Why the sudden change?

From the start of Act I to the end of Act II, Benedick’s heart has transitioned from fervent hate to the sudden ability to think about love and marriage without his previously scornful view. From one long speech about Claudio’s awful foolish change from a focused soldier to amorous lover in the beginning of Act II scene three, he adjusts his own schemas by the end of the scene. He too adapts to the prospects of love when he thinks of being with Beatrice and claims “When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married” (Line 214 page 1437). There is a question about Benedick’s change; Was he already in love with Beatrice and so the simple suggestion of her returned love affected and changed him that quickly and that deeply? The simple suggestion being the staged conversation between Don Pedro, Leonato, and Claudio about how Beatrice loves Benedick.

When we meet Beatrice she identifies herself to others as a quick witted woman who hates Benedick. We do not know Beatrice for Beatrice, we read her as Beatrice who hates Benedick. She tells the neutral messenger, who comes to Messina sharing the news that Don Pedro is coming, all about Benedick’s faults and evils in a rapid fire speed. At the masked dance she easily and readily shares with a complete stranger her description of Benedick — a dull-witted fool who slanders and insults people. As the reader we know she shares this description with Benedick himself.

In the first two acts the audience does not see her transition from hating Benedick to realizing she loves him, yet we get opportunities to sense the history between her and Benedick. We get a huge amount of insight in the few short lines that Beatrice shares with Don Pedro. In act II scene one, the audience is told how Beatrice did love Benedick and gave him her heart, “… I gave him use for it, a double heart for his single one” (Line 243 page 1430). However, Benedick did not return the love for her. We can conceive that Beatrice was extremely hurt by this and has never forgiven him which was why Don Pedro originally believes her to have “lost the heart” of Benedick through her constant defending attack (Line 240 page 1430). Don Pedro and Beatrice continue this sweet exchange when Don Pedro looks past her perceived shrewishness and sees her capacity to be happy for her cousin, Hero, later in the scene. Beatrice delights in Hero’s response to Claudio’s proposal and essentially says to Hero if you have no words for Claudio, kiss him! Don Pedro observes this and comments to Beatrice “in faith, lady, you have a merry heart” (Line 273 page 1430). Don Pedro is among the first male character to show empathy for Beatrice and in turn, she responds positively to him. Beatrice will not talk to her uncles about her getting married in Act II scene one. Beatrice scorns Benedick and Leonato says “…niece, thou wilt never get thee a husband if thou be so shrewd of thy tongue” (Line 16 page 1424). Beatrice explains how she cuckold her husband if God did send her one. But then, in act II scene one, she admits to Don Pedro that she wants a husband and will probably never find one; “I may sit in a corner and cry ‘Heigh-ho for a husband’” (Line 279 page 1430). The shift in Beatrice to say how she felt occurred after Don Pedro’s empathetic observation.

Beatrice and Benedick have an odd desire for empathy. We know psychologically speaking and from studying people and the way they act that those who put up a hard wall against love are those who are in most need of it. Thus far, only Don Pedro has the ability to recognize each character’s desire for love and only he has the ability to know what action to take. Don Pedro courts Hero for Claudio and in turn gets Claudio, Leonato, and Hero to help him attract Benedick and Beatrice to one another. The change in Benedick occurred within a page of text. One staged conversation shifted Benedick from closed off to Beatrice to more open to his love for her. One act of compassion from Don Pedro to Beatrice shifted her closed off view of marriage to a more honest and open view of marriage. The dazzling moon in the night sky knows of how quickly and suddenly empathy and compassion can shift an individual’s heart to love.

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One thought on “Why the sudden change?

  1. Margaret Hack

    The rapid shift in Benedick and Beatrice’s opinions regarding marriage, or even love, is quite shocking, especially since both are swayed by the same person. It is as if he is the trusted-all cupid, but there is no proof nor supporting evidence given in the play that would justify everyone’s blind acceptance of his ability to woo. We do not even hear that he has a wife, or has courted many a women in his time. I think his ability to persuade Benedick, despite the fake plot he created, is more impressive than his encounter with Beatrice. We saw in the opening scene of the play Beatrice’s immediate concern with Benedick and his return, foreshadowing a type of intimate relationship she wishes to have with him. Perhaps she just needed to hear that it is love, or perhaps Hero’s engagement to Claudio sparked her to be open with herself regarding her feelings towards Benedick.

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