In Much Ado about Nothing by Shakespeare, the opening scene portrays the soldiers returning from war in the renaissance era, and also highlights the excitement of impatient women as prince Aragon arrives. The play follows the structure of a romantic comedy, with the central plot focusing on two pairs of young lovers. The ultimate goal of the play is marriage and celebration, but there is a need for a dramatic threat to provide tension. Beatrice adds a touch of verbal and humorous wit, while Benedick’s arrival shifts the focus towards physical witty actions.
In the opening scene of the play, Beatrice’s first impression on the audience becomes evident. Initially, Leonato and the messenger engage in what appears to be a private conversation. Nevertheless, Beatrice interjects herself into the discussion. Her interruption of two men conversing illustrates her nosiness and lack of fear: “I pray you, Signor Montanto returned from the wars, or no?” This demonstrates her confidence and strength as she is able to interrupt Leonato, an influential character in the play.
This passage demonstrates Beatrice’s indifference towards others’ opinions of her. It also presents Beatrice’s scornful manner of speaking about Benedick and her defiant challenge to traditional gender roles by mockingly calling him “Signor Montanto.” Shakespeare cleverly uses language to reveal important aspects of Beatrice’s character, as evidenced by her insulting remark toward Benedick. The term “Montanto,” used by Beatrice, denotes arrogance and self-importance.
Beatrice’s opinion of Benedick is made clear through her choice of words and sarcasm. By calling him “Signor Montanto,” she intensifies the insult, revealing her strong dislike for him. This is further illustrated in Kenneth Branough’s film adaptation, where Beatrice is shown sitting alone, rejecting the patriarchal society and refusing to engage in celebration. This portrayal suggests that Benedick is merely a womanizer, undermining and emasculating his character.
Beatrice continues to taunt the messenger by using wordplay to mock Benedick. She remarks, “And a good soldier too, lady. And a good soldier to a lady, but what is he to a lord?” Her playful manipulation of language and quick responses signal her desire for attention and her ability to think on her feet. The quote ‘And a good soldier to a lady’ suggests that Benedick is only interested in sex and is not a skilled fighter. This deliberate undermining occurs through their witty exchanges and banter, as they engage in verbal sparring rather than meeting face-to-face. Beatrice demonstrates her triumph to the audience, while Benedick gains the upper hand only when he is present.
This passage discusses the characterization of Beatrice in Branough’s film version of the story. In this version, Beatrice is portrayed as physically isolated from others, not because she is not celebrating or because she is a malcontent or pessimist, but because she wants to be the center of attention. The film further illustrates this by showing that Beatrice’s facial expressions indicate that she is not being serious, but rather making her statements knowingly. Leonato’s response, putting his hand on the messenger, suggests that he is not offended and sees the humor in Beatrice’s remarks. Beatrice is portrayed as insincere but humorous, intentionally playing to the audience to ensure that she is the focus of attention.
Teasing the messenger while showcasing her wit, Beatrice engages in an argument with Benedick during the scene. Shakespeare’s skill and cleverness shine through in the insults exchanged between the two. Beatrice sarcastically questions Benedick’s continued talking, implying that nobody is paying attention to him. She interrupts a conversation between Benedick and Don Pedro, being the first to launch insults. This displays her interest in Benedick’s words, despite her earlier dismissal. By interrupting and insulting him, Beatrice seeks his attention and wants to be noticed.
Without a doubt, Benedick responds to her with a taunting remark, stating “what my dear lady disdain! Are you yet living?” This condescending comment towards Beatrice implies that she holds a contemptuous attitude towards others and considers herself superior to them. Furthermore, by sarcastically adding the word “lady,” he mocks her, suggesting that she excels at looking down on people. In essence, Benedick claims that she is arrogant and, interestingly, the insult he employs bears the same meaning as the insult Beatrice had previously directed at him as “signor Montanto.”
The text demonstrates that both characters have similar personalities as they both express the same sentiment. In the film adaptation, Benedick’s actions reveal his desire to be the center of attention as he approaches the center. His playful demeanor is evidenced by the rakish slant. The moment is captured through a close up shot, followed by a reaction shot of Emma Thompson’s character, Beatrice. Initially, Beatrice reacts with a smile, but the close up on her eyes suggests that it is forced and carries a judgemental tone. Beatrice seeks eye contact with Benedick, but he purposefully avoids her gaze, aware of an impending confrontation.
The juxtaposition of intimacy and attraction mixed with repulsion is evident in Benedick’s choice to walk behind Beatrice. The banter between the two also takes on a physical dimension, causing hurt for Beatrice: “it is certain I am loved of all ladies, only you excepted… I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he love me”. Benedick’s statement that all women love him except for Beatrice reveals his arrogance and vanity, which the audience can pick up on. It suggests that Beatrice is abnormal for not loving him, implying there must be something wrong with her. These remarks make Benedick come across as conceited and unpleasant in the audience’s view. Additionally, another insult from Beatrice is when she says, “I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he love me”. The comparison to a dog barking at a crow conveys a repulsive and unpleasant sound.
Beatrice expresses her preference for hearing a loud noise rather than a man confessing love for her. This statement implies that Beatrice may have had negative experiences with men in the past. In the film adaptation, Beatrice initially believes she has won the argument, but Benedick cleverly counters her with a cunning maneuver, seeking validation from the crowd’s laughter and applause. Eventually, Benedick responds to Beatrice’s accusation by employing a similar maneuver, stating, “You always end with a jade’s trick.” The argument concludes at this point.
Both Beatrice and Benedick have a similar outlook and personality as they engage in a game of insults back and forth, suggesting they may have known each other before. Beatrice’s line, “You always end with a jade’s trick. I know you of old,” further implies a long-standing familiarity between them.
Also, the meaning of the word “always” suggests that Beatrice must possess a deep understanding of Benedick’s typical behavior and speech patterns. Consequently, this revelation would heighten the audience’s excitement and engagement with the play. Additionally, it would also pique their curiosity since they now realize there exists a shared history between Beatrice and Benedick. When Beatrice mentions “with jades trick,” it characterizes Benedick as obstinate. This implied belief by Beatrice portrays Benedick as someone who is stubborn and consistently seeks to have the final say. In the film adaptation, Benedick departs after uttering his final comment while Beatrice softly whispers to herself, “You always end with a jade’s trick.”
“I know you of old”. As mentioned before, these two characters have many similarities. They are both stubborn and argumentative, confident and intimidating. Their sharp-tongued remarks towards each other are quick and clever. Additionally, they share a mutual interest in each other, although they may not be aware of it yet. This is evident to the audience and other characters in the play. At this point, the audience would have certain expectations for the couple.
After the revelation of Beatrice and Benedick’s love for each other, the subsequent deception is referred to as the ‘trick’. Despite their newfound feelings, their witty and chatty personalities prevail, as expected. Once the trick is uncovered and misunderstandings are resolved, the wedding scene unfolds. Instead of openly confessing their love for one another, Beatrice and Benedick cleverly express their affection through jokes and banter, which is in line with their usual behavior. They purposely deny their love for each other, ultimately seeking attention.