Study Guide

Much Ado About Nothing Quotes

By William Shakespeare

  • Gender

    Act I, Scene i

    Do you question me, as an honest man
    should do, for my simple true judgment? Or would
    you have me speak after my custom, as being a
    professed tyrant to their sex? (1.1.162-165)

    Benedick admits that he has a thing against the entire female gender and tends to go on anti-women tirades. However, he notes that he’s capable of "simple, true judgment" of particular women, which isn’t necessarily touched by his general woman-hating spiel. It’s interesting that he has two different lenses through which he can view women, while probably only one through which he views men.

    Act II, Scene i

    Well, niece, I hope to see you one day fitted
    with a husband.
    Not till God make men of some other metal
    than earth. Would it not grieve a woman to be
    overmastered with a piece of valiant dust? To make
    an account of her life to a clod of wayward marl?
    No, uncle, I'll none. Adam's sons are my brethren,
    and truly I hold it a sin to match in my kinred. (2.1.57-64)

    This is a brilliant statement from a gendered point of view. Beatrice first uses "man" in the general sense (as in mankind), but she finally comes around to admitting the gender inequality inherent in marriage. She plays on the notion that all mankind is ashes to ashes dust to dust, so it isn’t fitting that a woman should be ruled by a man (who is in the end only dust). The capstone to this deliciously incisive commentary is Beatrice’s assertion that all of Adam’s sons are her brothers, and she’d commit the sin of incest to marry them. 

    She doesn’t actually believe she’s a blood-sister with all men—incest is just the easiest way to write off marrying any man. In claiming all Adam’s sons as her brothers, and admitting that all humankind is dust together, Beatrice has threaded together the argument that men and women are kindred and equal—they are made of the same material (earth, dust), return to being the same after death, and together they are all God’s children. 

    It’s a fantastic insight that adds to Beatrice’s many reasons for not marrying—she is unwilling to be subservient to one of her equals (a man), which it seems she’d have to do if she were married. (It’s particularly juicy that Benedick also worries about giving up his independence and freedom by getting married. Though Beatrice has more cause to worry as far as losing freedom, we’re beginning to see Shakespeare draw parallels between the two characters.)

    Act II, Scene iii

    BALTHASAR sings

    Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,
       Men were deceivers ever,
    One foot in sea and one on shore,
       To one thing constant never.
    Then sigh not so, but let them go,
       And be you blithe and bonny,
    Converting all your sounds of woe
       Into Hey, nonny nonny.

    Balthasar sings that men are faithless dogs, but rather than chide them to be better, Balthasar’s song suggests that the remedy lies in women changing their paradigms about men. If women would simply decide to accept that men are awful, then they’d never get hurt by their cheating husbands/lovers (and men could continue to behave badly without any hassle). The notion here is that men should not have to change (a "boys will be boys" idea), women should change (their perspective on men) to accommodate their men.


    One woman is fair, yet I am well; another is wise, yet
    I am well; another virtuous, yet I am well; but till all
    graces be in one woman, one woman shall not
    come in my grace. Rich she shall be, that's certain;
    wise, or I'll none; virtuous, or I'll never cheapen
    her; fair, or I'll never look on her; mild, or come not 
    near me; noble, or not I for an angel; of good
    discourse, an excellent musician, and her hair shall
    be of what color it please God. Ha, the Prince and
    Monsieur Love! I will hide me in the arbor. (2.3.27-36)

    Benedick lists off the qualities of an ideal woman; he says he can’t be tempted to love any woman unless she has all of womankind’s best qualities wrapped up into one. The woman Benedick dreams of is an idealized (and unrealistic) version of women. He must think pretty highly of himself to believe he deserves such a woman. Also, it’s interesting here that he doesn’t seem to be against the idea of marrying, so long as he’d by wedding a perfect girl. (Thankfully, he grows up and marries Beatrice).

    Act III, Scene iv

    God give me joy to wear it, for my heart is
    exceeding heavy. (3.4.24-25)

    Is it surprising that Hero’s not stoked on her wedding day? Not really, considering she’s never even really spoken to Claudio as far as we know. In addition, Hero’s been told what to do by her father for her whole life, and given what we know about old school marriage, she’s about to transition into being told what to do by her husband for the rest of her life. This is a function of her marriage, but it’s also a fact of her gender; women held a special role in marriage of being the ones that were taken by their husbands (both literally and figuratively), and that’s an awful lot to chew on.

    Act IV, Scene i

    Dear my lord, if you in your own proof
    Have vanquished the resistance of her youth,
    And made defeat of her virginity—
    I know what you would say: if I have known her,
    You will say she did embrace me as a husband,
    And so extenuate the forehand sin.
    No, Leonato,
    I never tempted her with word too large,
    But, as a brother to his sister, showed
    Bashful sincerity and comely love. (4.1.46-55)

    This is an important reminder that a woman’s virginity was central to making her marriageable in Shakespeare’s day. Leonato tries to cover for his child, saying if perhaps Hero gave her virginity to Claudio before the wedding, it was only because she was already thinking of Claudio as her husband. This is a crucial point: while women like Beatrice might be equal to men like Benedick in wit, there were still some areas of gender equality that had not yet been conceived of. A woman’s virginity was the crux of her marriage, and her future husband could reject her as worthless without it, no matter how wonderful or brilliant she was.


    Let me but move one question to your daughter,
    And by that fatherly and kindly power
    That you have in her, bid her answer truly.
    I charge thee do so, as thou art my child.
    O, God defend me! How am I beset!—
    What kind of catechizing call you this? (4.1.77-82)

    This is a difficult passage to read, as it’s the first instance where Leonato chooses Claudio’s word over his daughter’s. He demands that Hero answer Claudio’s question, indicating that he’s already trusting Claudio instead of defending his daughter. Ultimately, this episode is sickening because of our intuition that Leonato’s role—because he knows his daughter and her honor—is to stand up for her, not to indulge Claudio in this public spectacle. 

    Hero’s reputation is on the line, and in the end, as a woman, her word isn’t worth much against a man’s. This episode reminds us of the constant cuckoldry jests in the play. Though they were jokes, they seriously refer to the distrust men had for their wives, and we’d bet it also makes them hesitate to stand up for their daughters.


    Surely I do believe your fair cousin is
    Ah, how much might the man deserve of me
    that would right her!
    Is there any way to show such friendship?
    A very even way, but no such friend.
    May a man do it?
    It is a man's office, but not yours. (4.1.273-280)

    It’s interesting that Beatrice can’t enact her plan to avenge her cousin because she’s a woman. You might think she would’ve come up with some scheme she could do herself (because she’s so independent and strong-willed), but this seems one of those rare chances when Beatrice admits that she’s unable. There’s no discussion of why her plan needs to be executed by a man, but even for Beatrice there’s an implicit understanding that some work is done by women, and some by men.

    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 curtsies, valor 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. (4.1.329-338)

    With Benedick as her only audience, Beatrice berates all men for being complete wimps. If Benedick didn’t get the picture before, he does now: Beatrice needs a manly man. Beatrice rails against what manliness has come to in these days of courtly pomp, and it’s not a flattering picture. It’s interesting that Benedick has spent all this time up to now indulging in similar rantings against all the courtly niceties of love (using Claudio as a prime example). 

    Now that Benedick has fallen in love, he’s provided a chance to prove that he’s different from other lovers who were transformed by love into sighing idiots (like Claudio). Especially now that Claudio has turned out to be faithless and cruel, Benedick can show that there are different ways to love than the stupid courtly formalities, which he’s not good at anyway. This could be Benedick’s big break.

  • Maturity

    Act I, Scene i

    Much deserved on his part, and equally
    remembered by Don Pedro. He hath borne himself
    beyond the promise of his age, doing in the figure
    of a lamb the feats of a lion. He hath indeed better
    bettered expectation than you must expect of me to
    tell you how. (1.1.12-17)

    Claudio isn’t just praised for being a great soldier: it’s of particular importance that one so young has proven himself on the battlefield. This qualification will be important throughout the play. Though Claudio will have adult feelings (especially about love), he’s still young. While he has experience in battle, he has no such experience yet with love, which sheds light on his immature behavior towards Hero.

    Don Pedro

    Well, as time shall try.
    In time the savage bull doth bear the yoke. (1.1.255-256)

    Don Pedro’s been around the block, and he’s mature enough to realize that even the savage bull can be tamed. He knows men can change their minds, which is, interestingly, exactly the conclusion Benedick comes to in the very end of the play... after he’s had some time to mature himself.


    How sweetly you do minister to love,
    That know love's grief by his complexion!
    But lest my liking might too sudden seem,
    I would have salved it with a longer treatise. (1.1.307-310)

    Even Claudio recognizes that seeming to fall in love quickly is a mark of immaturity.

