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

They liked it oxf 1 1 benedick and beatrices

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they liked it' (Oxf 1 ,1). Benedick and Beatrice's courtship surely criticizes the younger pair's, and vice versa (much as in The Taming of the Shrew, where Shakespeare sketches a similar contrast between Petruchio and Kate and Lucio and Bianca). These defences remind us, however, that while it would be inaccurate to interpret Claudio as contemptible, he is nevertheless somewhat of a disappointment. He is, above all, young: anxious for the approval of his elders and convention, unsure of himself, eager to do the right thing both in marrying and in extricating himself from a bad bargain. The unpromising nature of Claudio as a hero deserving of comic happiness, as well as the enigma of his final union to a veiled woman, have suggested to Jonathan Bate another analogue for Shakespeare's play which might help to condition his status as a lover. This is Euripides' Alcestis, named after its heroine. She volunteers to die in place of her husband Admetus, whose hospitality to the gods has earned him in the event of his death the reprieve of a substitute (Alcestis is the only family member who volunteers for the mission). Hercules discovers her sacrifice, fetches her from the underworld and returns her to her husband in the veiled guise of a new wife. Admetus, however, has pledged not to remarry, and he protests at the gift. The occasion gives Admetus an opportunity to voice his own guilt at allowing his wife to die on his behalf: 'if Hero is an Alcestis, Claudio is an Admetus who repents of and learns from earlier unfair conduct . . . the mock death must make Claudio see Hero's virtues, must make him into a nobler lover' (Bate, 'Dying', 83). Unlike Sir Timbreo, but like Admetus, Claudio must accept his second bride without seeing her face, a stipulation that reverses the terms of his initial error (in which he identified a woman by outward signs rather than inner conviction), and forces him to have faith where once 21
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Introduction he lacked it. Hero's mock funeral, in turn, recalls and prefigures other of Shakespeare's mock deaths, such as Juliet's or Helena's or Hermione's, in which heroines undergo a trial passage to the underworld. Euripides' Alcestis is also structurally similar to Much Ado in its use of comic scenes (those of Hercules' drunken fes- tivities during the heroine's funeral) to counterpoint the apparent tragedy and hint at the comic ending to come. Claudio also bears comparison with other of Shakespeare's lacklustre suitors, in particular Bertram of AW s Well That Ends Well and Proteus of The Two Gentleman of Verona, even Posthumus of Cymbeline, and his namesake Claudio of Measure for Measure. The type of the less than ideal protagonist who is nonetheless included in the redemptions of comedy may have been relatively unobjectionable to a Reformation audience not only familiar with the convention of the arranged marriage but unsurprised by the unregenerate quality of mankind in general.
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