Beatrice and Benedick
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre 2022
c. Manuel Harlan
Much Ado about Nothing – Footnotes (*)
The Footnotes to our episode on Much Ado About Nothing include more on the meaning of the title, the rhetoric in play in the verbal tennis of the dialogue, and the changing perception of Beatrice through the ages.
Not listened to the episode yet? You’ll find it here.
We talked in the podcast about the multiple connotations of the title, including particularly the double meaning of “nothing” and “noting”. We may have missed the most obvious meaning of the title, that much is made of Hero’s apparent illicit behaviour, which of course did not happen. A great deal was made about her having done nothing.
A war of words
Lucy noted in our conversation that more than 70% of the play’s lines are in prose rather than verse. She pointed out that prose enables a speed of wit, which we certainly see in the ongoing repartee between Beatrice and Benedick. As one critic described it: “repartee is a way of life for Beatrice and Benedick.”
Their dialogue consists of alternating, competitive ripostes, like a game of verbal tennis. In fact specific rhetorical devices are at work in their interplay, with each of them picking up on a word or image from the other, then twisting it and sending it back in a new form. This back and forth is particularly evident in their first encounter in Act 1, Scene 1, 112-139, where they exchange such targeted returns until Benedick runs out of ideas and reverts to simply calling her names.
In general the style of speech in the play is socially sophisticated, where conversation is a form of debate and the intent is to argue an antithetical position. The 3rd Arden edition of the text identifies this idiom as “euphuism”, which it defines as “eloquence in the service of persuasion.”
One of its characteristics is that the speaker is able to go on at length – perhaps simply to tire their opponent out. As Benedick says of Beatrice in their first extended exchange: “I would my horse had the speed of your tongue, and so good a continuer.” (1.1 135). The Arden’s observation that “conversation is both a dance and a form of combat”, describes the formal and elegant nature of the dialogue very well.
The perception of Beatrice
Beatrice is perceived to be exceptional as a woman in her time, not just because she eschews marriage, but because of her fiery tongue. In a world where banter is a standard idiom for men, she is remarkable in giving as good as she gets. The ideal woman in this patriarchal society would be much more modest and obedient. In fact in Renaissance literature there was perceived to be a link between verbal dexterity and sexual license, so that Beatrice becomes even more of a ‘loose cannon’, so to speak.
The perception of Beatrice has evolved over the centuries since she first challenged the patriarchy of Shakespeare’s Sicily. For long periods she was maligned as too much of a shrew, bitter in her failure to abide by the patriarchal conventions that still prevailed in the societies of the play’s audiences. In our own time, of course, we celebrate her intellectual superiority and fierce independence. She is now allowed to be the equal of the men, if not more than.
Shakespeare’s devastating exploration of race, reputation and jealousy, The Tragedy of Othello, The Moor of Venice was a popular success when it was first performed during Shakespeare’s lifetime, but in the centuries since it has provoked a wide range of responses as successive generations have grappled with the racial identity of the eponymous character. As we record this episode a new production of Othello at Shakespeare’s Globe theatre in London views the play’s treatment of race through a contemporary lens, setting the play within the London Metropolitan police force, a topical environment for racial inspection.
I am privileged to welcome as my guest someone especially qualified to help us navigate the tricky waters of Shakespeare’s play, Farah Karim-Cooper, Director of Education at Shakespeare’s Globe, Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Kings College London, and the author of The Great White Bard – Shakespeare, Race and the Future.
Ken Nwosu as Othello and Ralph Davies as Iago
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
Photo by Johan Persson
Harold Pinter’s disturbing exploration of toxic masculinity and sexual maneuvering, The Homecoming premiered in 1965. The play’s portrait of misogyny, and even more disturbing, the apparent female complicity, was shocking at the time it was written. Nearly 60 years on the sexual politics is if anything even more difficult to watch. So what was Pinter’s purpose in presenting such a provocative piece, and how do we process it in the post Me-Too age?
I am joined by Matthew Dunster, the director of a scintillating new production of the play at the Young Vic in London, who can help us answer those questions about Pinter’s challenging classic.
Lisa Diveney as Ruth at the Young Vic – photo by Dean Chalkley.
Henrik Ibsen’s dark family drama Ghosts provoked outrage when it was published in 1881, its treatment of sexual disease, incest and euthanasia too much for the critics. More than 140 years later its portrait of repressed truths and social hypocrisy remains as powerful as ever.
Professor Kirsten Shepherd-Barr of St Catherine’s College, Oxford, helps us review Ibsen’s unflinching drama.
Hattie Morahan as Helene Alving at the Sam Wanamaker Theatre, London, December 2023. Photo by Marc Brenner.