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At the center of every courting ritual, there’s a great unknown. How do we know when we’ve met someone we can love? How do we know the other person is actually who they seem to be? In the beginning, all we have to go on is surface appearances, which amount to a kind of hearsay. The question is how to get beyond them. Wes and Erin analyze Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, which seems to suggest that witty banter is more than just good fun, and has an important role to play in getting to know others.
The conversation continues on our after-show (post)script. Get this and other bonus content at by subscribing at Patreon.
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Thanks to Tyler Hislop for the audio editing on this episode.
Wes: So Much Ado About Nothing. We’ll give a brief summary of the play, and then we will get into our analysis.
Erin: So the plot is about two couples, Beatrice and Benedick and Hero and Claudio. Hero is a girl’s name -odd girl’s name. After a battle, there’s a good Don Pedro, who’s the prince of Aragon and his brother, his bastard brother, this sort of evil Don John. After this battle, they come to Messina with two officers, Claudio and Benedick. And Claudio is sort of young, very much the… like an ingénue, but a man. So Claudio is young and maybe sort of foolish and he sees Hero and instantly falls in love with her. And Benedick runs into Beatrice, Hero’s cousin, who is possibly an old girlfriend. There’s some bitterness there, and the two of them hate each other. And they have this “merry war betwixt them”, which they’re constantly engaging in, like a battle of wits where they’re putting each other down. So Benedick, he’s a bachelor, he never wants to get married, says he hates women and so he tries to talk Claudio out of marrying Hero. But a wedding is arranged. It’s going to happen in a week, and it’s such a long time to wait. So Don Pedro needs something to do because he’s bored waiting the week until the wedding. So Don Pedro decides to make Beatrice and Benedict fall in love. He thinks there’s a spark there, so he arranges for Benedict to overhear his friends talking about Beatrice’s unrequited love for Benedict, and he arranges for Beatrice to overhear her friends talking about how Benedict is in love with her. And the plan works. The two of them sort of fall in love, but they don’t really openly acknowledge it yet. Meanwhile, the evil Don John, he has his own plot and for reasons that we never really learn, which we could talk about later, he decides that he’s going to break up Claudio and Hero before the wedding. So he arranges for his man, Borachio, to have a tryst with Margaret, who’s Hero’s chambermaid, who I suppose sort of looks like Hero, on the eve of the Wedding and for Claudio to walk by and to see Borachio and Margaret in flagrante. And it works. Claudio sees them and thinks that Margaret is an unchaste Hero, having sex with another man on the night before their wedding. So he waits till the wedding the next day, of course, in a public place and denounces Hero right before they’re supposed to get married and then storms off with Don Pedro. And the friar performing the ceremony, he believes that Hero is actually innocent, and so he tells her family to fake Hero’s death and that this will make Claudio remorseful and then the truth will come out about her true character. Unluckily, there’s a foolish watchman, one of Shakespeare’s fools, Dogberry, watchman of the city, who overheard Borachio discussing Don John’s evil plot. And so Dogberry gets Borachio to confess that the whole thing was a set-up, and Claudio is guilt-stricken and still thinking that Hero is dead, he agrees to marry a cousin, who he’s never met but is told looks just like Hero, and they go to the church to be wed. The bride is unmasked, and “lo and behold”: it’s Hero and the happy couple get married. And then Beatrice and Benedict simultaneously finally publicly admit their love for each other, and Benedict turns to Don Pedro and says, “Get thee a wife”. So he’s finally become, as we could say, pro-marriage. And… uh… that’s it!
Wes: Pretty good, thank you. So you like what production? That’s out of the things that are available on video or or film versions. Was it the Branagh version that you liked?
Erin: It is, yes. It’s a little over the top, a little corny, but that is my favorite version that I’ve seen and I’ve seen a lot of them. I’ve seen the ‘84 BBC version, I’ve seen the more recent version with David Tennant…
Wes: Ah, okay.
Erin: …and a couple of others. Besides…
Wes: There’s the Joss Whedon…
Erin: I think I saw part of that, but not the whole thing. I know some people who are big fans of that, but I didn’t see the whole thing, not because I didn’t like it. I don’t remember what was going on, but anyway, the Branagh one with Emma Thompson, I think, hits the right note. For me, being the war between Beatrice and Benedict seems more jovial than in the ‘84 version. In the ‘84 version, they’re sniping at each other a little bit more. It’s a little more… tense.
Wes: Yeah, I have to say I really actually prefer the ‘84 BBC version. I tend to prefer those in general for Shakespeare plays. They are really wonderful BBC… The BBC basically went through and did a… I wouldn’t call them film versions, but videotaped versions of every one of Shakespeare’s plays. And, like I said. I almost always prefer those to any other production. And unfortunately, by comparison, once I watch those, I’m not a fan of Branagh’s productions.
Erin: He definitely has the celebrity casting issue in a lot of his Shakespearean productions, where they tend to be sometimes pretty laughable. I mean, the Keanu Reeves’ Don John is… that’s actually one of the reasons why I love that version so much though. [laughter] I do his speech when I have a stomach speech. I do a pretty good impression of his halting recital of that speech. So that’s part of the appeal for me is that the whole thing is kind of silly. I think it still works, but in terms of a straight version that has all of the dialogue in the play, certainly the ‘84 version is more complete.
Wes: Yeah, and I prefer the acting and just basically everything. But yeah, for the moment, the way the Branagh film… the way it starts, you’ve got very dramatically Don Pedro and Claudio and the whole gang are riding their horses up to Messina, and everyone’s in a very jolly mood except for Don John, you know, except for Keanu Reeves, who’s just scowling already. [laughter]
Erin: Yeah. [laughter]
Wes: From very, very early on, we’re going to get introduced to Beatrice and her sharp tongue. One of the things I wanted to mention at the very beginning, because I think this is something to talk about, is the role of metaphor in the play, because it plays such an important role in the wittiness, the witty banter between Beatrice and Benedick, which I think has some deeper significance. And then, I think, as we’ll see, it plays a role in the way people think in general, in the way that they are so quick to jump to conclusions about guilt and innocence, for instance, about Hero’s guilt. So one good illustration of this happens early on. Of course, these plays are just chock-full of metaphor and figure of stuff, but this is a good example of how it works and why it’s important. So, line 25, 1st Scene, 1st Act, the soldiers have returned, and the messenger is praising Don Pedro. And then Leonato says he has an uncle near Messina, he’s gonna be very happy to hear all that, and then the messenger (so this is actually back at line 20) says “I’ve already delivered him letters, and there /appears much joy in him; even so much that joy could / not show itself modest enough without a badge / of bitterness”, which is to say he was crying with joy. But what’s really interesting about this particular metaphor is that the crying… it gives an explanation of what it means to cry for joy. So the idea is that there’s something immodest about joyfulness, unless it’s been alloyed, adulterated with some sign of its opposite. And so you get this idea that joy is personified and joy is feeling modest and so must hide itself behind a little bit of bitterness. And Leonato gets the message and says, “Did he (meaning Don Pedro’s uncle) break out into tears?” And the messenger says, “In great measure”. Here’s the more illustrative metaphor, Leonato says, “A kind overflow of kindness: there are no faces / truer than those that are so washed. How much / better is it to weep a joy than to joy at weeping?” I wanted to bring this up because one of the functions of these metaphors in the play is actually explanation. There’s a hint of that in the example I just gave of the messenger, but here it’s more clear, and it’s that the sort of surface level, the abstract level thing is to say there’s this connection between honesty and grief, that someone who expresses the emotion of grief, that in a way is a sign of their trustworthiness. So there are no faces truer than those that are so washed. At the metaphorical level, right, is just that being untrustful would mean to be dirty and tears wash that dirt away. One of the functions of metaphor is to give this very sensory, visceral sense of something that’s abstract, right. You get, instead of trustworthiness and untrustworthiness, you get a washed face versus an unwashed face. But the other thing here is really… it’s about a mechanism. So you identify. You’re saying, “Why are people who show that emotion more trustworthy?” At a surface level, that’s a very complex question. At the deeper metaphorical level, you identify mechanism, right, which corresponds to something that we were probably not even sure how we could describe. So the idea of something, of tears washing the face, it becomes a placeholder for the more complex psychology of how one might relate grief to trust. And it also gives us a sense of having explained something or having demonstrated something, having proved something and I think… I wanted to get that set up because when we get to the way all that stuff works in the witty exchange between Benedick and Beatrice, there are other, other witty exchanges in the play, but anyway, it will have a slightly different room.