    Act II, Scene i
    Don Pedro

    I will but teach them to sing and restore them
    to the owner. (2.1.229-230)

    Don Pedro is mature enough not to be caught in the drama of deception. Realizing Benedick and Claudio think that he’s stolen away Hero’s affection, he rights the whole situation by simply pointing out that he hasn’t done anything wrong—he will give Hero to Claudio as promised. Thus we learn disaster can be averted by simply being mature and up front.


    Well then, go you into hell?
    No, but to the gate, and there will the devil
    meet me like an old cuckold with horns on his
    head, and say 'Get you to heaven, Beatrice, get you
    to heaven; here's no place for you maids.' So deliver
    I up my apes, and away to Saint Peter; for the
    heavens, he shows me where the bachelors sit, and
    there live we as merry as the day is long. (2.1.42-49)

    Beatrice seems comfortable with her choice to live an old maid, to the point where she’s even able to joke about the possibility of going to hell (which was assumed to be the final destination for unmarried women). She’s certain there’s nothing actually wrong with her, that she’s earned her place in heaven, and further, she’s happy to be single. This attitude—not of fury, or self-pity—is a pretty mature one, even if it’s a little bit of a front.

    Act II, Scene iii

    BENEDICK [aside]
    I should think this a gull but that the
    white-bearded fellow speaks it. Knavery cannot,
    sure, hide himself in such reverence. (2.3.126-128)

    Benedick trusts that Leonato, as an old and respected man, wouldn’t be in on this conversation if it were a trick. Respect comes with age... though maybe age shouldn’t always be trusted.

    Act V, Scene i

    We had like to have had our two noses
    snapped off with two old men without teeth. (5.1.128-129)

    To Leonato’s face, Claudio makes a big show of respecting his age, but it’s clear from this comment that Claudio is not exactly Mr. Reverence. Age doesn’t seem to command respect for Claudio; he approaches it more as a weakness than a reason for reverence, which is pretty immature of him. It’s another strike against Claudio’s character.

    Tush, tush, man, never fleer and jest at me.
    I speak not like a dotard nor a fool,
    As under privilege of age to brag
    What I have done being young, or what would do
    Were I not old. Know, Claudio, to thy head,
    Thou hast so wrong'd mine innocent child and me
    That I am forced to lay my reverence by,
    And with grey hairs and bruise of many days
    Do challenge thee to trial of a man. (5.1.65-73)

    Leonato lays out the two sides of aging: On one hand, age demands respect, but on the other hand, old age also makes people weaker, which lets young punks abuse them.

    Act V, Scene iv

    In brief, since I
    do purpose to marry, I will think nothing to any
    purpose that the world can say against it, and
    therefore never flout at me for what I have said
    against it. For man is a giddy thing, and this is my
    conclusion. (5.4.108-113)

    Benedick exhibits real maturity in his thinking. Here, he admits that he might seem like a hypocrite, but has decided that his love is more important than his ideological consistency.

  • Love

    Act I, Scene i

    Then is courtesy a turncoat. But it is certain
    I am loved of all ladies, only you excepted; and
    I would I could find in my heart that I had not a
    hard heart, for truly I love none.
    A dear happiness to women! They would
    else have been troubled with a pernicious suitor. I
    thank God and my cold blood, I am of your humor
    for that. I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow
    than a man swear he loves me. (1.1.122-130)

    Note that both Beatrice and Benedick say they’ll never love anyone. This little spar is likely saying "of course we’ll never love each other." Invulnerability to falling in love is a point of pride for them both.

    That I neither feel how she should be loved
    nor know how she should be worthy is the opinion
    that fire cannot melt out of me. I will die in it at the
    Thou wast ever an obstinate heretic in the
    despite of beauty. (1.1.226-231)

    Benedick hates love, and he’s known for hating beauty. Beauty can’t move him to love, but perhaps some more meaningful trait in a girl (like how witty she is, and if she’s named Beatrice) could move him.

    Don Pedro

    My liege, your Highness now may do me good.
    My love is thine to teach. Teach it but how,
    And thou shalt see how apt it is to learn
    Any hard lesson that may do thee good. (1.1.284-287)

    Love in this play is also the love between friends – Don Pedro is loyal to Claudio and cares for him. Although Don Pedro is Claudio’s superior in age and status, he’s willing to do what he can in Claudio’s service.


    You will never run mad, niece.
    No, not till a hot January. (1.1.91-92)

    "Run mad" here refers to catching what Beatrice calls "the Benedick"—essentially going crazy for love. For Beatrice to "catch the Benedick," she’d have to be in love, which she says is as likely as a hot January. That is, "when hell freezes over." Famous last words.

    Act II, Scene i

    'Tis certain so. The Prince woos for himself.
    Friendship is constant in all other things
    Save in the office and affairs of love.
    Therefore all hearts in love use their own tongues.
    Let every eye negotiate for itself
    And trust no agent, for beauty is a witch
    Against whose charms faith melteth into blood. (2.1.172-178)

    Claudio thinks all bets are off when it comes to love; that romantic love can supersede or intrude upon friendship. As a result, he’s convinced that Don Pedro is wooing Hero for himself.


    [to Hero] Well, niece, I trust you
    will be ruled by your father.
    Yes faith. It is my cousin's duty to make
    curtsy and say, 'Father, as it please you.' But yet for
    all that, cousin, let him be a handsome fellow, or
    else make another curtsy, and say, 'Father, as it
    please me.' (2.1.50-56)

    Familial love is another form of love in the play, and in this instance it’s expressed as duty. Hero’s subservience to her father’s will is not because she’s a girl, but because she’s a daughter. Beatrice—also out of love for her cousin—reminds Hero that there’s some wiggle room in familial obedience.

    Act II, Scene iii

    I do much wonder that one man, seeing how much
    another man is a fool when he dedicates his behaviors
    to love, will, after he hath laughed at such
    shallow follies in others, become the argument of
    his own scorn by falling in love—and such a man is
    Claudio. (2.3.8-13)

    It’s poetic justice that Benedick means to deride Claudio with this speech, but knowing what we know about Benedick a few acts from now, Benedick could very well be describing himself.

    Act III, Scene i

    O god of love! I know he doth deserve
    As much as may be yielded to a man,
    But Nature never framed a woman's heart
    Of prouder stuff than that of Beatrice.
    Disdain and scorn ride sparkling in her eyes,
    Misprizing what they look on, and her wit
    Values itself so highly that to her
    All matter else seems weak. She cannot love,
    Nor take no shape nor project of affection,
    She is so self-endeared. (3.1.49-58)

    This is an interesting insight into Hero’s thinking. We learn more about Hero’s notions of love from her conversation about Beatrice and Benedick than from her own thoughts about her marriage to Claudio. Hero seems to realize that in order to love another, one must sacrifice some self-love. She’s rationalized that love is not about self-indulgence, but self-sacrifice... which explains some of her willingness to love Claudio even after he’s wronged her.

    If it prove so, then loving goes by haps;
    Some Cupid kills with arrows, some with traps. (3.1.111-112)

    Sometimes you can be on the attack to get someone to love you. Other times you have to lure them into the trap of your love with tasty treats. Let this be a lesson to us all.

    Act III, Scene ii

    Well, every one can master a grief but he
    that has it. (3.2.27-28)

    This seems to be Benedick’s first time being in true love. And, like so many lovers before him, he’s convinced it’s a unique feeling than no one else has ever felt.

    If he be not in love with some woman, there
    is no believing old signs. He brushes his hat o'
    mornings. What should that bode?
    Hath any man seen him at the barber's?
    No, but the barber's man hath been seen
    with him, and the old ornament of his cheek hath
    already stuffed tennis balls.
    Indeed he looks younger than he did, by the
    loss of a beard.
    Nay, he rubs himself with civet. Can you smell
    him out by that?
    That's as much as to say, the sweet youth's in
    love. (3.2.38-50)

    This is just adorable. Ergh, we mean, this is serious evidence that even the most resistant among us can fall victim to the steel trap of love. 

    Also, in Shakespeare’s day, in order to show that a character was in love, there were certain conventional signs and costume devices the actor would wear so the audience would understand he was in love. Benedick shows up here looking prettier than usual—it’s a signal to the audience that he’s been changed by love. It’s basically the equivalent of wearing a T-shirt that says, "I’m in love" on stage.

    Act IV, Scene i

    With no sauce that can be devised to it. I
    protest I love thee.
    Why then, God forgive me!
    What offence, sweet Beatrice?
    You have stayed me in a happy hour. I was
    about to protest I loved you.
    And do it with all thy heart.
    I love you with so much of my heart that
    none is left to protest.
    Come, bid me do anything for thee.
    Kill Claudio. (4.1.293-303)

    This interaction tells us about what love means to Beatrice and Benedick. Beatrice is finally being open about loving Benedick, and she loves him completely. Benedick does too, and he invites her to ask anything of him. Without hesitation, Beatrice quickly announces her request—for Benedick to kill Claudio. 

