David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING: A Retelling in Prose ‚ Act 2, Scene 1

 — 2.1 —

In the ballroom of Leonato’s house, Leonato, Antonio, Hero, and Beatrice talked. Other people were also present.

“Was Don John at the feast?” Leonato asked.

“I did not see him there,” Antonio replied.

“How sour that gentleman looks!” Beatrice said. “Each time I see him I am heartburned for an hour afterward.”

Hero said, “Don John is of a very melancholy and ill-tempered disposition.”

“An excellent man would be he who was made halfway between Don John and Benedick,” Beatrice said. “Don John is too much like a portrait and says nothing, and Benedick is too much like the eldest son of a lady; he is spoiled rotten and always chattering due to his expectation of a rich inheritance. The eldest son always inherits the bulk of the estate.”

“In that case,” Leonato said, “half of Signior Benedick’s speech would be in Don John’s mouth, and half of Don John’s melancholy would appear in Signior Benedick’s face —”

“With a good leg for appearance’s sake and with a good foot for dancing, uncle, or with two of each,” Beatrice said, “and with enough money in his wallet, such a man would win any woman in the world, if he could get her good will.”

She thought, The French use “foutre” to refer to sex, and slang uses “money” to refer to semen. In addition, “will” is used in this culture to refer to “sexual passion.” If a handsome man were capable of giving good foutreto a woman and had enough semen in his scrotum, such a man could win any woman in the world, if he could arouse her sexual passion.

“Truly, niece,” Leonato said, “you will never get yourself a husband because you are so shrewish with your tongue.”

“Truly,” Antonio said, “she is too curst — too ill-tempered.”

“Too curst is more than merely curst,” Beatrice said. “I shall lessen God’s sending of gifts by being too curst. It is said, ‘God sends a curst cow short horns,’ but to a cow too curst he sends no horns. God punishes a curst woman by sending her a husband with a short penis.”

“Therefore,” Leonato said, “because you are too curst, God will send you no horn.”

“No horn means no husband because a husband is capable of being horny and producing a horn,” Beatrice said. “I am blessed and thank God every morning and evening on my knees because I have no husband. I could not endure a husband with a beard on his face. I had rather lie in bed between woolen blankets. Both beards and woolen blankets are scratchy.”

“Perhaps you can find a husband who has no beard,” Leonato said. He thought, Benedick has a beard, and Beatrice is unlikely to ever marry him.

“What should I do with a husband who has no beard?” Beatrice replied. “Dress him in my woman’s clothing and make him my waiting-gentlewoman? He who has a beard is more than a youth, and he who has no beard is less than a man. He who is more than a youth is not for me, and he who is less than a man, I am not for him. Therefore, I will take pay from an animal trainer and lead his apes to Hell, as is supposed to be the punishment for a woman who dies unwed and without bearing the children whom she ought to lead to Heaven.”

“Well, then,” Leonato said, “will you go into Hell?”

“No, not into Hell, but to the gate of Hell,” Beatrice said. “The devil will meet me there, like an old cuckold, with horns on his head, and say, ‘Go to Heaven, Beatrice, go to Heaven. This is no place for you maidens.’ So I will hand over my apes to the devil and go away to Saint Peter to be admitted into Heaven. Saint Peter will show me where the unmarried people sit, and there we will live as merrily as the day is long.”

Antonio said to Hero, “Well, niece, I trust that you will listen to your father when it comes time to make the important decision about marriage.”

Beatrice replied, “Yes, indeed; it is my cousin’s duty to make a curtsy and say, ‘Father, I will do whatever you wish.’ But cousin, let your father choose for you a handsome fellow, or else make another curtsy and say, ‘Father, I will do whatever I wish.’”

“Beatrice,” Leonato said, “I hope to see you one day married to a husband.”

“That will not happen until God makes men of some other material than earth. Would it not grieve a woman to have to obey a piece of valiant dust? Or to make an account of her life to a clod of wayward, crumbly dirt? No, uncle, I want nothing to do with marriage. Adam and Eve’s descendants populate the world; Adam’s sons are my brethren, and I believe that it is a sin to commit incest.”