Erin: I think there’s something there, too, in you pointing out that particular metaphor about these contradictory emotions coexisting. That’s certainly a recurring theme, not just in the language of the play but also in the plot of the play, which coalesces these two plots that are sort of moving in opposite directions in terms of, you know, one toward love and the other against it, the sort of shocking event that happens in the middle of all of this, which is the confrontation at the wedding and the sense… for me, anyway, that scene is… and perhaps this is exacerbated in the Branagh version because it’s such a jolly adaptation, it’s not so out of place in the ‘84 version, that that scene is so heightened in its tragedy that it seems to be misplaced in such a lighthearted comedy. I mean the moment at which Beatrice says to Benedick that he has to kill Claudio to avenge Hero is pretty crazy. There are just a lot of extremes going on in the play that sometimes I forget that that happens. And something that makes Beatrice, I think, such a complex character is the fact that she’s constantly employing these metaphors of contradictory emotional states in order to describe how she’s feeling. She goes from one extreme to another and then says, “Well, you know, I’m somewhere in the middle.” But here’s one extreme and here’s another and she uses them as vehicles for metaphors quite often.
Wes: The way that often works is you can use metaphor to get a contradictory meaning out of the surface meaning, and the wit often will work that way. So here’s a good exchange on 135 [laughter] Act 1, Scene 1. They’re at it, this is the very end of the exchange, but Benedict says, “I would my horse had the speed of your tongue, and / so good a continuer” (a continuer is a horse that has stamina) “I would my horse had the speed of your tongue, and / so good a continuer. But keep your way i’God’s / name; I have done.” And she says, “You always end with a jade’s trick. I know you of old,” which is an interesting line. The jade’s trick part is the jade is a horse that will find devious ways to unseat its rider. So she’s accusing him of basically ducking out of the game of wits. And just thinking about the way that works is he’s basically initiated this metaphor of the horse, and then she will extend it in some way. So often the way that these games of wit works is that the other person will extend the metaphor to the other person’s detriment. So he’s trying to insult her with this horse comparison, and she turns it on him by… in a way, it’s an extension, it’s not precise, but by extending the metaphor and making it encompass him.
Erin: Benedict says, just a few lines earlier, 129, “God, keep your ladyship still in that mind! so some / gentleman or other shall ‘scape a predestinate / scratched face.”
Erin: Yes. So if some guy came near you, then he would get a scratched face trying to woo you, and she comes back with a sort of singsongy line of “Scratching could not make it worse and ‘twere such / a face as yours were.” Right. Well… [laughter] well, you’re pretty ugly. So then he takes that and it takes the sort of singsong quality of that or parroting back his own words to him and says, “Well, you are a rare parrot-teacher,” right? Meaning just a speaker of stupid, monotonous nonsense. And she responds to that by saying, well, “A bird of my tongue is better than a beast of yours” So she’s borrowed the bird imagery from him and given him back a beast for his bird. And then, in response to that, he has the horse comparison. Perhaps that beast made him think of the horse and says he wishes that it had the speed of her tongue and then drops out “I have done”, and she then continues his horse metaphor by saying, well, “you always end with a jade’s trick.” And then this mysterious line, which speaks volumes in five words, “I know you of old.” So I think that’s the first time that we get the sense that perhaps they had not just prior knowledge of each other, but perhaps the past relationship where he used a jade’s trick. [laughter]
Wes: Ambiguous between… you know, they’ve been playing this game of wits for a while, which we know they have. But it says, maybe there was something more than just that. Part of what’s interesting here to me is just if it weren’t wit, it would just be insults and it wouldn’t be interesting and it wouldn’t be smart, right?
Wes: So he said, “You talk too much” and he wants simply to call her a shrew and someone who’s repetitive and talks too much. And then she were to say, “You’re a coward.” All of that, of course, would be really uninteresting. It’s what they can do with the imagery, which, in a way, is almost like a demonstration of their point, right, because the subtext of all of it is that they’re demonstrating each other’s bad qualities, and the ability to display wit to construct these metaphors has taken as a kind of surrogate for whether or not they have those qualities. So just by being clever enough to turn the horse metaphor on him, it’s a way to sort of tag his discontinuation of the conversation with the label of cowardice. Whether or not there is really cowardice. It doesn’t matter. It’s not that she’s identified cowardice as calling him on it exactly. It’s… she proves it in a way, by getting in the last blow and by displaying the kind of formidable wit which would make someone run away.
Erin: And this is what makes them so well suited to each other, not just the fact that they’re able to do this with their wit, to sort of continue the metaphor and so have a kind of more of a tennis match between them than just slapping each other down with insults. But also the fact that no one else in the play talks like this. They use metaphors, but they don’t talk at this level of wit, and they don’t turn their metaphors toward each other as a kind of a dagger.
Wes: There’s a little bit of it between him and his bros and between the ladies, when Hero is about to get married, for instance, just a little bit of verbal aparté between her and Margaret and Beatrice.[laughter]
Erin: Yeah, and this is something that’s a sort of a common conceit in like screwball comedies of the 30s and 40s, for which Much Ado is kind of the blueprint, is that the main characters, no matter how much they may fight with each other, have to be together because they’re the only ones who understand each other’s inside jokes or something, are able to keep up with them at this level of speed and intelligence. And so that taking what the other person says and adapting it to one’s own end, is used to sort of injure the other person, but it also requires a certain amount of… I don’t know… to coin a phrase, maybe, like “verbal empathy”. You know where the person is going and he’s passing you the football and then you’re taking it and doing what you want with it and then passing it back to them…
Wes: That’s really… yeah, that’s actually very interesting. It’s a kind of a cooperative endeavor.
Wes: It’s a competition, but it takes two to tango, to keep it going. The example I wish I’d used… (hopefully, I’m not belaboring this by giving another example) but when she first sees him and says, “I wonder that you will still be talking Signior / Benedick: no one marks you.”
Wes: Which, of course, she’s marking him in that and there’s a lot of the subtext of their interest in fighting with each other, of course, is the idea that they’re romantically interested in each other and that this is a cover for all that. Anyway, Benedick says, “What, my dear Lady Disdain! are you yet living?” So, Lady Disdain, capital, so he’s personifying her as disdain itself. Beatrice: “Is it possible disdain should die while she hath / such meat food to feed it as Signior Benedick?” So that back and forth, where they’re feeding each other, so to speak, a little figure of language, so that the cooperative effort is to keep extending the metaphor. That’s the cooperative part of it, is the way in which they elaborate the image. And it’s not a mere comparison. It’s something to become structurally much more complicated. So if it’s just her being personified as Lady Disdain, okay, that’s fine. But once you elaborate that picture, and now she’s eating Signior Benedick, you’re creating a much richer picture, and it’s something, a picture that they have to create together.
Erin: Right. This is a continuation, too, of her… which I didn’t maybe realise until now that she immediately brings up having “such meat food to feed it as Signior Benedict” after she’s just remarked to Leonato and the messenger and Hero and everybody standing around, she’s been badmouthing him before he even arrives, saying, “…I pray you, how many hath he / killed and eaten in these wars? But how many hath / he killed? For indeed, I promised to eat all of his killing.” She started with this joke about how inept he must be at battle or something, that she was going to eat all the people that he’s killed, makes the remark about the “musty victuals, and he hath holp to eat it.” “You have an excellent stomach.” They’re all these stomach jokes, eating jokes. And then, as soon as he gets there, she is ready to take it up with him, continue the food metaphor now that he’s finally there to fill what she’s been getting at, and then it takes off from there.
Wes: It’s a telling metaphor because it combines the sort of… the aggressive element with the potential libidinal element, right. Good food is something that gives you pleasure and to eat something and devour it -just thinking back on this image of hers as Lady Disdain and eating him- is a very central thing, and on the other hand, of course, it’s about… to eat something is also to destroy what you’re getting pleasure from, and that’s one of the underlying dangers, I think. You know, love is, as it will turn out in this play, love is actually very dangerous. We know why. I mean, part of it is about being… the possibility that one might be betrayed, that the person that you love isn’t what they seem to be, you can only note them, you can only… in a way their appearances, their outer signs, their supposed modesty of behavior, for instance, or mannerisms are just a kind of hearsay. You know, I think Beatrice and Benedick are obviously on guard against it for a reason. The hostility in their relationship is cautious on the one hand, right, it indicates that there’s a real attraction, you know. I think that’s just in the same way in the screwball comedies that you’re talking about are in this play. We read it immediately as “okay, they’re really into each other and they’re defending against that.” But they have a good reason to defend, and in a way it might be the better path than what happens with Claudio and Hero, where Claudio immediately falls in love with her. And then we see how dangerous that could be. We see that that quickness to love can lead to life and death sorts of circumstances.