    This request may come out of convenience (Benedick is there, and he’s a man). On the other hand, it’s quite possible that she means to test Benedick’s love by finding out which his more important: his loyalty to his friends or his love for her. She needs proof of his commitment to her. Also, remember how Beatrice alluded to the fact that she had Benedick’s heart once, and he took hers unfairly. It’s reasonable that she might need more assurance this second time around, even if it means Claudio’s head.


    Ha! Not for the wide world!
    You kill me to deny it. Farewell.
    Tarry, sweet Beatrice.
    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.
    We'll be friends first. (4.1.304-311)

    What does it mean for Beatrice to be so willing to walk away from Benedick? If she’s willing to give up her love for him so quickly, is her love actually serious? Perhaps her devotion to her cousin is more important to Beatrice, and she’s willing to sacrifice loving Benedick for it. 

    Or maybe Beatrice is just testing Benedick’s loyalty by bluffing—that’s quite a risk to take. Whatever the reasons behind this weird exchange, these two are not conventional lovers, as the last four minutes have basically been: "My cousin is practically dead!" "That sucks! I love you!" "I love you too!" "Will you kill your best friend?" "Yeah right!" "You suck. Bye!" 

    It is a man's office, but not yours.
    I do love nothing in the world so well as
    you. Is not that strange? (4.1.280-282)

    Benedick’s abrupt admission that he loves Beatrice (which is way more straightforward than we would’ve expected) is prompted by Beatrice’s need… of a man to challenge Claudio. Beatrice is looking for a man to do the task, so perhaps Benedick offers his love as proof that he’d do any task for her. Either that, or he’s just awkward and has an inappropriate sense of timing.


    Sweet Hero, now thy image doth appear
    In the rare semblance that I loved it first. (5.1.262-263)

    Claudio declares his love for Hero again as soon as he hears of her innocence. His sudden renewed love of Hero makes us feel as though his love is not actually as deep as we’d want it to be; his love was destroyed by outside circumstance and is resolved by outside circumstance too. We wonder whether Claudio will be able to weather other miscommunications when the pair is married—or will he be as quick to judge as he is currently, even if he’s wrong?

    Act IV, Scene ii

    Suffer love! A good epithet. I do suffer love
    indeed, for I love thee against my will.
    In spite of your heart, I think. Alas, poor
    heart, if you spite it for my sake, I will spite it for
    yours, for I will never love that which my friend
    hates. (5.2.66-71)

    From this little banter, which is pretty adorable, we get a hint that Benedick and Beatrice will be able to maintain their witty sparks despite being in love. (Love doesn’t make saps out of everyone.) Their wit is not a product of their mutual hatred; it survives their love and is used as an expression of love, which means it’s just a part of who they are.

    No, I was not born under a rhyming
    planet, nor cannot woo in festival terms. (5.2.40-41)

    Benedick admits that he doesn’t talk the talk of all the Casanovas, but we think this is actually to his credit. He doesn’t love Beatrice in a formal way, with all the pomp and circumstance. 

    This automatically sets him up in contrast to Claudio, who loves Hero by the book. Claudio is always formal—getting Don Pedro to woo her, getting her father’s permission to marry, and involving the public in her denunciation. By contrast, Beatrice and Benedick operate and love each other privately and informally. "Festival terms," which Benedick refers to, seem to be the unnecessary bells and whistles of love. The presence of these niceties doesn’t necessarily mean love is true.

    Act V, Scene iv

    'Tis no such matter. Then you do not love me?
    No, truly, but in friendly recompense. (5.4.86-87)

    Benedick and Beatrice come so close to walking away from each other here. Is their pride or their fear stronger than their love for each other? How does this make us feel about the potential longevity of their relationship, in contrast to a couple like Claudio and Hero?


    I'll hold my mind were she an Ethiope. (5.4.39)

    So obviously the "Ethiope" stuff is hyper-racist, but the take-home of this comment—at least in Shakespearean times—is that for Claudio, marriage isn’t about love. It’s a formal arrangement that is just another way of doing your duty. Here, Claudio’s marriage to Leonato’s "niece" is just a way for him to pay his dues to the old man.

  • Marriage

    Act I, Scene i

    The savage bull may; but if ever the sensible
    Benedick bear it, pluck off the bull's horns and set
    them in my forehead, and let me be vilely painted,
    and in such great letters as they write "Here is good
    horse to hire," let them signify under my sign "Here
    you may see Benedick the married man." (1.1.257-262)

    Benedick equates marriage with being whipped, tamed, and cuckolded. Marrying would mean sacrificing his independence and breaking his pride, and Benedick finds the prospect of losing either foolish. It’s a strong enough intuition to sour him on marriage altogether.

    Is 't come to this? In faith, hath not the
    world one man but he will wear his cap with
    suspicion? Shall I never see a bachelor of threescore
    again? Go to, i' faith, an thou wilt needs thrust
    thy neck into a yoke, wear the print of it, and sigh
    away Sundays. (1.1.193-198)

    Benedick laments that marriage turns great men into pathetic idiots.


    But I hope you have no intent to turn husband, have
    I would scarce trust myself, though I had
    sworn the contrary, if Hero would be my wife. (1.1.189-192)

    This is one of the first times that marriage is spoken of explicitly, and it’s presented as an object of unwitting deception. Claudio apparently has been as anti-marriage as Benedick, but now that he wants to marry Hero, he notes that even he can’t trust his own word. 

    Act II, Scene i
    Don Pedro

    She cannot endure to hear tell of a husband.
    O, by no means. She mocks all her wooers
    out of suit.
    She were an excellent wife for Benedick. (2.1.340-343)

    As Beatrice tosses out Don Pedro’s marriage proposal, he realizes that the girl hasn’t married because she hasn’t found her equal in mockery and wit. As he wonders who could possibly stand up to her (and maybe by doing so, win her love), Benedick comes up as a natural choice. We’ve got to wonder whether he chooses Benedick because he really believes they could fall in love, or because he’d like to put Beatrice through a little suffering for not seriously considering him as a potential husband.


    Just, if He send me no husband, for the
    which blessing I am at Him upon my knees every
    morning and evening. Lord, I could not endure a
    husband with a beard on his face. I had rather lie in 
    the woolen! 
    You may light on a husband that hath no
    What should I do with him? Dress him in my
    apparel and make him my waiting gentlewoman?
    He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he
    that hath no beard is less than a man; and he that is
    more than a youth is not for me, and he that is less
    than a man, I am not for him. (2.1.27-39)

    Beatrice denounces marriage in general, but you’ll note that she goes on to point out the particular flaws of particular men. We’re left to guess whether she is against the institution of marriage in principle, or whether she’s simply convinced she’ll never find the right man. (Or is her man-bashing a consolation prize because she hasn’t found anyone yet?) Lots of possibilities, but the point is, she’s not stoked about marriage.

    Good Lord for alliance! Thus goes everyone
    to the world but I, and I am sunburnt. I may sit in a
    corner and cry 'Heigh-ho for a husband!' (2.1.311-313)

    Beatrice jokes that she is unattractive and will never get a husband. (As though this were the sole reason she is still unmarried.) It’s also interesting to note that her "Good Lord, for alliance!" mirrors Benedick’s concern that he’ll never see another old bachelor—both of them seem to be sensitive to the fact that everyone is getting married, except for them.

    LEONATO [to Hero]
    Daughter, remember what I told
    you. If the Prince do solicit you in that kind, you
    know your answer. (2.1.66-67)

    Essentially, Leonato is saying, "You’ll know your answer because I told you your answer." Thus we add one more facet to the presentation of marriage in the play: it’s not necessarily an arrangement made out of love, but more like a transaction that can be worked upon and influenced by outside forces.


    I would not marry
    her though she were endowed with all that Adam
    had left him before he transgressed. (2.1.247-249)

    It’s notable that Benedick brings up marrying Beatrice, though no one else has even mentioned it. Stating so passionately that it’s not on his mind shows that, actually, it’s on his mind.

    Act II, Scene iii

    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. (2.3.244-246)

    Benedick provides his first reason that marriage is actually quite necessary. Not for love or honor, but because it’s our duty to procreate.

    Act III, Scene iv

    'Tis almost five o'clock, cousin. 'Tis time
    you were ready. By my troth, I am exceeding ill.
    Heigh-ho! (3.4.50-52)

    Remember that the earlier Beatrice said she’d cry "heigh-ho," to find a husband. As Hero is off to her wedding, Beatrice likely itching for Benedick to be her own husband. Beatrice’s suddenly becoming ill mirrors her cousin’s sickness, but Beatrice seems to be sick for want of a husband, while Hero is about to be unwanted by a would-be husband.