Leonato said to Hero, “Daughter, remember what I told you. If Don Pedro asks you to marry him, you know what to say.”

“The fault will be in the music, cousin, if you are not wooed in good time,” Beatrice said. “He must woo you properly — at the appropriate time and in the proper rhythm. If Don Pedro is too importunate, tell him that measure, proportion, and rhythm are desired in everything, and so dance out the answer. For — listen to me, Hero — wooing, wedding, and repenting are like a Scotch jig, a slow and stately dance measure, and a cinquepace. The wooing of a woman is hot and hasty, like a Scotch jig, and quite fantastic. The wedding is like a slow and stately dance measure, full of state and tradition, and modest in manner and moderate in tempo. Then comes repentance, and the husband with his legs gone bad due to old age dances the cinquepace faster and faster as the time remaining to him passes faster and faster until he sinks apace — quickly — into his grave.”

“Beatrice, you are very perceptive — your understanding is very sharp,” Leonato said.

“I have a good eye, uncle,” Beatrice said. “I can see a church by daylight — I can see what is obvious.”

“The revelers are entering, Antonio,” Leonato said. “Let’s move aside and make room for them to dance.”

Leonato, Antonio, Hero, and Beatrice all put on their masks as the masked revelers — Don Pedro, Claudio, Benedick, the singer Balthasar, Borachio, Margaret (a gentlewoman who served Hero and who loved Borachio), Ursula (another gentlewoman who served Hero), and others arrived. Each mask was elegant and did a good job of hiding the wearer’s face.

Don Pedro asked Hero, “Lady, will you dance with me — a man who loves you?”

“Yes,” Hero replied. “As long as you dance gently — without stepping on my toes — and look handsome and say nothing, I am yours for as long as we dance around the room and especially when I walk away in the steps of this formal dance.”

“When you walk away after the dance, will you ask me to accompany you?” Don Pedro asked.

“I may very well do so, if it pleases me to do so.”

“And when would it please you to ask me to accompany you?”

“When I know that I like your face,” Hero said. “A lute is a beautiful instrument, but it is often hidden by the ugly case it is kept in. I would hate for your face to be as ugly as the mask that covers it.”

“My mask is like the humble thatched cottage roof that kept the rain off humble Philemon, whose character was made of gold. When the god Jupiter traveled the earth in disguise to test the hospitality of the people he met, Philemon and his wife, Baucis, gave the disguised god the best hospitality that they were capable of giving.”

“If what you say is true, then your mask should be thatched with hair,” Hero replied.

“Speak quietly, and let us speak about love,” Don Pedro said.

They danced.

In another part of the ballroom, Balthasar said to Margaret, “Well, I wish that you would like me.”

“For your sake, I do not wish that,” Margaret said. She loved Borachio, but she also loved to tease other men. “I have many bad qualities.”

“Name one.”

“I say my prayers out loud.”

“I love you all the more because of it. Those who hear your prayers can cry, ‘Amen!’”

“I hope that God matches me with a good dancer!”


“And I hope that God keeps him out of my sight when the dance is done. Answer me the way the congregation answers a good preacher. Say ‘Amen!’”

“No more words. I have finished,” Balthasar said.

They danced.

In another part of the ballroom, Ursula, who had recognized the masked Antonio, said to him, “I know who you are; you are Signior Antonio.”

Antonio denied it: “No, I am not Antonio.”

“I know that you are Antonio by the way you move your head. Due to your old age, it trembles.”

“No,” Antonio said, like many people at masked dances who deny that they are who they are. “I am imitating Antonio.”

“You could never imitate him so well, including his old age, unless you were Antonio,” Ursula said. “Antonio is an old man, and you are exactly like an old man from top to bottom. Your hands are his hands. You are Antonio, and Antonio is you.”

“I am not Antonio,” Antonio said.

“Come, come, do you think I do not know you by your excellent sense of humor? Can such an excellent quality hide itself? Stop denying it. Your good qualities have revealed that you are Antonio, and there is nothing more to be said about it.”

In another part of the ballroom, Beatrice talked with Benedick, who had earlier recognized her by her voice.

