‘Much Ado about Nothing’, written in the late sixteenth century, intimates the expectations of men and women in this very patriarchal society despite Queen Elizabeth being on the throne. Shakespeare conveys characters with both traditional and atypical behaviours and views in this play. While the main plot of Much Ado revolves around obstacles to the union of two young lovers (Claudio and Hero), the plays sub-plot, the “merry war” of the sexes between Beatrice and Benedick, is much more interesting and entertaining by comparison, just emphasizing the use of contrast Shakespeare presents.
Beatrice is a very untraditional woman, who outwardly expresses her opinions with clever wit and humour which contradicts the idea that all women should be modest and reserved as Beatrice is quite the opposite. Beatrice develops preconceived notions of Benedick, undermining his skills as a soldier as well as insulting his reputation, as he is not there to defend himself and only the messenger present to support him. Whilst Beatrice and the messenger engage in this ‘skirmish of wit’ Beatrice insults Benedick’s stature calling him a ‘valiant trencherman’, this insinuates that he has no skill other than consuming the food that nobody else wants. We also learn of his reputation as a philanderer when she cleverly twists the messenger’s words to retaliate with ‘a good soldier to a lady’.
This behaviour was not thought acceptable of a lady in this time, for it was believed they should not be opinionated. Beatrice has very untraditional views on marriage, she’d rather hear a ‘dog bark at a crow’ than a man say he loves her, which is very unusual for a women in this era, as most women would go from obeying their father to obeying their husband, especially as Beatrice’s parents are not mentioned throughout the play. She turns down Don Pedro’s offer of marriage in spite his status saying he is too costly to ‘wear every day’, which endorses her opinion of only marrying for love and no less. Beatrice believes that she will live a content life alone on both and in heaven where she shall sit with bachelors and live ‘merry as the day is long’
Benedick shares similar view on marriage as Beatrice, as shown by his satisfaction with his life alone, despite being loved by all ladies (except perhaps Beatrice) and is hurt that he is becoming the only man to live his life as a bachelor. This is portrayed when asking Claudio if he is ‘to turn husband’ Benedick believes that the only way to avoid being cuckolded is not to marry at all, he will not do women wrong to ‘mistrust any’ and will do himself right to ‘trust none’. This was not an unusual opinion; however, Benedick states that he will never see ‘a bachelor of three-score again’ revealing that marriage is becoming more popular for men.
Benedick, during a soliloquy expresses strong feelings of hurt resulting from Beatrice’s words. He tells the reader that she speaks ‘poniards and every word stabs’. This powerful metaphor clearly conveys how Beatrice’s insults have hurt him, and how her words are daggers which cause him great pain. This also demonstrates how Benedick cares about what Beatrice thinks of him, for it to have as great an impact on him. To emphasise this he says she could have ‘made Hercules turn spit’ meaning that Beatrice would be able to belittle Hercules, despite him being a demi-god; she would also domesticate him because she is so powerful that one cannot defend oneself from her words. Benedick is not interested in the traditional values of women and humorously portrays his dislike for Hero, also stating that if it weren’t for Beatrice’s fury she exceeds Hero in beauty ‘as the first of May doth the last of December’.
In contrast Claudio, who once may have shared the views of Benedick on marriage, is now in favour of marrying Hero. He has transformed from a soldier into a traditional man of love. Claudio sees Hero as a very suitable wife, as she is modest and ‘sweet’ and is an only child meaning all her father’s property will be given to him as women could never own property in this era. Claudio becomes jealous when Don Jon tells him that Don Pedro has fallen in love with Hero, but he does not act upon his feelings to win her back which displays the authority and respect Don Pedro gains because of his birth right. There is a strong contrast between Beatrice and Benedick relationship and Claudio and Hero’s relationship; Benedick and Beatrice spend time conjuring mutual dislike for one another after an implied previous relationship mentioned by Beatrice: ‘he lent it me awhile’ referring to Benedict’s heart, whereas Hero says very little, if anything, to Claudio and yet he falls irrevocably in love with her.
Hero is a very typical woman of this period and this is highlighted further by the contrast of Beatrice, Hero rarely speaks, whereas there is only occasionally a scene where Beatrice cannot contain her opinion of the conversation topic. Claudio thinks Hero a ‘modest’ girl drawing attention to this particular feature as being the key features of a suitable wife. The contrast between Beatrice and Hero is clearly evident in their opposing attitudes to marriage; this is highlighted via Don Pedro. When Antonio asks her if she will be ‘ruled by her father’, her silence suggests her agreement with doing as her father pleases. This idea is then developed further when, talking to Hero about the possibility of Don Pedro’s offer of marriage, Leonato tells Hero that ‘you know your answer’. Again Hero’s silence suggests her agreement in marrying whoever her father wishes, however when Don Pedro actually asks Beatrice she turns him down, for having a much too high status. Although it may seem as if Hero has not an opinion to share or a sense of humour to exploit, she is seen mocking a masked Don Pedro, revealing that she does have a sense of humour but chooses not to use it, being in favour of the reputation of a modest, traditional lady unlike Beatrice.
So in conclusion we have two relationships which involve very different types of people with very different opinions, from the Elizabethan era. Hero and Claudio represent the very typical romantic relationship in which Hero is ruled by her father to marry whom he pleases and not for love necessarily, also Claudio attempt to woo Hero after the confirmation that she is a modest girl and is further enticed after discovering that she is her father’s only child. In contrast Benedick and Beatrice are very untraditional members of society in this era; Beatrice flaunts her opinion about everything and even mocks gentlemen such as Don Jon and Benedick which is quite unexpected of a Lady in the time, in addition she expresses often how she shall live a happy life alone and never marry. Benedick similarly wishes to never marry and matches Beatrice’s’ quick wit and so involves himself in a ‘skirmish of wit with her. With these characters, Shakespeare is able to create and humorous and exciting the play that manages to entice the audience throughout.