    God give me joy to wear it, for my heart is
    exceeding heavy. (3.4.24-25)

    It’s Hero’s wedding day, and she should be really excited, but she’s not. Some camps might interpret this to mean that her feelings foreshadow the ills that will befall her at her wedding. Those of us who don’t believe in psychics see some other, more practical reasons. She’s about to marry a man who she has not (at least not on stage) had a single conversation with. All the other characters of the play have spent a good deal of time talking about what marriage means to them, but we have yet to hear Hero’s thoughts on her own wedding.

    Of what, lady? of speaking honorably? Is
    not marriage honorable in a beggar? Is not your
    lord honorable without marriage? I think you
    would have me say 'Saving your reverence, a husband.'
    An bad thinking do not wrest true speaking,
    I'll offend nobody. Is there any harm in 'the heavier
    for a husband'? None, I think, an it be the right
    husband and the right wife. Otherwise 'tis light and
    not heavy. Ask my Lady Beatrice else. Here she
    comes. (3.4.29-38)

    Margaret teases Hero while Hero is in bad spirits about marriage. Margaret’s celebration of marriage as honorable is couched in her bawdy allusion to sex, where one is made to feel a heavy burden (especially when one is lying under a husband). The base reality of sex is the starting point for Margaret to talk about honorable marriage, which makes marriage seem a little less stuffy.

    Act V, Scene i

    I cannot bid you bid my daughter live—
    That were impossible—but I pray you both,
    Possess the people in Messina here
    How innocent she died. And if your love
    Can labour aught in sad invention,
    Hang her an epitaph upon her tomb
    And sing it to her bones. Sing it tonight.
    Tomorrow morning come you to my house,
    And since you could not be my son-in-law,
    Be yet my nephew. My brother hath a daughter,
    Almost the copy of my child that's dead,
    And she alone is heir to both of us.
    Give her the right you should have giv'n her cousin,
    And so dies my revenge. (5.1.292-305)

    This is preposterous. Leonato’s "punishment" for Claudio seems to be that Claudio gets a second chance at marrying into Leonato’s family. If Hero had really been dead, would this have been proposed as a solution? Does the play ever deal with Claudio getting off so easily? It seems like this punishment comments on marriage’s importance (that it could solve such a rift), but it also sheds some light on the role of women in marriages, especially as this "niece" is treated like an interchangeable part for the lost Hero.

    Act V, Scene iv

    Come, come, we are friends. Let's have a
    dance ere we are married, that we may lighten our
    own hearts and our wives' heels.
    We'll have dancing afterward.
    First, of my word! Therefore play, music.— (5.4.121-125)

    This is a silly little scene that’s a bit bawdy: note that "light-heeled" is another way to say a woman is morally loose. Benedick teases that he’d like to dance with the women before the wedding, and make them light-heeled. Hence Leonato’s terse "Get married first!" 

    Benedick, perhaps to show that he’ll be mischievous even as a married man, insists on dancing first anyway. This is especially interesting given that Claudio has just teased that Benedick will have a wandering eye when married unless his wife keeps a close watch on him.

    Friar, I must entreat your pains, I think.
    To do what, signior?
    To bind me, or undo me, one of them.— (5.4.18-20)

    Though he loves Beatrice, Benedick still jokes about marriage, saying he’s not sure that their marriage won’t be his "undoing." This hesitation helps to make Benedick seem a believable character—he isn’t suddenly transformed into believing in marriage simply because he realized he’s capable of love. Again, the disconnect between love and marriage is evident.

  • Transformation

    Act I, Scene i

    O my, lord,
    When you went onward on this ended action,
    I looked upon her with a soldier's eye,
    That liked, but had a rougher task in hand
    Than to drive liking to the name of love.
    But now I am returned and that war thoughts
    Have left their places vacant, in their rooms
    Come thronging soft and delicate desires,
    All prompting me how fair young Hero is,
    Saying I liked her ere I went to wars. (1.1.291-300)

    Claudio says war thoughts had once dominated his mind, but that the battle is over, he’s been transformed into a lover. This transformation is not something he had any agency over—he talks about it passively, like falling for Hero is something that happened to him, as opposed to something he came to of his own volition. There’s a warning here—he’s been transformed and moved by an outside force, not his own internal feelings—it’s a sign that perhaps he’ll be easily moved against his love for Hero by an outside force too. (Which does happen. Ta da!)

    Act II, Scene i

    Even to the next willow, about your own
    business, county. What fashion will you wear the
    garland of? About your neck like an usurer's chain?
    or under your arm, like a lieutenant's scarf? You
    must wear it one way, for the Prince hath got your
    I wish him joy of her. (2.1.185-191)

    Claudio has been transformed from a lover into a victim. Though he’s proven strong in battle, he’s weak in love, and gives Hero up too easily to Don Pedro.

    Act II, Scene iii

    I have known when there was no music
    with him but the drum and the fife, and now had he
    rather hear the tabor and the pipe; I have known
    when he would have walked ten mile afoot to see a
    good armor, and now will he lie ten nights awake
    carving the fashion of a new doublet. He was wont
    to speak plain and to the purpose, like an honest
    man and a soldier, and now is he turned orthography;
    his words are a very fantastical banquet, just so
    many strange dishes. May I be so converted and see
    with these eyes? I cannot tell; I think not. (2.3.13-23)

    Benedick lists of all of the terrible transformations that men undergo when in love, but it’s important to note that he doesn’t speak of the positive things love actually brings to the table. Men aren’t just transformed for the worse—they actually are giving some things up willingly, because love brings them so much more. Benedick doesn’t believe a transformation like that could ever happen to him, but it’s likely because he only sees the bad effects of love, not any of its benefits.

    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 alters? A
    man loves the meat in his youth that he cannot
    endure in his age. (2.3.237-242)

    Benedick notes that people change, and uses it as a defense against his former hatred of marriage and claim that he would never have any other opinion on the matter. He’s simply changed his mind about his ability to change, which is perfectly respectable.

    Act III, Scene ii

    Yet is this no charm for the toothache.—
    Old signior, walk aside with me. I have studied eight
    or nine wise words to speak to you, which these
    hobby-horses must not hear. (3.2.65-68)

    Benedick has been transformed by love. Though he’s certainly the wittiest in his group of friends, and can usually handle as much heckling as he dishes out, he now slinks off with the gentle Leonato. Basically, in the initial stages of love, he’s become more soft, dull, and serious.

    Act IV, Scene i

    [Claudio, Prince, and Don John exit.]
    How doth the lady? (4.1.118)

    This is a monumental transformation for Benedick during the wedding scene where Hero has just fainted after being publicly denounced. As Don Pedro, Don John, and Claudio storm out, Benedick surprisingly stays behind and even inquires after Hero. While this is an obvious indication that Benedick’s allegiances may have changed, it seems there is some deeper transformation at work (perhaps regarding his love for Beatrice, but perhaps also his sense of justice).

    Act V, Scene i

    My lord, for your many
    courtesies I thank you. I must discontinue your
    company. (5.1.200-202)

    This is a decisive move for Benedick; as it is the moment when he explicitly breaks company with Don Pedro shows a public transformation in his allegiance.

    Sweet Prince, let me go no farther to mine
    answer. Do you hear me, and let this Count kill me.
    I have deceived even your very eyes. What your
    wisdoms could not discover, these shallow fools
    have brought to light, who in the night overheard
    me confessing to this man, how Don John your
    brother incensed me to slander the Lady Hero, how
    you were brought into the orchard and saw me
    court Margaret in Hero's garments, how you disgraced
    her when you should marry her. My villainy
    they have upon record, which I had rather seal with
    my death than repeat over to my shame. The lady is
    dead upon mine and my master's false accusation.
    And, briefly, I desire nothing but the reward of a
    villain. (5.1.240-254)

    Borachio transforms from a villain into a courageous man willing to accept his guilt and pay for his crimes. The seriousness of his crimes—resulting in the supposed death of Hero—has brought about this tremendous change. It's interesting that it didn’t bring about a similar transformation in Claudio who later tries to weasel his way out of punishment.

  • Pride

    Act I, Scene i

    But it is certain
    I am loved of all ladies, only you excepted; and
    I would I could find in my heart that I had not a
    hard heart, for truly I love none. (1.1.122-125)

    Benedick is not so much Captain Modesty. Still, he seems to take a bit of pride in rejecting all of the women that love him. It seems he takes pride not only in the fact that numerous women have fallen in love with him, but also that he has an impenetrable heart.

    Act II, Scene iii

    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. (2.3.227-233)

    Ironically, it seems that Benedick’s hurt pride will inspire him to not seem prideful, and eventually maybe even lead him to put aside his pride and love Beatrice.

