How does Shakespeare present the relationship of Beatrice and Benedick in "Much Ado About Nothing" and how has Kenneth Branagh interpreted this in his 1993 film version?

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How does Shakespeare present the relationship of Beatrice and Benedick in “Much Ado About Nothing” and how has Kenneth Branagh interpreted this in his 1993 film version?

“Much Ado About Nothing” is a comedy.  Shakespeare’s comedies often involve tragedy, betrayal and love.  They always have a happy ending, often with a marriage.  Beatrice and Benedick’s relationship is supposed to be the sub-plot, as Hero and Claudio’s relationship is the main plot in this play.  However, Beatrice and Benedick’s relationship seems much more interesting.  As it is so unconventional and humorous, people who watch this play follow their development more closely.

Shakespeare connects Beatrice and Benedick through echoes and links.  Their names are actually linked; Beatrice’s name means ‘she who blesses’, and Benedick’s name means ‘he who is blessed’.  The insulting names they call each other also echo.  She calls him “Signor Mountanto”, suggesting that he is proud and arrogant, and he calls her “Lady Disdain”, suggesting that she is contemptuous and scornful.  Their personalities are very similar, since both are extremely confident and outspoken.  At the time this play was written, these characteristics were very unconventional.  Women were meant to be submissive and acquiescent.  Even the men were not supposed to be quite as disrespectful as Benedick is at times.  An example of their similar personalities is seen when they first meet each other in the play.  They trade insults over a petty matter and are unafraid to say exactly what they think of each other in front of their audience.  Beatrice says, “I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me”, to which Benedick replies, “God keep your ladyship till in that mind, so some gentleman or other shall scape a predestinate scratched face”.  

Branagh presents this first conflict by focusing on Beatrice and Benedick alternatively, giving a ‘ping-pong’ effect.  As they fire insults at each other, the pace of the argument increases and the camera follows them.  Their eyes are locked, as they intensely concentrate on each other.  They are both so similar, making the development of their relationship comical.  

It is mentioned briefly by Shakespeare that there has been a past link between Beatrice and Benedick.  Towards the end of their first argument, Beatrice says, “You always end with a jade’s trick: I know you of old”.  In the film, Beatrice says this in a sad, sorrowful tone.  Beatrice later explains that she had given him her heart once before, but Benedick only lent his and then took it back.  She says, “he lent it me a while, and I gave him use for it, a double heart for his single one”.  It seems that this is where the arguments, conflicts and firing of insults have derived from; they are defensive mechanisms used to protect themselves from the hurt they might undergo if their hidden feelings for each other are revealed.  However, they do get hurt, for example, Benedick says, “she speaks poniards, and every word stabs”.  

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Shakespeare describes Beatrice and Benedick’s relationship as a “merry war” and “a skirmish of wit”.  They throw insults, harsh words and names at each other throughout most of the play.  At the ball, Beatrice knows that the man she is talking to, who is hiding behind a mask, is in fact Benedick.  However, Benedick does not realise that she knows who he is.  At this time, Benedick has already told Beatrice that he thinks she is “disdainful” and has her “good wit out of The Hundred Merry Tales”.  Beatrice decides that this would be a perfect moment to express ...

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