Much Ado About Nothing

Introduction

For Much Ado About Nothing, it is perhaps too easy to write off as comic relief the romance between Benedick and Beatrice.  After all, in a play where a marriage is derailed by accusations of infidelity, followed by the trauma of Hero’s ‘death’ and ‘resurrection’, there is a demand for levity.  However, the humor between Benedick and Beatrice does not place their relationship beneath Claudio and Hero’s drama.  If anything, although one love operates in a comedic world and the other in tragedy, both operate on the same level of tension.  Thus, the collision of the two respective loves at the end of the play is smooth and flawless.

 

 

Differences  

When watching Claudio and Hero approach their wedding day, their youth and brashness is telling.  For example, when Claudio learns of Hero’s alleged infidelity, there is no discrete option available.  Instead, Claudio chooses to storm away at the wedding ceremony itself, humiliating Hero and their guests.  Claudio does not begin to regret his decision, though, until he learns not only of the truth involving Don John, but also of Hero’s supposed death.  The anguish that follows is palpable, as Claudio suddenly grieves the very woman whom he loathed not days before.  It is a clichéd rollercoaster of emotions, as Claudio’s regret gives way to rejoicing upon sight of the resurrected Hero.  The two lovers hardly make amends as they decide to move onwards.

 

This emotional tension is contrasted with the verbal sparring that occurs between Benedick and Beatrice.  Here, none of the romanticized romance is present.  Even before Benedick is introduced on-screen, we learn of the friendly rivalry between he and Beatrice.  Their trading of insults is witty in all of the ways that Claudio and Hero’s love is not.  As well, the clever insults can be seen as symptomatic of a deeper intellectualism.  While we are treated to a seething Claudio and a sobbing Hero at the play’s climactic wedding scene, emotions do not reach such a crescendo with Benedick and Beatrice.  Interestingly enough, our insight into the older couple’s thoughts, particularly those of Benedick’s, points to their love being built on rationalization instead of impulse.  Benedick reasoning his love for Beatrice after overhearing the conversation in the garden, while humorous, points still towards the need for thought and care.

 

 

Similarities

So how, exactly, can each of these couples be reconciled not only amongst themselves but with the other couple as well?  It is worth noting that, in spite of each character’s maturity, their decision-making processes are severely limited; what little power they do have is increasingly manipulated by other characters throughout the acts.  We see this prominently with Claudio and Hero, where Don John orchestrates a scheme to make Claudio accuse Hero of infidelity.  Likewise, we find that Benedick and Beatrice, both among the most clever characters in the play, deceived by their friends.  Benedick is led to believe that Beatrice secretly loves him, and Beatrice is tricked into thinking that he loves her.

 

However, the schemers only explain part of the situation.  As well, we must consider how each of the relationships complements the other.  For Benedict and Beatrice, their love does not solidify and become public until in the wake of the disastrous wedding, when Beatrice makes Benedict promise to avenge Hero.  Similarly, we find Claudio having to deal with a funeral then a wedding, back-to-back, goaded into the situation in part by Benedict challenging him to a duel.  It could be said then that while love in this play is mostly manipulated, the bored supporting characters can only claim part of the credit.  While the relationships are propelled by those outside of the affair, it is the lovers themselves who steady one another and guide themselves towards a peaceful resolution by the end.  It is perhaps the most satisfying quality of Shakespeare’s play, that while the relationships are artificially manipulated, in the end they feel unforced, almost natural in appearance.

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