Are you satisfied with the ending of the play? That is, if these two unions–the one between Hero and Claudio, the other between Beatrice and Benedick–are part of a restoration of social harmony (typical of the ending of Shakespeare’s comedies), is anything lost in the process? You might think about this question in terms of the women in the play–is it an acceptable ending for them? Or perhaps you could consider it in relation to the way Shakespeare seems to be critiquing the artificial nature of conventional romance earlier in the play–is he happy with his own ending?
Traditional ways of doing things always fly out of the window when approaching a work of Shakespeare. Much Ado About Nothing is by no means an exception. That being the case, the outcome of this play followed a more palatable course. No one was subject to losing their wit. No one was baked into a pie. It was most assuredly one of his more tame bodies of work. Being that I have quite always been somewhat of a hopeless romantic, I found myself rooting the most for Beatrice’s and Benedick’s love; mostly because they both protested a bit too much to deny its presence. In the end, both outcomes were just, I think. Merely looking at the names alone can give a lot of insight into the characters and how they are portrayed. Many times, in Shakespeare’s works, he will give the character’s ironic names; especially the female characters. Hero in particular, was the opposite of heroic. On the contrary, she could not even save herself from succumbing to everyone else’s seemingly collective will for her life. Her life and outcome were set, in part through her own acquiescence in being the obsequious wife that everyone expected her to be. Claudio’s name means lame or crippled. This rings true in the way he seemed crippled by his need to rely so heavily on fitting into his societal role, especially when it came to Hero’s dowry. It seemed to me, that his need to be so concerned with her wealth contradicted the centuries old view that manhood meant making one’s own way in this world. Beatrice, meaning one who makes happy, was also an ironic name considering the fact that she rarely comes across as a happy person whereas Benedick, meaning blessed, rarely seems so for having known her.
The relationship between Beatrice and Benedick is a stark contrast from any other relationship in the play. They are both characters who break the traditional molds in their own right. Beatrice is of course a loud-mouthed witty woman, who is rarely seen as being happy (though perhaps she had reason not to be). She constantly fights against her role in society as the traditional woman and potential wife, which leaves her a woman without many suitors. She plays the role of a man much of the time (also interesting when considering the fact that she would have actually been played by a man in Shakespeare’s time- a man playing a woman in the role of a man) and, as mentioned above, seems to protest the common institutions of love and marriage a bit too much. At one point in the paly she said of love, “I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me,” and of marriage, “Just, if he [God] send me no husband, for the which blessing I am at him upon my knees…” It is implied, however, that she holds these views because no traditional husband would be able to tame her wily nature. Conversely, Benedick played a dual role. At times, he stepped into the role as the traditional man, but his success came when he took on the more passive womanly role, evidenced during the scene where Beatrice asks him to murder Claudio to which he ultimately agrees. He concedes to her demands and, in a way, concedes to this new role so as to solidify his ultimate show of love toward Beatrice. His ultimate show of manliness, in my opinion, was his regard for her regardless of her wealth or anything else in the world. This, in many ways, was utterly contrary to the actions of the typical male of the time (evidenced by Claudio) who lived almost as if in complete ode to the Napoleonic Code.
The relationship between Beatrice and Benedick had the most successful end, almost in spite of both of their insistence’s against the entire process. It seems to be that Shakespeare is saying that a man and a woman not conforming to the path of known tradition is okay, but that does not give the institution any less meaning in the end. The importance, after all, is not found in the institution itself, but in the man and woman themselves within the institution. In the end, their non-conformance is precisely what brings them together.
In many ways, Beatrice and Benedick embody the modern husband and wife, which further gives credence to Shakespeare being a cultural touchstone who’s works and critiques transcend time itself because they shine a magnifying glass on all it truly means to be human, with all its imperfect implications, which change not as time flies by.