Updated: Jan 26
The life of an individual, one who is not endowed with any large amount of wealth or mythological powers, can, from time to time, seem stagnant, crude, and staid. It is not apparent if one’s life is boring merely out of functions outside of one’s control, or out of unwise decisions of the individual. William Shakespeare wrote many great plays; one of these is Much Ado About Nothing which primarily deals in the love affairs of Benedick and Beatrice. Such a tale is situated at a certain time and a certain place. Of the many elements which contribute to the play is its eternal structure and how that takes on interaction with the personal viewpoint and time period of Shakespeare. Much Ado About Nothing is a universally true work of literature unbounded by time.
Certain truths are, due to their huge greatness, near an impossibility to articulate. Language, as it is often said, is bounded and limited just as the individual is limited. How must one confront this? To what ends must one reach to solve this difficulty? Over time it has been recognized, partly through life’s constant encapsulation in it and partly from reasons unknown to man, that the story, the narrative, or the drama, (or whatsoever name one would find fit to give it), is one of the only ways to articulate the greatest ideas. Furthermore, the articulation of such ideas in what shall be called “textual language”--for example, this essay is textually related; it is not a story--is generally language that would be given to the analysis of a story. A story, then, uses symbols for its mode of bringing out ideas. For instance, one may have heard it asked whether they think in images or words. A good question indeed this is, but, in all lost hope, it misses the mark. Human beings think in words about images, and images are put in words through stories. All three, therefore, are one and the same. One cannot have words without the story for which the language is used to describe; the story cannot have existence without the symbols for which it represents. All textual language is merely a hammer that beats, attempts to damage, wills to destroy the symbols and stories. For, of course, humans are indeed fallen (even the atheists, when asked enough questions, will, to his own chagrin, have to admit to the unfulfilled state of present humanity).
In light of this, it is important to recognize the error one commits when they kill, or attempt to kill, the usefulness of narrative because of the narrative’s boundedness by place and time. Much Ado About Nothing is indeed bound in a place and time. For example, it is bound by the language: English speakers no longer regularly talk in such a fashion. A “poniard” was a name for a sort of dagger; and as such, this binds the play to the understanding of a poniard (2.2.244). A “tabor and pipe” are references restricted by their time period as well (2.3.15). The fact that the play takes place in Messina and the details of the war just fought can also limit the reader and interpreter and likewise can limit the influence of the play. The characters are bound in the time which Shakespear assigns them, and are bound to the place he assigns them. And this is certainly, the foremost objection to the story’s universality. However, considering the discussion previously given on language, one recognizes the fault in this argument. The story must be put in a place and time, for it toes--so to speak--the line of the linguistic and the imagistic; it cannot be told in a pure imagistic way, for that would be impersonal and unrelated to reality, neither can it be told in a pure linguistic way (textual), for then it would have no grounding or even existence in any sense whatsoever. Therefore, it is foolhardy to pretend that the story is not universal or that it is bounded by time due solely to its reference to place and period.
The story acts, as all good stories do, on an eternal story. When Benedick and Beatrice first interact, the reader has an undeniable impression that something is special betwixt the two. The wits, the battling, and the attention of one to another is undeniable and remarkable. As the story progresses, such things progress in a rather amiable fashion for the reader; yet, there constantly seems to be a beat, a factor, a way in which something was left out--left out, moreover, in a near purposeful way. It both raises collective curiosity and collective positivity when Beatrice declares, “I would rather hear my dog bark at a crow than hear a man swear he loves me” (1.1.129-130). Or consider the great comedy it is that Benedick suddenly decides that, “When I said I shall die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married” (2.3.245-246). Such remarks and the nature of them leave one unconvinced by the sincerity of each to not be attracted to the other. Dogs bark at crows regularly, so why should Beatrice say such a thing with the scorn apparent in her tone? Why should Benedick whimsically change his mind about marriage? These questions poke at an almost undefinable obscurity in the play.