    O, she tore the letter into a thousand halfpence,
    railed at herself that she should be so
    immodest to write to one that she knew would flout
    her. 'I measure him,' says she, 'by my own spirit,
    for I should flout him if he writ to me. Yea, though I
    love him, I should.' (2.3.148-153)

    It’s telling that though this conversation is entirely made up, it’s actually quite accurate. Even after Beatrice admits that she loves Benedick, in the last scene, her pride gets in the way of her public admission that she loves him. It’s interesting that Leonato and Don Pedro are spot-on in their assessment, as it’s proof that Beatrice and Benedick aren’t fooling anyone with their pride.

    Act III, Scene i

    O god of love! I know he doth deserve
    As much as may be yielded to a man,
    But Nature never framed a woman's heart
    Of prouder stuff than that of Beatrice.
    Disdain and scorn ride sparkling in her eyes,
    Misprizing what they look on, and her wit
    Values itself so highly that to her
    All matter else seems weak. She cannot love,
    Nor take no shape nor project of affection,
    She is so self-endeared. (3.1.49-58)

    Hero suggests that Beatrice’s pride gets in the way of valuing her suitors at their true worth. This is, again, ironic, as Beatrice is generally such an accurate observer of people and emotions. Perhaps this love-stuff is too close to her nose (and her heart) for comfort.


    What fire is in mine ears? Can this be true?
    Stand I condemned 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. (3.1.113-118)

    Up to now, we could’ve believed that Beatrice loved Benedick and just wouldn’t admit it. However, what moves Beatrice about the "secret" conversation she’s just heard is the accusation that she’s scornful and prideful. Her pride is hurt at being called prideful (just like Benedick). Beatrice’s pride moves her more than any latent love for Benedick; she’s humbly willing to attempt to improve herself, which is way cooler than changing herself for a guy.

    Act IV, Scene i

    For thee I'll lock up all the gates of love
    And on my eyelids shall conjecture hang,
    To turn all beauty into thoughts of harm,
    And never shall it more be gracious. (4.1.110-113)

    Claudio isn’t only disgusted by the acts he thinks Hero has committed, but it’s clear he thinks that his own pride is wounded by almost marrying such a woman. He feels he’s been deceived about love in general, and this (perhaps more than her betrayal) is what wounds him. These words are particularly important, as they are his parting comments before leaving Hero for dead.

    Wherefore? Why, doth not every earthly thing
    Cry shame upon her? Could she here deny
    The story that is printed in her blood?—
    Do not live, Hero, do not ope thine eyes,
    For, did I think thou wouldst not quickly die,
    Thought I thy spirits were stronger than thy shames,
    Myself would on the rearward of reproaches,
    Strike at thy life. Grieved I I had but one?
    Child I for that at frugal nature's frame?
    O, one too much by thee! Why had I one?
    Why ever wast thou lovely in my eyes?
    Why had I not with charitable hand
    Took up a beggar's issue at my gates,
    Who, smirchèd thus, and mired with infamy,
    I might have said, 'No part of it is mine;
    This shame derives itself from unknown loins'?
    But mine, and mine I loved, and mine I praised,
    And mine that I was proud on, mine so much
    That I myself was to myself not mine,
    Valuing of her—why she, O she, is fall'n
    Into a pit of ink, that the wide sea
    Hath drops too few to wash her clean again,
    And salt too little which may season give
    To her foul tainted flesh! (4.1.128-151)

    Leonato does not grieve for the apparent death of his only child; rather, he rejoices over it as the best way to hide her shame (and therefore his shame). This leads him to reveal that his wounded pride is what he’s really worried about. He wishes she was not his flesh and blood, but some adopted child, so he could say, "No part of this scandal is mine," and renounce the girl without any grief. It’s clear from Leonato’s words that he is more concerned about his own hurt pride than Hero’s dishonor.

    Act V, Scene i
    Don Pedro

    By my soul, nor I,
    And yet to satisfy this good old man
    I would bend under any heavy weight
    That he'll enjoin me to. (5.1.288-291)

    Like Claudio, Don Pedro says he’ll willingly undergo punishment. He claims this is not because he’s actually done an awful thing, but because he wishes to "satisfy" Leonato. Don Pedro and Claudio both are too glib in saying essentially, "I’m sorry, but it wasn’t my fault, and aren’t I a good guy for being willing to get a slap on the wrist for it anyway?" This is some egregious insensitivity, but a healthy dose of pride too—the men are concerned with trying to weakly defend their own reputations.


    I know not how to pray your patience,
    Yet I must speak. Choose your revenge yourself.
    Impose me to what penance your invention
    Can lay upon my sin. Yet sinned I not
    But in mistaking. (5.1.283-287)

    Claudio is really outrageous here – he’s just found out he wrongfully accused Hero and he thinks he caused her death. Instead of just hanging his head in shame and being sorry, he feels the need to point out that he was misled, so none of this was really his fault. It seems Claudio is more concerned with protecting his pride than mourning over his part in Hero’s death. Even that he’s willing to submit himself to punishment seems more about the appropriate formalities of dealing with his wrong than any actual regret or repentance he has.

  • Respect and Reputation

    Act I, Scene i

    If you swear, my lord, you shall not be
    forsworn. [To Don John.] Let me bid you welcome,
    my lord, being reconciled to the Prince your brother,
    I owe you all duty. (1.1.150-153)

    Leonato deals with Don John justly, though the man is a proven villain. For Leonato, it’s enough that Don John has made amends with Don Pedro. This seems to have restored his reputation, which makes Leonato trust the former villain. Again, reputation isn’t based on deeds.

    I find here that Don
    Pedro hath bestowed much honor on a young
    Florentine called Claudio. (1.1.9-11)

    Claudio’s reputation precedes him, literally—we’re introduced to Claudio’s reputation before we meet him. It’s important that in our first exposure to this central character, the man is judged not by his deeds, but by what people (in this case, Don Pedro) say about him. This ends up being the case for Hero also; her bad reputation doesn’t come about from her actions, but based on Claudio thinking poorly of her.

    Don Pedro

    Truly the lady
    fathers herself.—Be happy, lady, for you are like
    an honorable father. (1.1.108-110)

    Don Pedro grants Hero a positive reputation by saying she is her father’s daughter. The important thing is that reputation is bestowed easily, so it can be taken away easily too. Looking forward, we know that even Hero’s father, the source of her reputation, will denounce her, destroying her reputation.

    Act I, Scene iii
    Don John

    Will it serve for any model to build mischief
    on? What is he for a fool that betroths himself to
    Marry, it is your brother's right hand.
    Who, the most exquisite Claudio?
    Even he.
    A proper squire. And who? And who? Which
    way looks he?
    Marry, on Hero, the daughter and heir of
    A very forward March chick! How came you
    to this? (1.3.44-55)

    Don John caricatures Claudio and Hero, belittling their good reputations (perhaps in preparation of spoiling their reputations altogether), and using their best qualities as though they were bad qualities. 

    Claudio, who is actually a count, is called a lowly squire, and Hero, who is known for her youth, is maligned as being a chick who has hatched prematurely. Don John seems resentful and wants to destroy the young lovers’ reputations, maybe because they are currently in such high standing.

    Act II, Scene i

    Why, he is the Prince's jester, a very dull
    fool; only his gift is in devising impossible slanders.
    None but libertines delight in him, and the commendation
    is not in his wit but in his villainy, for he
    both pleases men and angers them, and then they
    laugh at him and beat him. (2.1.135-140)

    Beatrice cuts Benedick deep here by suggesting his reputation is not what he’s thought it has been. While he knows men love him for his merriness, he might not have considered that they also mock him for it. Reputation is a powerful thing, especially when you hear about your own reputation from others, and it turns out to be far from how you thought.

    Act III, Scene i

    What fire is in mine ears? Can this be true?
    Stand I condemned 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. (3.1.113-118)

    Beatrice is willing to love Benedick, but it seems that the main force behind the decision is to clear her own reputation.

    Act III, Scene ii

    If I see anything tonight why I should not
    marry her, tomorrow in the congregation, where I
    should wed, there will I shame her. (3.2.116-118)

    This is particularly nasty of Claudio. Rather than just canceling the wedding if Hero is disloyal, he’s hell-bent on disgracing her in front of the whole congregation. His plan is more about vengefully ruining her reputation than it is about escaping a loveless, dishonest marriage.

    Act IV, Scene i

    She, dying, as it must be so maintained,
    Upon the instant that she was accused,
    Shall be lamented, pitied, and excused
    Of every hearer. For it so falls out
    That what we have we prize not to the worth
    Whiles we enjoy it, but being lacked and lost,
    Why then we rack the value, then we find
    The virtue that possession would not show us
    Whiles it was ours. (4.1.225-233)

    The Friar thinks Hero’s reputation will be restored once people think she’s dead. She’ll become the object of lamentation, and people will repent ever having thought bad things about her. It’s the "you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone" idea. This continues to emphasize the point that reputation is not based on deeds; the Friar thinks that Hero’s reputation will improve simply by manipulating the emotions of the public.

