HAMLET

– THE REST IS SILENCE.

Image result for daisy ridley ophelia
Ophelia (Daisy Ridley) in the upcoming re-imagining of Hamlet, in which Ophelia is the title character.

Ah, Hamlet. Bane of every high school student’s existence. Hamlet was also momentarily the bane of my existence, because halfway through I found myself asking Google what Shakespeare’s longest play is. I had a sneaking suspicion that I was holding it my hands, and I was right. Hamlet was a struggle to get through at times, but it picked up near the end and now I have semi-positive feelings about it more than anything.

Before I go into the plot and my thoughts, I just want to say that it took me an hour to find an appropriate header image for this post. I wanted a picture of Ophelia – but not just any picture. A picture of Ophelia separate from Hamlet, separate from her madness and ultimate suicide. I wanted this picture because Ophelia has the capacity to exist as a fully formed character outside of all these things. Or you’d think so, anyway. One hour later, and all I came up with is a still from an upcoming re-imagining of Hamlet. I will talk more about Ophelia as we go along, but you should know that I am very passionate about her.

We open in Elsinore, Denmark, where a ghost in the form of the late King Hamlet has been making himself known lately.

MARCELLUS
Horatio says ’tis but our fantasy
And will not let belief take hold of him
Touching this dread sight twice seen of us.
Therefore I have entreated him along
With us to watch the minutes of this night,
That, if again this apparition come,
He may approve our eyes and speak to it.

HORATIO
Tush, tush, ’twill not appear.

Horatio is a skeptic, and I don’t blame him. However, the ghost of King Hamlet does appear. Horatio, despite being one of the most level-headed characters in this play, decides to tell young Prince Hamlet about this. Hamlet has been struggling with the passing of his father, and I’m of the opinion that this will serve as more of a setback to him than anything. But I digress.

Claudius is now King of Denmark. He took his late brother’s throne…and his wife. We are introduced to Laertes (Ophelia’s brother), as well as his father Polonius. Laertes wants to go off to France. Knowing what awaits Elsinore, I can’t help but support him in his desire to leave. Polonius isn’t too happy about it, as you’d expect of a father.

Hamlet, meanwhile, appears to be acting out. He is understandably upset about this passing of his father. Also, he’s not on board with his mother marrying his uncle. I feel that he is reacting normally to his current situation, but everybody seems intent on telling him to get over it.

QUEEN
Good Hamlet, cast thy nighted color off,
And let thine eye look like a friend on Denmark.
Do not forever with thy vailèd lids
Seek for thy noble father in the dust.
Thou know’st ’tis common; all that lives must die,
Passing through nature to eternity.

Fine – but it’s only been two months since the death she speaks of. Claudius gives Hamlet a ridiculous lecture, echoing the sentiment that Hamlet needs to snap out of this mood that he’s been in lately.

Hamlet is…interesting. I don’t love him, but I don’t hate him either. I think I feel pity for him. Later in the play, I began to feel strangely protective of him. He does some terrible things during the course of this tale, but he never catches a break. And, ultimately, he does what he thinks he has to. His judgement, perhaps, is what deserves to be called into question.

Still, Hamlet is very upset at his mother’s marriage to Claudius. And, look, it is a little weird. He is left alone, and he lets out some of his anger. Horatio enters with some supernatural news.

HORATIO
My lord, I think I saw him yesternight.

HAMLET
Saw who?

HORATIO
My lord, the King your father.

HAMLET
The King my father?

There is so much potential in these short lines. I could hear Horatio’s unsure, soft tone. And Hamlet’s response? Shaky, shocked, muted – like he is being faced with a ghost.

HAMLET
If it assume my noble father’s person,
I’ll speak to it, though hell itself should gape
And bid me hold my peace. I pray you all,
If you have hitherto concealed this sight,
Let it be tenable in your silence still;
And whatsomever shall hap tonight,
Give it an understanding but no tongue.
I will requite your loves. So fare you well.
Upon the platform, ‘twixt eleven and twelve,
I’ll visit you.

There is a subtle edge of desperation to Hamlet here. He wants to see what this Ghost business is about, of course, but this is also a chance to lay his eyes on his father once more. A chance to speak to him.

We move to Polonius’ chambers, where Laertes is giving Ophelia a lecture that none of us asked for.

LAERTES
[…] Then weigh what loss your honor may sustain
If with too credent ear you list his songs
Or lose your heart or your chaste treasure open
To his unmastered importunity.
Fear it, Ophelia; fear it, my dear sister,
And keep you in the rear of your affection,
Out of the shot and danger of desire.

Laertes is, of course, talking about Hamlet, who is just crazy about Ophelia. Ophelia always finds herself being directed by the men in her life. She is almost like a puppet, and the male characters have no problems pulling her strings without any consideration to how their plans or ill-advised words might affect her. Ophelia isn’t a weak character by any means – but she is submissive. She does as she’s told, the way a sweet, innocent girl should.

When Laertes leaves, Polonius tells Ophelia the same thing: that Hamlet’s declarations of love aren’t meant to be taken seriously, and that she should stay away.

Nobody ever asks Ophelia how she feels about Hamlet. Does she love him back? Do they care? All of the sweet nothings that Hamlet has whispered to her, do they mean anything? Ophelia is a independent character in her own right, but almost everybody seems to outright disregard her. It is so incredibly annoying.

Meanwhile, an episode of Ghost Hunters is beginning. Claudius is drinking the night away, much to Hamlet’s disgust. But, on the bright side, that leaves everybody free to enjoy some casual paranormal activity.

The Ghost appears, and gestures for Hamlet to follow it.

HAMLET
It waves me still. – Go on, I’ll follow thee.

MARCELLUS
You shall not go, my lord.

[They hold back Hamlet.]

HAMLET
Hold off your hands.

HORATIO
Be ruled. You shall not go.

HAMLET
My fate cries out
And makes each petty arture in this body
As hardy as the Nemean lion’s nerve.
Still am I called. Unhand me, gentlemen.
By heaven, I’ll make a ghost of him that lets me!
I say, away! – Go on. I’ll follow thee.

Hamlet is desperate to follow the Ghost of his father. I cannot imagine all of the raw pain and adrenaline coursing through his body at this sight. He wants to – no, has to – go after it.

The Ghost tells a story that is familiar to literally every single one of us. He tells Hamlet that he was murdered by Claudius (surprise!), and asks that his son avenge him.

I once wrote about how Romeo and Juliet is ingrained in popular culture, that it is a story everybody knows regardless of whether or not they like Shakespeare. Hamlet is very much like Romeo and Juliet in this way – we all know the story. It has been immortalized in The Lion King, and in a myriad of other art forms. It’s inescapable – Hamlet is part of all of us, whether we like it or not.

Hamlet asks his friends to swear that they will not breathe a word of what they’ve seen. He acts a bit manic here, and his companions seem to be distinctly aware of it. But it’s really no surprise. Hamlet, instead of healing, is elated that there is something he can do to make this better, to get rid of his pain, and to justify his disgust and hatred for Claudius. Before, getting over it was the only thing he could have done. Now, he has plans for action. And part of his plan involves him behaving a little bit…eccentrically.

