While he is alone with the audience, Benedick takes the opportunity to work out his feelings towards Beatrice. Preceding this moment of the play, Benedick has railed against the idea of love and marriage, scoffing at those who partake in such foolish behaviour. Benedick has spoken out against Beatrice particularly, with whom he shares a rich history and a number of verbal jousting matches.
In the scene just prior to Benedick’s Soliloquy, Benedick has witnessed a very serious sounding conversation between Don Pedro Leonato and Claudio. Benedick overhears them speaking about Beatrice, alerting him to the fact that she is madly in love with him.
This entire conversation is in fact a ploy. Unbeknownst to Benedick, the three men, suspecting Benedick’s true feelings for Beatrice, contrive a false story and allow Benedick to eavesdrop. They discuss Beatrice’s “true feelings” towards Benedick, citing her pride as the reason that she won’t admit to loving Benedick.
Before this time, Hero (Beatrice’s cousin) has conducted the very same plan for Beatrice. Beatrice overhears how Benedick is ‘head over heels’ for her and thus both Benedick and Beatrice are convinced that the other is in love with them but unwilling to openly say so.
Language & Thought Breakdown
Let’s take a closer look at the text to break it down and see if there are any clues in the text.
The first thing I noticed about this monologue is the prose. Prose is Shakespeare’s version of free speech, i.e: not adhering to any regular pattern or poetic rule system. What is the significance? Why would Shakespeare choose to write this in prose and not verse?
Shakespeare often wrote in prose when writing for the lower status characters and clowns in his works. These characters are often the truth tellers in the story and get away with speaking the truth by wrapping it up in jest. Perhaps then, this is an indication that Benedick is being truthful?
It was potentially also written in prose to highlight the comedic nature of the monologue. Benedick and Beatrice share numerous moments of fun and heated verbal repartee in prose during the play. This could have been an indication for an audience in Shakespeare’s day that this was the humorous comedic couple.
You’ll notice from the breakdown that Shakespeare has given Benedick a piece of text with many quick, sometimes erratic thought changes. This variation in the language from verse gives the characters a different kind of depth and a sort of freedom for an actor in playing it. No one knows the exact punctuation used in Shakespeare’s original scripts, therefore these thought changes are up to an actor to decide upon – where they go and how to use them. Play around and see what works for you.
Beat Change: Space
Thought Change: /
This can be no trick: the conference was sadly borne. / They have the truth of this from Hero. / They seem to pity the lady: it seems her affections have their full bent. /
Love me! / why, it must be requited. / I hear how I am censured: / they say I will bear myself proudly, if I perceive the love come from her; / they say too that she will rather die than give any sign of affection. / I did never think to marry: / I must not seem proud: /happy are they that hear their detractions and can put them to mending. /
They say the lady is fair; / ’tis a truth, I can bear them witness; / and virtuous; / ’tis so, I cannot reprove it; / and wise, but for loving me; / by my troth, it is no addition to her wit, nor no great argument of her folly, / for I will be horribly in love with her. /
I may chance have some odd quirks and remnants of wit broken on me, because I have railed so long against marriage: / but doth not the appetite alter? / A man loves the meat in his youth that he cannot endure in his age. /
Shall quips and sentences and these paper bullets of the brain awe a man from the career of his humour? / No, the world must be peopled. / When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married. /
Here comes Beatrice. / By this day! She’s a fair lady: / I do spy some marks of love in her. /
This cannot be a trick, the way they were speaking was serious. They were told the news is true by Hero. They appear to feel sorry for Beatrice: it seems her love is at its absolute limit.
Love me!? Well then her love must be returned. I hear them the way they criticise me: they say I will become arrogant if I become aware that she loves me; they also said that she’d rather die than show any affection towards me. I never thought I’d marry: I don’t want to seem arrogant: those that can hear their faults and fix them lead happy lives.
They say the lady is beautiful: it’s true, I am witness to that, and that she’s virtuous; she is, I can’t refute that; and smart, except for loving me, in truth, loving me is not a sign of her intelligence, and it won’t be an indications of her foolishness, for I will be terribly in love with her.
I might have some witty quips cracked at my expense because I’ve protested against marriage for so long, but don’t tastes change? A man loves a meal when he’s young that he can’t stand when he’s older.
Will sarcastic remarks and old sayings and harmless ammunition from the mind restrain a man from following his desires? No, the world needs to be populated. When I said I would die a bachelor, I didn’t think that I would live long enough to get married.
Here comes Beatrice. My god, she is a beautiful woman. I can see some signs of love in her.
Unfamiliar Words & Phrases
Borne: Carried out.
Full Bent: Bent, like a bow being stretched it’s absolute limit.
Censured: Criticised or ‘find fault with’.
Detractions: Belittlements or in other words, to ‘diminish the value’ of someone/something.
Reprove: Rebuke, reprimand or in this case – deny.
Odd quirks: Wise cracks.
Quips: Sarcastic remarks.
Awe: Stun to the point of restraint.
Marks of love: In other words – facial expressions indicating love.
Benedick is a contradiction. Lean into that. Shakespeare wrote archetypes and Benedick is an interesting one. All his life up until this point, Benedick has protested and spoken out against love, mocking those that fall in love and get married. This character who has railed against love and women his whole life changes his mind the moment he hears that he himself might be loved and he’s discovering it all in this very moment.
As I mention in the language breakdown, nobody really knows what Shakespeare’s exact punctuation was. The above is a good guide but it’s up to you to decide where it goes in relation to the thoughts. The trick is then to use it. Changing thoughts or ideas quickly can create comedy. It’s all about clarity of thought, being very specific about all the different ideas in each line and then being nimble between the thought changes.
A line that stands out for me in this monologue is “Shall quips and sentences and these paper bullets of the brain awe a man from the career of his humour? No, the world must be peopled”. Aside from the fact that ‘paper bullets of the brain’ is a microcosm of Benedick and Beatrice playful yet cutting banter, it is a great indication of Benedick, in the moment, figuring out with the audience what his belief is. The set up of the question and then answering it instantly is a great clue for an actor to work the problem out with the audience. These kinds of monologues are a gift for an actor. There is an immediacy in figuring out something on the spot with the audience which can be very fun to play. Have fun and good luck!