The Play’s the Thing: Freshly returned from battle, Don Pedro and his league of followers come to Messina for a bit of relaxation with the Governor, Leonato. Among Don Pedro’s troop is Benedick and Claudio. Benedick is an old verbal sparring partner of Leonato’s niece, Beatrice, and the pair are forever insulting each other and loudly pronouncing that they’re very glad they’ve both decided never to marry. Claudio, on the other hand, after seeing Leonato’s daughter, Hero, falls desperately in love. Don Pedro swears to help Claudio woo Hero at the masqued ball that evening. Meanwhile, Don John, the bastard (literally) brother of Don Pedro plots mischief with his cohorts Conrade and Borachio to upset Claudio’s plans to marry Hero as Claudio is his brother’s current favourite. At the masque, Don Pedro successfully woos Hero to marry Claudio and although Claudio is briefly under the impression that Don Pedro wants Hero for himself (thanks to the machinations of Don John) eventually is very happy to set a wedding date with Hero for the following week. Upset that his first plot didn’t work, Don John and Borachio plot to have Don Pedro and Claudio see a woman who is supposedly Hero in a compromising position with another man the night before the wedding. Before that happens however, most of the major characters join in a plot to have Benedick and Beatrice fall in love with each other. They start by telling Benedick that Beatrice is secretly desperately in love with him and then do the same for Beatrice. The pair both decide that they’ll requite the other’s love. Some night watchmen overhear Conrade and Borachio discussing the already completed plot to impugn Hero’s honour and take the men into custody. Dogberry (the overseer of the watchmen) tries to tell Leonato about the men he has in custody, but given his general incompetence with the language doesn’t get his point across and is put off until later. At the church, while at the altar, Claudio accuses Hero of unfaithfulness, causing Hero to faint dead away. In an effort to make Claudio repent for his actions, Leonato and his family plot to put out the news that Hero died from the shock. Benedick and Beatrice have a very sweet moment where they confess their love for each other and then Beatrice asks Benedick to kill Claudio for slandering her cousin. Eventually, the testimony of Conrade and Borachio make their way to Leonato, Don Pedro, and Claudio, proving Hero’s innocence and Don John’s villainy (Don John has run off by this point). Claudio is repentant that he played a role in Hero’s death and Leonato tells him that he’ll forgive him and have Claudio marry his niece and heir, who looks a lot like Hero. Of course, Hero is revealed to be alive and Claudio is overjoyed. After some protesting on both their parts, Benedick and Beatrice agree to get married and word is brought that Don John has been caught. The whole group have a dance before heading off to the church for a very merry double wedding.
Heroes and Villains: This time I actually have two favourite characters because one just isn’t as much fun without the other. Beatrice and Benedick are delightful with their sharp verbal barbs and ultimately falling in love. If there had been shippers in the 17th century, there would definitely have been a legion of fans for Benetrice.
Pick-up Lines with Style:
I will live in thy heart, die in thy lap, and be buried in thy eyes. (V.ii)
Speech to Know: There aren’t any really outstanding soliloquies in this play but the exchanges between Beatrice and Benedick are too good not to share. This one is from the first scene in the play:
Beatrice: I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior Benedick; nobody marks you.
Benedick: What, my dear lady Disdain! are you yet living?
Beatrice: Is it possible disdain should die while she hath such meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick? Courtesy itself must convert to disdain if you come in her presence.
Benedick: Then is courtesy a turn-coat. – But it is certain I am loved of all ladies, only you excepted: and I would I could find in my heart that I had not a hard heart: for, truly, I love none.
Beatrice: A dear happiness to women; they would else have been troubled with a pernicious suitor. I thank God, and my cold blood, I am of your humour for that: I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me.
Benedick: God keep your ladyship still in that mind! so some gentleman or other shall ‘scape a predestinate scratched face.
Beatrice: Scratching could not make it worse an ’twere such a face as yours were.
Benedick: Well, you are a rare parrot-teacher.
Beatrice: A bird of my tongue is better than a beast of yours.
Benedick: I would my horse had the speed of your tongue, and so good a continuer. But keep your way o’ God’s name; I have done.
Beatrice: You always end with a jade’s trick; I know you of old. (I.i)
View from the Pit: I love Much Ado About Nothing so much. A big chunk of that is because I am so partial to some really good, sharp banter, and Benedick and Beatrice have it in spades. In some ways, I think they’re an excellent predecessor to the awesomeness that is His Girl Friday. But there really is just quality plot all the way around. From the epic misunderstanding that provides the major conflict in Claudio and Hero’s relationship to the ridiculousness of Dogberry going around and telling everyone to remember he’s an ass. In addition to being half of one of Shakespeare’s best couples, Beatrice is also a very strong female character. Her speech in Act IV about why she wishes she were a man makes her so sympathetic (contrast with Lady MacBeth when we get around to her) and she really is a delight. With conflict, humour, and a happy ending, this play sparkles all the way through and leaves you thoroughly enchanted at the end of it.