OPHELIA
My lord, as I was sewing in my closet,
Lord Hamlet, with his doublet all unbraced,
No hat upon his head, his stockings fouled,
Ungartered, and down-gyvèd to his ankle,
Pale as his shirt, his knees knocking each other,
And with a look so piteous in purport
As if he had been loosèd out of hell
To speak of horrors – he comes before me.

POLONIUS
Mad for thy love?

OPHELIA
My lord, I do not know,
But truly I do fear it.

Polonius is a loudmouth, so he immediately runs over to tell Claudius and the Queen that Hamlet has literally gone mad with longing for Ophelia. I wonder if this is what Hamlet intended when he went to see Ophelia. This distracts Claudius, Gertrude, and Polonius for a good portion of the play. That isn’t to say that Hamlet uses this time wisely, but still.

Polonius and Claudius decide to get a sense of just how mad Hamlet is.

POLONIUS
You know sometimes he walks four hours together
Here in the lobby.

QUEEN
So he does indeed.

POLONIUS
At such a time I’ll loose my daughter to him.
[To the King.] Be you and I behind an arras then.
Mark the encounter. If he love her not,
And be not from his reason fall’n thereon,
Let me be no assistant for a state,
But keep a farm and carters.

Poor Ophelia is being used as bait. She told her father not too many pages ago that Hamlet scared her out of her wits when he appeared before her, disheveled and behaving strangely. But, as I’ve said before, nobody really cares about Ophelia’s feelings. And because she is obedient, she does as she’s told.

Before this plan can be put into action, we are introduced to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern – friends of Hamlet who, for some reason, agree to help Claudius figure out what’s gotten into the young Prince.

It’s no use, of course. Hamlet isn’t about to divulge his plans for revenge to anybody at this point. He’d rather throw them off with his nonsensical ramblings. He does so until an acting troupe enters, at which point Hamlet adds another layer to his plan.

HAMLET
Follow him, friends. We’ll hear a play tomorrow. [As Polonius and Players exit, Hamlet speaks to the First Player.] Dost thou hear me, old friend? Can you play “The Murder of Gonzago”?

FIRST PLAYER
Ay, my lord.

HAMLET
We’ll ha ‘t tomorrow night. You could, for a need, study a speech of some dozen or sixteen lines, which I would set down and insert in ‘t, could you not?

FIRST PLAYER
Ay, my lord.

Shakespeare is a fan of putting plays in his plays. We’ve seen it before in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in The Taming of the Shrew, and now here in Hamlet. I have to say, it isn’t my favorite device of his. I get very invested in the characters involved in the main plot – so much so, that I usually don’t care to read through pages of another story, regardless of whether or not it pushes the plot along. I’d rather the point of it be laid out in the stage directions.

HAMLET
[…] I’ll have these players
Play something like the murder of my father
Before mine uncle. I’ll observe his looks;
I’ll tent him to the quick. If he do blench,
I know my course. The spirit that I have seen
May be a devil, and the devil hath power
T’ assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps,
Out of my weakness and my melancholy
As he is very potent with such spirits,
Abuses me to damn me. I’ll have grounds
More relative than this. The play’s the thing
Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.

It’s a simple plan – act out the murder of King Hamlet, and if Claudius so much as flinches, then he’s guilty. Hamlet’s slight distrust of the Ghost is very interesting to me though. He was very clearly attached to his father, and his grief runs very deep. You’d think that he’d jump at the chance to blame somebody for his untimely passing, wouldn’t you? And the fact that it was Claudius is even better, because Hamlet already has a grudge against him. But Hamlet wants to be sure, as he’s hesitant to kill Claudius without proof. Hamlet always hesitates – but why?

Ophelia and Hamlet are finally pushed together, and it is a total disaster. He comes onto the stage speaking words known to every single human on this planet:

HAMLET
To be or not to be – that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And, by opposing, end them. To die, to sleep –
No more – and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to – ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished.

When I was a kid just getting into Shakespeare, I came across an essay about this very soliloquy. We have Hamlet contemplating suicide as a potential escape from the horrors of the living world – but then he thinks to himself that the afterlife may be a lot worse. The essay called Shakespeare brave for writing this soliloquy because suicide was so looked down upon. People who committed suicide were denied a Christian burial, and it was considered self-murder. But Shakespeare decided to explore it in more depth than would have been considered appropriate. This fits well with the person I imagine Shakespeare was. He never took one solid stance on much of anything. Rather, he had an intense curiosity about every possible viewpoint – even if those viewpoints didn’t match his own.

And, as always, Hamlet is hesitant, even when it comes to this. That isn’t to say he shouldn’t be, of course. But we do see him be hesitant quite often, and he is unable to even come to a conclusion while juggling ideas around.

But let’s talk about his interaction with Ophelia. Hamlet is just awful to her – he tells her he never loved her, trashes women in general, and tells her to go to a nunnery.

I feel like I’ve been very forgiving of Hamlet, but he is part of the problem that I discussed earlier. We can assume that this is just another part of his act, but it is incredibly selfish of him to hurt Ophelia like this. Like the other men in this play, he doesn’t care how his words affect her. How much pain he has caused her doesn’t mean anything to him. Ophelia, to her credit, doesn’t get angry.

OPHELIA
O, what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!
The courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s, eye, tongue, sword,
Th’ expectancy and rose of the fair state,
The glass of fashion and the mold of form,
Th’ observed of all observers, quite, quite down!
And I, of ladies most deject and wretched,
That sucked the honey of his musicked vows,
Now see that noble and most sovereign reason,
Like sweet bells jangled, out of time and harsh;
That unmatched form and stature of blown youth
Blasted with ecstasy. O, woe is me
T’ have seen what I have seen, see what I see!

Sweet Ophelia. She immediately recognizes that this is not Hamlet. She thinks he’s gone mad, and she feels miserable to see him now, especially after knowing who he was before.

This is far less important, but I wonder if it hurt Hamlet to speak this way to Ophelia. If he truly loves her like he’s said, then it should have hurt a lot. But he did this to himself, so let’s not dwell on him right now.

Polonius and Claudius come to the conclusion that Hamlet isn’t mad because he’s in love with Ophelia. Claudius, who is objectively the worst, decides to get Hamlet out of the way by sending him to England. Polonius asks him to hold off – perhaps Gertrude can talk some sense into him after the play.

Speaking of the play, it’s about to begin.

QUEEN
Come hither, my dear Hamlet, sit by me.

HAMLET
No, good mother. Here’s metal more attractive.

[Hamlet takes a place near Ophelia.]

POLONIUS, [to the King]
Oh, ho! Do you mark that?

HAMLET
Lady, shall I lie in your lap?

OPHELIA
No, my lord.

HAMLET
I mean, my head upon your lap?

Ophelia’s patience is infinite, really. I would have smacked Hamlet right across the face for such behavior. Ophelia, however, is a saint. And she’s sad for him, sad for herself, and sad for what they could have been together.

The play goes as planned. Claudius storms off when he realizes what he’s watching, confirming the Ghost’s words. Gertrude is furious with her son, and asks for him to come see her in her sitting room.

Claudius, in a decidedly uncharacteristic move, feels a little bit of guilt. So he kneels down and begins to pray. Hamlet comes across him – now’s his chance!

HAMLET
Now might I do it pat, now he is a-praying,
And now I’ll do ‘t.

[He draws the sword.]

