Benedick’s Soliloquy on ideal woman: (2.3.20-27)
In Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing Benedick, a romantic young Lord in Padua, is head over shoulders in love with Beatrice, Leonato’s niece. A moment ago he satirized the “fantastical” behavior of Claudius in love. As he readies himself for love, he contemplates the sterling qualities he seeks in his love lady. He desires her to be the embodiment of all rare virtues admired by men. He would not buy her unless she is “fair”, “wise” and “virtuous”.
Furthermore, she needs to be “rich”, and “mild”, and “noble”. He also expects her to be a brilliant conversationalist as well as an “excellent musician”. Benedick goes about choosing his woman as a fastidious buyer go bargaining for the best property at lowest price. This speech is meant to provide fun and mirth to the audience; but it also demonstrates the male attitude of regarding women as property.
If he succeeds, then he would be in possession of a gem of a woman, and could go about boasting of his prize catch. We are indeed prone to laugh at such acquisitiveness. The commodification of woman is also deplorable. She has to be tailor-made with all virtues stitched in to satisfy the male ego. It is a folly for Benedick that he rules out the possibility that if such a perfect woman existed at all , she might not choose him.
Benedick’s reaction to hearing that Beatrice is secretly in love with him: (2.3.181-213):2 paras. On her husband like qualities. On why he is so easily duped by his friends.
In the speech following the trap set by Pedro, Claudio and Leanato, Benedict starts behaving like a very compromising lover who is willing to bury past his antagonism with Beatrice. As suggested by Pedro, Benedick begins his introspection – self-examination to improve his chances of being a good and worthy husband. Like a repentant lover and future husband he feels he has unfairly treated the fair Beatrice, and her love “must be requited”. (2.3.216)
He also decides that he “must not seem proud.” (2.3.220). He concludes that she is fair, virtuous and wise for having fallen in love with him. He has now grown wise to listen to people’s criticism which would lead to the improvement of his personality. For having so long opposing and railing against marriage, he makes a 180 degree turn and pledges to “be horribly in love with her.” (2.3.226)
He further argues that he must break his vow of celibacy so that “the world must be peopled.”(2.3.233). Being conditioned and brainwashed by Leanato, Pedro and Claudio he now discovers “some marks of love in her.”(2.3.236)His conclusion – “I am a villain; if I do not love her.” (2.3.253) – is a proof of his delusion.
In this speech Benedick recapitulates after eavesdropping the mock-serious conversations of Claudio, Pedro and Leanato who aver that Beatrice is dying for his love, but is too modest “to wear her heart out first.” (2.3.195) What he so long regarded “ a gull” now has become veritable truth; as he says, “This can be no trick: the conference was sadly borne.” Like the typical lover with “imagination all compact”, he is duped by the prank played by Pedro and Claudio.
He is unable to see through the “sport” to mislead both the proud lovers to hold “an opinion of another’s dotage.” (2.3.208) The old and the experienced Prince and Governor are successful in manipulating the romantic but arrogant lovers to confess their love and overcome their egoes. All Beatrice’s objections like “Against my will” and forcing her on “knife’s point …to choke a daw withal.” (2.3.246) are romantically interpreted as signs of love. Benedick’s behavior does confirm Shakespeare’s view of lover in Midsummer Night’s Dream: “The lunatic, the lover and the poet/Are of imagination all compact.” (Midsummer, 5.1.7) Their wild imagination hardly resembles the reality.
Qualities I like in a man or woman. Do I choose any qualities admired by Benedick? Why? Or why not?
The qualities I like in a man are tenderness, affection, and a capacity for enduring relationship. He must not treat woman as a prized possession for his personal benefit; but treat her as an equal partner. The qualities admired by Benedick are male ego-centric and would not satisfy any modern woman. “Wise”, “noble” and “mild” are admirable qualities in male as well female spouse.
Some intellectual qualities like brilliant conversationalist and excellent musician are welcome personality traits, but not a necessity. But “rich” indicates love of wealth and dowry which often creates problems in marital life. Benedick gives the impression of a customer with a shopping list of virtues rather than a lover. To match his list a woman has to be perfect. No woman would like such an exacting husband.
Craig, W.J.(ed.), Shakespeare: Complete Works. London. O.U.P. 1974