Erin: Although it’s clear that (not to belabor the eating metaphor) but, I mean, I think one of the reasons why Beatrice starts with that before Benedick even arrives on the scene, when she’s just heard that he is to be coming, is presumably… he’s been away for quite a while in the war, and she seems, in fact, to be starving for his presence and perhaps for this battle between them to continue, because I think that she gets some kind of pleasure out of it, some sort of satisfaction, that she’s obviously not getting with any other man because she’s sort of gentle with Don Pedro and most of the other men, except for Claudio when he wrongs Hero. She’s more gentle, anyway. Everything seems to be directed toward Benedick, which makes me wonder if this reticence or this hatred of love and this desire not to get entangled in love has something to do with their past history and maybe the younger versions of themselves as being something like Claudio and Hero. You know, something has put Benedict off women. The idea of being a cuckold is an image that repeatedly comes up, and seems to be something that Benedict is wary of being. So, of course, is Claudio given reason later to be wary of being cuckolded. And so it makes me wonder if Benedick and Beatrice, a little older, a little sadder, a little wiser, are sort of the later versions of Claudio and Hero, who maybe went through something like this themselves.
Wes: It’s interesting to think about what role this sort of witty repartee ought to play in the relationship, or some sort of equivalent of it, instead of just being in the sort of unmediated Claudio-Hero situation, where it’s love at first sight and they just… they want to… it seems like merge with each other. That kind of love, we might think of it as a threat to individuality. It might look like it could be suffocating beyond the dangers of being betrayed by someone, right? And one of the other factors is just being altered by love. There are lots of clues in this play that one of the scary things about it is having one’s relationship to oneself altered, having one’s identity altered, being kind of transformed by it into someone else, and the question of whether you have actually lost yourself in that. And I think the wit can be a way to set up a certain kind of boundary, set up a way to try and maintain individuality in the face of relatedness. Of course, you know in the beginning Benedick and Beatrice are going too far. At some point (I forget who says it) but someone says, you know, “if only you could get someone midway between Claudio and Benedict.”
Erin: The part I’m thinking of in relationship to what you’re saying is Act 2, Scene 1.
Wes: Yep, that’s where it is.
Erin: To me, this is her treatise about, like not being a joiner. [laughter] You know, she wants to stand apart from everyone. Nothing will satisfy her. I think you’re right. If it comes from this fear of her need to maintain her individuality, I suppose we could take a step back and consider the fact also that Beatrice has an uncle as a guardian. She doesn’t have any parents that we know of. She’s Hero’s cousin and so Leonato’s, I guess, charge. She has no parents to worry about her or to help her fake her own death, should something like what happens to Hero happen to her. And so she sort of stands alone and has this kind of freedom that is unique to her, whereas Hero is much more the young ingenue who is still under the protection of her father. So Beatrice doesn’t have that. And then she sort of gives her treatise on how she could never be with a man because she’s not right for a certain type of man and another type of man isn’t right for her. She is comparing and contrasting again these two extremes. So she starts out by making fun of Don John and says, “How tartly that gentleman looks! I never can see / him but I am heart-burned an hour after” and that’s Act 2, Scene 1, line 3 and 4.
Wes: This is exactly the line I was thinking of where Beatrice said, “He were an excellent man that were made just in the / midway between [John Don] and Benedick…”
Erin: Yeah, she notes that Don John is sour looking and doesn’t say anything.
Erin: So “the one is too / like an image and says nothing and the other, too / like my lady’s eldest son, evermore tattling.” So one never speaks like a painting, and the other is like an obnoxious little boy, always always talking. So she gives these two extremes and then Leonato responds “Then half Signior Benedick’s tongue in Count John’s / mouth and half Count John’s melancholy in Signior Benedick’s face.” So if he would talk half as much as Benedick and be half as serious as Don John. And then Beatrice says, Yeah, you know, “With a good leg and a good foot, uncle, and money / enough in his purse.” So sure, you know if he has all these other great qualities too, “such a man would win any woman / in the world if a’ could get her good-will.” So he could be a perfect man and all he would need is to get the woman’s good opinion. [laughter]
Erin: Because presumably having these things would not automatically give him her good opinion.
Erin: And then again, it’s this masterpiece of “not this and not that”, not this extreme and not the other extreme. So Leonato warns her that she’ll never get a husband if she’s “so shrewd of thy tongue,” so sharp-tongued. And Antonio agrees “she’s too curst.” She’s too, I suppose, shrewish…
Erin: Well, too cursed is more than cursed, right? So it sort of cancels itself out, so that I’m not cursed because I’m too cursed. So it’s more than cursed, she says that “God sends a curst / cow short horns. But to a cow too curst, he sends none,” again with the cuckold imagery.
Erin: So she says, well, God gives an ill-tempered cow short horns, essentially, right? But to a cow that is too ill-tempered, well, he doesn’t send anything. There’s nothing about a cow being… what happens to a cow that’s too ill-tempered. So “I could not endure a husband with a / beard on his face: I had rather lie in the woolen.” And so then Leonato said, “you may light on a husband that hath no beard.” but Beatrice says “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’m not for him: therefore, I will even take / sixpence in earnest of the bear-ward, and lead his / apes into hell.” So she won’t take a man with a beard. And she won’t take a man with no beard. And she’s not cursed like a cow. She’s too cursed, so she has no horns, so there’s no place for her. I think that some of this actually, toward the end, it takes on some pathos where she decides that she has no place. She is neither here nor there, and perhaps maybe wishes that she did have a place underneath it. But that’s me, reading too much into Beatrice’s psyche.
Wes: Yeah, there’s this idea of… so leading the apes to hell, which is something to do with being a spinster, a proverbial idea that spinsters were doomed to lead apes into Hell as a punishment for not reproducing basically…
Wes: …where the apes are sort of variants on children and then there’s the talk about her being… Leonato jokes, “what, you’re gonna go to hell.” And she says, “No. Well, deliver them up” and then the devil will say, ‘Get thee to heaven’ and she will go to heaven and sit near the bachelors and be “as merry as the day is long.” But there’s another part where she talks about never going into the world or something like that. I was trying to get at your idea that maybe there’s a little undercurrent of melancholy in her situation.
Erin: Hmm… Well, I mean, I think the very fact that she takes such pleasure out of Benedick’s company… I mean, it may be a sick pleasure, but there’s some pleasure there. Maybe it’s the self deprecating humor that makes me think that I’m always fascinated by the random proposal that Don Pedro makes to Beatrice.
Erin: Still in Act 2, Scene1, and starting around line 310, Don Pedro says, “In faith, lady, you have a merry heart” and she says, “Yea, my lord, I thank it, poor fool. It keeps on / the windy side of care.” I think that’s so sad. She really reveals herself to him, and I think that that’s what inspires his sudden half hearted proposal that he makes her because he sees this tender, regretful side of her. And she says, “Thus goes every one to the / world but I, and I am sunburnt; I may sit in a / corner and cry heigh-ho, for a husband!” So that’s quite different from being led to the corner where the bachelors sit. She’s in the corner alone. And again Don Pedro accuses her twice of being merry, and she shuts him down twice. He says later, “You were born in / a merry hour” and she responds, “No, sure, my lord, my mother cried; but then there / was a star danced, and under that was I born.” So there’s this mixture of pain and delight in her, which seems very pronounced in that theme. One thing that I am not sure I understand is why Don Pedro has to woo Hero on Claudio’s behalf.
Wes: Yeah, I’ve never understood that either.
Erin: It doesn’t make any sense. I mean, there’s a lot going on between Hero and Claudio that doesn’t make too much logical sense. But Don Pedro offers himself to woo Hero for Claudio. We discover the fault in Claudio’s character, distrust of people, early on, because Don John is able to convince him in this moment, even though Don Pedro has said, “I’ll woo her for you” and they make this plan, Don John is still able to convince Claudio that Don Pedro is going to take Hero for himself, and Claudio immediately accepts what Don John says and says, “Oh, no, Don Pedro is taking Hero for himself.” And immediately those fears were put to rest when Don Pedro sort of hands Hero over.
Wes: Right. And then they forget about that. And they will believe Don John the second time he comes around with…
Erin: Right, that they’ve learned nothing about this sour-faced man who gives people heartburn just by looking at him.
Wes: There’s already been a falling out right between Don John and Don Pedro, and Don Pedro sort of accepted Don John back into the fold, so I mean, it seems like it’s well known that he’s untrustworthy. And then, if it weren’t well known, it should be obvious after this one incident. And yet Don John is able to row them up again, instigate something, so it’s really odd because it seems just to work to undermine the plot.
Erin: And Don John is such an odd figure in and of himself. I mean, what motivates his misanthropic behavior throughout this whole play.
Wes: Except that he… well, he’s a bastard. I think that’s the…
Erin: All right. So he was always treated badly. And he says at some point that he does this essentially because he does it. Where’s that speech of his?
Wes: So I think. Act 2, Scene 2.
