“Shakespeare’s inventive exuberance in Much Ado is lavished upon Beatrice, who is a solitary eminence of the play… Much Ado About Nothing, known to many as Beatrice and Benedick, might as soon be called As You Like Beatrice, or What Beatrice Wills.” ~ Harold Bloom
You know that fantastic friend of yours who always has a potent comeback ready? When she speaks, every comment is followed by a rousing “Damn!”, “Zing!”, or “Truth” from the entire room. She always knows what to say, and never hesitates to say it. More than anything, she always has your back.
That sassy and smart lady with a toughness of spirit you cannot help but admire? That is Beatrice.
Beatrice is the grand dame of the high comedy Much Ado About Nothing. Pulling from the other comedic ladies, Beatrice has the wisdom of Rosalind, the creativity of Portia, and a touch of Katerina’s darkness. Add in her amazing wit and sexy banter, and our Much Ado heroine finds a balance which makes her a genuine heroine for women of every age.
When we first meet her, Beatrice is the charming, candid, and slightly older but oh-so-much wiser cousin of Hero. Beatrice uses her razor sharp tongue to make merry jest of the world until her dear cousin Hero is slandered on her wedding day. A caring and fiercely loyal woman, Beatrice swiftly jumps to her kin’s rescue and enlists Benedict to help her right this wrong (“It is a man’s office”). Though technically a supporting role, Beatrice’s passion and spirited individuality steals the show.
Beatrice spars with her words as would with a sword. Written in between Henry IV part II and Henry V, Beatrice and Benedick have the sparring capabilities of Hal and Falstaff. Harold Bloom aptly writes: “Beatrice and Benedick…it is important to recognize that they dominate their play only because Shakespeare endows them with courtly versions of Falstaff’s primal exuberance and cognitive power. Their mastery of prose owes something to the angrier duel of wit between Hal and Falstaff.”
Beatrice appeals to every modern woman because – unlike Rosalind, Portia, and even Juliet – she has experienced a broken heart. She is not the fairy tale princess. It takes more than the flick of a wand for her to find her happily ever after. Rather, she is a complex lady who knows heartache and hesitates before becoming vulnerable again:
Come Lady, you have lost the heart of Signor Benedick.
Indeed, my lord, he lent it to me awhile, and I gave him use for it, a double heart for his single one.
This hesitancy to fully embrace romantic love makes Beatrice an unexpectedly real, poignant, and complex character. Despite her huge heart, Beatrice doesn’t operate with only love in mind; rather, Beatrice has a sense of HONOR. More than anyone other character in Much Ado About Nothing, Beatrice lives in an admirable manner and demands these high standards from everyone else. While the rest of the characters are clueless after the ruined wedding, it is Beatrice who knows what must be done to restore honor, dignity and order. She tells Benedick:
“Is he not approved in the height a villain, that
hath slandered, scorned, dishonoured my kinswoman? O
that I were a man! What, bear her in hand until they
come to take hands; and then, with public
accusation, uncovered slander, unmitigated rancour,
–O God, that I were a man! I would eat his heart
in the market-place.”
By simply saying these words, Beatrice is in fact eating Claudio’s heart in the market-place! Ok, perhaps not literally. But by using the best weapon she has – her words – Beatrice is ensuring Claudio will be just as ruined as Hero. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. In this manner we see the warrior woman with her – a precursor to the Pirate Queen, Princess Lea, Xena, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and all the other women who take a stand even if the men around them cannot find their footing.
All of this is enough of a reason to love Miss Bea. But wait – there’s more! We love Beatrice even more thoroughly because she finally allows herself to love and be loved! Though she swears never to marry (“I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me”), after being tricked into believing that Benedick loves her, Beatrice instantly reciprocates. And our response? Couldn’t have happened to a better gal. Hence we receive some of her more beautiful lines:
“What fire is in mine ears? Can this be true?
Stand I condemen’d 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.
If thou dost love, my kindness shall incite thee
To bind our loves up in a holy band,
For others say though dost deserve, and I
Believe it better than reportingly.”
Beatrice delivers us the complexity of a wounded hurt and a happy ending. A double hitter. Well-played.
Beatrice is the true Shakespeare champion. Need more proof? Perhaps you should see it to believe it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1WDos5YgNjI