And so he goes to heaven,
And so am I revenged. That would be scanned:
A villain kills my father, and for that,
I, his sole son, do this same villain send
To heaven.
Why, this is hire and salary, not revenge.
He took my father grossly, full of bread,
With all his crimes broad blown, as flush as May;
And how is audit stands who knows save heaven.
But in our circumstance and course of thought
‘Tis heavy with him. And am I then revenged
To take him in the purging of his soul,
When he is fit and seasoned for his passage?
No.
Up sword, and know thou a more horrid hent.

Hamlet hesitates again. Why?

I read a few analyses online while writing this post, and I can’t say that I like any of them that much. I think the reason for Hamlet’s hesitation is simple: he’s scared. Killing someone isn’t some trivial matter, and Hamlet isn’t stupid. But he is very overdramatic, and, for the most part, his bark is worse than his bite. He can plot and plan until the cock crows, but actually doing what he says is a different thing entirely.

Hamlet goes to his mother’s room. It’s here that he truly loses his temper. There are some very…interesting analyses out there about Hamlet and his mother, but I will be disregarding them because I’m not a fan. I will say that Hamlet feels betrayed on his father’s behalf, and betrayed on his own behalf. It must be frustrating for him to be the only person truly grieving the loss of his father – even his mother has picked up and moved on, leaving Hamlet caught in the cloud of his own misery.

Polonius, who is the nosiest person in the entire universe, hides behind a tapestry in Gertrude’s room so he can eavesdrop on the conversation between mother and son.

HAMLET
Come, come, and sit you down; you shall not budge.
You go not till I set you up a glass
Where you may see the inmost part of you.

QUEEN
What wilt thou do? Thou wilt not murder me?
Help, ho!

POLONIUS, [behind the arras]
What ho! Help!

HAMLET
How now, a rat? Dead for a ducat, dead.

[He kills Polonius by thrusting a rapier through the arras.]

Look, I’m not pro-murder, but Polonius kind of deserves this. He kept sticking his nose where it didn’t belong. Hamlet’s problems have literally nothing to do with him personally. He was just playing the role of Claudius’ lapdog, sniffing around for information that has no business being spread around.

Why would Gertrude think that Hamlet means to murder her? Sure, he was speaking forcefully and probably being a little frightening, but he’s her son. He’s been acting strangely, but I don’t think there’s any reason for her to think that he would be violent with her.

Well, until now, because Polonius is dead. To make things worse, the Ghost appears.

QUEEN
Upon the heat and flames of thy distemper
Sprinkle cool patience! Whereon do you look?

HAMLET
On him, on him! Look you how pale he glares.
His form and cause conjoined, preaching to stones.
Would make them capable. [To the Ghost.] Do not look upon me,
Lest with this piteous action you convert
My stern effects. Then what I have to do
Will want true color – tears perchance for blood.

QUEEN
To whom do you speak this?

HAMLET
Do you see nothing there?

Strangely, Gertrude cannot see the Ghost. I thought for a second that the entire concept of the Ghost was Hamlet’s imagination, but no. Horatio himself saw it at the beginning of this play. Perhaps this Ghost, the current Ghost, is a product of Hamlet’s imagination. He can’t be truly going mad, can he?

Claudius, meanwhile, still intends to send Hamlet to England. Not so he can enjoy the peace of the English countryside, but so he can be murdered. That’s one way to deal with your annoying nephew, I suppose.

Poor Ophelia has gone mad as a result of Polonius’ death. Ophelia is heavily associated with her madness in popular culture, and I wish she wasn’t. It’s like people forget that she existed before Polonius’ death, before Hamlet broke her heart.

Laertes returns from France, hellbent on avenging his father. Kind of like Hamlet is, hmm. He and Claudius quickly formulate a plan to kill Hamlet. Laertes will spar with him, but his rapier will be poisoned. And, for insurance, Claudius will make sure a cup of poisoned drink will be given to Hamlet if he gets thirsty. This is all well and good, but Laertes is too late to save Ophelia.

QUEEN
One woe doth tread upon another’s heel,
So fast they follow. Your sister’s drowned, Laertes.

LAERTES
Drowned? O, where?

We all know where, because we can all see the image in our minds. Most imagery of Ophelia involves her partially submerged in a brook, surrounded by flowers and willow boughs. But (I’m sounding like a broken record now) I wish people tried to see her as more than that.

Ophelia is given a Christian burial, despite her suicide.

LAERTES
Lay her i’ th’ earth,
And from her fair and unpolluted flesh
May violets spring! I tell thee, churlish priest,
A minist’ring angel shall my sister be
When thou liest howling.

HAMLET, [to Horatio]
What, the fair Ophelia?

Oh, right. Hamlet doesn’t know. As far as Laertes is concerned, Hamlet is the reason that Ophelia was found floating in that brook. Hamlet was part of the problem, sure, but the patriarchal structure of this entire court is what lead to her madness and untimely death. But since nobody is going to admit this, Laertes pounces on Hamlet. They are separated from one another.

HAMLET
I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers
Could not with all their quantity of love
Make up my sum. What wilt thou do for her?

KING
O, he is mad, Laertes!

QUEEN
For the love of God, forbear him.

I said before that it must have been painful for Hamlet to push Ophelia away, and now I think it definitely was. I do think he loved Ophelia. They would have made a strange couple, but I think it might have worked out if she had been with the Hamlet of the past.

When the time eventually comes for Laertes and Hamlet to spar, everything falls to pieces. Gertrude accidentally drinks the poison, Laertes stabs Hamlet with the poisoned rapier, Hamlet stabs Laertes with that same poisoned rapier, and Claudius is stabbed by Hamlet. It’s a total bloodbath. I was happy to see Laertes and Hamlet forgive each other before dying, at least.

LAERTES
He is justly served.
It is a poison tempered by himself.
Exchange forgiveness with me, noble Hamlet.
Mine and my father’s death come not upon thee,
Nor thine on me.

That’s right, all of us are finally in agreement: Claudius is the worst and literally every issue in this play can be blamed on him.

Horatio is the only one left, really.

HAMLET
[…] O, God, Horatio, what a wounded name,
Things standing thus unknown, shall I leave behind me!
If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart,
Absent thee from felicity awhile
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain
To tell my story.

And he does.

There is really not much I can say about Hamlet, because so much has already been said by people who are far better at this Shakespeare business than I am. It’s an intriguing play to be sure, especially once it picks up in the last few acts. But I don’t think it’s a good first play for anybody – and yet, it is everybody’s first play.

Hamlet is very long, and there is a lot of complicated language in it. To a high school student, it’s nothing but a struggle. A better first play would be something like Much Ado About Nothing. For a tragedy, maybe Julius Caesar or Titus Andronicus would be more appropriate. But Hamlet? No, I think Hamlet is better suited for the seasoned Shakespearean.

I didn’t watch a film version of this play because I was dismayed and annoyed to find out that, opposite very young and beautiful Ophelias, Hamlet has almost always been played by older men. This adds a predatory edge to their relationship, and makes the entire play worse. There is some debate about how old Hamlet is supposed to be. I think he’s rather young, and would place him in his 20s (no matter what the gravedigger scene may imply).

There is a lot I skipped over, and for that I apologize. Hamlet is so long, and so much happens. I couldn’t possibly talk about every single little thing.

It’s time for me to switch gears, because next month I’ll be reading The Merry Wives of Windsor (yikes). After that, I’ll be reading mostly obscure plays, which I’m excited about.