Beatrice asked, “Won’t you tell me who told you what you just said to me?”

Still disguising his voice, Benedick replied, “Please pardon me, but no.”

“And you won’t tell me who you are?”

“Not now,” Benedick replied.

“Someone told you that I was disdainful, and that I stole my witty comments out of an old joke book titled A Hundred Merry Tales. Well, I know who told you that — it was Signior Benedick who said so.”

“Who is Signior Benedick?” Signior Benedick asked Beatrice.

“I am sure you know him well enough.”

“No, I don’t — believe me.”

“Hasn’t he ever made you laugh?”

“Please, who is he?”

“He is Don Pedro’s jester. He is a very dull and stupid fool. His only talent is inventing incredible slanders. No one but libertines who laugh at any joke delight in him, and they like him not because of his wit, but because of his villainies. He pleases some men by telling outrageous and villainous lies about other men, and then some men laugh at him and other men beat him. I am sure he is somewhere in this fleet of masked dancers. I wish that he had tried to board me with his wit — I know how to defend myself against his wit with my wit.”

“When I become acquainted with the gentleman, I will tell him what you are saying,” Benedick said.

“Do so,” Beatrice said. “He will make a joke about me and scornfully compare me to something nasty. If no one hears him or laughs, then he will sink into melancholy, and not eat, thereby saving his host a partridge wing.”

She listened to the music that started a new dance and said, “We must follow the leaders of the dance.”

“In every good thing,” Benedick said.

“If the leaders try to lead us to any bad thing, I will leave the dance floor at the first opportunity I get.”

Benedick and Beatrice danced.

A little later, in another part of the ballroom, Don John and Borachio talked. Claudio was nearby, but out of hearing distance.

Don John said, “I have been watching my half-brother, Don Pedro. I know that he is wooing Hero for Claudio but anyone who did not already know that would think that he was wooing her for himself. I think I can cause some trouble now. Don Pedro has left the dance floor to talk to Hero’s father and tell him that Claudio wishes to marry Hero. Actually, everyone except for we two and this one masked man has left the dance floor. The musicians are taking a break, and almost everyone is getting refreshments.”

“I know who the masked man over there is,” Borachio said. “He is Claudio. I can tell by his posture and the way he carries himself.”

Don John and Borachio walked over to Claudio.

Eager to cause trouble, Don John asked, “Aren’t you Signior Benedick?”

Often, people at masked dances lie to keep their identities hidden and have fun. Claudio did so now.

“You know who I am,” Claudio said. “I am Signior Benedick.”

“Signior Benedick, you are very close to my brother; he greatly respects you. Don Pedro is in love with Hero. Please, try to convince him not to marry her. Don Pedro is a Prince, and her birth is not equal to his birth. If you convince Don Pedro not to marry Hero, you will do a good deed.”

“How do you know that Don Pedro loves Hero?” Claudio asked.

“I heard him swear his affection to her,” Don Pedro lied.

“I did, too,” Borachio said. “Don Pedro swore tonight that he would marry Hero.”

“Come, let us get some refreshments,” Don John said.

He and Borachio left, but Claudio remained behind and said to himself, “I pretended to be Benedick when I spoke, but myears are the ears that have heard this bad news. I believe what I heard. I am certain that Don Pedro, who greatly outranks me and to whom I have sworn my allegiance, loves Hero and has wooed her for himself so that he can marry her. Friendship is enduring in everything except when it comes to love. Therefore, all hearts in love ought to use their own tongues and do their own wooing. Let every eye negotiate for itself and trust no agent to negotiate a wedding. Beauty is a witch that charms the eye and turns friendship into rivalry. Such things as this happen every hour of every day, and I ought not to have trusted Don Pedro. Farewell, therefore, Hero! You shall be married to Don Pedro and not to me.”

Benedick, who had heard Don Pedro’s gossip, now entered the ballroom and, seeing the masked Claudio, asked him, “Are you Count Claudio?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Come, will you go with me?”


