Much Ado About Nothing: Beatrice, Portia and Marriage


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Much Ado About Nothing:  Beatrice, Portia and Marriage            

 

Hero and Claudio represent the Elizabethan norm in marriage. Claudio is the shrewd, hardheaded fortune hunter and Hero is the modest maiden of conduct books and marriage manuals, a docile young woman. It is important to note that Claudio is more concerned with advancement in Don Pedro's army than he is with love. Therefore, Shakespeare illustrates to the reader through the near tragedy of mistaken identity that Claudio must learn that marriage is more than a business arrangement and become worthy of Hero's love and affection. Source: Ranald, Margaret Loftus. "As Marriage Binds, and Blood Breaks: English Marriage and Shakespeare". Shakespeare Quarterly. Vol 30, 1979: 68-81.

            In addition, this relationship illustrates the "cuckold" fear that is very pertinent during Shakespeare's time. Claudio is easily wooed into believing Don John's fabrication about Hero's infidelity. Since women were considered possessions, this infidelity is the ultimate betrayal and a mortal wound to Claudio's self esteem. In reality, Hero had remained the chaste and virtuous model of the Elizabethan woman. Source: Hays, Janice. "Those "soft and delicate desires": Much Ado and the Distrust of Women". Lenz, Carolyn Ruth Swift, Greene, Gayle, and Neely, Carol Thomas Ed., The Woman's Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare. University of Illinois Press: Chicago, 1980.

Beatrice and Benedick

            Throughout the play, characters make many comments and jokes about marriage.

"Benedick the married man." (Act i. Sc.1.)

"I have a good eye, uncle; I can see a church by day-light." (Act ii. Sc. 1.)

"Some Cupid kills with arrows, some with traps." (Act iii. Sc. 1.)

 

            Feminist critics of Much Ado About Nothing, like Sylvia Townsend Warner, praise Beatrice for being "free and uninhibited" ("Women as Writers," Warner, 272). Beatrice is a strong female character who marries only after asserting her disapproval for the traditionally voiceless role of women in marriage and courtship relationships of the 16th and 17th c. Beatrice is a fearless verbal warrior, and Benedick is her greatest challenger. Their verbal bantering allow for each of their strengths and opinions to show, and together they glory in the challenge of their next duel.

            Beatrice's courtship with Benedick greatly contrasts with the courtship of Hero and Claudio. Hero gladly and willingly submitted to marriage, and she accepted the role of the relatively powerless woman. In contrast Beatrice chose her submission after openly criticizing the institution of marriage.

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Camille Wells Slights, in her book "Shakespeare's Comic Commonwealths" compared the strong character of Beatrice with Portia, a character in The Merchant of Venice (Slights 240). Both are female characters who dominate the comedy in which they are cast. They are "intelligent, courageous, and resourceful as well as loyal, generous, and loving" (Slights 240). Both women address the inequalities of 16th c. marriage and they attack the patriarchal nature of marriage in society. After establishing their disapproval for the social structure of marriage, they both consent to marriage, determining that marriage will allow them to live the best possible life in their society.

            Marriage was for Beatrice and Portia, a logical choice to make the best out of a possibly undesirable social situation for women.


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