I’ll also be seeing a production of Much Ado About Nothing on August 3rd as part of the Central Coast Shakespeare Festival, so be on the look out for a review of that if you’re interested!

JULIUS CAESAR

AWAKE, AND SEE THYSELF!

Related image
Julius Caesar (Andrew Woodall) and Calphurnia (Kristin Atherton) in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2017 production of Julius Caesar.

Two acts into Julius Caesar, I found myself putting the play down and chastising myself for always speaking in absolutes. I’ve said many times before that I absolutely do not love tragedies. But I did love Julius Caesar – however, I will argue that this play feels less like a tragedy and more like a history. When I think about tragedies, plays like King Lear and Macbeth come to mind. I’m not sure I’d lump a play like Julius Caesar with them.

I was worried about getting through both Julius Caesar and Hamlet this month because both plays are relatively heavy. But it looks like I’m back on track! And now I have plenty of time to get through Hamlet.

Julius Caesar opens in Rome, as you’d expect. The great man himself is on his way back to the capital after defeating Pompey. The common people are out and about, but we have two tribunes who are insisting on raining on this specific parade.

MARULLUS
Wherefore rejoice? What conquest brings he home?
What tributaries follow him to Rome
To grace in captive bonds his chariot wheels?
You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things!
O you hard hearts, you cruel men of Rome,
Knew you not Pompey? Many a time and oft
Have you climbed up to walls and battlements,
To towers and windows, yea, to chimney tops,
Your infants in your arms, and there have sat
The livelong day, with patient expectation,
To see great Pompey pass the streets of Rome.
And when you saw his chariot but appear,
Have you not made an universal shout,
That Tiber trembled underneath her banks
To hear the replication of your sounds
Made in her concave shores?
And do you now put on your best attire?
And do you now cull out a holiday?
And do you now strew flowers in his way
That comes in triumph over Pompey’s blood?
Be gone!
Run to your houses, fall upon your knees,
Pray to the gods to intermit the plague
That needs must light on this ingratitude.

You would think Marullus would be a little more careful with his speech now that Pompey is old news. And, look, he isn’t wrong, but we’ll find out soon enough that the people of Rome are very changeable.

We cut to Caesar himself. He is with Mark Antony, his wife Calphurnia, Brutus, Brutus’ wife Portia, and a number of other characters.

CAESAR
Stand you directly in Antonius’ way
When he doth run his course – Antonius.

ANTONY
Caesar, my lord.

CAESAR
Forget not in your speed, Antonius,
To touch Calphurnia, for our elders say
The barren, touchèd in this holy chase,
Shake off their sterile curse.

I found this little exchange to be rather weird. I suppose it’s not important in the long run, but it still caught my attention. The backstory is that during the feast of Lupercal, young men were meant to run naked through the streets and whip people in their way. Women who were whipped were then more likely to give birth to healthy babies. That’s a fun Ancient Rome fact, but what’s the point of mentioning this at all? I think Shakespeare was trying to tell us two things: one, that Caesar has no heir. This immediately puts him in a position of weakness for obvious reasons. Two, that either Calphurnia is barren or that Caesar himself is sterile. If the latter is being suggested, then it’s just one bullet point in a long, long list of all the things wrong with Caesar – things that make him appear more human than God.

All in all, I would rather men didn’t run around naked whipping women, but that’s neither here nor there.

A soothsayer comes forward and warns Caesar about the ides of March. Caesar chooses to dismiss this warning immediately. He and his party leave to watch the chase, but Brutus and Cassius stay behind.

Cassius, who I quickly noticed really loves to stir the pot, takes note of the fact that Brutus hasn’t been himself lately. And it’s true, Brutus hasn’t been himself. He is afraid that Caesar might be crowned king, and Cassius urges him to act on his fears.

CASSIUS
[…] I was born free as Caesar; so were you;
We both have fed as well and we can both
Endure the winter’s cold as well as he.
For once, upon a raw and gusty day,
The troubled Tiber chafing with her shores,
Caesar said to be “Dar’st thou, Cassius, now
Leap in with me into this angry flood
And swim to yonder point?” Upon the word,
Accoutered as I was, I plungèd in
And bade him follow; so indeed he did.
The torrent roared, and we did buffet it
With lusty sinews, throwing it aside
And stemming it with the hearts of controversy.
But ere we could arrive the point proposed,
Caesar cried “Help me, Cassius, or I sink!”

Cassius’ story is, for obvious reasons, pretty ridiculous. He uses this story of Caesar not being able to brave the raging Tiber, as well as a story of Caesar having a seizure, to make his point. Granted, Caesar may not be the unshakable force he pretends he is, but I really don’t see any reason for a conspiracy right now. But, like I said, Cassius loves stirring the pot. He is also very petty, as he constantly wonders why Caesar should move upward in the world while men like himself and Brutus remain in their places. What can I say, Cassius? You snooze, you lose. Why didn’t you defeat Pompey yourself then?

No solid plans are set as of yet – Brutus asks Cassius to come to his home to discuss the matter further. Cassius is left alone.

CASSIUS
Well, Brutus, thou art noble. Yet I see
Thy honorable mettle may be wrought
From that it is disposed. Therefore it is meet
That noble minds keep ever with their likes;
For who so firm that cannot be seduced?
Caesar doth bear me hard, but he loves Brutus.
If I were Brutus now, and he were Cassius,
He should not humor me. I will this night
In several hands at his windows throw,
As if they came from several citizens,
Writings, all tending to the great opinion
That Rome holds of his name, wherein obscurely
Caesar’s ambition shall be glancèd at
And after this, let Caesar seat him sure,
For we will shake him, or worse days endure.

Cassius is the worst – he quickly decides to take advantage of Brutus’ current state of mind. And, as soon as he gets the chance, he begins to recruit others into this budding group of conspirators.

We should, perhaps, wonder where they are coming from. Julius Caesar, to me, does not have a clear set of protagonists and antagonists. Most characters find themselves in a strange grey area. As a reader (and, technically, someone on the outside of this particular situation), I do not think the case against Caesar is strong enough to warrant his assassination. There is no guarantee that Caesar will become a tyrant. He refuses the crown three times while Brutus and Cassius speak. They just cannot base their fears on a feeling. I mean they can, and they will, but they shouldn’t.

Brutus, actually, is anxious about this very issue.

BRUTUS
It must be by his death. And for my part
I know no personal cause to spurn at him,
But for the general. He would be crowned:
How that might change his nature, there’s the question.
It is the bright day that brings forward the adder,
And that craves wary walking. Crown him that,
And then I grant we put a sting in him
That at his will he may do danger with.
Th’ abuse of greatness is when it disjoins
Remorse from power. And, to speak truth of Caesar,
I have not known when his affections swayed
More than his reason. But ’tis a common proof
That lowliness is young ambition’s ladder;
Where to the climber-upward turns his face;
But, when he once attains the upmost round,
He then unto the ladder turns his back,
Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees
By which he did ascend. So Caesar may.
Then, lest he may, prevent. And since the quarrel
Will bear no color for the thing he is,
Fashion it thus: that what he is, augmented,
Would run to these and these extremities.
And therefore think him as a serpent’s egg,
Which, hatched, would, as his kind, grow mischievous,
And kill him in the shell.

