MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
Act II, Scene I
A hall in Leonato’s house
Enter LEONATO, ANTONIO, HERO, BEATRICE, and others
LEONATO: Was not Count John here at supper?
ANTONIO: I saw him not.
BEATRICE: How tartly that gentleman looks! I never can see him but I am heart-burned an hour after.
HERO: He is of a very melancholy disposition.
BEATRICE: He were an excellent man that were made just in the midway between him and Benedick: the one is too like an image and says nothing, and the other too like my lady’s eldest son, evermore tattling.
LEONATO: Then half Signior Benedick’s tongue in Count John’s mouth, and half Count John’s melancholy in Signior Benedick’s face,—
BEATRICE: With a good leg and a good foot, uncle, and money enough in his purse, such a man would win any woman in the world, if a’ could get her good-will.
LEONATO: By my troth, niece, thou wilt never get thee a husband, if thou be so shrewd of thy tongue.
ANTONIO: In faith, she’s too curst.
BEATRICE: Too curst is more than curst: I shall lessen God’s sending that way; for it is said, “God sends a curst cow short horns;” but to a cow too curst he sends none.
LEONATO: So, by being too curst, God will send you no horns.
BEATRICE: Just, if he send me no husband; for the which blessing I am at him upon my knees every morning and evening. Lord, I could not endure a husband with a beard on his face: I had rather lie in the woollen.
LEONATO: You may light on a husband that hath no beard.
BEATRICE: What should I do with him? dress him in my apparel and make him my waiting-gentlewoman? He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man: and he that is more than a youth is not for me, and he that is less than a man, I am not for him: therefore, I will even take sixpence in earnest of the bear-ward, and lead his apes into hell.
LEONATO: Well, then, go you into hell?
BEATRICE: No, but to the gate; and there will the devil meet me, like an old cuckold, with horns on his head, and say “Get you to heaven, Beatrice, get you to heaven; here’s no place for you maids:” so deliver I up my apes, and away to Saint Peter for the heavens; he shows me where the bachelors sit, and there live we as merry as the day is long.
ANTONIO: [To HERO] Well, niece, I trust you will be ruled by your father.
BEATRICE: Yes, faith; it is my cousin’s duty to make curtsy and say “Father, as it please you.” But yet for all that, cousin, let him be a handsome fellow, or else make another curtsy and say “Father, as it please me.”
LEONATO: Well, niece, I hope to see you one day fitted with a husband.
BEATRICE: Not till God make men of some other metal than earth. Would it not grieve a woman to be overmastered with a pierce of valiant dust? to make an account of her life to a clod of wayward marl? No, uncle, I’ll none: Adam’s sons are my brethren; and, truly, I hold it a sin to match in my kindred.
LEONATO: Daughter, remember what I told you: if the prince do solicit you in that kind, you know your answer.
BEATRICE: The fault will be in the music, cousin, if you be not wooed in good time: if the prince be too important, tell him there is measure in every thing and so dance out the answer. For, hear me, Hero: wooing, wedding, and repenting, is as a Scotch jig, a measure, and a cinque pace: the first suit is hot and hasty, like a Scotch jig, and full as fantastical; the wedding, mannerly-modest, as a measure, full of state and ancientry; and then comes repentance and, with his bad legs, falls into the cinque pace faster and faster, till he sink into his grave.
LEONATO: Cousin, you apprehend passing shrewdly.
BEATRICE: I have a good eye, uncle; I can see a church by daylight.
LEONATO: The revellers are entering, brother: make good room.
Like many, I was raised on the King James Bible. I memorized verses written in 1611, and thought prayers must include “thee and thou” to make it to God’s ear. Reading the Bible in a modern translation was transformative to me, but I always return to the KJV for poetic beauty.
Reading Shakespeare is no different. It’s helpful to invest a little time in studying the mechanics and grammar to fully appreciate the work, but ultimately, the beauty of the language should flow to your ears like fluid music.
As John Mark Reynolds said in his book The Great Books Reader:
One advantage most of us have is that we know Shakespeare is good. We know that most films or plays we actually like have stolen a line or an idea from Shakespeare. There’s no pop cultural facet in which the Bard cannot make an appearance.
My own passion for Shakespeare came after I worked on the language. I had to stop being embarrassed for not knowing older English and simply work to learn the vocabulary and speech patterns as if it were a foreign tongue. Looked at this way, Shakespearean English is the easiest “second language” most of us will ever learn!
