Shakespeare’s clever development of his theme begins with the title. “Much Ado About Nothing” seems to express the idea that the characters in the play exaggerated the seriousness of their situation. However, it must be remembered that this play was written in the late sixteenth century. The word “nothing” was pronounced the same way as “noting.” “Noting” meant to "take notice of something; to hear, observe, eavesdrop” (Squires). In the play, eavesdropping led to incorrect ideas and avoidable problems. Had people decided to confirm their hypotheses with evidence more valid than hearing a fragment of a conversation, they would have realized that they were truly creating avertable problems about nothing. Shakespeare used this cunning pun to establish that, by ensuring the legitimacy of something before believing it, a person can prevent much dilemma.
The play explores the relationships of two pairs of lovers. The first, Benedick and Beatrice, begin the play in a sort of “merry war.” It becomes evident in Act I that they had known each other before he went away for battle. Beatrice flaunts her wittiness before Benedick enters the stage. She asks the messenger a peculiar question. “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” (Shakespeare, I,i,10). Of course, Beatrice did not plan to engage in cannibalism. According to (Harlan), “the suggestion here is that Beatrice is in no danger of having to commit cannibalism because she is sure Benedick is incapable of performing as a soldier, that he is a coward.” She was merely implying that she knew that Benedick could not kill another soldier. When the messenger defended him, Beatrice continued to mock him, intentionally interpreting his responses incorrectly to insult him. Before Benedick enters the stage, she insults his courage, his integrity, his intelligence, and his gentlemanliness (Harlan). Beatrice’s witty retorts contribute to her bold and clever characterization.
Benedick matches Beatrice’s wit when he enters the scene. Their exchanges at the beginning of the play add a playful atmosphere to the act. While they are both young and unattached to a romantic partner, it becomes clear that neither desires a marital bind. Benedick expresses that he loves women; he loves his mother for birthing him and for raising him. However, he will never marry, for he will never romantically love a woman. Similarly, Beatrice states that “I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me” (Shakespeare I,i,125). Based on their incontestably similar characterizations and their lighthearted banter, the reader can predict that a relationship will bloom between the two throughout the play. Some scholars believe that Beatrice and Benedick inwardly loved each other at the beginning of the play (Cummings), while others feel that they did not realize their love for one another until they thought that the love was requited (Harlan).
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