This is all very well, but “may” is not the same as “will,” and I think Brutus knows this. As I write this entry, I wonder when the best time for me to discuss Brutus might be. I doubt anybody is anxiously awaiting my opinion on him, but here we go. I actually like Brutus a lot. He wants very much to do the honorable thing, which I can respect. He makes huge, huge mistakes during the course of this play, but only because he thinks he’s doing the right thing for the Roman people. In a sense, he is a very selfless figure, only doing what he thinks is right. There is also something strangely gentle about him, despite the fact that he’s at the center of this conspiracy. I don’t know. Brutus is a tough character to crack, and a lot of it sits on directors and actors.

You’ll remember that Cassius wanted to plant letters for Brutus to find. One of these letters finds its way into his hands.

BRUTUS
[…] Am I entreated
To speak and strike? O, Rome, I make thee promise,
If the redress will follow, thou receivest
Thy full petition at the hand of Brutus.

Like I said: anything for Rome.

I should mention that it is the fifteenth of March, and all hell has evidently broken loose – environmentally, that is. Ill omens, perhaps?

The conspirators arrive at Brutus’ house. Sadly, they are not there for a fun night in, but rather to put their plan into action. Caesar’s fate is decided, but there is still the question of Mark Antony.

CASSIUS
Decius, well urged. I think it is not meet
Mark Antony, so well beloved of Caesar,
Should outlive Caesar. We shall find of him
A shrewd contriver; and, you know, his means,
If he improve them, may well stretch so far
As to annoy us all; which to prevent,
Let Antony and Caesar fall together.

I don’t like Cassius, but he has a point here. We haven’t seen much of Mark Antony in this play as of yet, but they definitely have cause to be afraid of him. Brutus does not think that this is a good idea, however. This is his second mistake – the first, of course, being his involvement in this conspiracy.

The thing is, Brutus is not a stone-cold killer. He is involved in this mess because he thinks it is for the good of Rome, and because he thinks the people will be better off for it. But the more blood they steep themselves in, the less likely the plebeians will be on their side. Brutus is too honorable to be involved in this, really.

When the conspirators leave, Portia enters. She is concerned for Brutus – after all, he hasn’t been sleeping, and has been in a bit of a mood. Brutus tells his wife that he’s been unwell, but she knows better than to believe that.

PORTIA
[…] You have some sick offense within your mind,
Which by the right and virtue of my place
I ought to know of. [She kneels.] And upon my knees
I charm you, by my once commended beauty,
By all your vows of love, and that great vow
Which did incorporate and make us one,
That you unfold to me, your self, your half,
Why you are heavy, and what men tonight
Have had resort to you; for here have been
Some six or seven who did hide their faces
Even from darkness.

BRUTUS
Kneel not, gentle Portia.

[He lifts her up.]

I said I see something gentle in Brutus, and this is why. His wife does a bit of pushing throughout this entire conversation, and not once does Brutus lose his temper. There was something so tender to me about his lifting her up, asking her not to kneel. Their relationship seems to be a bit unusual to me by Ancient Roman standards, because Brutus eventually promises to tell her the truth – and he does.

All that’s left is to lure Caesar to the senate house.

CAESAR
The cause is in my will. I will not come.
That is enough to satisfy the Senate.
But for your private satisfaction,
Because I love you, I will let you know.
Calphurnia here, my wife, stays me at home.
She dreamt tonight she saw my statue,
Which, like a fountain with an hundred spouts,
Did run pure with blood; and many lusty Romans
Came smiling and did bathe their hands in it.
And these does she apply for warnings and portents
And evils imminent, and on her knee
Hath begged that I will stay at home today.

But Caesar is convinced – Decius tells him that the Senate means to crown him. How foolish I was, Caesar says, to have yielded to Calphurnia’s fears. This is very frustrating. Calphurnia’s fears and prophetic dream are not taken seriously in the slightest. The words of a senator (who likely has a knife in his pocket) talk Caesar into leaving his house and walking right into his grave. What could have been avoided if a woman had been listened to?

Caesar manages to brush off yet another warning from a friend, and is stabbed in the senate house. I have to say, I never really thought of Shakespeare as being good at suspense, but this play changed my mind. We feel the hours, minutes, and seconds ticking down while reading. I knew what was going to happen, but I didn’t know when, so I was on edge the entire time. How clever of Shakespeare to break the fated day up into multiple scenes.

Calphurnia’s dream becomes a reality.

CAESAR
Et tu, Brutè? – Then fall, Caesar.

Like a shot through the heart. Caesar loves Brutus, so his feeble “You also, Brutus?” is so painful to read. What a betrayal.

Brutus sends word that the Roman people will come to no harm. It seems like their plan has gone off without a hitch. But they’re forgetting one terribly dangerous thing: Mark Antony is still alive.

Mark Antony is distraught at the sight of Caesar’s bleeding body. He speaks to the conspirators very calmly and boy, is it eerie.

ANTONY
Therefore I took your hands, but was indeed
Swayed from the point by looking down on Caesar.
Friends am I with you all and love you all,
Upon this hope, that you shall give me reasons
Why and wherein Caesar was dangerous.

This success of this scene from here on out really lies on Mark Antony’s shoulders. Nothing about this conversation should be genuine except for his words about Caesar. He ought to speak to the conspirators calmly, in a way that lets the audience know that he is simply biding his time. Mark Antony is really nothing more than a snake that is waiting to go in for the kill at this point. He requests to speak at Caesar’s funeral, and Brutus lets him. Strike three for Brutus.

I think Brutus just does not know how to reconcile what he’s done with who he is and has been. Regardless of his reasons, he has just participated in the assassination of a key political figure. He thinks he is helping Rome, but instead of keeping things firmly in his control for the good of the city until everything dies down, he tries to please those who are still alive. He should know better than to trust Mark Antony.

At Caesar’s funeral, Brutus goes into the pulpit and brings the plebeians over to his side. Everything is going just swell, until Mark Antony enters the pulpit and brings a killer speech with him.

FIRST PLEBEIAN
Methinks there is much reason in his sayings.

SECOND PLEBEIAN
If thou consider rightly of the matter,
Caesar has had great wrong.

Mark Antony knows exactly how to approach this situation. He doesn’t outright tear down the conspirators or what they have done – no, he comes in with a very calculated approach to get the plebeians on his side. He really does play them like a fiddle – did I not say that they are very easily swayed?

ANTONY
[…] It is not meet you know how Caesar loved you.
You are not wood, you are not stones, but men.
And, being men, hearing the will of Caesar,
It will inflame you; it will make you mad.
‘Tis good to know not that you are his heirs,
For if you should, O, what would come of it?

Yes, I’m sure inflaming the people is the last thing Mark Antony wants. As expected, the people absolutely lose it and begin to mutiny. All in a day’s work for Mark Antony.

It has come to battle, because there is no other way for this to end. We have Antony and Octavius versus Cassius and Brutus. But things are on edge over on the conspirators’ side, as Brutus and Cassius both feel wronged by one another. They decide to hash it out in Brutus’ tent. Their disagreement begins to escalate (I, of course, was very pleased, because I absolutely do not like Cassius).

CASSIUS
[Offering his dagger to Brutus.]
And here my naked breast; within, a heart
Dearer than Pluto’s mine, richer than gold.
If that thou be’st a Roman, take it forth.
I that denied thee gold will give my heart.
Strike as thou didst at Caesar, for I know
When thou didst hate him worst, thou lovedst him better
Than ever thou lovedst Cassius.

