keeps up a merry war of wits with Benedick each time they meet, as the two constantly compete to outdo each other with clever insults. Although she appears hardened and sharp, she is actually vulnerable. Beatrice stands out from the rest of the women in Messina because she is as good at a verbal game of wit as any of the men and it is she who has taken over an area of discourse which the bachelors of Messina, and Benedick in particular, usually treat as a male preserve, a witty and aggressive word play which is used to ward off the prospect of marriage.