The truth is, strange as it may be, Benedick loves nothing in the world so much as he loves Beatrice BUT it’s going to take him some time and some meddling tomfoolery to figure that out.
We learn about Benedick before he’s even appeared on stage from what the other characters say about him – we know that he’s a soldier returning from a successful war and we know that he and Beatrice have met before. From her we learn that he’s argumentative and fickle. And once Benedick enters the scene we quickly learn that he’s a notorious flirt, a lothario and resolutely anti-marriage. Upon his arrival Benedick and Beatrice begin a verbal spar almost immediately. They can’t seem to help themselves. The fireworks between them is the stuff dramatic tension is made of. Their competitive one-upping sets us up perfectly for the dramatic irony of the play: they’re perfect for each other but can’t – or won’t – see it. What a feast for the audience. Just prior to this speech, Benedick and Beatrice have danced with each other at the masked ball, however it’s only the men wearing masks. Beatrice speaks candidly to Benedick about not liking him and he is irate.
O, she misused me past the endurance of a block! An oak but with one green leaf on it would have answered her. My very visor began to assume life and scold with her. She told me – not thinking I had been myself – that I was the prince’s jester, and that I was duller than a great thaw, huddling jest upon jest with such impossible conveyance upon me that I stood like a man at a mark, with a whole army shooting at me. She speaks poniards, and every word stabs. If her breath were as terrible as her terminations, there were no living near her, she would infect to the North Star. I would not marry her, though she were endowed with all that Adam had left him before he transgressed. She would have made Hercules have turned spit, yea, and have cleft his club to make the fire too. Come, talk not of her, you shall find her the infernal Ate in good apparel. I would to God some scholar would conjure her, for certainly, while she is here, a man may live as quiet in hell as in a sanctuary, and people sin upon purpose, because they would go thither: so indeed all disquiet, horror and perturbation follows her.
Misused – abused
Block – an unsensible thing i.e. something that cannot feel
Visor – mask, he was wearing a mask because they were at a masked ball
Scold – argue with her
Great thaw – the spring, when winter melts away leaving boring wet weather and muddy puddles
Huddling – piling
Poniards – daggers
Terminations – descriptive terms (a Shakespeare-coined word, maybe with the sense of her
terms being very determined because she is opinionated and vocal with her opinions?)
Have turned spit – Beatrice is so overbearing she would even have made Hercules do such a
menial and effeminate task as turning the roasting spit over the fire
Cleft – split
Ate (pronounced ah-tay) – Greek Goddess of discord
Perturbation – great disturbance
Urgh, she abused me to the point even an inanimate object would have protested. A young oak tree, having been violently attacked like I was, would have found its voice and yelled out. Even the mask I was wearing came to life and was compelled to answer back. She told me, not realising it was me behind the mask, that I was even more boring than wet weather, hurling joke
after joke about me at such speed and volume that it was as if I were a man standing in front of an armed battalion with a target on my head. Her speech stabs like daggers. If her breath were as bad as her language, nothing with a pulse could bear to be near her, she would poison every living thing from pole to pole. I wouldn’t marry her, even if she was as perfect as Adam was before he fell from grace. She could even emasculate a man like Hercules by forcing him into the kitchen and making him chop up his club for firewood. Give it a rest, stop going on about her, she’s nothing but the Goddess of Discord in a disguise of nice clothes. I wish a scholar could exorcise her back to hell, because while she’s here on earth a man may as well go live in hell, a comparative sanctuary, with people sinning on purpose in order to get into hell and away from her: so really she’s turned the world upside down with how disagreeable she is and how much she disturbs everything around her.
Notes on Performance
– Tendency with Benedick to approach it…
– To only know the things you know when you know it – Benedick doesn’t know he’s
secretly in love with Beatrice, he discovers it along with you
Benedick is a funny guy. But it’s always funnier to an audience when he doesn’t know it. There can be a tendency to play Benedick with a knowing smile – as if he already knows how the play’s going to end. But remember the all important dramatic irony. The audience need to know Benedick is head over heels for Beatrice (as she is with him) long before he does. The way he goes on in this speech, after a seemingly throwaway comment from Don Pedro, is delightfully funny for an audience who can see where the play is heading. Enjoy the challenge of finding a new provocation for each line. A new reason to keep talking about her. Make sure you colour the text with images of imagined moments where Beatrice has driven you mad. Make your map through the text as complex as a maze, and then you lessen the risk that you’ll be playing the speech for gags. Audiences are clever and they want to see you really go through it – and that’s a far more enjoyable thing to watch (and perform) than simply clowning.