Erin: Yeah… or Scene 3, even. “I cannot hide what I am: I must be sad when I have cause and smile at no man’s Jests, eat when I have stomach and wait for no man’s leisure, sleep when I am drowsy, and tend on no man’s business, laugh when I am merry and claw no man in his humor” and he says, a few lines down, “I’d rather be a canker in a hedge than a rose in his grace, and it better fits my blood to be disdained of all than to fashion a carriage to rob love from any.”..
Wes and Erin: [at the same time] “…I am but a plain-dealing villain.” [laughter]
Erin: Well, that’s convenient. He knows what he is, and now we know.
Wes: Yeah, so he stands out, in a way, and so he’s antisocial, you know. He’s the foil for the natural deceptiveness of social life. Things are not necessarily as appear, right? So people’s… there’s a lot in this play about fashion and apparel and again about the difference between the sort of signs that people give off. So Hero’s later on… we’ll have a speech about the blot on Hero’s character, despite the fact that she gave all these outward signs of modesty, including blushing, including the graceful way she behaved. So there’s that, and this is again, part of what’s dangerous about love is this. It’s kind of an epistemological or epistemic predicament where what we have are signifiers or signs and we don’t know exactly… We know what they seem to represent, but we can’t know for sure. Someone might not be who they represent themselves as being, but on the other hand, the example of the person… It doesn’t quite line up because Don John is obviously deceptive. But there is a sense in which he’s plain-dealing because he wears his unhappiness on his sleeve: he doesn’t hide it, he doesn’t put on a jolly face. His misanthropy is apparent, so in the one person where that… there isn’t that sharp division between an inner life and sort of outer niceties, outer people being polite when they may not feel that way on the inside, well, he’s the foil to that.
Erin: Though he’s expressed that he is a plain-dealing villain, it’s almost as though he’s too straightforward to be believed, that the other characters, you know, Claudio and… so easily accepts whatever he tells him, trying to say something about society as not accepting anything on its face. Or the power of gossip, that hearsay and suggestion seems to be the only things that are taken as truth, that character, that the outward evidence of character, it doesn’t seem to matter much, but what people say is someone else’s character, that does matter. And the power of gossip often overrides what is evident to everyone.
Wes: Not just that, though, but that the outer appearances, in a way, are a kind of hearsay. So when I think of this, the Much Ado is all this activity based on hearsay and it’s basically love and hate, it’s inducing Beatrice and Benedict to love each other and inducing Claudio to scorn Hero. Ultimately, what the nothing and the noting really come down to, are the inaccessibility of other people’s interiors to us and the fact that we’re always, in some sense relying on hearsay when we observe their behaviors. So at the wedding… it’s a really horrible scene… So Act 4, Scene1, line 55, Claudio makes a lot of the difference between Hero’s outward appearance and who she turns out to be. So, to line 30,
Give not this rotten orange to your friend;
She’s but the sign and semblance of her honour.
Behold how like a maid she blushes here!
O, what authority and show of truth
Can cunning sin cover itself withal!
Comes not that blood as modest evidence
To witness simple virtue? Would you not swear,
All you that see her, that she were a maid,
By these exterior shows? But she is none:
She knows the heat of a luxurious bed;
Her blush is guiltiness, not modesty.
So in this case, the sign, the outward sign like blushing, right, is a way to know the interior except it’s polyvalent, there’s an ambiguity. So you don’t know, actually what seemed to be modesty might turn out to be guilt, you know. And then later on, he’ll say, around 78, he wants to make her answer truly to her name. And then when the Friar comes in, he’s gonna be involved in the same sort of interpretation of outward signs. And this is around line 158 and the word “noting” actually comes up:
And given way unto this course of fortune.
By noting of the lady I have mark’d
A thousand blushing apparitions
To start into her face, a thousand innocent shames
In angel whiteness beat away those blushes;
And in her eye there hath appear’d a fire,
To burn the errors that these princes hold
Against her maiden truth. Call me a fool;
Trust not my reading nor my observations,
Which with experimental seal doth warrant
The tenor of my book; trust not my age…
…and so on. What they’re ultimately talking about is the kind of hearsay that outward appearances are. And I think there are different categories of outward appearance. Some of it is just what people say, right: the promises they make, what’s explicitly in their speech. Some of it is about when he talks about her graces, or when he sees when it’s love at first sight, when he’s observing her in the garden. Some of that is about femininity and very subtle mannerisms that mark off femininity from masculinity and seemed to be something… I don’t know how to describe it, but something wonderful and desirable and inherently modest and whatever other attributes you might wanna give to that. And then there’s the kind of body language that the Friar is reading, which he takes on his experience to be more accurate. So he’s saying, “Look, I’m an experienced observer of people, and if you looked at her reactions through this whole trial, then you would see that she’s not guilty.” So it all comes back, I think, to the concept of hearsay, we can expand it, and love actually heightens the… it raises the stakes on figuring out who people are and distinguishing mere gossip, whether it’s actually just gossip socially, or whether it’s the way they present themselves from who they actually are. And I think ultimately, by the way, wit is one way of getting through that barrier. That’s what Beatrice and Benedict actually have that’s important. It’s a way of erecting a barrier not getting too close, using aggression to kind of keep each other at a distance. But it’s also we talked about the way it becomes a project that they’re embarking on, that they’re cooperating on.
Erin: I think you’re right that love raises the stakes of this. I was thinking of character assassination. It’s a death through gossip that then Hero acts out herself. But I was thinking of the literal assassination, and I was just re-reading Macbeth recently. When Duncan is betrayed by the first Thane of Cawdor, at the very beginning of the play, and he complains to Macbeth, “there’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face” or something like that.
Erin: “He was a gentleman on whom I built an absolute trust.” And he’s complaining about this to Macbeth, who is now the new Thane of Cawdor, who he’s convinced is such a wonderful, loyal guy and who is already planning to murder him. But, yeah, “there’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face.” So Duncan, despite his age and wisdom, lacks the ability of the Friar here, to be able to see something and make a judgment from experience about Hero. But, I mean, I think you’re right, that the stakes are so high here because…
Wes: We should say what is so dangerous about love? I think there are a number of things, but part of it is just obvious, right? It’s the idea of being betrayed and her being unchaste. But then, you know, we could say a little more about the psychology of why does that even matter? Why does it matter whether she’s known another’s bed and things like that? At an emotional level, it’s obvious to us. But if we try to say, we try to parse those things out, it becomes a little bit more complicated.
Erin: Perhaps it’s useful to come at it through the… I mean, I don’t know if you saw this, something that I came about in my outside reading, this sort of dirty pun on nothing, the “no” thing, [laughter] which is the…
Wes: …Elizabethan slang for female genitalia.
Erin: Right. Right.
Wes: She doesn’t have “a thing”.
Erin: There is nothing there. But that in itself is sort of interesting, right, because it’s… not to be totally disgusting here, but it’s something that you could [laughter] fill with your own imagination, if you will, right?
Wes. Right. Right.
Erin: So the idea that one sort of blushing with modesty could also be a sort of a vicious reddening with sensuality. It is the thing most open to interpretation that there’s not necessarily some sort of outward sign that a woman is interested sexually in someone, and therefore she’s the image of the woman. The idealized woman is one on whom you can hang any kind of male ideal or aspiration, and whether or not she actually holds up to that is what is so consequential here that Claudio has decided that she is something and has found that that something is nothing or is convinced of that anyway. So the fact that she is virginal, that she is the empty person to whom he can provide the fulfillment is necessary for him to be satisfied.
Wes: Yeah, there’s all this talk of being stained or besmirched at the end. She needs to be a blank canvas in a way for him to… for her to be the sort of mirror. I think your idea of projecting is good. Some of it is about that you be the only object of their desire. But I think some of it is about the way in which people affect each other and shape each other in those relationships, such that for her to have been altered and shaped by someone else in their own image makes her an imperfect companion, in a way, it makes her an imperfect mirror. There’s something in lovers. I think they wanna see themselves in their lover. There’s a kind of narcissism to love in which you feel yourself amplified by finding someone that they’re just like me. And that’s what I love about them. I’m trying to get some of the psychology of what motivates this terror at her not being pure.
Erin: It’s the Pygmalion myth, the idea that you are the one who makes the woman.
Wes: So I was thinking about some of the fear about love is the way in which… there is this idea of losing ourselves. And actually, the way Leonato puts it when he’s upset over his belief about who Hero (this is on 135 or maybe we go back for more, 131)
Why had I not with charitable hand
Took up a beggar’s issue at my gates,
Who smirch’d thus and mired with infamy,
I might have said ‘No part of it is mine;
This shame derives itself from unknown loins’?
But mine and mine I loved and mine I praised
And mine that I was proud on, mine so much
That I myself was to myself not mine,
Valuing of her,–why, she, O, she is fallen
Into a pit of ink, that the wide sea
Hath drops too few to wash her clean again
And salt too little which may season give
To her foul-tainted flesh!