It is true that many who have an appreciation for art find some sense of being drawn to the play, whether that is through the work’s ability to provoke positive sentiments or through a simple questioning of the principles. One does not, in this instance, have to admire the actions of the characters or wish to set their own life in such a motion. This simplistic attraction, more complex when followed with reason, is central to the narrative. “Why such a singular distinctness,” is the question reason indeed brings one to.
Throughout all of human history, whether secular or sacred history, man has to battle with purpose. For, in all honesty, this is what all the philosophers contend with: purpose. Much Ado About Nothing opens this: it is a romance, true; but it is so much more than the reconciling and building of the relationship between Benedick and Beatrice (4.1.269-350).--It is, with and without great doubt, The Human Story. By that, it is meant that it is the story to and from which individuals themselves draw meaning. To suddenly leap and grab for a religious text or doctrine at this point seems, in the modern eye, completely absurd. Yet, the modern thinker must himself answer the questions of why his philosophy deals with and is inherently religious. Using the Darwinist Machine--(by this it is meant the function by which one throws all questions difficult to answer and declares that such are answered by silly and unscientific observations)--is not a sufficient response. The secularist (or any other “nonreligious” term you shall like to use to call him) cannot say that his philosophy seems religious merely because of his evolutionary genes. No, every person must be brought to answer the questions in full or may have to admit to a faith. Therefore, the “insanity” of saying that Much Ado About Nothing is The Human Story never was such insanity in the first place; and drawing upon an eternal source to show the timelessness of the story is not, in light of this, at all a jump for reason.
This being said, it must be recognized that--with the previous having been shown (that using eternal sources recognized through history is not an invalid use of reasonable faculty)--it is beyond the scope of this writing to prove one eternal source over another. Not even will a brief defense of one belief system be warranted to be showcased here. All such defenses are given and beaten out throughout Western thinking; thus, if the reader does wish to discern for himself which belief system it seems most likely to fit the truth which they understand, then it is up to such a reader to determine that outside of this writing. From henceforth, the interpretation given shall be of a Christian position, one which leans towards a particularly Protestant viewpoint.
Because Much Ado About Nothing deals with the romance of Benedick and Beatrice, it is of great importance to recognize what draws the reader to them. The beginning quarrel fuels one’s attention to the story (1.1.114-143). So also, does each ones’ deception and confession of love (2.3.47-265; 3.1.35-122). The aspect of the appeal of the work was touched on earlier; however, the writer saw it fit to first prove the existence of eternal principles and sources as such before moving forward. Now, then, the questions of why the play is so inherently appealing to the unbiased individual will be answered here. Of course, it is recognized that intuition is and must be used here in perceiving the appeal of the play. For, as Albert Einstein observed, “The only really valuable thing is intuition” (Einstein et al. 54). Moving on from the attention the play draws, it is set to examine how and in what ways the play is universal and timeless, and how this is in direct correlation to the instinctive attractiveness.
First, through the discussion of eternal sources, it was concluded that a traditional Protestant Christian interpretation would be used. In the Bible, one of the major meta-themes is of the groom and the bride. The groom is the one who He Himself sacrifices all for the bride in order that she would be made whole, and that she would be put in a place of a loving relationship. So too, Much Ado About Nothing plays and parodies (so to speak) such a theme. Benedick is the groom and Beatrice is the bride; and such is the attraction. However, the strange and human aspect of the attraction is that Benedick himself will not sacrifice, at least at first, for Beatrice (4.1.300-305). His relationship with Claudio is as Christ’s relationship with heaven; they each had to leave that union to be united to the bride. Unlike the eternal story, Benedick is fallen and has to himself be made right before making the relationship right. Beatrice, similarly, does not fully embody the church; for she asks for such a sacrifice (4.1.303).--Humans did not ask for a sacrifice from God; rather, He freely gave despite the reluctance of even realizing a sacrifice.
