How does Shakespeare represent love in 'Much Ado About Nothing'?

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How does Shakespeare represent love in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’?

‘Much Ado About Nothing’ is a romantic comedy where the primary focus is marriage. There are three pairs of lovers. One is the idealised love of Hero and Claudio. Another is a love based on the exploration of each other’s character, Beatrice and Benedick. The last is the more earthy side of love, Margaret and Borachio, which is purely sexual.

In this essay I’m going to look at the relationship between Beatrice and Benedick, and Hero and Claudio.

Hero and Claudio represent an idealised love that was a widespread image of love in the early 1600’s. With Beatrice and Benedick we see a very different picture – a love/hate relationship.

While Claudio describes Hero as a “jewel” Benedick refers to Beatrice as “my dear Lady Disdain”. As Claudio and Hero whisper sweet nothings to one another Beatrice and Benedick bicker incessantly. (Compare “my cousin tells him in his ear that he is in her heart” with “if her breath were as terrible as her terminations, there were no living near her. ”)

Beatrice and Benedick are presented as equals in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ and seem destined to be together sooner or later. They are very alike and both have similar attitudes towards love by neither ever wanting to marry.

Beatrice says, “I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow, than a man swear he loves me.”

Benedick says “and I would I could find my heart that I had not a hard heart, for truly I love none.” This could be because of an earlier romantic attachment that neither wants to move on from.

They show an intriguing fascination with each other. In the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of the play they were never both on stage without some kind of intense exchange of words.  

Their relationship is an utter contrast to Hero and Claudio’s.

Beatrice’s first line in the play is asking whether Benedick has “return’d from the wars or no?”  This shows the audience straightaway that Beatrice has some sort of interest in Benedick.

Beatrice seems to loathe and despise Benedick as the quote “Scratching could not make it worse, and ‘twere such a face as yours were” shows. Her feelings seem very powerful – stronger than the “merry war” Leonato speaks of.

The next time Beatrice and Benedick meet is at the masque. This was usual entertainment in Elizabethan times where guests would wear masks or visors to hide their identity. Benedick thinks Beatrice does not recognise him but she does and uses this opportunity to have another small dig at Benedick. This dents his pride and makes him angry. When Beatrice reappears he asks Don Pedro to “command me any service to the world’s end… rather than hold three words’ conference with this harpy” showing he would go anywhere to get away. Would he still be this annoyed if he did not have feelings for Beatrice? This gives the audience more reason to link them together.

She then hints to Don Pedro that she and Benedick may have previously had a relationship by saying “Indeed my Lord, he lent it me a while, and I gave him use for it, a double heart for his single one, marry once before he won it of me, with false dice, therefore your Grace may well say I have lost it.” This confirms the idea that Beatrice and Benedick go back a long way and deep down still love with one another.

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If you compare how she talks to Don Pedro with how she talks to Benedick you can see she considers herself and Benedick to be equal in superiority but secondary to Don Pedro.

Benedick is the character the audience warms to. Beatrice is highly spoken of by other characters and Don Pedro asks her to marry him but she turns him down. We imagine she probably has someone else in mind.

It is then Don Pedro’s idea to get Beatrice and Benedick together.

At the beginning of Act 2:3 Benedick makes a long speech about the ...

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