So, yeah. This idea that you become not your own by loving and that’s one of the dangers. Beatrice and Benedict are part of the function of their aggressive… with the banter is to remain possessed of themselves. So this whole idea of reading these outward signs of people and trying to figure out who they are, well is something that’s obviously much superior to that which is just going through some sort of getting-to-know-you process,[laughter] the dating, which [laughter] I guess there’s no real mechanism for that back then, except for the kind of thing that Beatrice and Benedict are doing. So, you know, you use this idea of a test, they’re putting each other to a test of wits. In a way, it’s almost like hazing, right? So they’re seeing how much punishment the other person can take, they’re investigating each other’s intelligence, they’re learning, you know, you learn about what another person knows, you know, learn about what they value. You learn all sorts of things from engaging in that game of wits. And that is part of what’s missing in the whole Claudio-Hero love-at-first-sight let’s-get-married thing. One other thing I wanted to mention with respect to this passage is just again the way metaphor works. This goes towards the whole… another distinction about wit. You know, this part on 140, you know, “there’s not enough salt in the sea to season her foul tainted flesh”, which is disgusting. You know she’s become inedible because she’s gone bad, and he switches from the idea that you can’t wash her clean with the ocean to… the ocean doesn’t contain enough salt to make her tasty now.
Erin: This is another strange connection with Macbeth. I’m thinking of “No, rather, I would the multitudinous seas incarnadine making the green one red” right? If I put my hand in all of the seas of the world, they couldn’t wash off the stain of what I had done. Rather, it would dye the sea red. It’s that same image here, which is just so funny because it’s a literal assassination and a character assassination are using the same terminology. Later on, just a little bit down the page, again, we see washing it with tears. That same metaphor down 150, “Would the two princes lie, and Claudio lie, / who loved her so, that, speaking of her foulness, / washed it with tears.” How could they be lying if they were crying and saying it? Exactly what he says that you pointed out at the beginning.
Wes: Yeah, and this is actually really important. [laughter] It goes towards the point I wanted to make here, which is that, again, the way the metaphor is working and the way they get extended, it becomes a kind of proof. It’s almost like it’s something that’s admissible in court. It’s affecting people’s thinking. To talk about who Hero is and her behaviors in a more abstract way would introduce a lot more nuance, right, and it might occur to them: “but wait a minute. Beatrice said she was with her every night, but one,” so the entire story doesn’t hold up because the idea that she was… had been with her lover many, many, many times and not just that one time. To think about people outside of these very visual central metaphors being meat to be eaten or being tainted or blotted, all this stuff you have to… again, there’s a “nothing” sort of the center of that way of talking because other people’s souls are intangible and we can’t touch and see and feel what’s inside them, their subjects, their desires and their psyches, are hidden to us. And if we were to talk about their guilt and innocence, we’d have to talk about that with a lot of nuance. And we’re also talking, in a way, about… if we’re talking about our character, we’re talking about our estimation of what happens in the future. The ways in which she’s disposed to behave. Is she gonna be faithful? Is she not? And again, these invisible things, you know, what’s the nature of her character? Is she a bad person? This and that… But again, and in some more nuanced way, where it’s not just all good and all bad, but you’d get into some very complex assessment of her psychology, but it’s much more satisfying just to say she’s blotted, she’s smirched. You think in some… in a way, it’s very visual, very essential, it reduces these abstractions and… or the invisibility of soul or the psyche to something that’s tangible. And you’ll see that, you know, if you look at the metaphors in this play or in general, you’ll see that that happens a lot. They function to anchor thinking about something that’s a nothing. That’s something that’s more invisible and that’s abstract. So you put in the metaphor, but the result of that is that they become convincing, right? So the whole idea that, well, this kind of maxim that people who are sad are more honest or if you see them in a state of sadness, that’s evidence of their honesty. But relying on this idea that tears wash the dirt, the metaphorical dishonesty, off the face, you’re describing a mechanism in a way there. It’s almost like a pseudo scientific explanation it gives the appearance of being an explanation and it becomes convincing. And so the way in which they are thinking about Hero’s guilt and jumping to that conclusion so quickly is predicated on this use of metaphor. It’s very… again, it’s something that it’s like pseudo evidence. These underlying images almost become evidentiary. It’s almost like I observed it. I saw it. And even the way in which Margaret stands in for Hero on the window is an enactment of metaphor. So I wanted to contrast the way it’s used in wit. So in wit, someone who’s being witty isn’t beholden to the metaphor, they’re constructing it and using it. And they know not to take it as evidence, right? So when someone says to Beatrice: “Oh, you’re having a battle of wits” and she says “Yes, but four of them limped off, and he’s only got one, and this and that..” She’s giving this insulting characterization of him, right, and it lies in perfect parallel to these insulting characterizations of Hero, but it’s bracketed. She’s just ribbing him, right? She doesn’t take her own creation as if it were a real thing, and that’s one of the things that, as a way for them to get to know each other, it allows this expression of aggression and some of these paranoid and horrible feelings without taking them so seriously, taking them at face value.
Erin: So there are two sorts of physical metaphors for Hero. The first is Margaret, and then the second is dead Hero. The idea that she’s dead and the Friar’s explanation for how this will happen is, you know, this great deception. He says, (this is in the same scene. Let’s see… line 215 around there)
…for it so falls out
That what we have we prize not to the worth
Whiles we enjoy it, but being lack’d and lost,
Why, then we rack the value, then we find
The virtue that possession would not show us
Whiles it was ours. So will it fare with Claudio:
When he shall hear she died upon his words,
The idea of her life shall sweetly creep
Into his study of imagination,
And every lovely organ of her life
Shall come apparell’d in more precious habit,
More moving-delicate and full of life,
Into the eye and prospect of his soul,
Than when she lived indeed;
Wes: “…then shall he mourn,”
then shall he mourn,
If ever love had interest in his liver,
And wish he had not so accused her,
So by taking her away, again a lack of something, a nothing, in her own place, is going to restore her virginity in his own mind. The lack of her will perform this. What am I trying to say here?
Wes: The restoration of value. On the face of it, it’s just supposed to be… And by the way, none of this happens. This plan doesn’t actually… this is a really interesting plan, it would be really interesting to see it executed, but it doesn’t actually happen through the rest of the play. It’s not that Claudio says, “well, it’s me. I see what I lost. She must have been innocent.” Instead, we can talk about it, But things are resolved [laughter] actually quite differently. They basically find out who did it. So it’s interesting this doesn’t… the Friar’s plan isn’t actually carried out. But what he’s saying, I think, is really important, which is that some sort of mourning process needs to happen with Claudio, and it’s a clue to what was absent. Really, the whole play kind of pivots on this seemingly innocent, wonderful moment that Claudio sees Hero and falls in love with her, and it turns out to be quite a sinister thing. And some of that sinister element is revealed in the way he’s like, “Well, let’s get this, you know, I need to marry her immediately.” And he’s told, “No, you have to wait till Monday” and he’s like, “What?” And that’s one of the really interesting things about the play. So something that is a seemingly very romantic moment is actually the sinister thing, and then the cow, the sort of cynicism of there’s something healthier out of the cynical interactions of Beatrice and Benedict. Then the question becomes, well, what was missing from that beginning? Other than the getting-to-know-you process of Beatrice and Benedict? Well, I think the suggestion here is that some sort of mourning was necessary in order to get a true estimation of Hero’s value. So as you pointed out, the estimation in the beginning is all just idealization and projection, let’s say. She is the representative of every perfect virtue that womankind can possibly have, and of course, he doesn’t know her from Adam, and again he’s interpreting that off these outward signs and mannerisms and just typical feminine behavior. And that’s what he has to lament and mourn and say goodbye to. Because when you actually get to know the person, they don’t live up to that ideal. And so I think that’s part of the significance of what the Friar is saying here, is that that’s something Claudio will actually have to give up. And so he goes through that whole ritual he’s made to even after they find out the plot he’s kept in the dark, and he and Don Pedro are made to go through that whole ritual where they sing at her supposed grave.
