One of the reasons why the comedy Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare, continues to enjoy a lasting popularity with contemporaries, is that along with representing a high aesthetic value, it can also be considered utterly enlightening, in the philosophical sense of this word. After all, as this comedy implies, it is thoroughly possible for a woman to exhibit specifically those cognitive/behavioral predispositions that are being traditionally deemed ‘manly’. In this paper, I will explore the validity of the above-stated, while comparing and contrasting the comedy’s female-characters of Hero and Beatrice.
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It will be thoroughly appropriate to suggest that in Much Ado About Nothing, the character of Hero acts as the embodiment of a number of different feminine virtues, the main of which is her existential ‘purity’, as a loyal and affectionate woman, who was made extremely happy by the prospect of marrying Claudio. This, of course, exposes Hero as a woman who could only attain the state of self-actualization by the mean of entering into the matrimonial relationship with a man. After all, as it can be well seen in the comedy, the very thought of remaining a bachelorette was causing her to experience the sensation of an acute emotional distress: “Hero thinks surely she will die; for she says she will die, if he (Claudio) love her not, and she will die, ere she make her love known, and she will die, if he woo her” (Shakespeare 58).
Thus, the character of Hero appears to reflect the essence of the traditional outlook on the notion of womanhood, as such that implies the notion of inferiority. The reason for this is quite apparent – Beatrice’s act, throughout the play’s entirety, suggests that she was quite incapable of considering that her true calling in life might have accounted for something different than being a housewife. It is namely the type of women like Hero, which Otto Weininger had in mind, while coming up with the statement: “The male lives consciously, the female lives unconsciously… The woman receives her consciousness from the man” (61). This, however, does not seem to have any effect on the concerned character’s appeal – while living up to what happened to be her ‘physiological’ role in the society, Hero naturally inspires respect in the hearts of spectators.
The concluding remark in the above-stated applies to the character of Beatrice, as well. Nevertheless, as opposed to what it happened to be the case with Hero, the dramaturgic appeal of Beatrice is primarily concerned with the fact that, contrary to the sexist stereotype of women being somewhat shallow/highly emotional creatures, she acts as an intellectually advanced individual. The validity of this suggestion can be illustrated, in regards to the fact that, as it can be seen in Much Ado About Nothing, it is not only that Beatrice proved herself thoroughly capable of exchanging wits with the character of Benedick, but in many instances she clearly dominated the latter intellectually. Partially, this can be considered the side effect of Beatrice having been a rather sharp-tongued person: “I thank God and my cold blood, I am of your humour for that: I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me” (Shakespeare 10).
There is, however, much more to it – Shakespeare’s comedy leaves only a few doubts that Beatrice was more than capable of facing life-challenges in the rational manner – a presumably ‘masculine’ existential trait. As such, the character of Beatrice defies the patriarchal conventions about the nature of womanhood, as the notion closely related to the notion of servitude. Thus, it will be indeed appropriate to suggest that the character of Beatrice does stand in a striking contradiction with that of Hero – unlike the latter, Beatrice never ceased relying on her sense of rationale, while perceiving the surrounding social reality and her place in it.
Nevertheless, there are also a number of similarities between these characters. The main of them can be well deemed the fact that, just as it used to be the case with Hero, Beatrice continued to experience of the acute need to fall in love with a man – quite contrary to the character’s self-adopted posture of a ‘man-hater’. As Henze noted: “Beatrice’s deception is mainly self-deception, for with her first words she reveals her concern for Benedick; she is already in love; her deception is not really deceptive except to one who notes superficial” (189). From this, one can infer that all women must be innately predisposed towards seeking self-actualization through love and marriage.
I believe that the earlier provided line of argumentation, in regards to what may be considered the main differences/similarities between the characters of Beatrice and Hero in the comedy Much Ado About Nothing, is fully consistent with the paper’s initial thesis. Apparently, there is indeed a good reason to consider this comedy utterly enlightening, in the sense of how it provides viewers with insight into the workings of a female psyche.
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Henze, Richard. “Deception in Much Ado about Nothing.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 11.2 (1971): 187-201. Print.
Shakespeare, William 1598, Much Ado About Nothing. Web.
Weininger, Otto 1906, Sex & Character. Web.