You know how when you’re bored you play fun pranks on your friends by convincing them that they are 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? Oh, maybe that’s just Shakespeare then. Much Ado About Nothing is a play about people who have too much time on their hands, and the mischief they get up to to quell their boredom. Out of these plot lines few are more hilarious than the saga of Beatrice and Benedict. They are the anti-Romeo and Juliet characters who use their wit and wordplay to hurt and despise 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’, we just need to know a little bit about her and the arc of her relationship with Benedick. Beatrice is fiery and quick witted. One of the most witty characters in all of Shakespeare’s canon. She is supremely intelligent, and this intelligence has led her to believe that there is no man in the world who could maintain her interest. Benedick is a clear example of such a man. She describes him early in the play as, “the prince’s jester: a very dull fool, only his gift is in devising impossible slanders.” It is clear she does not think much of him, she certainly does not think of him as a potential lover. Benedick shares this ‘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?
The companions of Beatrice and Benedick set about spinning this web of love, hoping to ensnare both of them in its knot. The characters are both very proud, and their intelligence (particularly in the case of Beatrice) would allow them to unpick any schemes if it was 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.
Requite: Return, (as in his love for her)
Incite: Invite and encourage
Bind/Holy band: Marriage
Reportingly: Rumour/ hear say
Coming forward and speaking to the audience:
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.
“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
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 nitpick 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.
This scene is, after all, a comedy. And with any comedy the challenge is to play the scene pursuing truth rather than farce. Even though this scene may be hard for the audience to believe, it is a really joyful exchange to watch. The actor playing Beatrice must avoid the temptation to play the farce or align with the audience’s doubts. This scene and monologue only works if Beatrice has utter dedication and belief of the information she has just heard.
The information of Benedick’s love needs to be SO far out of the realms of possibility for Beatrice. Benedick is an old friend of hers. They do not hate each other, but I think they have more of an unspoken agreement of keeping distance between them. They know that they will drive each other insane. The news that Benedick has turned to loving her must be so mind boggling for Beatrice to consider, and it is all she can do to decide to love him back.
This monologue and this character are fantastic for actors to play. They require us to be explosively emotional, quick witted and intelligent and to be able to truthfully play complete flips in what we stand for as characters. If you like this monologue, check out the rest of the play and learn more about Beatrice, she’s one of Shakespeare’s greatest characters.
Enjoy your exploration!