Shakespeare, W - Much Ado About Nothing (Arden, 2006).pdf

How much better it is to weep at joy than to joy at

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How much better it is to weep at joy than to joy at weeping!' (25-7). By the time the troop arrives, Leonato himself is at full throttle: 'Never came trouble to my house in the likeness of your grace, for, trouble being gone, comfort should remain; but when you depart from me, sorrow abides, and happiness takes his leave' (94-7). 71
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Introduction Don Pedro and Leonato as the two most important politi- cal figures in the play use this language as a form of mutual acknowledgement (hence perhaps Leonato's reluctance to match the Messenger's style). Their speech is courtly, decorous and bal- anced, trading and complementing each other's terms with the measured elegance of a formal dance. Don John, on the other hand, disdains this language in the first scene in order to signal his reluctant membership in this fellowship: 'I am not of many words' (150). (Later, however, with Conrade, he shows himself quite voluble in these very cadences, and 'the closeness of the pat- terning concentrates his ruthlessness still more' (Vickers, 178).) The dilatory, even flowery, habits of euphuism render it vul- nerable to cutting in modern productions; indeed, even this play's own characters can find an over-dedicated speaker tiresome. Dogberry is the prime exhibit here, but to his tediousness we can add Balthasar's - whose thematic punning on his 'notes' invites Don Pedro's impatience in 2.3: 'Why, these are very crotchets that he speaks' (2.3.54). Margaret's attempt to subject Beatrice to her own treatment in 3.4 receives a similar response. As with Balthasar, the efforts of the lower-status figure invite the contempt of the higher: 'O God help me, God help me, how long have you professed apprehension?' 'Ever since you left it. Doth not my wit become me rarely?' (3.4.61^-). Even as Margaret dresses herself in her mistress's clothes, she seeks to speak her betters' language, and even as Beatrice matches and betters Benedick by means of repartee, Margaret vies with her social superior by means of verbal one-upmanship. It is chiefly the socially subordinate characters who have become over-literal (or would that be over-figural?) in their upwardly mobile emulation of the fashionable stylistic patterns. For more prized than a slavish imitation are the improvisational rendi- tions of euphuism's best speakers. Beatrice and Benedick reign supreme here. What distinguishes them from the more formal or tedious speakers of the idiom - much as Shakespeare himself transcends Lyly - is their ability to animate its forms, chiefly by 72
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Introduction means of aggressive appropriations and inversions of the mean- ings of the speech of others. l If Don Pedro and Leonato exchange decorously calibrated compliments, Beatrice and Benedick take off the gloves. The two chief weapons in their arsenal are ampli- fication and the turning of terms. Benedick excels at the former and Beatrice at the latter, which means that Benedick entertains chiefly by means of the longer speech (e.g. 2.1.219-39), whereas Beatrice tends to get the better of him in repartee (occasions which, in turn, give rise to Benedick's diatribes).
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