Much Ado About Nothing | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Much Ado About Nothing | Act 2, Scene 3 | Summary

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Summary

Benedick is in the garden, talking to himself about Claudio's sudden change from soldier into lover. He briefly wonders if this will ever happen to him, then immediately dismisses the idea. He will not fall in love until "all graces be in one woman."

Claudio, Don Pedro, Leonato, and Balthasar come into the garden. Benedick hides from their view, but they're aware of his presence. Balthasar sings a song about how women must be patient with faithless men, then departs. Claudio, Don Pedro, and Leonato lay the trap for Benedick to fall in love with Beatrice. Leonato begins by telling Claudio and Don Pedro how Beatrice is secretly in love with Benedick. Benedick can't believe what he's hearing, but he assumes it must be the truth because "the white-bearded fellow speaks it. Knavery cannot, sure, hide himself in such reverence." The men continue to spin a story about how Beatrice will never tell Benedick about her feelings as she has "so oft encountered him with scorn," yet she cannot help getting out of bed 20 times a night to pour her heart out to him on paper. Leonato says Hero fears Beatrice will "do a desperate outrage to herself"—commit suicide—because she loves Benedick so much. Claudio confirms this. Don Pedro suggests they tell Benedick so as to relieve Beatrice's suffering, but they all agree he would "make but a sport of it and torment the poor lady worse." As they extol her virtues, Don Pedro says, "I wish [Benedick] would modestly examine himself to see how much he is unworthy so good a lady."

As the three men go inside to dinner, Benedick comes out of hiding. "This can be no trick," he assures himself as he reviews everything he overheard. He vows to return Beatrice's love for she embodies all the graces he desires: beauty, virtue, and intelligence. He easily rationalizes his change of heart about marriage—"When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married"—as Beatrice storms her way toward him. She announces that "against [her] will," she has been sent to fetch him for dinner. Benedick interprets her terse message as a declaration of love and goes into the house.

Analysis

Trickery is an ongoing theme in Much Ado About Nothing. Sometimes it's used for nefarious purposes, such as when Don John fools Claudio into thinking Don Pedro is wooing Hero for himself. Other times, such as when Don Pedro schemes to make Benedick and Beatrice fall in love with each other, it's for the betterment of the characters' lives. Lies and deceit by themselves are neither good nor bad—it all depends on who is doing the deceiving and their intentions.

Act 2, Scene 3 brings up the question as to why people believe what they believe. Benedick was a stalwart opponent of marriage prior to overhearing the conversation in the garden, and he dismissed Don Pedro's and Claudio's face-to-face urgings to give love a chance. Yet when he hears the same thing through eavesdropping, he's ready to abandon bachelorhood and take Beatrice as his wife. Throughout Much Ado About Nothing, hearsay is more convincing than logic and reason. In this case it's because the hearsay is so flattering. Don Pedro, Claudio, and Leonato appeal to Benedick's vanity as they weave the story of a lovesick Beatrice. Hearing a woman would kill herself out of love for him is enormously flattering, and it seemingly erases the months, perhaps years, of ire between the two. Benedick, who has borne the brunt of Beatrice's disdain time and time again, ignores all physical evidence to the contrary and suddenly believes she loves him.

The change in Benedick is swift. He begins Act 2, Scene 3 by puzzling over the sudden change in Claudio's character. He isn't quite sure how a man so attuned to the life of the soldier could suddenly become a lover at war's end. Yet he does the very same thing himself at the end of the scene because he doesn't dislike the idea of marriage, but rather the possibility of getting hurt. Benedick's jokes about wearing the cuckold's horns underline his fears of his love going unrequited. Knowing (however falsely) Beatrice does love him gives him permission to accept his feelings for her. He has several rationalizations for changing his mind, but the one closest to the heart of things is his belief he wouldn't live long enough to find someone he was willing to marry.

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