“We should seek a weeping willow — that symbol of unrequited love — because I have bad news for you. In what fashion will you wear your weeping-willow garland? Will you wear it about your neck, like a usurer’s gold chain? Or over your right shoulder and under your left arm, like a lieutenant’s scarf? You must wear it one way or another because Don Pedro has won your Hero. You may wish to continue to be his friend and grow rich from his bounty, or you may wish to challenge him to a duel.”

“I wish him joy of her,” Claudio said bitterly.

“You sound like an honorable seller of cattle — that is how they talk when selling a young castrated bull,” Benedick said. Even now, he was unable to stop making unappreciated jokes. “But seriously, did you think that Don Pedro would treat you like this?”

“Please, leave me and let me be alone,” Claudio said.

“Now you are acting like a blind man,” Benedick said. “You are striking out and hitting everything close to you. A boy stole your meat, but in your blindness you are hitting a post.”

“If you will not leave me, then I will leave you,” Claudio said.

He exited.

“Alas, poor hurt fowl!” Benedick said. “Now he will creep into a bush and use it as a hiding place.”

He paused and then added, “I am surprised that my Lady Beatrice should know me very well, and yet not know me when I was wearing a mask! She called me Don Pedro’s fool! Really! It may be that I am called that because I am merry. Perhaps, but I think that I am doing wrong to believe her when she said that. I am not so reputed; no one but Beatrice would call me Don Pedro’s fool. Beatrice has a base and bitter disposition that makes her believe that the entire world has the same opinion of me that she does. Well, I will be revenged on her as soon as I find an opportunity.”

Don Pedro now entered the room and asked Benedick, “Where is Claudio? Have you seen him?”

“Indeed, my lord, I have played the role of Lady Gossip. I found him here as melancholy as a lonely gamekeeper’s lonely lodge in a lonely warren. I told Claudio — and I think I told him the truth — that you had gotten the good will of this young lady and her agreement to marry, and so I offered to accompany Claudio on a visit to a willow-tree, either to make him a garland of weeping willow because he is forsaken by love, or to make him a rod because he deserves to be whipped.”

“To be whipped! What is he guilty of?” Don Pedro said, puzzled. He had done what he had said he would do and had courted Hero for Claudio and had gotten her good will and her father’s permission for Claudio to marry her. Now he wanted to share the good news with Claudio.

“He is guilty of the undeniable transgression of a schoolboy, who, being overjoyed with finding a bird’s nest, shows it to his companion, who steals it,” Benedick said.

“The schoolboy is guilty of nothing. Having trust in someone is a virtue, not a vice. The companion who stole the bird’s nest is the guilty one.”

“Nevertheless, it would have been appropriate for a rod to be made from a weeping willow, and for the garland to be made as well. Claudio could wear the garland himself, and use the rod to beat you because — as I understand it — you have stolen his bird’s nest.”

Understanding dawned on Don Pedro. Gossip is often wrong, and great men are often the subjects of gossip. He said, “My intention is only to teach the nestlings how to sing and then I will return them to their owner. Soon enough, people will be talking about Hero’s marriage to Claudio.”

“If what the nestlings say agrees with what you are saying, then I will know that you are telling the truth.”

Don Pedro could have been insulted by this comment, but he knew and liked Benedick, who had recently fought bravely in battle for him, and one of the things that Don Pedro knew and liked about Benedick was his willingness to say plainly what he was thinking. Right now, Benedick was thinking that Don Pedro really wanted Hero for himself. No matter. Soon the truth would be known.

Right now, Don Pedro changed the subject: “The Lady Beatrice has a quarrel with you. The gentleman who danced with her told her that she is much wronged by you. The gentleman said that you insulted her.”

