Monday, October 1, 2012

The slightest breeze shifts the sail

Something that I have been finding extremely prevalent in the works we have discussed so far is the ease at which the characters are swayed by the opinions or influences of other characters. It makes sense that this is a play off of reality in the sense that people take the pressures of their peers into serious consideration, but I think Shakespeare is almost pushing the envelope in terms of how drastic and how quickly these influences actually take effect.
Perhaps this is just an attempt at highlighting the fact that the play is a comedy because it is rather hilarious how effectively the schemes, words, and actions of the characters work to move the others. However, I’m not so sure it does concepts such as love and friendship justice. We can see this with the case of Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing when Ursula and Hero plot to get Beatrice to fall in love with Benedick by expressing pity for Benedick’s heart as it hopelessly in love with the stone cold Beatrice:
                        But Nature never framed a woman’s heart
Of prouder stuff than that of Beatrice.
Disdain and scorn ride sparkling in her eyes,
Misprizing what they look on, and her wit
Values itself so highly that to her
All matter else seems weak. (p. 1439, lines 49-53)
After hearing her cousin speak so harshly of her heart, Beatrice’s attitude towards Benedick completely shifts from the previous scene (2.3) where she says to Benedick “Against my will I am sent to bid you to come in to dinner” (lines 217-218) to “And Benedick, love on; I will requite thee/Taming my wild heart to thy loving hand” (3.1., lines 112-113). It is almost slightly unbelievable how quickly this happens considering the two instances occur back to back. Shakespeare does not concern himself or his characters with the prospect of time and instead allows relationships to flare up with a sudden instigating spark. 
To me, although I can see how this is a pun on real relationships (in the sense that one day the feelings can be dramatically different than the next), it is also a harsh revelation on the true integrity of love. In the case with Beatrice and Benedick as with many of Shakespeare’s other characters, love is a liquid substance. It takes the form of whatever fits best in the current circumstance and ebbs and flows according the current. In regards to the witty-warriors (since a similar tactic is used on Benedick), the current is pushing the two opposing tides into one another. Beatrice ends her speech in 3.1 with “For others say thou dost deserve, and I/Believe it better than reportingly” (lines 116-117).  By using methods of manipulation like this one—making these characters believe their friends think they have hopeless hearts—Shakespeare enables opportunities for creation at any point in the play. 

1 comment:

Jillian Landau said...

While reading these plays, especially Much Ado About Nothing, I thought the same thing. So many of the characters were influenced by outside forces rather than listening or trusting their own instincts. Claudio’s actions towards Hero bothered me the most. He came back from war and fell so hard for Hero, but all it took was some clever trickery to make him forget he even loved Hero. And what’s more, he is easily convinced to marry “Hero’s cousin” as a consolation prize. The play makes it seem as if Claudio has no self-conviction. With Benedick and Beatrice it was completely hilarious how the two could go from chastising each other at every chance to falling completely in love. Though I believe each had some underlying feelings for the other, neither took any action until they were cajoled by their friends. I absolutely agree that Shakespeare takes this aspect of real-life relations and makes a slight exaggeration of it.