    Friar, it cannot be.
    Thou seest that all the grace that she hath left
    Is that she will not add to her damnation
    A sin of perjury. She not denies it. (4.1.180-183)

    Leonato raises a good point (though we are disappointed in him). It’s interesting to wonder why Hero didn’t deny more adamantly the charges against her. All she said was that she didn’t talk to a man at her window yesterday, but her whole character was called into question. If her own father—who likely wanted to believe her—wasn’t convinced by what she had to say, we’ve got to wonder why Hero didn’t try a little harder to stand up for herself.

    Don Pedro

    What should I
    I stand dishonored that have gone about
    To link my dear friend to a common stale. (4.1.65-68)

    Don Pedro is unduly harsh, but he doesn’t think so, as he earnestly thinks Hero is guilty. Not only has he compromised Claudio’s good name by linking the boy to a seeming harlot, but he’s also worried that his own good name is now on the line. Claudio and Don Pedro are selfishly worried about their own reputations.


    No, Leonato,
    I never tempted her with word too large,
    But, as a brother to his sister, showed
    Bashful sincerity and comely love.
    And seemed I ever otherwise to you?
    Out on the, seeming! I will write against it.
    You seem to me as Dian in her orb,
    As chaste as is the bud ere it be blown.
    But you are more intemperate in your blood
    Than Venus, or those pampered animals
    That rage in savage sensuality.
    Is my lord well that he doth speak so wide? (4.1.52-63)

    It’s interesting here that Hero, instead of simply stating that she is completely innocent, asks Claudio how she "seemed" to him. However, Claudio’s entire point is that she seemed innocent, and was not. Unlike Claudio, Hero implies that her reputation should be based on her actions, rather than on accusations and other peoples’ opinions.

    Sweet Prince, you learn me noble thankfulness.—
    There, Leonato, take her back again.
    Give not this rotten orange to your friend.
    She's but the sign and semblance of her honor.
    Behold how like a maid she blushes here!
    O, what authority and show of truth
    Can cunning sin cover itself withal!
    Comes not that blood as modest evidence
    To witness simple virtue? Would you not swear,
    All you that see her, that she were a maid,
    By these exterior shows? But she is none.
    She knows the heat of a luxurious bed.
    Her blush is guiltiness, not modesty. (4.1.30-42)

    Claudio is hung up on how Hero appears – he thinks her image as a virtuous girl is false, masking her true nature. Reputation is linked with appearances – Hero blushes like a virgin, but Claudio thinks she isn’t one. Her reputation as a maiden rests on how she appears; in insisting that how Hero seems is not how she is, Claudio effectively undoes her reputation.

    Act IV, Scene ii

    Away! You are an ass, you are an ass!
    Dost thou not suspect my place? Dost
    thou not suspect my years? O, that he were here to
    write me down an ass! But masters, remember that
    I am an ass, though it be not written down, yet
    forget not that I am an ass.—No, thou villain, thou
    art full of piety, as shall be proved upon thee by
    good witness. I am a wise fellow and, which is more,
    an officer and, which is more, a householder and, 
    which is more, as pretty a piece of flesh as any is in
    Messina, and one that knows the law, go to, and a  
    rich fellow enough, go to, and a fellow that hath had
    losses, and one that hath two gowns and everything
    handsome about him.—Bring him away.—O, that I
    had been writ down an ass! (4.2.75-89)

    Dogberry lists all of the trappings he has that make him a gentleman, thinking he is actually securing his reputation. It’s an interesting insight into Dogberry’s insecurity, but it’s also echoed by a later conversation between Benedick and Beatrice (see 5.2.73). 

    When Benedick says he’s wise, Beatrice points out he is unwise to say so. We wouldn’t have believed Dogberry was a gentleman under any circumstances (given his backwards speech), but we’re especially sure he isn’t a gentleman now that he’s insisted that he is one... because that’s not gentlemanly thing to say.

    Act V, Scene i

    Yea, even I alone.
    No, not so, villain, thou beliest thyself.
    Here stand a pair of honorable men—
    A third is fled—that had a hand in it.—
    I thank you, princes, for my daughter's death.
    Record it with your high and worthy deeds.
    'Twas bravely done, if you bethink you of it. (5.1.276-282)

    Leonato cuts deep when he refers to Don Pedro and Claudio as "honorable men." The men are seemingly honorable, but you might also interpret Leonato’s line as ironic, especially as he says the men should add his innocent daughter’s murder to their list of praiseworthy deeds. Leonato suggests their honor is undercut by their haughty credulity, or willingness to believe others and be so cocky about it to boot.

    Act V, Scene ii

    Thou and I are too wise to woo peaceably.
    It appears not in this confession. There's not
    one wise man among twenty that will praise
    An old, an old instance, Beatrice, that lived
    in the time of good neighbors. If a man do not erect
    in this age his own tomb ere he dies, he shall live no
    longer in monument than the bell rings and the
    widow weeps. (5.2.72-80)

    Beatrice suggests that a man’s reputation should be conveyed and earned by his actions and not his words, and especially not by his own words. Benedick points out that reputation these days is nothing but what men say it is. Who do you agree with more, Beatrice or Benedick? 

    Act V, Scene iii

    Done to death by slanderous tongues
        Was the Hero that here lies.
    Death, in guerdon of her wrongs,
        Gives her fame which never dies.
    So the life that died with shame
        Lives in death with glorious fame
    . (5.3.3-8)

    This is a really telling commentary about priorities in the play. Claudio’s epitaph clears Hero’s reputation, but says nothing of his love for her.

    Act V, Scene iv

    One Hero died defiled, but I do live,
    And surely as I live, I am a maid.
    The former Hero! Hero that is dead!
    She died, my lord, but whiles her slander lived. (5.4.65-68)

    Hero doesn’t lament the damage that the men have done to her feelings, or even to herself, but instead excuses the men because her reputation has been cleared.

    Did I not tell you she was innocent?
    So are the Prince and Claudio, who accused her
    Upon the error that you heard debated.
    But Margaret was in some fault for this,
    Although against her will, as it appears
    In the true course of all the question. (5.4.1-6)

    Leonato has cleared Don Pedro and Claudio’s reputation. Once Leonato learned that the men had been misinformed, and that they acted on that misinformation, he declares the men innocent. Still, it’s dubious whether their actions are justified simply by their misunderstanding.

  • Language and Communication

    Act I, Scene i

    I pray you, is Signior Mountanto returned
    from the wars or no? (1.1.30-31)

    Through the play we get used to Beatrice talking with Benedick in a less-than-straightforward way. In this line, she uses a name for Benedick that no one knows. Also, this is Beatrice’s first line in the play—it’s significant that her first words are a reference to Benedick.

    Don John

    I thank you. I am not of many words, but I
    thank you. (1.1.154-155)

    Don John doesn’t use language as deftly or frequently as the other characters. He speaks little, and speaks straight. You might argue that Don John is a dangerous character because he’s guarded with his words. 

    All of the other main characters say an awful lot (even if their meanings are a little veiled). Don John, by not saying much, shows that he is concealing something, and is not to be trusted. It’s the "sticks and stones" notion—words can be bandied about easily, and can be forgiven easily too. Don John, however, seems to prefer real harm over intangible words.


    I would my horse had the speed of your
    tongue, and so good a continuer, but keep your
    way, i' God's name, I have done.
    You always end with a jade's trick. I know
    you of old. (1.1.139-143)

    Benedick drops out of the argument because he can’t keep up with Beatrice. The two characters use their language as weapons, but never seem to be able to end or resolve their fights.

    Benedick, didst thou note the daughter of
    Signior Leonato?
    I noted her not, but I looked on her. (1.1.158-160)

    This is the first of many usages of the word "noting" in the play; Benedick teases that he looked on the girl, but she was unremarkable, so he took no particular notice of her. Language is precise here, and communicates that Benedick has some disdain (maybe not particularly for Hero, but for taking note of women).

    I have almost matter enough in me for such
    an embassage, and so I commit you—
    To the tuition of God. From my house, if I had
    The sixth of July. Your loving friend,
    Nay, mock not, mock not. The body of your
    discourse is sometime guarded with fragments,
    and the guards are but slightly basted on neither.
    Ere you flout old ends any further, examine your
    conscience. And so I leave you. (1.1.273-283)

    This is important—Benedick is silly an awful lot, but he's aware that the silliness of his language is often just a ruse to hide his more serious thoughts. He’s not a shallow jester, but more of a John Oliver type. Being funny is both his armor and weaponry.

