The Merry War; Romance and Masculinity

A motif throughout Much Ado About Nothing is the connection between love and war, passion and hate, romance and masculinity. Through the thoughts and actions of the characters the connection between these concepts is explored.

This connection is established in the very first scene of the play, by the return of Don Pedro and his friends from war, and is continued by Leonato’s comment on the “merry war” and “skirmish of wit” between Beatrice and Bennedick (I.i.50). Indeed, throughout the banter the underlying sexual tension is obvious, a fact noted by Don Pedro when he comments “She were an excellent wife for Benedick” (II.i.306). This truth comes to fruition with the ease which Don Pedro and the others get the two to declare their love for each other. Interestingly, both Benedick and Beatrice give similar speeches that further explore this connection.

In act two, scene three, Benedick gives a long soliloquy about the changes in Claudio since he fell in love with Hero. Benedick comments that “I have known when there was no music with/him but the drum and fife, and now had he rather hear the/ tabor and the pipe. I have known when he would have walked/ten mile afoot to see a good armor, and now will he lie ten/nights awake carving the fashion of a new doublet” (II.iii.12-15). In this speech, Benedick scorns love for how it turns masculine men into effeminate romantics, and voices his avoidance of the emotion.

By contrast, in a later speech to Benedick, Beatrice also laments the feminizing of men, but credits it to a lack of love, rather than an abundance. Furious that Benedick will not kill Claudio for her, Beatrice accuses Benedick of not truly loving her. She then goes on to say “Manhood is melted into courtesies/ valour into compliment, and men are turned into tongue” (IV.i.314). In this speech Beatrice echoes Benedick’s lament about the lack of true men, but her motivations are the opposite. Whereas Benedick saw love as the destroyer of masculinity, Beatrice sees it as the creator. There are several ways to interpret this, such as the opposite in perception being caused by the literal opposite of sexual attraction in regard to gender between the two. Or perhaps it demonstrates a distinction between the courtesies and complicated speech that Benedick perceives as love, and the true, violent passion that Beatrice is drawn to. Either way, the mirroring of the two is interesting, and thankfully for Claudio the plot resolves before Benedick has to fulfill his promise to Beatrice. It is interesting to note though, that the play concludes with Beatrice being correct; by not fulfilling his promise, Benedick’s words are as empty as she claimed.

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One thought on “The Merry War; Romance and Masculinity

  1. elisebrucche

    I think you have a really interesting point here about the way that Benedick and Beatrice talk about the feminization of men. We often talk about the way men dominate gender roles, defining both masculinity and femininity. Benedick’s speech regarding men and romance sums up the anxiety of many men that showing affection and playfulness is tantamount to weakness. Masculinity, then, is to be defined by its rational, strong behavior. Women, Benedick implies, are allowed a certain softness combined with their fairness, wealth, and wit. However, Beatrice’s speech reminds us that men are not the only ones who decide what characteristics are masculine or feminine. Similarly to Benedick, Beatrice attributes to men a level of strength and agency not afforded to women, but, as you point out, she does not base these qualities in the dispassionate nature that Benedick posits. Instead, she argues that affection and strong feelings, emotions more commonly associated with women, encourage men to become stronger. Yet, she seems less willing to redefine femininity. Despite her powerful outburst, she resigns herself to “die a woman with grieving” (4.1.318). This incomplete definition of gender seems problematic, as if Shakespeare was unwilling to grant a fully remodeled femininity

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