It is, then, this aspect which brings along the queerness of the story, and, perhaps, an even more compelling draw. The couple in question is human, but God is not human. However, human beings are made in the likeness of God; they crave, in one sense or another, to be reconciled to something. That is why for example, man may -- nay he will make unto himself an idol. The idol is manifest in many ways and through diverse means. In Much Ado About Nothing, the reader wishes for Benedick and Beatrice’s relationship to be perfect, just as the marriage of Christ and the church is perfect. This is, indeed, the strange curiosity that even the readers who most love the play will feel when reading it. Moreover, it is this aspect that gives the story a fallen, human, broken taste. It also relates to the universality and timelessness of the One Wedding story of Christ and the Church. Both can be seen when Benedick says, “I love nothing in the world so well as you. Is not that strange?” (4.1.281-282). Inside this one declaration is Benedick’s human love: he is like Christ in that he loves the bride more than anything in the world, but unlike in that he thinks it strange. Likewise, Beatrice omits that, “I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest,” (4.1.300-301). This is how the Church responds to Christ after His sacrifice, but not before; it is half human and half eternal. Both the human and eternal parts are wrapped in Benedick and Beatrice’s relationship; this, in part, is what gives the play its obscurity.
Therefore, in one sweeping way, it appears that Much Ado About Nothing is eternal, universal, and timeless. It relates to The Human Story in diverse and unfulfilling ways: as Benedick declares to Beatrice “Thou and I are too wise to woo peaceably” (5.2.73). In the same way, Christ was not “wooed” to His church peaceably; a crucifixion is perhaps one of the most unpeaceable means. Thus, human beings, because of their likeness to the image of God, see themselves as players of the story in Much Ado About Nothing; they see themselves as actors, as if the story were a mere, and badly related, allegory. It is the unfulfilled Biblical Story. An incessant desire for the story to be right flows through every part of the individual who considers the narrative at length. Such a person will demand why Benedick will not “act like a man;” why Beatrice is so attached to Benedick despite his treatment of her; why Benedick, even after having the love of the woman, is hesitant to sacrifice for her; why they are unable to fully function together until the very end; why Benedick will not stop the arguments before they start; and, more than anything, why Beatrice and Benedick do not recognize that it is right that they are together. Such a conclusion can only follow all such questions: because it is in the dealing of Humans. Attempting to pressure the Eternal Marriage on this broken relationship does not work. However, this all the more attracts the reader to it. It makes it all the more timeless and universal. For, if not for some faults in the relationship, why should one not just read the Bible? And so, laying here, is where the play appeals to the reader deeply.
It is not met to bring this case down in any way. All reasonable objections the writer has thought of have been previously addressed. In short, and stated in simple terms, Much Ado About Nothing is a universal and timeless story because it mirrors the Eternal Marriage. Even though the story does not do so perfectly, that makes it all the more important. It displays the human inability to be God. By having the various defects that Benedick and Beatrice have, their relationship draws the reader even more by forcing an examination into the fact that there is, there must be, a story such as this that is perfect. To conclude this reasoning, then, Much Ado About Nothing is, in every way in which Shakespeare or any other human being could make it, a universal and timeless tale.
After a case as this has been brought forth, it merits that the individual examine himself. As in Much Ado About Nothing an individual’s life, each individual’s life, is, in some sense, eternal. Every player in this thing called life has a position; each is made in the image of God. And, if such a grand scale thing is recognized and true, then every person is not merely a player in nothingness, but a player in purpose. As demonstrated in Shakespeare’s play heretofore examined, that purpose is wrapped up in a story of imitating the eternal. Overwhelming greatness is installed into every one of those who are “made in the image of God.” It is worthwhile, therefore, to live with a purpose, even if that purpose is not fully recognized as is the case with Benedick and Beatrice. Because, when one lives as if there is no purpose or as if they are not imitating an eternal story, they do, indeed, live for the purpose of no purpose, and imitate the fool of the eternal story. Wisdom and effort are crucial to living, and living is a meaningful thing to do.
Einstein, Albert, et al. The Ultimate Quotable Einstein. Illustrated, Princeton University
Shakespeare, William, et al. Much Ado About Nothing (Folger Shakespeare Library).
Annotated-Illustrated, Washington Square Press, 2004.
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