    Act I, Scene ii

    The Prince and Count Claudio, walking in a thick-pleached
    alley in mine orchard, were thus much
    overheard by a man of mine: the Prince discovered
    to Claudio that he loved my niece your daughter and
    meant to acknowledge it this night in a dance, and if
    he found her accordant, he meant to take the 
    present time by the top and instantly break with you
    of it.
    Hath the fellow any wit that told you this? (1.2.9-17)

    The wires are all crossed here – Antonio’s man has misheard or misreported this news. This mishearing turns out to be a minor hiccup compared the graver, and more deliberate "misnotings" in the play. However, it’s still significant because it sets the tone for mishearing, misreporting, and generally bad communication to be one of the play’s main themes.

    Act II, Scene i

    She told me, not thinking I
    had been myself, that I was the Prince's jester, 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. (2.1.239-247)

    Benedick is undone by Beatrice’s quick tongue before he’s undone by his love for her. (Or maybe it’s her quick tongue that makes him love her.)

    Act II, Scene iii

    Ha! 'Against my will I am sent to bid you
    come in to dinner.' There's a double meaning in
    that. 'I took no more pains for those thanks than
    you took pains to thank me.' That's as much as to 
    say 'Any pains that I take for you is as easy as
    thanks.' If I do not take pity of her, I am a villain; if I
    do not love her, I am a Jew. I will go get her picture. (2.3.259-265)

    Benedick convinces himself that there’s underlying romantic meaning in Beatrice’s words, even when that’s obviously not the case. Love has the power to make us see what we want in conversation.

    Act III, Scene i

    Good Margaret, run thee to the parlor.
    There shalt thou find my cousin Beatrice
    Proposing with the prince and Claudio.
    Whisper her ear and tell her I and Ursula
    Walk in the orchard and our whole discourse
    Is all of her. Say that thou overheardst us,
    And bid her steal into the pleachèd bower
    Where honeysuckles ripened by the sun
    Forbid the sun to enter, like favorites
    Made proud by princes, that advance their pride
    Against that power that bred it. There will she hide
    To listen our purpose. This is thy office.
    Bear thee well in it and, leave us alone. (3.1.1-14)

    Hero’s descriptive language here is some of the only flowery stuff in the play. From this passage we see that Hero’s ability in language isn’t clever humor, but the ability to find beauty. Just as Beatrice and Benedick’s language reflects their sharp nature, Hero’s beautiful language reflects her sweetness and gentleness.

    Act III, Scene iii

    Come hither, neighbor Seacoal. [Seacoal
    steps forward.] God hath blessed you with a good
    name. To be a well-favored man is the gift of
    fortune, but to write and read comes by nature.
    Both which, master constable—
    You have. I knew it would be your answer.
    Well, for your favor, sir, why, give God thanks, and
    make no boast of it, and for your writing and
    reading, let that appear when there is no need of
    such vanity. (3.3.13-22)

    Dogberry bungles his words throughout all of his lines. That he mistakes writing and reading as a sign of vanity is a good introduction to exactly how Dogberry views the world. To him, being a learned man is a good way to show off how refined you are. He attempts to use grandiose speech to convince everyone that’s he’s a gentleman... even though he doesn’t really have a grasp of the vocabulary he employs. Inadvertently, he is correct; reading and writing are not usually things of vanity, but he employs them vainly, and often in vain. (Wordplay!)

    Act IV, Scene i
    Don John

    Sir, they are spoken, and these things are true. (4.1.70)

    There’s something to be said about Don John’s language—while everyone else is clearly passionate about the proceedings, and full of words, explanations, and fury—Don John speaks only a single line. His phrase is so simple and forceful that you might almost think it was true—if you didn’t know he was a determined villain.


    As strange as the thing I know not. It were as
    possible for me to say I loved nothing so well as you,
    But believe me not, and yet I lie not, I confess
    nothing, nor I deny nothing. I am sorry for my
    cousin. (4.1.283-287)

    Beatrice has just heard Benedick bare his soul. Rather than pouring her heart out to him in return, she stumbles over her words, finally just declaring that she’s worried for Hero. This uneasiness is weird for Beatrice—she usually has a perfect quick and cutting reply for everything. It’s not clear whether she’s unsure of her feelings for Benedick, or is afraid to admit she loves Benedick... or maybe is just really caught up with her cousin’s life being ruined.

    Act V, Scene i

    Marry, sir, they have committed false
    report; moreover, they have spoken untruths;
    secondarily, they are slanders; sixth and lastly, they
    have belied a lady; thirdly, they have verified unjust
    things; and, to conclude, they are lying knaves. (5.1.225-229)

    Dogberry’s failure to communicate rests upon his insistence to be overly formal in his speech. He tries to speak in a manner that gives him legitimacy (using the formulas of speech used in court and legal matters). Ironically, his attempts to use formal language undermine his legitimacy. If Dogberry would just speak straight (instead of worrying about his presentation), then the whole confusion leading to Hero’s undoing could’ve been avoided.

    Act V, Scene ii

    BENEDICK [Sings]
       The god of love
       That sits above,
    And knows me, and knows me,
       How pitiful I deserve—

    I mean in singing. But in loving Leander the good
    swimmer, Troilus the first employer of panders, and
    a whole book full of these quondam carpetmongers,
    whose names yet run smoothly in the even
    road of a blank verse, why, they were never so truly
    turned over and over as my poor self in love. Marry,
    I cannot show it in rhyme. I have tried. I can find out
    no rhyme to 'lady' but 'baby'—an innocent
    rhyme; for 'scorn,' 'horn'—a hard rhyme; for 
    'school', 'fool'—a babbling rhyme: very ominous
    endings. No, I was not born under a rhyming
    planet, nor cannot woo in festival terms. (5.2.26-41)

    Benedick is poetic in his thinking and speech, but he fails in writing. His references are rich, and all he uses wit to refer to the twisted version of love as presented by epic poetry: Leander was the lover of the mythological Hero (probably the namesake of Leonato’s daughter). Leander died by drowning as he was on his way to see his love, swimming across a river to find her. The story is a twisted version of love, and Benedick warps it further by joking that Leander was a good swimmer.

    Benedick jokes that Troilus is pandering to his love, Cressida, but Cressida betrays him by loving another. Benedick specifically uses "panders" as a pun on Pandarus, Cressida’s uncle who originally set the couple up.

    Finally, "quondam carpet-mongers" (what???) means knights of the old days who avoided military service. It was joked that they earned their keep by lounging around on the court carpets, rather than fighting on the battlefield. These knights exemplify the definitional shift occurring during this time: once, being a gentleman meant being a great warrior, but the term was slowly changing and coming around to signify one who was versed in the arts of the court, including being a great lover (Remember what Beatrice says about manhood in 4.1.319). 

    Ultimately, this all means that Benedick thinks that the guys who wrote epic love poetry were wusses, and though their stories have been immortalized by great poems, they didn’t love as deeply as he does. Thus, poetry is nothing when love is true. (Phew!)

  • Lies and Deceit

    Act I, Scene i
    Don Pedro

    'Tis once, thou lovest,
    And I will fit thee with the remedy.
    I know we shall have reveling tonight.
    I will assume thy part in some disguise
    And tell fair Hero I am Claudio,
    And in her bosom I'll unclasp my heart
    And take her hearing prisoner with the force
    And strong encounter of my amorous tale. (1.1.313-320)

    Don Pedro will manipulate Hero into falling in love with Claudio. It’s a little shady that Don Pedro will get Hero to fall in love with his words, thinking they’re Claudio’s words. Claudio and Don Pedro don’t care if they manipulate the girl under false pretenses, as they’ve got their eyes on the prize of winning her (even if she is deceived into being won by a guy she doesn’t know and has never spoken to).

    You embrace your charge too willingly. [Turning
    to Hero.] I think this is your daughter.
    Her mother hath many times told me so.
    Were you in doubt, sir, that you asked her? (1.1.101-104)

    The first mention we have of a married couple (Leonato and his absent wife) is a joke about whether that wife may have deceived Leonato about the parentage of their child. Marriage is set up to be lampooned, but it seems that deception is expected as a natural part of marriage.


    Why, i' faith, methinks she's too low for a
    high praise, too brown for a fair praise, and too
    little for a great praise. Only this commendation I
    can afford her, that were she other than she is, she
    were unhandsome, and being no other but as she is,
    I do not like her.
    Thou thinkest I am in sport. I pray thee tell
    me truly how thou lik'st her. (1.1.167-172)

    Claudio can’t accept that Benedick has nothing more to say about Hero than that she’s short, dark, and too small. He thinks Benedick is lying about his honest feelings, which supports the notion that Benedick doesn’t often say what he thinks. Benedick prefers to deceive humorously over speaking truthfully.

