Shakespeare is famously known for his plays and sonnets, he lived during the 17th Century yet his work is still constantly being celebrated, analysed and enjoyed everyday. One theme that was clear throughout many of his pieces is the theme of love; whether it be obvious or underlying, romantic or lustful. The notion of romantic love is often explored in his sonnets; a typical sonnet is 14 lines in length with a strict rhyme-scheme and also iambic pentameter, it could be suggested that the strict sonnet form is an analogy for unwavering and timeless, true love.
In contrast, in “Much Ado About Nothing” the duration of the acts and scenes vary wildly, this could be suggested to represent the different types of love that feature in the play. Much Ado About Nothing is one of Shakespeare’s most famous comedies; it is set in Messina and centres on two pairs of lovers, Beatrice and Benedick and Hero and Claudio. In the very first scene of the play the audience can already see that Beatrice has distaste for Benedick and his childish ways as she refers to him as ‘Signior Mountanto’ when asking about his well-being. We are also told that there is a ‘kind of merry war betwixt Signior Benedick and her’ by Leonato, her Uncle and soon after we see them quarrelling with each other. In contrast, during Act 1 Scene 1, Hero and Claudio seem to fall in love with each other effortlessly; even though they have not yet spoken to each other, Claudio still professes that ‘she is the sweetest lady’ that he had ever seen, this signifies that he has simply fallen in love with her for her looks and that his love for her is not genuine.
The theme of love is present throughout the entire play but sometimes it is unclear whether it is true, romantic love or simply lustful. It is seemingly obvious to their friends that Beatrice and Benedick are deeply in love without even realising it and their frequent exchanges of witty banter add a comic effect as well as demonstrate the chemistry and compatibility between the two of them. Their comments are often quick and sharp, in Act 1 Scene 1 Beatrice challenges Benedick when she says ‘I wonder that you will still be talking, Signor Benedick, nobody marks you’ however Benedick quickly retorts ‘What, my dear Lady Disdain! Are you yet living” this makes it clear to the reader that they are equal sparring partners.
As we read on it is indicated that Beatrice and Benedick had had a previous encounter of love together; while talking to Don Perdo about Benedick’s heart, she states ‘he lent it me a while, and I gave him use for it, a double heart for his single one’ this not only implies that they were romantically involved together but also that the love that she ‘gave’ to him was not reciprocated. The idea of unrequited love is also explored in Shakespeare’s sonnet 87 where he writes ‘Farewell, thou are too dear for my possessing…My bonds in thee are all determinated’ in this sonnet, the speaker seems to believe that their love interest is worth more than them, this could be in wealth or they are in a higher position of power socially, and it is also said that the bonds that attach them together have been broken, some people may say that his personal experience of unrequited love is immanent throughout the play.
Although most of Shakespeare’s sonnets are focused on romantics and the beauty of the mistress or lover, sonnet 130 portrays his love for this woman in a different light; the mistress that Shakespeare is describing is said to have ‘black wires’ growing on her head and that ‘coral is far more red than her lips’ red’ all of this implies that she is not attractive, has black course hair and pale lips; unlike most women described in poems or sonnets. Some critics have said that this sonnet satirises the poetic and social conventions of courtly love, and many others state that Beatrice and Benedick’s relationship is much like this as they openly mock each other and their love was based on deception, even if their feelings for each other are ‘true’.
However, many people believe that the final couplet at the end of Sonnet 130 reveals that the love in the piece is pragmatic rather than sarcastic, William Flesch, a famous English professor considers the sonnet to be a compliment as it does not make false comparisons, unlike many other poetic pieces of that time. This view can also relate to the realistic and down to earth relationship of Beatrice and Benedick, have a mutual trust and respect for each other and recognise each other’s flaws however they both still care greatly for each other. During Act 2, Scene 1 Beatrice describes Benedick ‘like my lady’s eldest son, evermore tattling’ when describing him to PUT BENEDICK KNOWING HER FLAWS AND DEVELOP THIS MORE.
It could be suggested that pieces of Beatrice and Benedick’s relationship are evident in many of Shakespeare’s work, especially in his romantic sonnets; in sonnets 116 love is compared to the North Star; “It is the star to every wandering bark” Love is compared to the north star because the north start is commonly known to guide lost sailors, just like how love is known to guide lost men and women. In the Elizabethan Era, it was common for women to marry young, have children and look after their family however it was socially unacceptable at the time for women to stay unmarried unless they were to join a nunnery. These ideas are reflected in the play, during the course of Act 1 it becomes clear to the audience that Benedick has no interest in getting married, as he says “Pick out my eyes with a ballad-maker’s pen, and hang me up at the door of a brothel house for the sign of blind Cupid” indicating that he believes that men are cuckolds and are always deceived by their wives. He also plans to be a bachelor forever, Beatrice also shares his beliefs on staying single and claims that she would rather hear her ‘dog bark at a crow than a man swears’ his love to her, however once they realise their love for each other, they lose those ‘lost’ beliefs and they are guided by their love for each other.
Hero and Claudio’s relationship is the only pairing that follows the stereotypical rules of courtly love; the man, Claudio, pursues the woman, Hero and their love is based on mutual attraction. Their relationship is extremely public and prominent throughout the play (however most of the audience’s attention is on the more believable relationship of Beatrice and Benedick). Claudio and Hero seem to fall in an immediate and intense love within minutes of being in each other’s presence, however their love is undoubtedly shallow and based on the lustful attraction of the young and naïve pair, however it is also clear that Claudio only cares for himself and wants to wed Hero for more selfish motives; in Act _ Scene _ Claudio enquires ‘____’ He questions about Hero’s siblings and Leonato’s inheritance rather than about Hero, her personality or the like. Claudio also states ‘lovingly’ “Can the world buy such a jewel?” when talking of Hero which shows that his interest lies in her looks, wealth and little more. Hero attempts to take the role of the perfect daughter and tries to please her father, Leonato, by going along with the wedding and getting married to the soldier she barely knows. She does not speak often throughout the play in stark contrast to her extroverted cousin, Beatrice. Hero’s silence and obedience shows the stern social boundaries that are set for her as a woman in the Elizabethan era.
In sonnet 116 Shakespeare also writes about love never changing and being constant “Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, but bears it out even to the edge of doom” This is saying that even in the roughest of conditions true love will continue and lovers will continue to love, in Much Ado About Nothing Beatrice and Benedick shows signs of true love when the wedding of Hero and Claudio is ruined and Benedick challenges Claudio to a duel in the honour of Beatrice and Hero.
In Much Ado About Nothing Act 4 Scene 1 is the first time that Beatrice and Benedick admit their true feelings to one another, in line 62 Benedick declares “I do love nothing in the world so well as you. Is that not strange?” He ends his declaration with a question because he has never felt this way before. Shakespeare uses questions in many of his sonnets; Sonnet 18’s very first line begins with a question. “ Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” The sonnet continues to talk about how the lover’s “eternal summer shall not fade” meaning her beauty and youth will last forever and in the final two lines of the sonnet, Shakespeare writes “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, So long lives and this gives life to thee” This is much like Benedick’s line later on in Act 4 Scene 1where he announces “Come, bid me do anything for thee” Benedick says this in order to try and prove to Beatrice that he is willing to do anything for her and that his feelings for her are real.