I took a lot of offense on Brutus’ behalf when I read those last couple of lines up there. But, then again, I was also kind of hoping that Brutus would do it so I could be done with Cassius. Brutus is not that kind of person, sadly. They make up, and we find out why Brutus has been a little bit on edge.

BRUTUS
O Cassius, I am sick of many griefs.

CASSIUS
Of your philosophy you make no use
If you give place to accidental evils.

BRUTUS
No man bears sorrow better. Portia is dead.

Oh, Brutus. Poor Brutus. This is literally the worst time for this to have happened. He is absolutely distraught – and there’s that softness that is so unbecoming of a warrior again.

At night, Brutus is kind enough to let his servant get some sleep. He himself is restless, and is visited by the ghost of Caesar. This is a classic bad omen, and almost a sign of Brutus’ guilt. Brutus acted on a hunch that day in the senate house – but his hunch could very well have been wrong. I wonder if he knows this.

Over on the other side, Antony and Octavius are in prime position to win. After all, Caesar’s ghost wasn’t visiting them, now was it?

OCTAVIUS
Upon the right hand, I; keep thou the left.

ANTONY
Why do you cross me in this exigent?

OCTAVIUS
I do not cross you, but I will do so.

Things aren’t exactly sunshine and rainbows over here either, and we get a taste of the clash between Mark Antony and Octavius that will follow us into Antony and Cleopatra.

Brutus knows that his hour has home – Caesar’s ghost appearing was proof enough. He runs on his sword and dies. Goodbye, Brutus. I liked you, but I wished you’d had more common sense. The moral of the story is: if you’re going to be a conspirator, commit to the role.

We get this reaction to Brutus’ death, which may come as a surprise:

ANTONY
This was the noblest Roman of them all.
All the conspirators save only he
Did that they did in envy of great Caesar.
He only in a general honest thought
And common good to all made one of them.
His life was gentle and the elements
So mixed in him that nature might stand up
And say to all the world “This was a man.”

That’s what I’ve been saying, Mark Antony! Obviously, Brutus and the others could not be allowed to get away with Caesar’s assassination. However, Brutus was still the best of them. He was completely unselfish in his involvement, and found himself in a tangled web that he was unable to get out of.

Well, that’s that for Julius Caesar! I really did enjoy this play, and I’m a bit sad that I wasn’t taught it at school. But that’s what this Shakespeare marathon is for, right?

Hamlet is next. Let’s hope I can get through it without any trouble.

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

BAIT THE HOOK WELL; THIS FISH WILL BITE.

Image result for much ado about nothing
Beatrice (Emma Thompson) and Benedick (Kenneth Branagh) in the 1993 adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing.

Well, I’m here! I’m alive, and the only excuse I have for not finishing this earlier is that I’m just rubbish at keeping up with reading when I’m on vacation. I was supposed to have this play finished by the end of June. In fact, I should be knee-deep in Julius Caesar right now. I don’t like being behind on much of anything, but there’s nothing I can do except move along and try to catch up as quickly as I can.

This post can be summarized in a single sentence: Beatrice and I are one and the same, Claudio is a fool, and Benedick’s biggest choice in this play is wonderfully made. Now that you know my feelings, I can get on to rambling. You, meanwhile, can click out of this tab and be content with the knowledge that I love Much Ado About Nothing.

This play is arguably one of Shakespeare’s most charming. It is genuinely funny, and the characters are just lovely. We open in Messino, where Prince Don Pedro and his army have come to take advantage of Governor Leonato’s hospitality. We meet Hero, Leonato’s lovely and innocent daughter. Claudio, a young lord from Florence and a friend of the Prince’s, is immediately taken with her. Ah, love at first sight! It really suits somebody like Claudio, who is an idealistic, hopeless romantic. Benedick, meanwhile, is cranky as usual.

BENEDICK
If Signior Leonato be her father, she would not have his head on her shoulders for all Messina, as like him as she is.

BEATRICE
I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior Benedick, nobody marks you.

BENEDICK
What, my dear Lady Disdain! Are you yet living?

BEATRICE
Is it possible disdain should die when she hath such meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick? Courtesy itself must convert to disdain if you come in her presence.

The chemistry between Beatrice and Benedick just flies off the page and smacks you right in the face, doesn’t it? These two play into one of my favorite tropes of all time, really. I just love when bickering, bantering characters fall hopelessly in love with each other. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

As I said, Claudio is wildly in love with Hero. For some reason, he chooses to ask Benedick – famed woman-hater and anti-marriage advocate – for his opinion.

CLAUDIO
In mine eye she is the sweetest lady that ever I looked on.

BENEDICK
I can see yet without spectacles, and I see no such matter. There’s her cousin, an she were not possessed with a fury, exceeds her as much in beauty as the first of May doth the last of December. But I hope you have no intent to turn husband, have you?

Oh, he has intent to turn husband indeed. Benedick is annoyed to lose his friend to a woman. He is sure, so sure, that all marriages end with cuckolding. The Prince, however, is not so convinced of Benedick’s supposed immunity to falling in love.

PRINCE
I shall see thee, ere I die, look pale with love.

BENEDICK
With anger, with sickness, or with hunger, my lord, not with love. Prove that ever I lose more blood with love than I will get again with drinking, pick out mine eyes with a ballad-maker’s pen and hang me up at the door of a brothel house for the sign of blind Cupid.

Somebody is protesting a little too much, but we’ll get back to that later. For now, the Prince has decided that he will woo Hero on Claudio’s behalf. What a great, bullet-proof plan! Well, it would be, if it were not for Don John (who, hilariously, I can only picture as Keanu Reeves).

Don John is a hilarious villain, mostly because nobody seems to give a shit about him. He is the Prince’s brother, and is in a permanent state of irritation with the world. He holds a lot of resentment for both his brother and Claudio, and he decides to focus this energy into blocking the upcoming marriage.

Seriously. That’s it. That’s his big evil plan. Ah, Don John. Before this plan forms, Conrade, his henchman, advises him to quit being so obviously full of hate for everyone and everything.

CONRADE
Yea, but you must not make the full show of this till you may do it without controlment. You have of late stood out against your brother, and he hath ta’en you newly into his grace, where it is impossible you should take true root but by the fair weather that you make yourself. It is needful that you frame the season for your own harvest.

DON JOHN
I had rather be a canker in a hedge than a rose in his grace, and it better fits my blood to be disdained of all than to fashion a carriage to rob love from any. In this, though I cannot be said to be a flattering honest man, it must not be denied but I am a plain-dealing villain. I am trusted with a muzzle and enfranchised with a clog; therefore I have decreed not to sing in my cage. If I had my mouth,  I would bite; if I had my liberty, I would do my liking. In the meantime, let me be that I am, and seek not to alter me.

So edgy. Don John sounds like he needs a cup of tea and nap.

A masquerade is held that night, and what an eventful masquerade it is. Leonato decides to acknowledge Don John’s existence for a second.

LEONATO
Was not Count John here at supper?

LEONATO’S BROTHER
I saw him not.

BEATRICE
How tartly that man looks! I never can see him but I am heartburned an hour after.

HERO
He is of a very melancholy disposition.

