Before Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy there were Beatrice and Benedick and before Pride and Prejudice there was Much Ado About Nothing. It’s my favourite Shakespearean comedy and one of the finest examples of courting every portrayed. Not for me the verbal chastity of Ophelia or the demure quietness of Violet. No indeed. I’m all the mischievous outspokenness that is Beatrice. I stand in awe of her sharp raillery and unabated cheerfulness. She is one cool lady.
I suffer from a severe case of friend crush. I ache to ask her over for tea and biscuits every day. She exudes a certain je ne sais quoi. The comical intensity of verbal exchanges between her and Benedick is unprecedented. I enjoy their scenes so much, namely because sparks are flying like swallows during mating season. The thing is that the sly cad had toyed with her feelings in the past, so Beatrice reserves herself the right to plague him to death, which is nothing less than he (or any other unscrupulous swindler) deserves.
The tension is sustained by their incessant verbal sparring. They’re equals, although I would give Beatrice the edge for her (almost excessive) linguistic creativity. Oh, how she taxes the poor man. It’s delightful. The sheer confluence of biting sarcasm, wilful comments and mordant wit leaves me in semantic raptures.
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 turncoat. 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, and ’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.
I think I’ve just reached a lexical nirvana. I need a moment to collect myself.
I find theirs the perfect courtship, I particularly like the way the entire scheme is brought about. I don’t set much store by love potions, so you see I’m not up for Puck or some other male fairy spiking a girl’s drink with the renaissance variety of a rape-drug. Luckily, our B &B power couple run with a completely different crowd. Their friends are not blind to their chemistry. In fact, they decide to speed things up by tricking the love birds into believing that they are lovesick for one another. How quickly we are prepared to believe what pleases us.
Basically, plot-wise this is a precursor of modern rom-coms, the difference being that the writing here is actually good (I can see a posthumous Tony nomination coming old Will’s way). As in most of his comedies, Shakespeare provides a foil couple to our two protagonists. In our play this honour belongs to his-and-her’s best friends. The girl is Beatrice’s cousin Hero (a strange name for a girl, I know!) and the boy is Claudius, Benedick’s soldier buddy. These two hit it off from the start, but as usual the playwright prodigy satirizes love at first sight and exposes it as a common romantic trope. He does the same thing in The Taming of the Shrew and in Twelfth Night, which leads me to believe that Shakespeare didn’t believe in first impressions either (wise man that he was).
In fact, the recurring theme (and possibly, moral) of this comedy, if you care to find it, is that looks can be deceiving. The play makes this clear on several levels: Hero is not really the heroine (she didn’t commit any indiscretions) and sexual attraction should not be confused with true love. Feelings and characters are all ultimately unmasked. Was the Bard trying to get a message across?