Is it possible to fully enjoy literature without understanding its grammar?
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In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John Mark Reynolds is the president of The Saint Constantine School, a school that aspires to preschool through college education. He is also a philosopher, administrator, and joyous curmudgeon. Reynolds was the founder and first director of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. He was provost at Houston Baptist University where he was instrumental in starting the graduate Apologetics program and a cinema and new media arts major. John Mark blogs at Eidos on the Patheos Evangelical platform and has written for First Things and the Washington Post. He is an owner of the Green Bay Packers.
D I G D E E P E R
On Much Ado About Nothing
Some of us can be tempted to dismiss comedy as taking reality too lightly. But here’s why I take comedies seriously: they present and celebrate the world in which we survive our own and others’ mistakes, follies, transgressions, and deep sins. However lightly, dimly, or bleakly, comedies revel in our survival—in the delaying of death and the staying of the curse. Comedies tell the story of ruined folk somehow avoiding ruin.
The world turns out to be sufficiently ample, elastic, wide, and often bountiful, even for we who’ve been exiled from paradise. Sometimes the happy vision is as meager an offering as the survival of the thwarted villain still mired in all his disdain for the universe. But its happiest pictures include long-awaited reunions, the practice of forgiveness, and weddings—festive unions between undeserving lovers that promise even more life for the community and love for the world.
And so we have Shakespeare’s delightful play, Much Ado About Nothing. One primary subject (and a subject of all of his comedies) is love struggling toward marriage. Marriage is the goal of the lover’s quartet (Beatrice and Benedick, Hero and Claudio) as well as the goal of the community in Messina. Marriage is proposed, by the play, as a happy situation, not only for the characters of the play but also for the city. Benedick has it right when he proclaims, “The world must be peopled.”
But the road to union is thick with obstacles, those present in the self and those presented by others. The self-identified “plain-dealing villain,” Don John, sets himself against the formation of community both by refusing peace with his brother and by making himself an enemy to marriage. He takes his only pleasure in spoiling others’ happiness.
Claudio, whose naiveté leaves him vulnerable to Don John’s villainy, falls for the ruse that suggests Hero’s infidelity because his knowledge of and faith in her is insubstantial. Hero is much more a victim of her own lover’s mistake than of her own fault. She must—and what a profound task—forgive him his wrongs.
Beatrice, reluctant to submit to another in love, not wishing to be mastered, must learn to see Benedick as something besides a threat to her freedom. Benedick fears marriage, too, expressing anxiety about cuckoldry, so he postures himself as above it all.
The path for none of the four is smooth since, even in small and familiar ways, they stumble as they approach love and happiness. Thus they arrive at their happy ending not by the natural trajectory of character but by a series of delicate interventions.
Beatrice and Benedick’s friends employ their very faults to steer them toward loving each other. Human creatures need one another’s generous help. Often we’re most helped when our community can witness our faults and offer gentle correctives.
The other chief trick of the play is Hero’s feigned death for Claudio’s real sins. Here is where we see most deeply the insistence that it’s possible that, in the end, we will not get what we deserve, we will not suffer the full consequence of our sins, but we will be saved.
Notably, the redemption hinges on the luxury of time, a resource notably absent in Shakespeare’s tragedies. In Hamlet, the time is out of joint. Macbeth’s destruction seems wildly rapid. Bad timing governs both Romeo’s and Juliet’s deaths. But in Much Ado, there’s enough time—time for mistakes, for discovery, for repentance, for repair, for forgiveness.
With the provision of time comes also a call to patience, the sort most admirably displayed in Hero’s suffering. Here is a faithful image of life on earth: where we must sit and talk to clarify misunderstandings, where we abide winter’s waiting for the spring, where it takes time for criminals to come to justice, where love buds long before it blossoms. Here is a summons to Christian hope in light of the world’s story, this divine comedy, where, even in the face of the direst realities, we look for the resurrection of the dead and the blessed life of the glory to come.
Melissa Schubert is an assistant professor of English Literature at Biola University’s Torrey Honors Institute. She is currently a doctoral candidate at Claremont Graduate University.
John Mark Reynolds, The Great Books Reader: Excerpts and Essays on the Most Influential Books in Western Civilization (Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House, 2011).