The darkness at the heart of Much Ado About Nothing | Culture | The Guardian
When she passed away in Dante was about 25 and overcome with grief The Relationship between Beatrice and Benedick in Shakespeare's Much Ado. Beatrice has a general objection to marriage, even jokes that she won't When you talk about the past I'm assuming you mean the previous relationship Beatrice and Benedick had? It seemed to have been pretty traumatic. Beatrice and Benedick seem to have been lovers in the past, but now challenge each other only with words. Indeed, Benedick swears he'll.
For him, the war is an idealized past in the context of the disruptive and disrupting world of comedy, and the past is ordered by recourse to the language of military discipline honestly, plainness and by his selective memory. His rigid binaries — plain speech vs.
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But Benedick is concerned with war and peace not as abstracts, but as forces that shape subjectivity: Like Benedick, Richard envisions the soldier transitioning from the field to the boudoir, but unlike Benedick, he imagines this transition as a desirable one.
He anticipates his own involvement in a similarly lascivious scene even as he asserts his status as outsider and Vice figure. Soldierly rhetorical shifts may augur social shifts. To turn is necessarily to turn away from, to reposition oneself in relationship to others. Thus far can I praise him: This account of his character draws on outmoded understandings of chivalry in suggesting that nobility, valor, and honesty are values on a continuum.
But far from a common soldier, Benedick is here deemed a noble pseudo-knight, a figure that harkens back to an older system that also encodes him as a worthy lover. Although his supposed suitability as a husband is largely informed by his military commendations in 1.
But now I am returned, and that war-thoughts Have left their places vacant, in their rooms Come thronging soft and delicate desires, All prompting me how fair young Hero is, Saying that I liked her ere I went to wars. This theatrical metaphor figures Claudio as an actor who speaks upon cue. And in fact, he does not even speak for himself: He is hardly the lover that the Prince envisions in Act 1: Far from the excited and determined lover, Claudio is only marginally more invested in this role than Benedick.
Indeed, we might note that the Prince himself is at odds with both the realms of the militaristic and the civic: Thou wilt be like a lover presently And tire the hearer with a book of words. If thou dost love fair Hero, cherish it, And I will break with her and with her father, And thou shalt have her. The forgetfulness of a theatrical audience might be productive. Rather, these divergent narratives point to a problem concerning how the values of war inform masculine character, a problem that also plays out beyond the group of returned soldiers.
Harry Berger famously figured these men as a profoundly bonded homosocial group: In the opening moments of the film, the returned soldiers approach the city on horseback. They are dressed in military uniform.
When they enter the gates of Messina, they do so in a triangular, pseudo-military formation that suggests cohesion and the sublimation of individual identity to the collective. Yet while the soldiers arrive as a collective in the play, and are understood as such by the inhabitants of Messina, this group is hardly bonded.
Much Ado lacks the intimate masculine friendships of much of Shakespearean drama, particularly those friendships that are forged in wartime. None of the characters articulate an affection for one another such as that between Horatio and Hamlet, Leontes and Polixenes, or even Iago and Othello. Claudio and Benedick are opposites, not intimates, and their divergent approaches to narrating their war-selves emphasize this divide.
Consuming Masculine Post-War Character Although the soldiers are welcomed with open arms by most, the play allows for one powerful dissenting voice — that of Beatrice — that further complicates post-war masculine character in the play. Simply put, Beatrice wants to eat Benedick, the man that remembers, and Claudio, the man that forgets, and her cannibalistic discourse constitutes a figurative attempt to obliterate post-war masculine character.
It is appropriate that her challenge to these returned soldiers should take the form of an obsession with consumption, given the resonances in early modern England between eating and the destruction of men in war. Falstaff also imagines himself as food: In his relentless voiding out of the value of human life in the context of combat, Falstaff represents one of the chief critics of war in the Henry IV plays, as well as one of the darkest and, at times, the most ethically compromised.
The loss of life generated by combat both literally and figuratively generates feasts. But Benedick does not realize that Beatrice controls the potential for cannibalism in the play. But how many hath he killed? Here, Beatrice links cannibalism to poor military service. He is a very valiant trencher-man: Her bawdy quibble foregrounds the homoerotics of the battlefield and suggests that the chief relationships in this play are, and will continue to be, those between lords and lords, not between lords and ladies.
Read as a violation of man against man, the supposed cuckolding of Claudio by Borachio perpetuates the domestic refiguration of masculine battlefield struggles. In so doing, she appeals to a very real early modern anxiety regarding masculine friendship and sodomy, both in and out of war.
Explore the relationships between Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing
Very little, it would seem, as the play fails to show the masculine intimacy about which she quibbles. In her first encounter with Benedick and the other returned soldiers, Beatrice figures herself as perpetually sustained by his body: What, my dear Lady Disdain! Are you yet living? Is it possible disdain should die while she hath such meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick?
Courtesy itself must convert to disdain if you come in her presence. In Act 4, she teases Benedick that one may eat words as well as human subjects: By my sword, Beatrice, thou lovest me! Do not swear and eat it. I will swear by it that you love me, and I will make him eat it that says I love not you. Will you not eat your word?
With no sauce that can be devised for it. Ultimately, Benedick pushes back against this role as a consumer of words, and Beatrice reclaims it for herself, refiguring consumption as a physical and bodily form of revenge. O that I were a man! What, bear her in hand until they come to take hands, and then with public accusation, uncovered slander, unmitigated rancour?
O God, that I were a man!
I would eat his heart in the marketplace. Indeed, the threat of cannibalism pervades the play: Beatrice also imagines Don John as a dish that gives heartburn 2.
