Shakespeare's Presentation of Hero and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing
Hero and Beatrice are the two main female characters in Shakespeare's
"Much Ado About Nothing" and they tell us a lot about how Shakespeare
saw women in the context of the sixteenth century upper classes.
In looking at the presentation of the characters it is important to
examine their entrance into the play and what first impressions the
audience gets of their personality and appearance. Although they are
both present in the very first scene of the play it is Beatrice who
speaks the most and makes her presence known. Her very first line is
also worth noting as when she says
"I pray you, is Signor Mountanto returned from the wars or no?"
She is making a joke about Benedick and is therefore showing that she
is both a playful character and also not afraid to think of herself as
equal with men. This would have been a strange sight to a typical
Elizabethan audience as women in that era were supposed to be quiet
and subordinate characters, not speaking out against men. Beatrice is
also showing that she is a witty and intelligent character as she uses
the word Mountanto to describe Benedick. This is a term used in
fencing to describe an upward thrust, so it could be both a sexual
innuendo or linked to the war which has just ended.
In contrast to this creative outburst, Hero's first line is completely
straight. When she says
"My cousin means Signor Benedick of Padua"
she is just being totally honest with the people she is talking to.
This is her only speech throughout the entire first Act of the play
and her second line
"He is of a very melancholy disposition"
confirms our view that to begin with at least she is a very quiet
character, not wanting to speak out with any conviction on any
subject. This would be more like what the Elizabethan audiences would
be expecting to see and for the beginning of the play at least there
is an interesting contrast between the two female characters.
This contrast does not however, remain the same throughout the play,
as we see that Hero becomes more and more confident as the plot
develops, and by the beginning of Act 3.1 she goes into a speech of 15
lines explaining to Margaret her plan for getting Benedick and
Beatrice together. This will be interesting for the audience as Hero
up to this point would have been seen as a minor character, and
although all the plot development has been revolving around her, this
is where she starts to enter into the spirit of it all. Hero begins to
take command here, instructing Margaret of her duties but she does not
move away from her stereotypical upper-class woman's behaviour as she
is only acting in this manner when there are no men around. With
Beatrice however we see tendencies turning the other way through the