    Can the world buy such a jewel?
    Yea, and a case to put it into. But speak you
    this with a sad brow? Or do you play the flouting
    Jack, to tell us Cupid is a good hare-finder and
    Vulcan a rare carpenter? Come, in what key shall a
    man take you to go in the song? (1.1.177-182)

    Benedick, in turn, can’t believe that Claudio is really being honest either—he wonders whether Claudio can possibly love this girl—maybe because the young man noticed her just ten minutes ago, maybe because Hero’s not attractive.

    That a woman conceived me, I thank her;
    that she brought me up, I likewise give her most
    humble thanks. But that I will have a recheat 
    winded in my forehead or hang my bugle in an
    invisible baldrick, all women shall pardon me.
    Because I will not do them the wrong to mistrust
    any, I will do myself the right to trust none. And the
    fine is, for the which I may go the finer, I will live a
    bachelor. (1.1.234-242)

    Benedick says his main obstacle to love is that he’ll never do a lady the disfavor of mistrusting her. At the same time, he’s certain he can’t bring himself to trust a lady, so it looks like he’ll be ladyless. It’s not that he thinks love itself is awful (maybe), but that he finds deception to be inherent to women (and love).

    Act I, Scene iii
    Don John

    I wonder that thou, being, as thou say'st thou
    art, born under Saturn, goest about to apply a moral
    medicine to a mortifying mischief. I cannot hide
    what I am. I must be sad when I have cause, and
    smile at no man's jests; eat when I have stomach,
    and wait for no man's leisure; sleep when I am
    drowsy, and tend on no man's business; laugh when
    I am merry, and claw no man in his humor. (1.3.10-17)

    This is a particular bit of irony—Don John says he’s not really capable of deception. He can’t hide what he’s feeling, or what a villain he is. You’d think this was crazy, because Don John does so much deceiving in the play. 

    Come to think of it, he never actually made a great show of being a good or warm guy to begin with. He skulks around the castle, and while he tells direct lies to others in the service of evil, no one could ever say that he tried to pretend to be someone he’s not. In that case, who’s more at fault, Don John for being a trickster, or Don Pedro and Claudio for trusting him? Deception is a complex thing.

    Act II, Scene i

    There's little of the melancholy element in
    her, my lord. She is never sad but when she sleeps,
    and not ever sad then, for I have heard my daughter
    say she hath often dreamt of unhappiness and
    waked herself with laughing. (2.1.335-339)

    Here, Beatrice might be practicing self-deception. She knows there’s a lot to be miserable about in the world, but it’s easier to laugh than to cry at things you have no control over. This sleeping self-deception casts some light on Beatrice’s ability to be happy in the waking world, even though she might reasonably be sad that she’s so alone.

    I have a good eye, uncle; I can see a church
    by daylight. (2.1.80-81)

    Beatrice responds modestly to her Uncle Leonato’s compliment that she’s an observant girl. Her reply suggests that she’s not uncommonly observant, and can only see what’s in clear view (like a church— often the tallest building in a town—in daylight). Still, this is a misguiding statement. Beatrice seems to be demurring out of modesty, but we know she actually doesn’t see everything. The most obvious example is how she doesn’t recognize her strong (positive) feelings for Benedick. Later, Beatrice also misses the fact that she’s being manipulated into loving Benedick.

    Come, come, do you think I do not know you
    by your excellent wit? Can virtue hide itself? Go to,
    mum, you are he. (2.1.119-121)

    This is a nice little piece of parallel commentary, as Ursula dances with Antonio before the scene turns over to Benedick and Beatrice at the masquerade ball. Even Ursula, who is not nearly as bright as Beatrice, can recognize the man she’s dancing with based on his wit, which she calls a virtue. 

    Beatrice, by contrast, can’t recognize Benedick’s wit when he dances with her. This is an example of Shakespeare’s split screen habit, where the dull characters can figure out what the smart characters cannot, often because the smart characters are too caught up in themselves to notice the obvious (or see the church by daylight, if you will).

    Don Pedro

    I will teach you how to humor your
    cousin, that she shall fall in love with Benedick.—
     and I, with your two helps, will so practice on
    Benedick that, in despite of his quick wit and his
    queasy stomach, he shall fall in love with Beatrice.
    If we can do this, Cupid is no longer an archer; his
    glory shall be ours, for we are the only love gods. Go
    in with me, and I will tell you my drift. (2.1.371-378)

    Don Pedro and Claudio engage in some deception, but rather than tricking him into loving Beatrice, most likely they intend to manipulate Benedick into coming to a conclusion on his own. They can lie, but they can’t assume their lies will persuade: only what’s latent in Benedick can bring him to love Beatrice. Their deception is just helping that process along.


    How know you he loves her?
    I heard him swear his affection.
    So did I too, and he swore he would marry
    her tonight.
    Come, let us to the banquet. (2.1.165-169)

    Claudio’s great failing is that he’s easily manipulated into suspicion, which leaves him wide open to be deceived.

    Act III, Scene i

    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. (3.1.18-24)

    When Hero employs the same process as Don Pedro and Claudio, she frames what’s really going on. They’re definitely deceiving Beatrice about Benedick’s supposed condition, but they’re arguably only guilty of planting hearsay (rumor). They only mean to let suspicion and hearsay lead Beatrice to the conclusion that she probably would’ve come to anyway. Maybe.

    Act III, Scene ii
    Don John

    The word is too good to paint out her
    wickedness. I could say she were worse. Think you
    of a worse title, and I will fit her to it. Wonder not
    till further warrant. Go but with me tonight, you 
    shall see her chamber window entered, even the
    night before her wedding day. If you love her then,
    to-morrow wed her. But it would better fit your
    honor to change your mind. (3.2.102-109)

    Again, Don John uses manipulation to plant the seeds of suspicion. He doesn’t give any details about Hero’s disloyalty; but instead, he just says he’ll prove it to them later, and gives them the whole afternoon to imagine the girl’s transgressions. What’s true is often not as bad as what we can imagine is true, especially if we’re lured in by suspicion.

    Act IV, Scene i
    Don Pedro

    Now, if you are a maid, answer to this.
    I talked with no man at that hour, my lord.
    Why, then, are you no maiden. (4.1.90-92)

    In a fit of Shakespearean irony, Hero is condemned as a deceiver for telling the truth.

    Act IV, Scene ii

    Signior Leonato, truth it is, good signior,
    Your niece regards me with an eye of favor.
    That eye my daughter lent her; 'tis most true.
    And I do with an eye of love requite her.
    The sight whereof I think you had from me,
    From Claudio, and the Prince; but what's your will?
    Your answer, sir, is enigmatical.
    But for my will, my will is your good will
    May stand with ours, this day to be conjoined
    In the state of honorable marriage—
    In which, good friar, I shall desire your help. (5.4.21-33)

    Though Benedick and Beatrice essentially arrived at loving each other because of the manipulation of others, this is the closest they ever come to discovering Don Pedro’s scheme. However, this "good" deception is ultimately less important than Benedick’s love for Beatrice.

    Act V, Scene i

    I have marked
    A thousand blushing apparitions
    To start into her face, a thousand innocent shames
    In angel whiteness beat away those blushes,
    And in her eye there hath appeared a fire
    To burn the errors that these princes hold
    Against her maiden truth. Call me a fool,
    Trust not my reading nor my observations,
    Which with experimental seal doth warrant
    The tenure of my book; trust not my age,
    My reverence, calling, nor divinity,
    If this sweet lady lie not guiltless here
    Under some biting error. (4.1.167-179)

    The Friar trusts that his eyes, and everything he’s ever known about Hero, don’t deceive him. His judgment implicitly calls into question the judgment of her accusers. Something isn’t right, and Friar Francis is willing to bet his learning, observation, and even his Godliness on it. He knows he’s not deceived by Hero, therefore the others have been deceived by the accusers.

    Act V, Scene iv

    Do not you love me?
    Why no, no more than reason.
    Why then, your uncle and the Prince and Claudio
    Have been deceived. They swore you did.
    Do not you love me?
    Troth, no, no more than reason.
    Why then, my cousin, Margaret, and Ursula
    Are much deceived, for they did swear you did.
    They swore that you were almost sick for me.
    They swore that you were well-nigh dead for me. (5.4.76-85)

    Benedick and Beatrice quip that everyone around them is very deceived about their love for each other, but they’re only fooling themselves. (Ooooh!)

    Well, daughter, and you gentlewomen all,
    Withdraw into a chamber by yourselves,
    And when I send for you, come hither masked. (5.4.10-12)

    Deception continues to be used freely even after the entire earlier portion of the play has been fraught with mishaps caused by deception. There’s no good reason for Leonato to mask the women and keep up the charade of Hero’s death, but he’s going to do it anyway. Has no one learned his lesson?!