Discuss how Shakespeare creates the character of Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing

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GCSE English and English Literature- Shakespeare                                   

Discuss how Shakespeare creates the character of Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing 

Much Ado About Nothing is a romantic comedy by William Shakespeare. The play was first published in 1600 and first performed in the winter of 1598-99. It is set in the picturesque and scenic town of Messina in Italy. Leonato, the governor of Messiana, lives with three relatives. Hero, his shy and “short” daughter, Beatrice his witty niece, who is an orphan and lastly his elderly brother Antonio. The play follows the lives of the two couples, Benedick and Beatrice and Claudio and Hero. In the first scene, Claudio declares his love for Hero to his best friend Benedick, whom after his argument with Beatrice expresses his extreme dislikeness for the very idea and love in general. Don Pedro (the prince of Aragon) along with the other characters, decide to spend their week in Messina to get their close friends Benedick and Beatrice to stop arguing and declare there love for each other, as they are clearly made for each other. Benedick, who is alone in the orchard at the time, considers the changes he can see in Claudio’s character now he’s in love with Hero. Meanwhile, Don Pedro, Leonato and Claudio set the trap, which will completely reform Benedick’s character. They pretend to talk amongst themselves, knowing full well Benedick is listening. They discuss how Beatrice is “madly in love” with Benedick. He falls for the trick in an instant and almost becomes a new person. The same trick is then played on Beatrice by her cousin and her maid. Based on a rumor, Claudio disgraces Hero later on in the play for loosing her virginity before marriage, she then faints and Claudio and Don Pedro exit the stage. The friar and Benedick recommend Leonato to pretend Hero is dead, to allow time to think how the mess can be solved. After, Beatrice and Benedick are left on the stage together and declare there strong and true love for each other. Beatrice summons Benedick to a very difficult task, to kill Claudio. Later on, Benedick goes up to Don Pedro and Claudio and tells them Hero is innocent and that Claudio is immature and has killed a “sweet and innocent lady”. He then challenges Claudio warning him he will be seeing him again. In act 5, Benedick continues to flirt with Beatrice; however she is far more interested in Claudio. In the final scene, Benedick and Beatrice declare their love to everyone in the play at last and plan their wedding. Claudio and Hero also plan to get married.

In the first lighthearted scene, Shakespeare introduces us to Benedick and the audience immediately gets the impression he is an intellectual man and extremely witty with language. Shakespeare evokes this idea through Beatrice and Benedicks small but significant argument. Beatrice begins the argument by informing Benedick that “nobody marks (him) you”. For an Elizabethan audience this would have been rather humorous, we must remember during this time period men were far more superior to women and dominated society in most nations. It would have been a huge embarrassment if a man were to be challenged by a woman, even more so if he lost. However, this time the audience see Benedick prevail, although it appears a great challenge to over power her, “Benedick: God keep your lady ship still in that mind! So some gentleman or other shall ‘scape a predestinate scratched face” Beatrice, unlike most Elizabethan women, snipes back to gain autonomy over Benedick, “Scratching could not make it worse an t’were such a face as yours were”. And it continues like this for a while, both sniping back until eventually, Benedick says “I would my horse have the speed of your tongue”. This stops Beatrice and she surrenders to him. Maybe Shakespeare is trying to illustrate to us through Beatrice’s character, that even though we had a strong and powerful female monarch at this time, men were still in control. At this early stage, the audience can already tell this is going to be a comedy focusing on this troubled but flirtatious couple. The lighthearted atmosphere reinforces this idea. For an Elizabethan audience, the term “comedy”, often meant that in most cases there was going to be a wedding at the end, so the ending would not surprise them as much today’s audience.

But why does Benedick show so much detestation towards Beatrice? This scene only shows the audience Benedick’s and Beatrice’s present relationship but if the reader studies this scene carefully, they can gather enough information to explain why they are like this. The audience can tell there is a history between the couple when Beatrice says “I know you of old”. By using this quote, Shakespeare has engaged us and we soon want to read on and find out more about this troubled couples past. When Benedick tells Beatrice he is “loved of all the ladies” only Beatrice “excepted”. Not only does this term suggest they have a past, but have had an argument and fallen out of love. Also, by using the term “truly” loves none; Shakespeare has helped us understand that Benedick is so set in his ways that even if a woman were to love him he couldn’t possibly love her back. Why is he so afraid of love? Shakespeare has now made it clear to us that Benedick at this stage is very excited his joking around and thinks allot of him self for winning the war and is very triumphant. Also the brevity of this quote suggests Benedick’s has given into the idea of love, and is certain of his thoughts.

Claudio has a very important role in Benedicks character development, and help shapes his character before his dramatic reform later on. Later on in scene one, Benedick asks Claudio if he has “any intent to turn husband?”. Perhaps Shakespeare wants us to see here that Benedick is very fond or Claudio and that he considers them to be good friends, and his looking out for him. Benedick is clearly worried for his friend. However, more questions remain in the audience’s minds. Is this concern on Claudio’s behalf? Or is it just jealousy? Its certain he is against this possible marriage between Claudio and Hero. Maybe Benedicks scared of loosing Claudio to a woman, his enemy. He lost Beatrice, his worried he will loose his best friend too. Claudio really brings out Claudio’s strong detestation towards love, marriage and women. Shakespeare uses Hero to show this. Benedick refers to her as “ too low for a high praise” the use of this term suggests she is small and unworthy, making Benedick feel his has yet again the upper hand over a women. He also says she is “too little for a great praise”, which turns us to think she is nothing special. This quote ends with Benedick expressing the fact he does not “like her”. This conversation with Claudio makes the change later on in the play even more dramatic and without this interaction; we would understand Benedicks character before reform as fully as we do.

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After the audience have encountered this conversation, we see yet another in this scene. However this time, Don Pedro is involved. This does not bring any new aspects of Benedicks character however concludes his great dislike ness towards marriage and women. By the end of this scene the audience knows Benedicks thoughts and opinions on topic thoroughly. They begin with discussing the possible marriage between Claudio and Hero, “Don Pedro: Amen, if you love her; for the lady is very well worthy”. After, Benedick expresses his opinion about the situation again, and Benedick explains why he is so afraid ...

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