Erin: Which is an interesting… We could talk about the role of the various songs and the music metaphors in this, but I was thinking, too, the secret that Benedick and Beatrice know as being the wiser. This is Act 5, Scene 2, they’re having a conversation about Claudio, but also about themselves. Beatrice asks Benedict in line 64: “But for which of my / good parts did you first suffer love for me?” And he’s again, of course, immediately reacting to her choice of words: “Suffer love! a good epithet! I do suffer love / indeed, for I love thee against my will” and Beatrice: “In spite of your heart, I think; alas, poor heart! / If you spite it for my sake, I will spite it for / yours; for I will never love that which my friend hates.” And Benedict says “Thou and I are too wise to woo peaceably.” But they understand that there is that thing that you said that made me think of this, of course, is that you know the idea of morning that Claudio has to go through this process of mourning, that there is an understanding that there is a bittersweet quality to love and Claudio had to discover the bitter. And Beatrice and Benedict already have most of bitter. [laughter] You know, they could use a little sweetness in their bitter-sweet. And so they already have this understanding of suffering for it as being a major component in love. Therefore, they’re too wise to woo peaceably, they understand the battle that has to go on. You know, whether that be true suffering or just the sense of the battle, the skirmish, the idea that you have to fight to overcome, maybe your own nature or, as you said earlier, your own sense of individuality or seed it to the person.
Wes: Well, also the idealizing component, right? So there’s a way in which Hero and Claudio are the very paradigm of what it means to woo peaceably if peaceably means to engage in this complete idealizing of the other person. So the thing about the fighting, the thing that’s built into the whole skirmishing that they’re doing is morning in the sense that they’re pointing out each other’s flaws [laughter] to each other. And that’s a way of mourning them and accepting them ultimately and making light of them, making them seem less important. So if you woo peaceably and the other person is perfect then the imperfection, when it arrives, might be that could be a life and death matter. I mean, in the case of Hero, right, if it’s a lack of chastity, it becomes something that for all Claudio and Leonato care for, you know, she could die now. She’s done.
Erin: In the last scene, Beatrice and Benedict have another great exchange where Beatrice is also masked…
Erin: …and comes over to Benedict and when he asks which is Beatrice and says, “I answer to that name, what is your will?” And he asked, “Do you not love me?” And Beatrice says, “Why, no; no more than reason”, which is perhaps true. And then she asked him the same question, “Do you not love me?” And he says, “Troth, no; no more than reason,” which is, I think so great, because they have found a reasonable way [laughter] to love each other. So perhaps they don’t love each other more than reason. But they respond by saying “No. Actually, we are… we do love each other beyond reason” because she says, “Well, then my cousin Margaret and Ursula / are much deceived, for they did swear you did.” So there must be something beyond reason that is involved in love that they swore “You do love me beyond reason.” And Benedict says, “They swore you were almost sick for me,” Beatrice says, “They swore you were well-nigh dead for me,” which, you know, maybe is a little bit of an insensitive joke to be… maybe a little too soon after the [laughter] near death of Hero. So Benedict says, “Then you do not love me?” and Beatrice says, “No, truly, but in friendly recompense.” They dance up to each other and then they back away from each other. And so the idea that they understand that love at this point for them is both reasonable and admittedly beyond reason.
Erin: And that is the compromise that they’ll make is to admit that they have moved at some point beyond reason, in love with each other, whereas Claudio was always beyond reason and he had to get some reason into him in order to be worthy of Hero.
Wes: Yeah, I mean, there’s some reflective element there. And in private, right after what’s gone down in the church, in private, they admit, and it’s a very touching scene, I think, where they suddenly tell each other how much they love each other. It’s just such a great contrast to all the fighting they have been doing. Granted, it goes dark, you know, Beatrice says, then you’ve got to kill Claudio. But before that, uh, so what they’re doing, partly, it’s kind of this dancing that they’re doing has something to do with what they’re willing to admit in public and the way they’re navigating, kind of a blow to their pride that it is to admit these things in public. The hearsay element still stands, right? Hearsay and nothing is what induced them to have these feelings for each other, although granted there had to be some… this seems like there was some real basis for that before. But they’ve also got through this other aspect, more combative [laughter] aspect in their relationship. You know, you get the sense they can see it for what it is, and they can have some sort of ironic distance from that feeling as well. So it’s not that Beatrice, for instance, or let’s say, it’s not that Benedick is going to believe the things that Claudio believed about Hero, and I don’t think there’s ever any mention of -I’m not sure there might be one- but Beatrice’s chastity, for instance, and there’s a few hints about their history, but both of them having previous relationships of some sort, I think.
Erin: That’s what makes me think of Beatrice as being in a similar situation as Hero, actually, because she says… that’s why Beatrice said she can’t go to hell. She has to just lead them to the gate because hell is not a place for maids. So her presumed chastity there is what makes me think that she’s been… gives me this idea of a backstory as her having been wronged, perhaps by Benedick, prior to the play because she does maintain her virginity.
Wes: Yeah, but it’s yeah, so I yeah, I assume that she’s a version, [laughter] but you never know.
Erin: That’s true.
Wes: But less issue is made of the sort of idealized qualities that are made of with Hero, I think romantic love is inherently idealizing, at least in the beginning. But in this case, I think maybe the ironic distance is the way to put this. You know, both of them can get this sort of reflective and humorous and witty distance from their own emotional lives and make fun of it and not simply be… take it literally, let’s say, speaking in metaphor, not simply take all of that literally and naively.
Erin: Mmm. The scene where they do privately profess their love to each other, they even use “profess” as “protest” their love for each other.
Wes: Right. That’s perfect.
Erin: In Act 4, “I was about to protest I loved you” and Benedict says, “And do it with all my heart.” And she responds, “I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest.” So she uses “protest” as “profess” and then as “protest.” There’s also a food metaphor in there, too, about eating your words.
Wes: So do we want to talk about “Sigh no more”?
Erin: Yes! Act 2…
Wes: It’s the line… 2, Scene 3… Line 60, Act 2, Scene 3.
Erin: What’s so interesting about “Sigh no more” is that it takes the whole idea of female deception and turns it on its head and talks about male deception. So neither sex is to be trusted, I suppose. But the song goes:
Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never:
Then sigh not so, but let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into Hey nonny, nonny.
Sing no more ditties, sing no moe,
Of dumps so dull and heavy;
The fraud of men was ever so,
Since summer first was leafy:
Then sigh not so, but let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into hey, nonny, nonny.
The inconstancy of men is skewered here.
Wes: It’s also interesting in light of our talk of mourning because this is what ladies are being asked to do, so give up these expectations. Give up these, you might call them, idealizations, if you’re to think that women never idealized men [laughter] for their constancy. [laughter] But it’s a hope, it’s a wish. And the song says, “Convert all your sounds of woe into hey, nonny, nonny”, which, my notes say mean careless nothings and there may be some sexual overtones to it. So the idea that these things, that something that seems so important and essential be treated as if it’s a triviality that one can simply give up.
Erin: The idea of the song. Benedick is meanwhile, making fun of this song.
Wes: They’re about to bait Benedick right into loving Beatrice. At this point, he’s hidden and overhearing them.
Erin: I think he’s about to be.
Wes: Yeah, I think he’s hidden. He’s hidden at this point.
Erin: And Benedict says, right before this, he gives his own similar prescription for what woman he wants, just as Beatrice has given her own and says, well, even still, he’ll only win a woman if he could get her goodwill. He gives his own prescription for the woman that he would want. He says, “One woman is fair, yet I am well; another is wise, yet I am well, another virtuous, yet I am well; but till all graces be in one woman, one woman shall not come in my grace.” And then, he says she must be rich, wise, virtuous, fair, mild, noble, of good discourse, an excellent musician, and her hair can be whatever color. He doesn’t have a preference [laughter] about that. But he’s remarking on this, he’s saying all this, because he’s saying that Claudio is so easily taken in by love, and he describes Claudio’s being taken in in this way. He says, “I have known when there was no music with him but the drum and the fife; now he had rather hear the tabour and the pipe.” So there used to be battle music in him. But now he’s just listening to this pleasant, you know, romantic music, not the martial music of the drum and the fife. So now he has music in him. And then the song that immediately follows is one that talks about what deceivers men are. I wanted to, maybe, address the… just a little bit from the Auden essay. Auden has this great essay in the essay collection The Dyer’s Hand, where he talks about music and music’s role and Much Ado and As you Like it and Twelfth Night. And he says Benedict laughs at the thought of the lovesick Claudio and congratulates himself on being heart-whole, expresses their contrasted states in a musical imagery, and he gives this no-music-with-him quote: “We, of course, know that Benedict is not as heart-whole as he is trying to pretend. Beatrice and Benedict resist each other because, being both proud and intelligent, they do not wish to be the helpless slaves of emotion or worse, to become what they have often observed in others, the victims of an imaginary passion. Claudio, for his part, wishes to hear music because he is in a dreamy love-sex state. But he doesn’t notice that the mood and words of the song are in complete contrast to his daydream. The song is actually about the irresponsibility of men and the folly of women taking them seriously and it recommends as an antidote, good humor and common sense,” which is exactly what Beatrice has. And then he goes on to talk about Claudio, who is all too willing to believe the slander against Hero. And Auden says of Claudio: “He falls into the trap set for him because, as yet, he is less a lover than a man in love with love. Hero is as yet more an image in his own mind than a real person and such images are susceptible to every suggestion. For Claudio, the song marks the moment when his pleasant illusions about himself as a lover are at their highest. Before he can really listen to music, he must be cured of imaginary listening, and the cure lies through the disharmonious experiences of passion and guilt. So again, that curing him of an image is paired with the curing him of the false music or of hearing the music properly. Actually listening to the words of the song instead of getting caught up in the tune.” Auden’s so good! Yeah, I love that.
