Beatrice

Beatrice, featuring labels that highlight her as independent, witty and strong-willed

Beatrice is Benedick's equal, matching his wordplay in the opening scenes with clever retorts and put-downs. Even from the start their lively banter seems to hide deeper feelings of desire.

When she overhears Hero and Ursula talking about how Benedick loves her, she is quick to soften and acknowledge her own feelings for her former opponent.

She defends her cousin, Hero, when she is accused of being unfaithful and pleads with Benedick to 'Kill Claudio!' She represents the inequality in society at the time, showing how, as a woman, she is unable to take action and seek revenge.

In the end she agrees to marry Benedick, though she continues to tease him until he silences her with a kiss.

How is Beatrice like this?EvidenceAnalysis
ArgumentativeBenedick greets her with a nickname that means scornful."What, my dear Lady Disdain! Are you yet living?" (Act 1 Scene 1) The sarcasm implied by this nickname and the question that Benedick offers both show how their relationship is based on their quick-witted arguments.
BoldShe puts Benedick down in front of others."I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior / Benedick; nobody marks you." (Act 1 Scene 1) Beatrice speaks her mind. When Benedick returns from the wars, she shows her boldness by speaking out against him. She contrasts with Hero who is quiet and well-behaved.
OutspokenLeonato warns her that she will never be married if she continues to be so sharp in the way she speaks."By my troth, niece, thou wilt never get thee a / husband, if thou be so shrewd of thy tongue." (Act 2 Scene 1) Her outspokenness is regarded as an undesirable personality trait. Women at the time were expected to be discreet.
Frustrated by societyShe shows her dissatisfaction with the role that society has dictated for women."O God, that I were a man! I would eat his heart / in the market-place." (Act 4 Scene 1) She claims she would take revenge on Claudio if she were a man. The repetition of the phrase 'that I were a man' in this scene emphasises her frustration.

Social and historical context

The role of women in society was decidedly different during Shakespeare's time to today. Men held a position of privilege and women were considered to be the property of their father or husband. Beatrice shows her frustration with this injustice after Hero is left at the altar. She cries out that she wishes she "were a man".

At the time, young male actors played all female roles, as the stage was not considered a suitable place for women. This would have added further physical comedy to this play, as boys would perform the parts of both Beatrice and Hero.

Analysing the evidence

quote
As Beatrice is, cannot be commendable: / But who dare tell her so? If I should speak, / She would mock me into air; O, she would laugh me / Out of myself, press me to death with wit. / Therefore let Benedick, like cover'd fire, / Consume away in sighs, waste inwardly: / It were a better death than die with mocks, / Which is as bad as die with tickling. (Act 3 Scene 1)
Question

How does Shakespeare use Hero's speech to tell us about Beatrice?

How to analyse the quote:

"As Beatrice is, cannot be commendable: / But who dare tell her so? If I should speak, / She would mock me into air; O, she would laugh me / Out of myself, press me to death with wit. / Therefore let Benedick, like cover'd fire, / Consume away in sighs, waste inwardly: / It were a better death than die with mocks, / Which is as bad as die with tickling."

  • "who dare tell her so?" - Hero's question shows that many people are afraid to speak out against Beatrice. Even though she knows that Beatrice is listening in at this point, there is truth in what she says.
  • "She would mock me into air" - Beatrice is known for her quick wit and sharp tongue. Hero suggests that her ability to mock would make Hero vanish completely if she were to tell her to her face about Benedick's love.
  • "like cover'd fire, / Consume away in sighs" - Shakespeare uses a simile to exaggerate the women's talk of Benedick's love. They suggest that he would be better wasting away from love than revealing his heart to Beatrice.