BEATRICE
He were an excellent man that were made just in the midway between him and Benedick. The one is too like an image and says nothing, and the other too like my lady’s eldest son, evermore tattling.

Well, folks, you heard it here first. The perfect man is a combination of silent, scheming Don John, and witty, talkative Benedick. I should be taking notes. There are a few unimportant lines after this, but I want to highlight this small exchange:

LEONATO
By my troth, niece, thou wilt never get thee a husband if thou be so shrewd of thy tongue.

LEONATO’S BROTHER
In faith, she’s too curst.

BEATRICE
Too curst is more than curst. I shall lessen God’s sending that way, for it is said “God sends a curst cow short horns,” but to a cow too curst, he sends none.

Time for a personal interlude: do you know how many times I’ve been told what Beatrice has been told? That my sharp tongue will keep me from finding a husband? I wish I had known about this play when I was younger, so I could have learned how to respond from Beatrice. What a silly thing to say – it’s no wonder she doesn’t take it seriously.

I adore how this ends, though.

LEONATO
Well, niece, I hope to see you one day fitted with a husband.

BEATRICE
Not till God make men of some other metal than earth. Would it not grieve a woman to be overmastered with a piece of valiant dust? To make account of her life to a clod of wayward marl? No, uncle, I’ll none. Adam’s sons are my brethren, and truly I hold it a sin to match in my kindred.

You tell ’em, Beatrice.

Don John, meanwhile, unsuccessfully tries to ruin everything by telling Claudio that the Prince means to woo Hero for himself. This, of course, is cleared up immediately when the Prince declares he has wooed Hero on Claudio’s behalf. It’s almost like Don John doesn’t expect people to speak to one another. Although Claudio wants to marry Hero immediately, Leonato needs a week to get everything together. So, to pass the time, Don Pedro proposes they trick Beatrice and Benedick to fall in love. And this, dear readers, is a trick I can get behind.

Benedick, who is very secure in his intelligence and wit, ends up being a very easy fish to bait. Leonato, Claudio, and the Prince simply stage a conversation while Benedick is within earshot.

PRINCE
Come hither, Leonato. What was it you told me of today, that your niece Beatrice was in love with Signior Benedick?

CLAUDIO
O, ay. [Aside to Prince.] Stalk on, stalk on; the fowl sits. – I did never think that lady would have loved any man.

LEONATO
No, nor I neither, but most wonderful that she should so dote on Signior Benedick, whom she hath in all outward behaviors seemed ever to abhor.

BENEDICK, [aside]
Is ‘t possible? Sits the wind in that corner?

It certainly doesn’t take long for him to fall for the trick, does it? But if Beatrice is so madly in love with Benedick, why hasn’t she told him? Don’t worry, our boys have got that covered.

CLAUDIO
Hero thinks surely he will die, for she says she will die if he love her not, and she will die ere she make her love known, and she will die if he woo her rather than she will bate one breath of her accustomed crossness.

PRINCE
She doth well. If she should make her tender of her love, ’tis very possible he’ll scorn it, for the man, as you know all, hath a contemptible spirit.

It’s very clear that the Prince and Claudio know Benedick well. By wounding his pride, they’re pushing him to defy their expectations. Scorn her? Ha! He’ll love her back. That’ll show them. The men leave the garden, while Benedick marvels about what he’s just discovered. Then, Beatrice shows up.

BENEDICK
[…] Here comes Beatrice. By this day, she’s a fair lady. I do spy some marks of love in her.

BEATRICE
Against my will, I am sent to bid you come in to dinner.

BENEDICK
Fair Beatrice, I thank you for your pains.

BEATRICE
I took no more pains for those thanks than you take pains to thank me. If it had been painful, I would not have come.

BENEDICK
You take pleasure then in the message?

BEATRICE
Yea, just so much as you may take upon a knife’s point and choke a daw withal. You have no stomach, signior. Fare you well.

[She exits.]

BENEDICK
Ha! “Against my will I am sent to bid you come in to dinner.” There’s a double meaning in that. “I took no more pains for those thanks than you took pains to thank me.” That’s as much as to say “Any pains I take for you is as easy as thanks.” If I do not take pity of her, I am a villain; if I do not love her, I am a Jew. I will go get her picture.

This exchange is made for laughs, really. There isn’t a single audience in existence that wouldn’t delight in seeing Beatrice interact with this suddenly affectionate Benedick. Can you imagine her face? She cuts this conversation short, probably bewildered and convinced he must be messing with her. Benedick, meanwhile, has decided to take pity on Beatrice – but we can all tell that he’s ecstatic at this turn of events.

Now that Benedick is hooked, it’s time to pull Beatrice in. Hero and her waiting gentlewoman, Ursula, stage a conversation. They pull the same tricks, preying upon Beatrice’s pride. I do think they take it a tad too far, but perhaps I found their words overly harsh because I see so much of myself of Beatrice, and have heard those words framed as pitying critique before.

Don John, who failed to make a mess of things just a while ago, is back to his old tricks. He shows up to tell the Prince and Claudio that Hero is disloyal. Yes, you heard that right. Hero. Sweet, innocent, pure Hero. There’s no way they’ll fall for that, right?

Ha.

In Don John’s defense, he’s actually taken pains to flesh this plan more than his last one. He has his companion, Borachio, fool around with Margaret (another of Hero’s waiting gentlewomen) in Hero’s chamber for all to see. But how could the men mistake Margaret for Hero, you ask? Well, Borachio has her dress up. Please don’t ask me how Borachio talked Margaret into dressing up as Hero for a night of forbidden passion. I just don’t even want to begin to talk about this. The takeaway is that Don John’s plan is successful.

The next morning, Hero and Margaret tease Beatrice about being in love with Benedick. This happens while Hero is getting ready for her wedding, which is still on. I’m sure it’ll go well.

FRIAR, [to Claudio]
You come hither, my lord, to marry this lady?

CLAUDIO
No.

Never mind. This is going to go terribly. Claudio breaks into a tirade, and rips Hero apart at her own wedding in front of all her guests. What a charmer.

LEONATO
What do you mean, my lord?

CLAUDIO
Not to be married,
Not to knit my soul to an approvèd wanton.

LEONATO
Dear my lord, if you in your own proof
Have vanquished the resistance of her youth,
And made defeat of her virginity –

CLAUDIO
I know what you would say: if I have known her,
You will say she did embrace me as a husband,
And so extenuate the forehand sin.
No, Leonato,
I never tempted her with word too large,
But, as a brother to his sister, showed
Bashful sincerity and comely love.

HERO
And seemed I ever otherwise to you?

Oh, poor Hero. Claudio is being so incredibly petty, doing this here and now. What kind of person airs all of their dirty laundry in front of everybody in the world? Maybe Hero is dodging a bullet. Claudio was so incredibly sweet and hopelessly in love, but I’m not quite sure what I think of him now.

The men leave, but Benedick stays. According to Tina Packer, author of Women of Will, this is unusual. His friend and fellow officer has just been humiliated, but instead of honorably following after him, Benedick stays. Even Leonato is convinced of Hero’s supposed crime against Claudio. Does he not know his own daughter? It would have been so unlike Hero to have sex with some random man in her window.

Hero faints, and the Friar tries to defend her. Even he knows that all of this is bullshit. The Friar suggests that everybody pretend that Hero has died as a result of Claudio’s denouncement of her. This way, Claudio and the others will feel sufficiently guilty about what they have done. After this plan is agreed to, Beatrice and Benedick are left alone.

