BENEDICK 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. BEATRICE 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.
BENEDICK 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 stake. DON PEDRO 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.
CLAUDIO My liege, your Highness now may do me good. DON PEDRO 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.
LEONATO You will never run mad, niece. BEATRICE 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
CLAUDIO '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.
ANTONIO [to Hero] Well, niece, I trust you will be ruled by your father. BEATRICE 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
BENEDICK 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
HERO 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.
HERO 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
BENEDICK 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.
CLAUDIO 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? DON PEDRO Hath any man seen him at the barber's? CLAUDIO No, but the barber's man hath been seen with him, and the old ornament of his cheek hath already stuffed tennis balls. LEONATO Indeed he looks younger than he did, by the loss of a beard. DON PEDRO Nay, he rubs himself with civet. Can you smell him out by that? CLAUDIO 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
BENEDICK With no sauce that can be devised to it. I protest I love thee. BEATRICE Why then, God forgive me! BENEDICK What offence, sweet Beatrice? BEATRICE You have stayed me in a happy hour. I was about to protest I loved you. BENEDICK And do it with all thy heart. BEATRICE I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest. BENEDICK Come, bid me do anything for thee. BEATRICE 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.
BENEDICK Ha! Not for the wide world! BEATRICE You kill me to deny it. Farewell. BENEDICK Tarry, sweet Beatrice. BEATRICE I am gone, though I am here. There is no love in you. Nay, I pray you let me go. BENEDICK Beatrice—
BEATRICE In faith, I will go. BENEDICK 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!"
BEATRICE It is a man's office, but not yours. BENEDICK 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.
CLAUDIO 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
BENEDICK Suffer love! A good epithet. I do suffer love indeed, for I love thee against my will. BEATRICE 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.
BENEDICK 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
BENEDICK 'Tis no such matter. Then you do not love me? BEATRICE 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?
CLAUDIO 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.