“I am the masked gentleman who danced with her,” Benedick replied. “She did not recognize me. I told her that someone said to me that she was disdainful and that she stole her witty comments out of an old joke book titled A Hundred Merry Tales. Of course, Beatrice being Beatrice, she immediately concluded that the insulting gentleman was me. Beatrice so abused me in words that even a block of wood would not endure it. An oak with only one green leaf on it would have revived and responded to her abuse. My mask seemed to come to life and answer her. She told me, not knowing that I was Benedick, that I was your jester. She told me that I was duller than a great thaw during which the roads are so muddy that no one can leave home and so is forced to remain at home and be bored. She kept firing jest upon jest with such incredible skill at me — whom she did not think to be me — that I felt that I was standing next to an archery target with a whole army shooting at it. Beatrice’s words are daggers, and every word stabs. If her breath were as terrible as her insulting sentences, no one could live near her; she would infect the air from here to the North Star and the outer limits of the universe. I would not marry her even if she were endowed with all that Adam had before he sinned and was thrown out of the Garden of Eden. She would have forced Hercules to dress in women’s clothing and turn the spit on which meat roasted and do other work in the kitchen — yes, and she would broken his club and made firewood out of it, too. But let us not talk about her — she is a well-dressed but infernal Ate — the goddess of delusion and folly. I wish to God that some scholar would exorcise whatever demon possesses her. It is certain that while she is alive here on Earth, a man may live as quietly in Hell as he could in a sanctuary, and it is certain that people sin on purpose because they prefer to go to Hell for the peace and quiet rather than stay on Earth with Beatrice. Indeed, all disquiet, horror, and perturbation follow that woman.”

Don Pedro said to Benedick, “Look, here comes Beatrice now.”

Claudio, Beatrice, Hero, and Leonato walked over to Don Pedro and Benedick. Claudio was unhappy because he thought that Don Pedro and Hero were going to marry each other.

Benedick said to Don Pedro, “Will your grace command me to perform any service at the end of the world? I will go on any errand now to the opposite side of the Earth that you can think of to send me on. I will fetch you a toothpick from the furthest part of Asia. I will find the Christian emperor Prester John and measure the size of his feet and bring you the measurement. I will bring you a hair from the beard of Kubla Khan. I will embark on any embassy to the Pygmies. I will do any or all of these things rather than exchange three words with this Harpy named Beatrice. Do you have any such far-traveling task that you want me to perform?”

“No,” Don Pedro said. “All I want is your friendship and company.”

“Sir, here before me is a dish I do not love,” Benedick said. “I cannot endure Lady Tongue.”

Benedick exited.

“Beatrice,” Don Pedro said, “you have lost the heart of Signior Benedick.”

“Indeed, my lord, he once lent me his heart for a while,” Beatrice said, “and I gave him interest for it. I gave him my heart, and so he received a double heart: my heart, which I gave him, and his own heart, which he lent to me and then took back. In fact, he won my heart and took it from me by using loaded dice, and so you may truthfully say I have lost it.”

“You have put him down, lady. You have put him down with words.”

“I hope that he will not put me down on my back, my lord, lest I should thereafter give birth to fools,” Beatrice said, then added, “I have brought Count Claudio, whom you sent me to seek.”

Don Pedro looked at Claudio and noticed that he did not look happy. Don Pedro said to him, “How are you, Claudio? Why do you look sad?”

“I am not sad, my lord.”

“Are you sick?” Don Pedro asked.

“I am neither sad nor sick, my lord.”

Beatrice said, “Claudio is neither sad, nor sick, nor merry, nor well. Instead, he is as civil as an orange, and we all know that oranges from Seville, Spain, are bitter. If orange is the color of jealousy, then Claudio is jealous.”

“Beatrice, I think your description of Claudio is correct, but if he is jealous, I swear that he has no reason to be jealous,” Don Pedro said.

He then said to Claudio, “As I promised you, I wooed Hero in your name, and I have won her for you. I have spoken with her father and have obtained his good will. He approves of the match, so name the day that you will marry Hero, and may God give you joy!”

Leonato said, “Claudio, take my daughter and marry her, and with her take my fortune. Don Pedro has set up the match of you and my daughter, and may God bless this wedding.”

Claudio was so surprised that he could not speak.

Beatrice said, “Speak, Count Claudio. It is your cue.”

“Complete silence most perfectly announces complete joy,” Claudio said. “I would be only a little happy, if I could say how much I am happy. Hero, as you are mine, I am yours: I give myself to you, and this exchange makes me ecstatic.”

Beatrice said, “Speak, Hero, or, if you cannot, stop his talking with a kiss, and do not let him speak.”

