Hero may be the protagonist of Much Ado, but her cousin Beatrice is the funniest, the most insightful and comical character in Shakespeare’s play. The only other character who even comes close is Benedick. The series of transformations Benedick undergoes through the course of the play makes for a hilarious portrait of a jester. Through the portrait of Benedict as a comical character, Much Ado About Nothing is a comedy about comedy.
Benedick begins as a mega-bro, a boy’s boy. He is a turn of the 17th century fuck boi. If he were alive today, there’s no doubt that he would be down to shotgun beers on the weekend. He’s Claudio’s homeboy, someone who helps to keep the mood light and to joke about the condition of being a man. Together they are bachelors enjoying their military tour.
It is their fateful visit to Aragon that initiates their transformation through love. It is the ways in which they change that make for such a hilarious portrayal of how people are altered by the experience of romance. Benedick is deceived into thinking that Beatrice is interested in him and that is all it takes for him to begin the process of turning into a whole other human.
Beatrice and Benedick have a famous ongoing battle of wits between them, and Beatrice always has the upper hand. It is less a battle and more of a dance, a game of cat and mouse. She toys with him and absolutely shreds his ego. The setting of the play is an island in Italy where a small militia lands to recover from their recent battles. As a part of their recreation, they have a masquerade ball. Beatrice takes advantage of this occasion to dance with Benedick and to pretend she doesn’t know it is him. She then proceeds to tell him about this fool named Benedick and negs him hard.
This begins the opening of Benedick. Truly, he has been a dick and he is finally starting to see it. Through her portrait of him as someone unworthy of respect, he begins to question himself. Because she fools him into thinking that he is receiving this description anonymously, he believes her. It hurts him even more.
The idea of Benedick and Beatrice as a couple is so ridiculous that their friends on both sides conspire to trick them into a romantic misunderstanding. As soon as they begin to believe that the other person loves them, they start to change how they feel altogether. Benedick, the lifelong bachelor, suddenly is catching all kinds of feelings. When they finally come together to confess their feelings to each other, Hero’s crisis has already gone down, and she is supposed to be dead. Beatrice is less transformed by love and in the first moment that Benedick swears he loves her and will do anything for her she asks him to kill Claudio to avenge her friend. He immediately responds that he can’t. She goads him into it, using the act as a way of verifying his love for her.
What a trick! It is another example of how shame is leveraged to manipulate action in the context of the play. She has broken him down, shown him a version of himself that is shameful. Then, when he has disintegrated to the point that he is ready to do anything, she gives him the command to murder. This is a remarkably dark moment in a comedy, but it is the counterpoint to the comic’s role. The comic kills with laughter, his double just kills.
When Benedick challenges Claudio to a duel, he takes on a ridiculously masculine role. He is transformed by his mission. He becomes militant in his devotion to Beatrice. He is ready to kill his best friend. Bros before hoes no more.
Suddenly, he is not himself, and in this process of existential opening he attempts to write a love poem to Beatrice, with hilarious results. Shakespeare’s portrait of a man inspired to write poetry without any skill for crafting lines of verse is an amazing parody. He is having a good laugh at his competition and maybe at himself. There is nothing funnier than bad poetry.
Of all the characters in the play, Benedick changes the most. He is the most dynamic because he falls in love with a woman who dominates him intellectually. His experience of love makes him believe in himself in ways he had never had the courage to before. As an image of transformation, Benedick serves as a mirror giving us the ability to see how funny it is when we fall in love.