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julia999's avatar

Need help interpreting Shakespeare's play "Much Ado About Nothing"?

Asked by julia999 (343points) October 29th, 2010

I’m currently studying the play and I’m confused about the last scene towards the very end. My exam is quite soon and Shakespeare decided to include the following lines in the conclusion of the play, I assume that they are significant.

Benedick says “For thy part, Claudiom I did think to have beaten thee; but n that thou art like to be my kinsman, live unbruised and love my cousin.”

Does Benedick mean that he nearly beat Claudio by not becoming married and risking cuckoldry, or that he expected to beat Claudio had they dueled?

Claudio replies: “I had well hoped thou wouldst have denied Beatrice, that I might have cudgelled thee out of thy single life, to make thee a double-dealer; which out of question thou wilt be, if my cousin do not look exceedingly narrowly to thee.”

According to the commentary, “double-dealer” refers to being both a married man and an unfaithful husband. But whatever could Claudio mean by this? If Benedick had denied Beatrice, how would that have kept him from being single?

Or is he referring to the very beginning of Beatrice and Benedick’s relationship that is hinted at throughout the play (i.e. is Claudio admitting that it was he who had dissuaded Benedick from marrying Beatrice in the first place by encouraging him to play around?) Then again, the term “double-dealer” implies that he is married, so I don’t think this explanation is correct.

Your help would be very much appreciated!

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8 Answers

Foolaholic's avatar

Have you ever heard of Sparknote’s No-Fear Shakespeare? It gives the original text side-by-side with a modern translation of the dialog, making it much easier to analyze. That link there is for the play you’re working on.

Blueroses's avatar

One possible interpretation:
Benedick is “married” to his military career and the single life. His male comrades (The Prince and Claudio) are constantly prodding Benedick about his playing the field with women and if he were to marry he would be cheating on his camaraderie.
Claudio’s last line is one more “let’s not let go of this joke”
As in, “Who are you trying to fool, old soldier? I’d have beaten you in a duel, you’d have remained wed to the battlefield. If Beatrice doesn’t keep a sharp eye out, you will forget which is your true wife.”

Benedick’s response: “Come, come, we are friends.” is his saying “Enough already. I could answer you with wit but love has changed my perspective. That old jest ends here.”

julia999's avatar

Yes I have heard of Sparksnotes, I have already read what they have to say. According to them:

And Claudio—though I’m sure I would have beaten you in our duel—since you’re likely to become my relative, I’ll let you go, unbruised, and love my cousin Hero.

I was sort of hoping you would say no to Beatrice, so that I could have smacked you out of your single life and made you a double dealer. Which you’ll probably turn into anyway, if my cousin Beatrice doesn’t keep you on a short leash.

julia999's avatar


I did not think that Claudio could be referring to their duel as well. Certainly the last part of “If Beatrice doesn’t keep a sharp eye out, you will forget which is your true wife” would be an interesting one to use in an analysis, for as you said, his reply could indicate that love has changed his perspective.

However, I still find it strange that by denying Beatrice, Benedick is becoming married and an adulterer. But if he hadn’t “discontinu[ed]” his company with the men, Claudio would have been able to keep Beatrice ‘married’ to his life as a soldier and the “self-professed tyrant” to women he was originally. Is this what you meant?

Blueroses's avatar

Yes. That’s exactly it.
Benedick was a tyrant to the fairer sex because he was wed to his brethren in combat. He would always choose to be with his comrades over any “lover” connection. When all of his “brothers” left in the issue of Hero’s innocence, he stayed contrary to expectations, allied with Beatrice… hence, cuckolding himself and cheating on his first marriage.

julia999's avatar

Thanks for your help.
I’m very excited about the exam, I can’t wait to see what passages I have to write on!

Blueroses's avatar

@julia999 I’m a Shakespeare fanatic and Much Ado was the first play my parents ever took me to see performed live (I memorized that play from the Public Library audio tapes at age 8), so it’s dear to my heart. You might have guessed I did my class paper for 300 level on the undertones of Benedick and Beatrice. It is still my favorite, and, I think, a better commentary on relationships than any other play.
Good luck on your exam!

julia999's avatar

The first one I read was Romeo and Juliet, and I disliked it – my interpretation that Shakespeare focused on ‘true love’ all the time, but I couldn’t be more wrong. The following year we studied Macbeth and I fell in love with the play, and once I realised that Shakespeare explored such a diverse range of themes my appreciation soared.

Much Ado About Nothing is the third play that I have read and it is my favourite so far, though I found a Midsommer Night’s Dream and The Taming of the Shrew at a 2nd hand book store, so as soon as my high school studies are over I’ll be turning my attention to them.

Thank you, I’m sure I will enjoy writing it! I just watched the film again, it’s a pity about the casting of Don John.

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