Claudio and Hero kissed.

Don Pedro said to Beatrice, “Lady, you have a merry heart.”

“Yes, I do, my lord,” Beatrice said. “I thank it, poor fool that it is, because it keeps me upwind of and safe from trouble. Look, Hero is whispering in Claudio’s ear that he is in her heart.”

“You are correct, and you are now my relative,” Claudio said.

“Why, so I am,” Beatrice said. “I am now your in-law. With marriage come new relatives and alliances. To the wedding altar goes everyone in the world but I — men must think that I am unattractive and sunburnt like a peasant woman who has to work outside all day. I may as well sit in a corner and sigh for a husband!”

“Lady Beatrice, I can get you a husband,” Don Pedro said.

“I would like to have a husband who is of your father’s begetting. Does your grace have any brothers like you? Your father must have sired excellent husbands, if a maiden could find them.”

“Will you have me, lady?” Don Pedro asked.

Unsure whether this was a real proposal — her birth was not equal to Don Pedro’s birth — and unsure how to act if in fact it were a real proposal, Beatrice took refuge in a joke: “No, my lord, unless I might have another husband for working days. You are too fancy to be my husband except on Sundays. But please pardon me: I was born to speak all mirth and no matter. From me, you get jokes, not serious conversation.”

“Your silence most offends me, and your merriness best becomes you because, no doubt, you were born in a merry hour,” Don Pedro said.

“On the day that I was born, my mother cried during labor,” Beatrice replied, “but a star danced in the sky, and I was born with a horoscope that indicated merriness. May God give all of you joy!”

Leonato said, “Beatrice, will you do those errands I told you about earlier?”

“Yes, uncle,” Beatrice said, understanding that he was a little embarrassed by the joking between Don Pedro and her and so wanted her to leave. She said politely to Don Pedro, “Please excuse me,” and left.

Don Pedro said, “She is a pleasant-spirited lady.”

“There is little of melancholy in her, my lord,” Leonato said. “Beatrice is never sad except when she sleeps, and she is not always sad then, for I have heard my daughter say that Beatrice has often dreamed of unhappiness and then woken herself up with laughing.”

“She cannot endure to hear tell of a husband,” Don Pedro said.

“No, not at all,” Leonato said. “She laughs at all who try to woo her and so they woo someone else.”

“She would be an excellent wife for Benedick,” Don Pedro said.

Surprised, Leonato replied, “My lord, if they were married, they would make each other insane within a week.”

Don Pedro asked Claudio, “On what day do you want to go to church and be married?”

“Tomorrow, my lord. Time travels slowly — like an old man on crutches — until the love of Hero and me is properly recognized in a wedding ceremony.”

“That is too soon,” Leonato said. “Wait until Monday, my dear son, which is just a week away, and a time too brief, too, to properly plan a wedding.”

Don Pedro said to Claudio, “You are shaking your head with disappointment at having to wait so long, but I promise you that this upcoming week will not be boring. I will during this week undertake a new labor of Hercules. He did such things as bring the three-headed guard dog Cerberus out of Hell, but I plan to make Signior Benedick and the Lady Beatrice fall in love with each other. When I am finished, they will feel a mountain of love for each other. I want them to be married, and I believe that I can accomplish it, if you three will only give me such assistance as I shall ask you for.”

Leonato said, “My lord, I will do so even if it keeps me awake for ten nights in a row.”

“So will, I, my lord,” Claudio said.

“How about you, gentle Hero?” Don Pedro said.

“I will do anything that is respectable, my lord, to help Beatrice to get a good husband.”

“Benedick is not the worst candidate for a husband that I know,” Don Pedro said. “I can and do praise him. He is from a noble family, and he has proven that he is courageous in battle and has established that he has a good character. Hero, I will teach you how to influence your cousin so that she will fall in love with Benedick. In addition, I, with the help of Leonato and Claudio, will so work on Benedick that, despite his quick wit and his queasy stomach for marriage, he will fall in love with Beatrice. If we can do this, Cupid will be out of a job because we will take his glory and his job and become the gods of love. I will tell you my plan.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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