Wes: So right before the song, I was just gonna point to the whole no notes stuff.
Erin: It’s not a note of my note, fortunately. [laughter]
Wes: No notes for soothe and nothing? It does get at the noting-nothing pun, which hopefully we mentioned that those two words would have sounded the same. They would have been pronounced the same, like “noting” would have been the way “nothing” was pronounced. And so that’s part of… the pun would be very natural.
Erin: I love Benedict saying, “Now, is his soul ravished? Is it not strange that sheeps’ guts should hale souls out of men’s bodies?” I love that he looks at the instrument for what it is, which is sheeps’ guts.
Erin: [laughter] He sees he sees beyond the noise it makes what it actually is, which is just a bodily organ.
Wes: And it’s just yet another parallel to the idea that these deep passions can be elicited by the notes, being themselves trivial or at the level of appearance and hidden behind them could be just guts.
Wes: And yet our passions are predicated on the notes, not the fact that underneath [laughter] are the guts. In the case of lovers, you know their outward mannerisms and appearances, and if we could see their guts, it would be a different matter.
Erin: And, you know, stomach and all of that is, you know, related to eating. And when Don John references his stomach or Benedict saying that she has meat food to feed her gut as Signior Benedict, the recognition of the animal nature, maybe of love at its base or the lust that he’s seeing through the fog to get to, is the same thing as looking at an instrument and not hearing the melodious sound it makes, but realizing that it’s just guts, it’s just the body, the response and which Benedict thinks he’s sort of a master over, that he understands that love is just like something physical. Something bodily has no control over him. And that’s why he’s a confirmed bachelor and he loves no woman and doesn’t need to love. So until he can sort of hear the music and not just see the sheep’s gut, he’s going to be lost. And until Claudio can see the fact that there’s guts there [laughter] they’re not quite ready to be married.
Wes: So we should say a little bit about Dogberry and his men, I think.
Erin: Yes. Now the propisms. [laughter] Which is also kind of a fitting Fool to have, in this particular play, to have the Fool speak malapropisms all the time.
Wes: Yeah, and he’s a representative of the law, so you get the sense he’s trying to be very officious and speak… He’s a lower class fellow. He gets into trouble verbally because he’s trying to speak in jargon or in a language he doesn’t really fully understand, you get the sense, so often the words that are coming out of his mouth are just the opposite [laughter] of what he means. So, for instance, he tells his men, “This is your charge: you shall comprehend all vagrom men.” ‘Comprehend’ instead of ‘apprehend’.
Erin: That’s telling.
Wes: And it’s funny. The other examples come later. I’m right now. I’m in the.. where we first see him, in Act 3, Scene 3: “Who think you the most desertless man to be Constable?” instead of ‘deserving’, so… The other interesting thing here is the sort of… what I, in my notes, call tautologist’s justice, where his deputies, basically the people he’s deputizing to keep watch at night, are asking him what they should do if people won’t obey them. So at line 27, after he’s told them to comprehend all vagrom men and Seacole says “How if a’ will not stand?” and then Dogberry, “Why, then, take no note of him, but let him go; and presently call the rest of the watch together and thank God you are rid of a knave.” And if you find the thief, don’t mess with him because it’s possible… you don’t wanna hang out with thieves cause you’ll become dishonest yourself and let him steal out of your company. Let him show himself what he is and steal out of your company. So in each case, when you encounter criminals instead of imposing the force of the law upon them, they, by virtue of being criminals, are no longer within your jurisdiction. They’re incompatible with law, and the law could be hurt or undermined by coming into contact with them. So you simply evade them. You let them just do what they’re gonna do, and that’s a really fascinating little thing to have going on in this play. This whole idea about a person who’s a representative of the law, who has all these problems around use of language and these bizarre reasonings about how the law is supposed to work.
Erin: Yeah, I mean, if we could connect that more to, what’s going on in the plot about law… There’s a deeper connection there that I want to make clear. Just skipping up a few lines when he says, “If you meet a thief, you may suspect him, by virtue of your office, to be no true man; and for such kind of men, the less you meddle or make with them, why the more is for your honesty.” “You may suspect him by virtue of your office, to be no true man.” So again, there’s this idea that because he is an officer of the law, he will know by virtue of his office, so he will know because he is an officer of the law who is not following the law.
Wes: Again, it’s about this predicament that we have a figuring out who the culprit is, whether or who people really are. So when you’re in love with them, are you in love with some outer appearance so that’s, you know, are they misrepresenting themselves? You know, it’s a similar idea here. What you are to… how you are to identify and deal with malefactors, who ultimately end up being the people that they apprehend, will be the servants of Don John, one of whom, Borachio, has just come back from making it seem like Hero is unchaste.
Erin: Yeah, I like when he says, “I think they that touch pitch will be defiled.”
Erin: We could tell the people with dirty hands because they’ve stuck their hands in pitch and gotten their hands dirty. We could see if they’re guilty by seeing if they’ve gotten their hands dirty. It’s just using one literal expression of having unclean hands as a way to say that he has unclean hands. You could just tell by looking at him because his hands would be dirty. And so you should just let him be himself. And that is that he is a thief.
Wes: “Truly, by your office, you may; but I think that touch pitch will be defiled.” I took him to be saying here you don’t want to apprehend the thief because you could be defiled by touching him. “The most peaceable way for you, if you do take a thief, is to let him show…” (and where then ‘take’ now means ‘see’) “…is to let him show himself what he is and steal out of your company.” So instead of actually apprehending him and touching him and so being defiled by him, you take him in the sense of you register his presence, you look at him, but then you let him disappear. Show himself what he is and then disappear. So, which is really fascinating. I mean, this is something… there has to be something very important [laughter] going on here. Some of this has to do with the mode of suspicion is kind of undermining. So as legal authorities, they have to be… they have to go around looking for bad people. But the idea here is that it could make them bad. And you see, I think in the malapropism you see this. The way the words are… all these inversions where… Let’s go back to an example. You know, where ‘desertless’ man is meant to mean ‘deserving’ man. I think that reflects the same sort of dynamic. In other words, the constables are the ones supposed to be finding the undeserving ones or the malefactors. And so the reversal puts that quality onto the constables themselves, and I think that’s pretty much the way it goes throughout. ‘Indeed’, ‘comprehended’. So at 43, “One word, sir. Our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two aspicious persons”. So ‘comprehended’ instead of ‘apprehended’. Again this movement we would ‘comprehend’, instead of ‘touching’, and ‘being defiled by’ its, you know, you maintain a distance, and then ‘aspicious’ it almost… it means suspicious. But it looks almost like ‘auspicious’.
Erin: Even before that, in the earliest part, Leonato says, “What would you with me, honest neighbor?” Dogberry says “Marry, sir, I would have some confidence with you that discerns you nearly”
Wes: [laughter] Right.
Erin: So ‘discerns’ for ‘concerns’. But it does discern him. There’s the, you know, the Yogi Bear kind of logic in everything that he says.
Wes: Let’s look at some examples from where you were going, in Act 4.
Erin: He identifies himself, as the Sexton asks which ones are the malefactors.
Erin: “Which be the malefactors?” and Dogberry says, “Marry, that am I and my partner” So he misidentifies himself as the malefactor and Verges says, “Nay, that’s certain; we have the exhibition to examine.” [laughter] So yeah, so we’ve been commissioned to examine this case, and Sexton says, “But which are the offenders that are to be examined? Let them come before Master Constable.” “Yea, Marry, let them come before me.” And then this great long lines that he has “Write down that they hope they serve God: and write God first: for God defend but God should go before such villains!” So you know, we have to put God before criminals. And then he says, “Masters, it is proved already that you are little better than false knaves and it will go near to be thought so shortly.” so soon we’ll know for certain “How do you answer for yourselves?” And they say, no, we’re not. “We are none.” What I’m interested in is the “writing things down” and then saying that it’s perjury to write down what he actually says. “This man said, sir, that Don John, the Prince’s brother, was a villain.” Dogberry says “Write down Prince John a villain. Why, this is flat perjury to call a prince’s brother villain.”
