Love in Shakespeare
March 6, 2015
Shakespeare's Magic Trick: Why Beatrice and Benedick take center stage in Much Ado About Nothing
Shakespeare portrays love in a very new way in Much Ado about Nothing. He challenges the ideas of courtly love, which was an unrealistic version of love at the time, by carefully displaying two versions of love: one in Beatrice and Benedick and the other in Claudio and Hero.
The especially unique aspect of this play is that while Claudio and Hero are examples of an idealized couple of the time, Beatrice and Benedick are the main characters and the couple the audience is “rooting” for and both show aspects of courtly love. Shakespeare shows in this play that the fantasy associated with courtly love is a myth. No matter the passion or past of the couple, everyone has faults.
Shakespeare pokes fun at the idea of courtly love with Claudio and Hero from the very beginning. As structured in Andreas Capellanus’ De Amore, courtly love has a strong connection to jealousy. Shakespeare uses that aspect several times to “mocks the excesses of love as irrational madness,” or in other words, put Claudio in the position of turning on his beloved, twice (Dennis 1). While Claudio stays true to the aspects of courtly love that cause him to turn on her, he doesn’t follow a few other crucial rules that show “ones thoughts should be consumed by the beloved” or that the lover’s interest is always with the beloved (Thompson 1081). Claudio does not show this when he publically humiliates Hero on her wedding day. While he remains in line with this idea of jealousy, he makes a fool of himself and Hero again and again .
Shakespeare’s comment on this seems to be that courtly love is unobtainable, and even when it is obtained, easily thrown away.
However different Beatrice and Benedick may seem from Claudio and Hero these same concepts apply to their love. It seems like the other concepts of courtly love
apply to Beatrice and Benedick. Beatrice constantly looks for ways to talk about
Benedick or work his name into a conversation or talk to him entirely unprovoked: “I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior Benedick: nobody marks you, ” (I.1.93-4).
Even if it is in a negative light Beatrice feels the need to bring Benedick up, showing that he obviously occupies her thoughts quite often. Benedick does this as well to Claudio:
“I can see yet without spectacles, and I see no such matter. There’s her cousin, an she were not possessed with a fury, exceeds her as much in beauty as the first of May doth the last of December,” (I.1.149-153).
Not only does she occupy his thoughts but he admits that he finds her incredibly beautiful, more so than Hero. Benedick's feelings about her appearance do not go unwarranted either. Beatrice discusses Benedick's appearance and desirability as well:
“He were an excellent man that were made just in the midway between him and Benedick.
The one is too like an image and says nothing, and
the other too like my lady’s eldest son, evermore tattling,” (II.1.6-9).
The couple is entirely enthralled with one another throughout the play. There are also hints at what could be a past between them: “is Signor Montanto returned from the wars,” (I.1.25) Besides bringing up what sounds like a colorful past between the two,
Beatrice also reveals how upset she is by the truth she imagines in the nickname that she gives him. This being a sexual reference, the audience is shown a little bit of jealousy in Beatrice at this moment, though not to Claudio's extremes.
Beatrice and Benedick do not have the idealized version of marriage as Claudio and Hero set up for the audience and it is not the idealized version of love set up by the rules of courtly love.
Instead, it is new version of love. A deeper, almost darker
version of love that is very recognizable to the audience for one reason: it is realistic .
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