Beatrice’s Wit and Benedick’s Love

In many ways, Beatrice and Benedick subvert the typical Shakespearean relationship. They are introduced immediately with a “skirmish of wit,” between them, in a “merry war.” They are sort-of-friends who like to make fun of each other a lot, and compete over who can be wittier. This seems unsual for a male/female relationship in Shakespeare. It seems that Beatrice is prouder of her intelligence than most female Shakespearean characters, despite it being the reason she will never get a husband. She contrasts Hero, who is polite and charming in a way that seems to suggest more femininity. Hero is sought after by various men because they aren’t threatened by her intelligence.

Benedick, who keeps up with Beatrice’s vituperative tongue, hears a staged conversation that Beatrice is in love with him, and falls for her immediately. Benedick initially claims that he will never love a woman, and never get married. In his immediate change of heart, he falls into a typical Shakespearean trope. However, upon hearing that Beatrice is in love with him, he seems to say that he will love her out of sympathy, as to not hurt her feelings. He decides that it is some kind of disservice to stay a bachelor because “the world must be peopled.” In this way, this relationship proves even more complex. It might suggest Benedick’s genuine compassion for Beatrice that he couldn’t deny her love when he discovers it. It also might suggest that he has always been in love with her, and decided on not getting married because he knew he couldn’t be with her. I think this idea suggests more depth than the typical love-at-first-sight Shakespearean relationship. Beatrice and Benedick have a rapport, and they (maybe secretly) admire each other’s wit and intelligence. On the surface, it seems as though Benedick is being extremely shallow, and deciding to marry Beatrice out of pity, and maybe he is. But I think the implication is that Beatrice have a legitimate foundation for a relationship that they have denying themselves because they felt the other wasn’t interested.

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3 thoughts on “Beatrice’s Wit and Benedick’s Love

  1. elisebrucche

    You have an excellent point. The equal footing, in terms of wit and intelligence, enjoyed by Beatrice and Benedick is unprecedented. Generally, Shakespearean couples struggle with each other, but is always pretty clear that the man has the upperhand. The suitor almost always has the last word or, failing that, the last gesture. Shakespeare’s wooing usually involves a physical struggle, such as in MIDSUMMER when Helena struggles with Demetrius to make him stay with her. Unsurprisingly, the man is able to overpower the woman to get his way. However, as you have noted, Beatrice and Benedick’s struggle is all verbal, and in this they are impeccably matched. WIth the physical powerplay removed, it is easier to believe their fights are signs of mutual affection rather than simply a man trying to dominate a woman.

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  2. melissav92

    I completely agree with all of your ideas, especially the fact that Beatrice and Benedick’s relationship is unlike most romantic relationships we see in Shakespeare’s works. They most definitely challenge the archetypal Shakespearean love. Usually we see that the couple has an undying love for one another within their first encounter, but with Beatrice and Benedick there is a witty banter which I really enjoy because I personally find this to be more realistic. Deep down I feel Beatrice and Benedick both have feelings for one another otherwise Benedick would not have been so quick to believe what he overheard about Beatrice being in love with him at the end of act 2.

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  3. gerouc1

    Another point of contrast is Beatrice and Hero’s names with their personalities. Someone with a name meaning “holy/blessed”, one would assume the bearer of that name would be sweet, passive, and feminine in nature (like Hero’s) instead of a brash, sarcastic personality (like Beatrice’s).
    Then with Hero, a very masculine sounding name might point to a stronger personality (like Beatrice), over the demure personality Hero has.
    I wonder if this contrast continues with the other characters.

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