Benedick as an Entertaining Outsider

May 15, 2019 by Essay Writer

Benedick as an Entertaining Outsider

One of Much Ado About Nothing’s most beloved characters is Benedick, a willful and theatrical lord who vows to never be married. Throughout the play he demonstrates himself to be an entertainer to such an extent that it is difficult for the audience to discern whether he has been in love with Beatrice all along or if he has suddenly fallen for her at some point in the play. Also remarkable about this character is that as he develops, he switches allegiances, effectively reversing his role as an outsider.

We are first introduced to Benedick’s wit by way of his first line in response to Leonato’s assertion that Hero’s mother claims she is his daughter: “Were you in doubt, sir, that you asked her?” (1.1.104). He continues to demonstrate his rhetorical prowess and quick wit through his flytings with Beatrice, even when confessing his love to her in Act 4, scene 1. These characteristics present him as a thoroughly comic figure in the play, not only to the audience but to his companions as well. At the masquerade, Beatrice’s antagonistic description of him gives rise to his display of a tendency toward hyperbolic drama:

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. I am sure he is in the fleet. I would he had boarded me. (2.1.135–141)

When relaying this insult to his brother-in-arms, Benedick grossly exaggerates it:

…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. (2.1.239–244)

These excerpts show that he is not only an entertainer, but an outsider, one at whom to be laughed. Yet this perception of Benedick seems to change halfway through the play.

In the beginning, Benedick is a bachelor with a distinct fear of cuckoldry. This is clearly marked by the way he speaks of married men, notably in his lines “hath not the world one man but he will wear his cap with suspicion?” (1.1.193) and, with reference to marriage as being yoked, “if ever the sensible Benedick bear it, pluck off the bull’s horns and set them in my forehead” (1.1.257–59); he also states that he will trust no woman (1.1.234–242). His vow to remain unmarried is distinctly an outsider aspect, and his transformation from one who will not love to one who does, or at least pretends to do so, places him within the inner circle. Benedick contemplates the fact that a man (Claudio), who scorns the idea of love, may make a hypocrite of himself by falling in love, and proceeds to worry that the same might happen to him (2.3.6–36). It is a premonition that comes true later, after Benedick overhears the deceitful conversation amongst Leonato, Claudio, and the Prince. He justifies his sudden change of heart by declaring to himself that “When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married” (2.3.245–46). Thus Benedick plays another outsider character, the husband.

The differences in these entertaining figures becomes most prominent after Hero’s “death.” As a bachelor his allegiance lies with his brothers-in-arms, namely Don Pedro and Claudio; however, when in husband mode his loyalty is to Beatrice. The full transformation is seen in the first scene of Act 4, wherein Beatrice demands that Benedick kill Claudio. His first response is “Ha! Not for the wide world” (4.1.304), but when he fears that he may lose Beatrice’s heart he consents: “Enough, I am engaged. I will challenge him” (4.1.346). He proves himself to be a more serious dramatist in this role, as demonstrated in his confrontation of Claudio: “You are a villain. I jest not….You have killed a sweet lady, and her death shall fall heavy on you” (5.1.158–162). He remains theatrical in this regard, but also seems to have developed a level of maturity previously unseen in him. Until matters are reconciled at the end of the play, Benedick is torn between these two roles. As a bachelor he is an outsider to Beatrice; as a husband he is an outsider to Claudio and Don Pedro.

Despite his primary role as an entertaining outsider, Benedick reveals a deeper emotion: vulnerability. This aspect of the character is only seen when he is alone. Two of the most notable instances are in Act 2, scene 3, wherein Benedick worries he may fall in love as had Claudio, and then later in Act 5, scene 2, as he tries to write a song for Beatrice. He tries to find a way of expressing his love, but finds his poetry to be completely inadequate. This shows that Benedick is not merely a clown character whose position on marriage flips due to deception, but that he is a man who also carries self-doubt, making him multi-dimensional.

At this point it is clear to the audience that Benedick is in love and that his allegiance lies with Beatrice, reversing his position at the beginning of the play. It remains unclear, though, whether this development stems from a preexisting love for Beatrice, or whether the fall is sudden. If the latter is the case, the audience is left to wonder at which point this was, and why.

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