One thing that stands out immediately in Much Ado About Nothing is the presence of a strong, central, female figure. I find this to be slightly ironic considering during Shakespeare’s time women were not very highly regarded, especially when they are married, as seen through the “Marriage and Money” article previously read. Through the first two acts, primarily the first one, I see Shakespeare setting the stage to enhance Beatrice’s role as a strong woman. Shakespeare clearly demonstrates this powerful aspect of women when he puts Benedick vs. Beatrice in a verbal showdown. After the two provide insults back and forth, primarily Beatrice towards Benedick, Benedick has enough and backs down, “I have done” (I.I.116-117). I found this moment to be extremely interesting while reading because what man during this time would let a woman win such a match of insults?
To further demonstrate Beatrice’s strong-will and dominance, when she provides a reason to not get married she makes a valid, religious based point which undermines the male gender. She basically tells her uncle, Leonato, that she refuses to be overmastered with a piece of valiant dust?” (II.I.51-52) . Although Beatrice believes she will be overpowered by whomever she marries she still refers to the man as a miniscule piece of dirt. This is a powerful insult not only to men but also God and Adam from Genesis. But, what is more interesting than Beatrice’s control is the acknowledgement Shakespeare makes in the men, that women seem to be the person in the marriage who “wear the pants”.
As shown in our study guide questions, we also see the quote from Don Pedro in Act I Scene I, line 213 “Well, as time shall try. In time the savage bull doth bear the yoke” while discussing marriage. Even Don Pedro recognizes that once a man enters marriage he will become tamed and part of the yoke. This is the lifestyle that Benedick appears to want to avoid for the rest of his life so he can remain a bachelor but we all know this is not practical during Shakespeare’s time just as it seems impractical to have a woman “in-charge”. It is funny to think that a woman would be the one to put the man in his place and tell him what to do and how to act, especially from all the commentary we have read about societal roles.
One thing I also noticed while reading that almost contradicts the idea of women’s roles once they are married is when Benedick and Don Pedro are communicating. In Act One, Benedick sees marriage as the end of his individuality. He sees that the woman is going to take over his life and over power him and he will be a tool to her. Benedick says, “In such great letters as they write ‘Here is good horse to hire’ let them signify under my sign ‘Here you may see Benedick, the married man’” (I.I.218-219). This is extremely ironic to me considering all that has been embedded in the minds of readers of Shakespeare is that women are not supposed to be in power. I think this quote directly addresses the oppression Benedick will feel from being married to any woman.
What does this say about Shakespeare as a writer? We have already seen powerful women in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and even in Twelfth Night. Are these women supposed to represent the few women who, during the time actually stood out or maybe this is Shakespeare’s way of calling out all the women and get those who are a bit more timid to stand up and take control of the life they lead and the men in society? It is unfortunate that no one ever will know the answer to any of these questions but I think they are reasonable to be asking, otherwise why would the women in Shakespeare’s plays have so much strength?