Ladies and Gentlemen, please fasten your seatbelts, stow your tray tables and put your seats in the upright position as we are experiencing some unexpected turbulence. We are right at the climax of the play, Much Ado About Nothing. All the plots, emotions and misunderstandings are coming to a head and reacting to one another like a match to a stick of dynamite- and who better to meet this explosive moment than Beatrice, one of Shakespeare’s most fiery, quick witted and passionate characters.
A lot of factors have contributed to the moment where we meet Beatrice and Benedick alone, as she asks him to right the wrongs done by Claudio. We have just come from the wedding of Hero and Claudio, two characters who should’ve been married happily ever after, were it not for the scheming done by the villain Don John. Don John has laid a plot to upset the merriment of those around him. He has planted a seed of suspicion in Claudios mind and spun a spider’s web of lies and tricks to make Claudio think that Hero is unfaithful. Claudio waits until they are literally at the altar to publicly humiliate and accuse Hero, causing Hero to faint. The men associated with Claudio and Don John’s plot storm out of the church, leaving Hero for dead.
Benedick, being more concerned with his love for Beatrice than his friendship with Claudio, supports and comforts Beatrice after this terrible scene. These two have had plots of a different sort laid against them, with their friends tricking the both of them and making one fall in love with the other. Right before Beatrice’s speech, the two confess their undying love to each other. It is a moment of passion and the fireworks of love. Benedick says he would do anything in the world for her, and tells her to bid him do it. Beatrice tells him one request- Kill Claudio. Kill the man who has wronged her friend, Hero, who is innocent. Put aside your friendship with this man and prove to me you stand for something good and true in this world. Monologue
Kill Claudio! You kill me to deny it. Farewell. I am gone, though I am
here: there is no love in you: nay, I pray you, let me go. In faith, I will go. You
dare easier be friends with me than fight with my enemy. Is Claudio not
approved in the height a villain, that hath slandered, scorned, dishonoured
my kinswoman? 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
market-place. Talk with a man out at window! A proper saying! Sweet Hero!
She is wronged, she is slandered, she is undone. Princes and counties!
Surely, a princely testimony, a goodly count, Count Comfect; a sweet
gallant surely! O that I were a man for his sake! Or that I had any friend
would be a man for my sake! But manhood is melted into courtesies, valour
into compliment, and men are only turned into tongue, and trim ones too :
he is now as valiant as Hercules that only tells a lie and swears it. I cannot
be a man with wishing, therefore I will die a woman with grieving.
Slandered: Damaging someone’s reputation
Scorned: an expression of contempt or disdain for someone or something.
Kinswoman: a woman who is one of a person’s blood relations.
Bear her in hand: Of Claudio – pretend everything is fine, keep her in the dark until they are at the altar
Rancour: Bitterness/ resentfulness
Talk with a man out at window: one of Claudio’s accusations, that Hero was seen speaking with another man out her window; proof of her unfaithfulness.
Comfect: Sugarplum, a sweet-thing.
Hercules: An illegitimate son of Zues from Greek Mythology, known for his inhuman strength. Translation
You would do anything for me? Ok. Kill Claudio. No? Ok, you kill me instead by saying no. My heart has left the building but my body remains. You don’t really love me: no, let me go. I swear, I’m leaving right now. You dare try to be friends with me when you refuse to fight my enemy? Has it not been proved that Claudio is a villain and he has shamed, defamed and slandered Hero my friend? Oh I wish I was a man! What – wait until they are holding hands at the altar to publicly shame her with pure hatred? Oh God I wish I was a man! If I was, I would rip his heart out and eat it in front of a crowd of people. “She was talking with a man outside her window?” That sounds likely! Sweet hero! She has been wronged, she has been falsely accused. She has been ruined. Princes and Counts. He’s a real count, a good count, count sweet sugar-plumb. A Gentleman surely! Oh I wish I was a man. Or I wish I had a friend who would be a man for me! But there are no men left. Their manliness has melted into courtesies, valour into pleasantries. Now men are all talk. A man is now as valiant as Hercules if he tells a lie but swears by it! I cannot wish myself into becoming a man, therefore I will die a woman with grieving.
NB: This monologue is a combination of several of Beatrice’s lines in a larger scene. This text does not appear as a monologue in the original text, though it works fine as a monologue; Beatrice is so full of rage that she is most likely speaking over Benedick’s lines anyway!
This speech requires a climactic performance from the actor. The play begs for it. Without passion and rage in the performance, the whole story is robbed of a climax. This is a great responsibility for an actor and one that will hopefully excite us rather than intimidate us! A number of factors have come to a head at this moment as we discussed before. And this speech really encapsulates the ‘boiling over’ of all of those factors, including factors which have existed far beyond the beginning of this story. Beatrice feels so confined by her gender at this moment. As a woman in this time, she is not afforded the same freedom as the men around her, and with the disgusting public humiliation of her cousin Hero she wishes she could break free of the constraints of her society and take action herself.
There are so many obstacles for her which the actor can be energised by: the injustice of what has happened to Hero, the constraints placed upon Beatrice because of her gender, and the stubborn inaction and cowardice of Benedick – not to mention that they have both just told each other that they deeply love each other for the first time.
Even though this is a monologue compiled from a scene, it’s important to take into consideration the moments right before Beatrice says ‘Kill Claudio’. They have JUST told each other that they love each other – and based on the evidence we have from the play I think this is really true for both of them! Beatrice has to contend with her new found love as well as everything else that is going on, and in her mind Benedick’s unwillingness to kill Claudio is proof of the fact that he doesn’t love her. So in the space of 10 minutes, one of her family members has been publicly humiliated and shamed, the man she loves has told her He loves her, AND Beatrice has disproved that love through this request.
I think what is important for an actor to focus on in this speech is release rather than force. When we approach this speech with force, we risk it becoming a two dimensional venting of anger and hatred (which it is) but without colour and variety in performance. At this climax for Beatrice, she is ready and capable of doing anything. When we focus on release, we are able to allow a large number of different manifestations of this grief and anger. Instead of just shouting this whole speech, we allow for laughter, whispering, wailing, crying, shouting, being direct and being scattered, to name a few. If you are familiar with the movement principles of Laban, this speech done well is a combination of many different qualities (light/strong, direct/indirect, quick/ sustained) rather than just ‘punching’ repeatedly.
Enjoy this chance to vent through Beatrice! This speech really requires the actor to ‘go there’. To feel all that Beatrice is feeling and to allow it to boil over. Great freedom is required from the actor to make this speech diverse and captivating for the audience, so prioritise relaxation and release over tension and force. Focus on the targets around you: the foppish Benedick, the cruel Claudio, the Patriarchy, and gather her energy from there. This is not an insular speech, it is an outward declaration and cry for freedom. It is epic.