BENEDICK
Lady Beatrice, have you wept all this while?

BEATRICE
Yea, and I will weep a while longer.

BENEDICK
I will not desire that.

BEATRICE
You have no reason. I do it freely.

BENEDICK
Surely I do believe your fair cousin is wronged.

BEATRICE
Ah, how much might the man deserve of me that would right her!

BENEDICK
Is there any way to show such friendship?

BEATRICE
A very even way, but no such friend.

BENEDICK
May a man do it?

BEATRICE
It is a man’s office, but not yours.

BENEDICK
I do love nothing in the world so well as you. Is not that strange?

Benedick’s last line up there is such a tender one. It’s so simple, but so beautiful. We have Beatrice in tears, at the height of vulnerability, and Benedick chooses this moment to profess his love to her.

BEATRICE
As strange as the thing I know not. It were as possible for me to say I loved nothing so well as you, but believe me not, and yet I lie not, I confess nothing, nor I deny nothing. I am sorry for my cousin.

BENEDICK
By my sword, Beatrice, thou lovest me!

BEATRICE
Do not swear and eat it.

BENEDICK
I will swear by it that you love me, and I will make him eat it that says I love not you.

BEATRICE
Will you not eat your word?

BENEDICK
With no sauce that can be devised to it. I protest I love thee.

BEATRICE
Why then, God forgive me.

BENEDICK
What offense, sweet Beatrice?

BEATRICE
You have stayed me in a happy hour. I was about to protest I love you.

BENEDICK
And do it with all thy heart.

BEATRICE
I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest.

BENEDICK
Come, bid me do anything for thee.

BEATRICE
Kill Claudio.

Benedick, of course, refuses immediately. Beatrice moves to leave, but he stops her. I will say, that as far as confession scenes go, this is one of my favorites. Beatrice and Benedick are both so prideful, both so sharp. But they love each other with such a sweet tenderness that they are only able to show to each other. But Beatrice is right to be in such a state – there is nothing she or Hero can do about what has just happened. Why would anybody believe their denial of the event? A man has to intervene on behalf of the women. And that man is Benedick.

BENEDICK
Think you in your soul the Count Claudio hath wronged Hero?

BEATRICE
Yea, as sure as I have a thought or soul.

BENEDICK
Enough, I am engaged. I will challenge him. I will kiss your hand, and so I leave you. By this hand, Claudio shall render me a dear account. As you hear of me, so think of me. Go comfort your cousin. I must say she is dead, and so farewell.

Packer sees this text as being incredibly important, and I am inclined to agree. Not only do we have Benedick acknowledging that Beatrice has a soul (something that wasn’t exactly a popular opinion in Elizabethan England), but he decides to be guided by Beatrice’s gut feeling. According to Packer, “[Benedick] violates the honor between officers, choosing instead to follow his love. Love is the higher calling.”

News of Hero’s “death” finds its way to Claudio and the Prince. Benedick, meanwhile, makes good on his promise to Beatrice and challenges Claudio to a duel. This is a comedy, however, so things need to be set right. Claudio and the Prince learn about Don John’s plot to ruin the wedding from Borachio and Conrade, who are now prisoners. Don John, meanwhile, has fled the city like the overdramatic non-villain he is. But however will Claudio live with his guilt? Leonato has an idea:

LEONATO
I cannot bid you bid my daughter live –
That were impossible – but, I pray you both,
Possess the people in Messina here
How innocent she died. And if your love
Can labor aught in sad invention,
Hang her an epitaph upon her tomb
And sing it to her bones. Sing it tonight.
Tomorrow morning, come you to my house,
And since you could not be my son-in-law,
Be yet my nephew. My brother hath a daughter,
Almost the copy of my child that’s dead,
And she alone is heir to both of us.
Give her the right you should have giv’n her cousin,
And so dies my revenge.

Claudio agrees to do this and, despite this, I am still annoyed with him. What a foolish, silly man.

Benedick, meanwhile, tells Beatrice that he made good on his promise to her.

BENEDICK
[…] But I must tell thee plainly, Claudio undergoes my challenge, and either I must shortly hear from him, or I will subscribe him a coward. And I pray thee now tell me, for which of my bad parts didst thou first fall in love with me?

BEATRICE
For all of them together, which maintained so politic a state of evil that they will not admit any good part to intermingle with them. But for which of my good parts did you first suffer love for me?

BENEDICK
Suffer love! A good epithet. I do suffer love indeed, for I love thee against my will.

It’s nice to know that Beatrice and Benedick still have the same chemistry they had at the beginning of this play. I love them together more than I can say.

At the second wedding, Claudio finds himself facing a masked bride. But – surprise! – it’s actually Hero.

CLAUDIO
Another Hero!

HERO
Nothing certainer.
One Hero died defiled, but I do live,
And surely as I live, I am a maid.

PRINCE
The former Hero! Hero that is dead!

LEONATO
She died, my lord, but whiles her slander lived.

That’s right, idiots. Honestly, if I were Hero, I would have kicked Claudio’s ass to the curb. But, as I’ve mentioned three thousand times already, I am no Hero.

BENEDICK
[…] Which is Beatrice?

BEATRICE, [unmasking]
I answer to that name. What is your will?

BENEDICK
Do not you love me?

BEATRICE
Why no, no more than reason.

BENEDICK
Why then, your uncle and the Prince and Claudio
Have been deceived. They swore you did.

BEATRICE
Do not you love me?

BENEDICK
Troth, no, no more than reason.

BEATRICE
Why then, my cousin, Margaret, and Ursula
Are much deceived, for they swear you did.

BENEDICK
They swore that you were almost sick for me.

BEATRICE
They swore that you were well-nigh dead for me.

BENEDICK
‘Tis no such matter. Then you do not love me?

BEATRICE
No, truly, but in friendly recompense.

Oh, these two! We saw such tenderness between them, but that was only because they were alone. Claudio and Hero end this useless back and forth by producing love sonnets written by both Beatrice and Benedick.

BENEDICK
A miracle! Here’s our own hands against our hearts. Come, I will have thee, but by this light I take thee for pity.

BEATRICE
I would not deny you, but by this good day, I yield upon great persuasion, and partly to save your life, for I was told you were in a consumption.

Hilariously, Beatrice and Benedick agree to marry out of pity for one another. But you can just feel the giddiness and affection radiating off the pages of this play.

Everything has ended happily, with our sharp tongued heroine and our proud hero in love and set to be married. But what of Don John?

MESSENGER, [to Prince]
My lord, your brother John is ta’en in flight,
And brought with armed men back to Messina.

BENEDICK, [to Prince]
Think not on him till tomorrow.

Everything must truly be as it should, because everybody is back to not giving a shit about Don John. Better luck next time, you silly bastard.

This play was such a balm to my soul – it sounds a little unusual, I know, but it really was. I go through phases where I feel cripplingly lonely. But I saw so much of myself in Beatrice, and hey, if it can work out for her, then maybe there’s hope for myself and all the other sharp-tongued girls out there.

I should be starting Julius Caesar next, but I am afraid that I’ve been tempted by a fluffy, empty romance novel. I promise I’ll be back, but only because I’ll want to complain about how much I hate tragedies.