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There is no known source for Beatrice and Benedick and their unconventional courtship, whereas Shakespeare used identifiable literary sources for the more serious Claudio and Hero story.
Despite there being some examples of witty banter between young men and women in earlier Shakespeare plays () and in some other 16th-century texts, Beatrice and Benedick are definitively new: they refuse to abide by the conventions of genteel decorum, they know their own minds (or think they do), they are not particularly respectful of authority (unlike the younger couple Claudio and Hero) and they are the couple who talk, and bicker, endlessly – thus displaying to each other their intellectual energy and their compatibility.
Benedick, in stand-up monologues and clown-like pratfalls and physical gags as he tries to hide and overhear his friends’ staged discussion, endears himself to the audience even as his self-assurance is punctured.
His last speech is as long and ultimately as cocky as his first in this scene – yet they come to very different conclusions.
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.features the most obviously modern of Shakespeare’s courting couples, Beatrice and Benedick.They are the direct ancestors of the ‘rom-com’ couple – the staple of Hollywood comedies since (at least) the 1930s heyday of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and of television series like the 1990s’ , where the audience is kept intrigued by the unresolved sexual tension between the sparring, apparently unsuited couple.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.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.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.Benedick talks on to the play’s end, very much taking his place as the newly dominant male – no longer an outsider, or the Prince’s clown, but the potential father-figure: ordering dancing (despite Leonato’s objection), telling the Prince to ‘get thee a wife’ (5.4.122), and saying he (not Don Pedro) will devise ‘brave punishments’ (5.4.128) for Don John.Much depends on the mute reactions of Beatrice during these final moments: can she, like Katherina in Romantic comedy is essentially a conservative form: it always ends with marriage, and the status quo, though perhaps somewhat tarnished, is reaffirmed.