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Shall quips and sentences, and these paper bullets of the brain, awe a man from the career of his humour? ’ (2.3.235–42) Beatrice, by contrast, is given much less opportunity for humour in the equivalent scene in which she overhears her friends’ performance of concern. (3.1.107–16) Benedick continues to appear as a clownish figure in Act 3, Scene 2, aping the conventional lover in his fashionable clothes and haircut (and male fragrance! Beatrice, similarly, develops a psychosomatic cold in Act 3, Scene 4, and is teased by her girlfriends.The whole scene is in blank verse – a more serious and emotional style than Benedick’s freewheeling prose; and her final soliloquy in this scene constitutes the last 10 lines of a Shakespearean sonnet – thus signalling her interior emotional life. It looks as though their separate realisations that they are in love have baffled them, and they don’t know how to behave in this new situation.His military metaphors can be seen as an attempt to normalise Beatrice’s behaviour by referring to a standard ‘masculine’ activity. Domesticated bodies, but Beatrice isn’t having that; she’d rather be ‘where the bachelors sit’ (2.1.37).
This is a very precisely delineated social group, with its hierarchies, its gentry and servants, its young people and elders and its surrounding village folk, set (notionally) in the Sicilian city of Messina.
More to the point is that the whole play takes place in the governor Leonato’s great house and garden, where the military visitors of Don Pedro’s army arrive in Act 1, Scene 1 for a short period of rest and recreation.
The dialogue that then takes place is a dramatic scene between an adult woman and man unmatched in any previous writing – at once a love scene and a spelling-out of the unavoidable imperatives of gender as they were at that time formulated: men must fight, and women must weep. I would eat his heart in the marketplace,’ cries Beatrice (4.1.295) – but it is Benedick who goes off to challenge Claudio. After the tension of Act 4, Scene 1, the audience needs reassurance that this relationship that we’ve put faith in as the new and better model is actually going to work.
Beatrice and Benedick have another scene in which they are briefly alone together on stage.
It is a far cry from witty banter: What fire is in mine ears? But there is at least an unacknowledged bond now binding them.
In the ‘church scene’ (Act 4, Scene 1), after the horrendous scene of the public breakdown of the wedding between Claudio and Hero, where he speaks so vilely to her that she is left for dead, Beatrice and Benedick are finally alone together on stage, for the first time in the play.
This is a rich and complex set-up for the developments that follow, which depend upon the contrast between the two courting couples: the conventional pair Claudio and Hero (who never speak to each other onstage before the disastrous confrontation of Act 4, Scene 1’s wedding scene), and the gloriously unconventional talkers Beatrice and Benedick.
At all points, we see Beatrice and Benedick’s linguistic vitality.
Perhaps their banter is also a type of self-defence against the appearance of any emotional vulnerability.
Here is their extraordinary opening dialogue, full of cheerful insults: What makes these lines and this attitude stand out is that they are spoken in a large assembly onstage of the community in which this story will take place.