But for Montaigne, cannibalism is not a primitive practice of the racialized Other; it is a metaphor for the violence of the European. In this sense, Montaigne has much in common with Beatrice, for he, too, imagines the practice of cannibalism as a way of understanding the immediate world, not an exotic space or place of otherness. The most famous staging of cannibalism in the Shakespearean canon is the dinner party at the end of Titus Andronicus c. In all these cases, cannibalism is rendered a banal and everyday activity.
It is also associated with the comical and the humorous. Raymond Rice maintains that her cannibalistic impulses are circumscribed by the community in which she plays a role: Ultimately, Claudio is forced to occupy the very social role he spoke of with such ambivalence in his earlier musings on his antebellum and wartime selves. I would like to thank J. And I would like to thank John Archer, Dean Franco, and Philip Kuberski, who generously read drafts of this essay and offered comments. These cultural negotiations were crucial to the development of a theater that was bound up in pleasure and affect but, as Greenblatt argues, they pose a challenge to the critic as they have been obscured by the passage of time.
His project is recuperative; he attempts to recover these negotiations. To modulate is to generate modes of representation that are virtually mandated by genre. In my attention to comedy, I also depart from many fine contemporary studies of Shakespeare and war that take the historical context of actual wars of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries as their focus.
While these real conflicts no doubt informed the representation of militarism on the Shakespearean stage, it is equally important to attend to what genre enables and disables with regards to the representation of war. On pre-modern and early modern cultural understandings of subjectivity in relationship to the violence of combat, see Feather. For Boas, such a failure to conform led to problems with categorization.
And for more on the complex relationship between tragedy and comedy, see Frye, who focuses on tragedy in comedy, and Snyder, who focuses on comedy in tragedy. Certainly, examinations of the darker elements of comedy have tended to foreground the question of violence.
The seminal studies of comedy and holiday have likewise tended to concentrate on the disruptive elements of comedy, both to an individual and to a society as a whole, without considering more completely how comedy regulates and controls representation. See Bakhtin; Bristol; and Laroque. Lynne Magnusson also notes the extent to which Shakespearean comedy foregrounds social structures: She, for her part, did not manage to inspire quite the same emotion in him.
That became evident, it seems, when he showed disloyalty to her after initially pledging his faith to her. But unlike the Plautine braggart, Benedick is truly a martial hero and his engagement to Beatrice to fight Claudio is real. Now all is well: In this moment, we see Benedick struggling with the extent to which comedy, the system in which he is obligated to participate, places sexual desire and the body front and center. And yet, as the trajectory from classical to contemporary war protagonists so clearly shows, to consider people in their relation to war is, equally inevitably, to see these categories disintegrating and losing their force.
If marriage is the object of romantic comedy, it is the comedic equivalent of the rise of the Tudors in a historical context. Characters in Shakespearean drama often say that they have forgotten things. Barbara Everett identifies a historical corollary for him, which suggests that his name would likely have invoked ambivalent audience feelings about Spain: And for a fine examination of the figure of the returned solider, see Somogyi, Chapter 1: They did, of course, want the war to be stopped, but this was not for humanitarian or ideological reasons.
This argument has implications for the relevance of the war in the play, for if it is simply the absence of the men that is at stake, any activity that took them from home would be equally objectionable. The position of the woman in relationship to the polis is an ambivalent one in Greek comedy and tragedy, as many critics have noted. Supposedly sequestered in the realm of the private and domestic the oikosfemale characters often intrude into public, political life.
For an analysis of the structure of Renaissance comedy in relationship to classical forms, see Levenson. Works Cited Baker, Simon. Edinburgh University Press, Rabelais and His World. Indiana University Press, Essays in Honor of S. University of Delaware Press, Making Trifles of Terrors: Redistributing complicities in Shakespeare.
Stanford University Press, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Shakespeare and His Predecessors.
In any case, the first exchange between Beatrice and Benedick, witty though it is, allows the audience to know how powerful is the attraction between them, and leaves each lightly wounded. The play follows the progression of our two more conventional lovers, the negotiations between the parties, and the preparations for the masked ball. At this ball, through the good services of Don Pedro, the young couple are betrothed with a little hiccup here and there ; Beatrice and Benedick manage to dance with each other, masked, and in this disguise she tells him what an idiot Benedick is and how no one respects him.
The play begins to darken and lighten. On the light side, the men persuade Benedick that Beatrice is in love with him, and to save her life, he decides to open his heart and allow himself to love her. So he arranges for Claudio to watch in the orchard two people making love on the balcony. Shakespeare liked repeating his plots in different ways—though the repetitions may have had more to do with the fixed nature of the playhouse and what was possible to enact. His wounded pride and cuckolded spirit lead him to plan a public and irretrievable condemnation of Hero.
Benedick does not go with them—which is unusual, because one of his fellow officers has been humiliated, and the honorable action would be to join him. Leonato, for his part, believes the officers, and not his daughter.
He wants her dead. Death is the fairest cover for her shame That may be wished for. She may be telling the truth. They will say that she is dead. Everyone leaves the church except Beatrice. She weeps at the altar in shame, rage, and helpless- ness about being a woman. As a man of real honor, Benedick will use his superior place in society to rectify this injustice; and if he truly loves, he will love the whole of her, with no caveats.
I do it freely. And, as Nigel likes to point out, he goes first. He says he loves her before he knows for sure how she feels about him. Even though he thinks Claudio is mistaken, he will not violate the officer honor by fighting his best friend.