You know how when you’re bored, you play fun pranks on your friends by convincing them that they’re in love with each other by gossiping? But then they actually DO fall in love with each other even though they kinda hate each other? No? Maybe that’s just Shakespeare then…
Updated 17th January, 2022.
Much Ado About Nothing is a play about people who have far too much time on their hands, and the mischief they get up to to quell their boredom. Two of these people are frenemies Beatrice and Benedick, who use their considerable wits and shared love of wordplay to hurt one another. Who better than these two to bewilder and trick with a prank of love?
In order to understand this monologue, and this explosive realisation of Beatrice’s, we just need to know a little bit about her and the arc of her relationship with Benedick. Beatrice is fiery, driven by her own high standard of morals and sense of goodness. What’s more, she is one of the wittiest characters in all of Shakespeare’s canon. She is supremely intelligent; this intelligence has led her to believe that there is no man in the world who could maintain her interest. And when Benedick first appears on the scene, this is exactly her opinion of him: “the prince’s jester: a very dull fool, only his gift is in devising impossible slanders.” Benedick shares a ‘merry war’ with Beatrice, exclaiming, “if her breath were as terrible as her terminations, there were no living near her; she would infect to the north star.” The characters surrounding these two anti-lovers see, in their stubbornness, a plot: how can we make these two fall in love?
Both characters are very proud, and their intelligence (particularly in the case of Beatrice) would allow them to unpick any scheme laid out before them in conversation. Instead, the characters decide to gossip about the unrequited love each of the characters have for one another. First, Benedick is ensnared by his friends as he conveniently overhears them speaking of Beatrice’ love for Benedick. He quickly flips his long-standing pledge to remain a bachelor and decides he will love her too. Beatrice falls into the same hole. Her friends trick her into spying on their conversation, and gossip about the desperate love Benedick feels for her. What follows is the shock and disbelief of this monologue.
What fire is in mine ears? Can this be true?
Stand I condemn’d for pride and scorn so much?
Contempt, farewell! And maiden pride, adieu!
No glory lives behind the back of such.
And, Benedick, love on; I will requite thee,
Taming my wild heart to thy loving hand:
If thou dost love, my kindness shall incite thee
To bind our loves up in a holy band;
For others say thou dost deserve, and I
Believe it better than reportingly.
Even in a relatively short Shakespearean speech, it is important to know the meaning of every word and phrase contained within. This is especially true of a character like Beatrice, who uses language to convey not only meaning—but her personality as well.
What fire is in mine ears?: ‘Fire’ relates to the scandal of the conversation. The tea, if you will.
Requite: Return, (as in Benedick’s love for her).
Incite: Invite and encourage.
Holy band: A wedding ring, symbolic of marriage.
Reportingly: Rumour/ hear say
What have I just heard? How can this be true?
Am I really criticised that much for being proud and scornful?
Well, goodbye hate and pride!
No good is spoken of that type of person behind their back.
Benedick – keep loving me. I will return this love.
I will tame my wild heart for your loving hand.
If you do really love me, I will be kind to you and invite this love further
In doing so we will bind our loves up in marriage.
Other people say you deserve my love,
and I believe that to be true – even more so than it has been spoken by these gossipers.
Notes On Performance
“Our talk must only be of Benedick.
When I do name him, let it be thy part
To praise him more than ever man did merit.
My talk to thee must be how Benedick
Is sick in love with Beatrice. Of this matter
Is little Cupid’s crafty arrow made,
That only wounds by hearsay.”
Hero, Much Ado About Nothing Act 3 Scene 1
So begins Hero’s plan, speaking to her attendant Ursula… The revelations in this moment for Beatrice are many. Of course, she is most stunned by the fact that Benedick—a long-outspoken critic of hers—is in love with her. But in the moments before this speech, she also discovers the opinions her friends hold about her character. Her friends know Beatrice well, and know that even though she may be tough, certain tactics and rhetoric will make her begin to doubt herself and her behaviour. They say that if she were to hear of Benedick’s love she would make fun of him AND them for telling her so. She would criticise and nit-pick every detail of Benedick’s character and make any of his qualities look bad.
Hearing this, Beatrice must be experiencing a lot of things. She must be feeling a mixture of hurt, disbelief and excitement at all of this news. Her friends are right to target her pride, for it is this pride which seeks to prove her friends wrong and love Benedick.
The challenge of this monologue is to play it pursuing truth rather than farce—almost to play against the comedy and the ridiculousness of the situation. This scene may be hard for the audience to believe, but if it is played as an extraordinary moment of learning from Beatrice, it becomes a joy to watch unfold. The news that Benedick has turned to loving her must be so mind-boggling for Beatrice to even consider, that it somewhat excuses her equally bizarre reaction: to decide to love him back.
This monologue and this character are fantastic fun for any actor to tackle. They require explosive emotions, quick wit and intelligence, and to be able to truthfully play complete flips in what Beatrice stands for. If you like this monologue, check out the rest of the play and learn more about Beatrice, including her fiery, explosive request of Benedick in Act 4 when they (SPOILERS) finally declare their love.
Enjoy your exploration!