Wes: Well, we’re trying to get at all these different confusions on the significance of them. It’s within the theme of appearances versus reality, words versus reality. And there’s even the point where he’s been called an ass and instead of saying, “Remember that I was called an ass” because he wants the person to be punished, he says, “Remember that I am an ass.” So this confusion between use and mention of words is what philosophers would say but between things as they are reported and things as they are, and between, like, you know, so “let them be opinioned” instead of “let them be pinioned” (‘pinioning’ would be ‘put in cuffs’, I think) kind of confusion between words that represent mental states and words that represent actions and confusion about who the constable is, who the administrator of the law is and who is the subject of the law. So who’s the malefactor and who’s not? And there’s something in there about what goes on when we’re evaluating lovers, and you mentioned projection earlier on, and the confusion about, first of all, the signifier and reality, appearance and reality, and also, confusion about what comes from the lover in their assessment of the beloved and what actually is there in the beloved, even possible reversals. So the kind of reversals that Dogberry is doing… I forget what play this is in but there’s another Shakespeare play where he makes fun of this sort of thing. You take the worst traits of someone, and you can turn them into their biggest virtues. So this is what Freud would call overvaluation of the object, which is we idealize and we even take the things which are obviously flaws and we say, “Oh, that just makes them so much better.” “That crooked smile that she has is amazing.” There may be some relation between Dogberry’s confusions and the way the laws are being applied and the way we assess lovers. And of course, it all does… there is a legal element in the end, right when the… because the stakes are high with Hero, she’s put on a kind of trial at her wedding and the trial, as I pointed out that the evidence is all metaphor, the evidence is just “Oh, I imagine that she’s stained now” and it’s hearsay. These people said it happened, and these sort of evidentiary confusions and this conflation of metaphorical reasoning with actual reasoning in order to figure out if someone has done something wrong. I think they’re sort of reflected in Dogberry and Dogberry’s men. And yet they are the ones who, despite those confusions, who can see what’s in front of their face, right, they immediately catch the plotters. Unfortunately, they don’t go into communicating that, and they go to Leonato because they’re so convoluted and ridiculous and he’s rushing to the wedding. He gets away from them before they can tell him what’s happened. At least they know, unlike the other characters, who should have known better, who should have known that Don John was not trustworthy and they were given, he lied to them once, and then they nothing came of that, and they let them lie to him again, so…
Erin: Is this the case of the, you know, the simplest being, therefore the most perceptive? Because Dogberry isn’t inventing. He’s seeing things as they are merely because he doesn’t have the capability of inventing some sort of falsehood or some sort of false narrative or projection in his mind.
Wes: Yeah, I think that could be part of it. You know, that’s a kind of ah, trope, I guess. You know, it is the simplicity, that kind of lower class simplicity and lack of sophistication, which allows him to see the world as it is, and to the upper class world here is far more focused on and queued into signifiers and appearances. So, you know, apparel, for instance, as a… I don’t know if cued into is the right word, but more focused on it. So these are sorts of things that convey… kind of clothing, for instance, that would convey your class. The stakes are higher for people in the upper classes so they would never wear… and there’s even that whole dialogue about the sorts of people, the deformed right, the sorts of people who pretend to be upper class by wearing different clothing.
Erin: Yeah, I was just thinking that it’s all associated with images in paintings fashioning them like pharaohs, soldiers in the Ricci painting, sometimes like God, bells, priests and the old church window, sometimes like the shaven Hercules and the smirched worm-eaten tapestry. All of these images of people rather than actual people.
Wes: Yeah, again, the importance of outward appearance as a signifier meant, you know, something that signifies something more essential. But again, it’s hearsay. So the apparel’s also hearsay, and it could easily be wrong.
Erin: And Borachio says, “That shows thou art unconfirmed”, right? Innocent. “Thou knowest that the fashion of a doublet or a hat or a cloak is nothing to a man.” It doesn’t actually reveal his actual character, but he says “nothing to a man”, the outward appearances rather than the interior being a no-thing. The outward appearance is also a no-thing, regardless of how you dress it up.
Wes: Yeah, there’s so much that’s going on in this play, and we only got a very small amount of it and a small amount of the text. But hopefully we’ve given a good example of some of the richness of this. So, you know, like just the way we ended there with Dogberry and his men, the… it’s more than comic relief, right? Shakespeare is giving us more tools to think about. Shakespeare is a thinker as well, and you see him thinking through certain things in this place, and it’s part of what makes it so exciting. The sorts of scenes with Dogberry are no… thematically, they’re not just accidental, they’re not accidentally connected. They’re well thought down, and there’s a lot more to say about it.
Wes: It’s been so long since I’ve… I had seen this play, and I think I saw a production… I have a friend who used to produce and direct plays in New York, just sort of community theater, Shakespeare in New York City and I think that was the last time. A long time ago. I’m not gonna say [laughter] how long. I actually had seen Much Ado About Nothing, so I saw it live. And so I remembered practically nothing except for Dogberry. How crazy is that? So just in my closing here, I mean, I could… virtually any Shakespeare play I’d be raving about it and talking about how exciting it was. But each… it’s weird… each play is so different, it almost feels like it’s by a different writer, in some ways. But it’s also quintessentially Shakespeare at the same time. I don’t know how to explain that, so I’m always surprised that there’s always this novelty. And it’s not just novelty of a new plot. It’s someone who’s experimenting, just doing new and different things with their writing. And, as I said before, thinking through interesting puzzles in this creative way. So it’s always just… for me it’s like… watching and reading Shakespeare is just like injecting heroin into my veins. I’m always just put into the state [laughter] of complete euphoria, and I’m serious. It’s a euphoric feeling and I can’t… if you ask me, “Well, how do you compare this to the other?” You know, I’ve always said that my favorite play’s The Tempest. It’s impossible for me to compare it to the euphoria that I get from any other [laughter] Shakespeare play, because there are always euphoric experiences, but always so different. I mean, one thing about Much Ado About Nothing is the… you know, it’s not known as one of his problem plays, and I think there’s always an undercurrent of tragedy in any comedy, and Shakespeare always does that well. Here, it’s more obvious, you know, there’s this more shocking and clear transition into this. There’s a sort of counter plot at work. I’m thinking of, you know, if Beatrice and Benedick are treated as the main… if their story were treated as the actual plot, you think of Claudio and Hero as a kind of tragic counter plot, and the two are intertwined and, of course, depend on each other. So it’s a… I don’t know how to explain it… it’s a very, even mix of the tragic and comic. It’s very balanced. I don’t know. I don’t know what else to say, but it’s perfect. [laughter] But it’s one of many different types of perfection that Shakespeare gives us.
Erin: [laughter] I’m so familiar with this play. I love Much Ado. It’s my favorite comedy of Shakespeare’s. And yet I always go into it thinking that this is going to be a play about Beatrice and Benedick, and I’m always surprised when it’s actually a play about Hero and Claudio more than about Beatrice and Benedick.
Wes: Wait, are you reversing that?
Wes: Ah, okay.
Erin: I don’t think so.
Wes: It’s more about Hero and Claudio than…?
Erin: Yeah, I think so. I mean, you know, in terms of time on stage or whatever, I mean, I think that there’s an even amount of time, probably, but I don’t think of the couples as sharing an even amount of time. I think of it as being Beatrice and Benedick’s play. And then I’m always surprised to see that it’s actually more about Claudio and Hero. I mean, in terms of like, the mechanism of the plot, I think it’s more about Claudio and Hero. Would you agree with that?
Wes: The way I think of it, it is nominally the hero and heroine are Claudio and Hero, [laughter] strangely enough.
Erin: [laughter] Right.
Wes: And Benedick and Beatrice, that’s sort of the show-stealing supporting actors. So that’s the common, I think, way of looking at it. But I think you’re turning that on its head, you know? But now we all come to it with the expectation that these guys are the show-stealers. But you’re returning us to the fact that, yeah.
Erin: Yes. Yeah. It’s sort of, you know, that Beatrice and Benedick, I guess you could say that the romantic comedy convention nowadays would be that the more jaded, slightly older couple would be the best friend of the main characters and the side plot and the Claudio-Hero relationship is admittedly, you know, much less interesting. I think, in terms of the love between them is much less interesting.
Wes: And they’re shallower characters, in a way, because of their idealizing and naive approach to things.
Erin: Absolutely. Yeah. And so in closing, what I wanted to say was just that after having this conversation, I wonder if I’m not gonna look at their relationship with the new appreciation. Not with the teenage excitement I got from the sparring between Beatrice and Benedict and only wanting to read those parts of the play and watch those parts of the adaptations. But to recognize that those parts are maybe the sweeter for being thrown into relief by the Claudio and Hero romance, that the two of them are actually much more interdependent than I had previously thought. I mean, of course, there’s a relation there, but the relation is much more essential than it is approximate. And that’s all I have to say.
Wes: Great. Well, thank you. I enjoyed that. Goodnight.
Erin: Goodnight, everyone.