Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing is one of his most successful romantic comedies. It is ridiculously funny, in part because the banter is so absurd (the characters even more so), but also in part because unlike other Shakespearean comedies, there’s actually no major tragedy that ensues.
One of my favorite parts of reading Much Ado About Nothing was the delightfully witty banter between two of the main characters: Beatrice and Benedick.
I am not alone in this. Many people credit this play’s lasting success to the hilarious rapid-fire between these two characters.
The thing is, Shakespeare used a lot of slang from his time, so many of his jokes are more difficult to figure out. So, in order to get the full effect of their brilliant gibes (and trust me, you really do want to), you might need to do a bit of translation to see what they’d sound like if we said them today.
Don’t fret though—I’ve done a bit of the work for you. But of course, this means spoilers!
Read on if you want to learn how to wittily banter with someone while simultaneously courting them, according to Beatrice and Benedick.
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
—(act 1 scene 1).
If we spent a little more time crafting our insults these days, we might say this like:
- “Why are you are still talking, Benedick? Nobody is listening to you.”
- “Oh, look! It’s my Lady Disdain herself! Aren’t you dead yet?”
- “How could Lady Disdain die when there are people like you to keep disdain alive? When you’re here, even Lady Courtesy turns into Lady Disdain.”
We all want to seem really cool when we reunite with the one we love for the first time in years (or is it just me…). To do so, be sure to use “punny” jokes to insult their intelligence and demeanor. If you really want to impress someone, Benedick suggests you double the insult with some good old-fashioned name-calling. Real mature, Benedick.
I Don’t Like You More Than You Don’t Like Me
Beatrice and Benedick are fond of playing a game called, “Who is less vulnerable to love’s pains?” Or in other words: Maybe if we both act like we really loathe one another, no one will notice that we don’t. Quick, say something rude about my appearance!
Beatrice: […] I thank God and
my cold blood, I am of your humour for that. I had rather
hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves
Benedick: God keep your Ladyship still in that mind! So some
gentleman or other shall ‘scape a predestinate scratched
Beatrice: Scratching could not make it worse an ‘twere such
a face as yours were.
Today, I imagine this as something like:
- “Thank God that I don’t care about love and romance. I’d rather listen to my dog bark at a crow than hear a man swear that he loves me.”
- “Well let’s hope you stay in that frame of mind, so some poor guy can avoid getting his face scratched up.”
- “If he has a face that looks like yours, even a good scratching couldn’t make him look any worse.”
Obviously, we know that neither of these two are truly impervious to love’s charms, but it’s fun to watch them pretend to be, isn’t it?
It might seem counter-intuitive to tell the person that we’re crushing on that their face looks like a cat used it for a scratching post. But as we can see here, calling them ugly totally lets them know that you’re into them (she said, sarcastically).
I Just Came to Tell You That I Hate Talking to You
When Beatrice is told to deliver the message to Benedick that dinner is ready, she takes the moment to remind him how much she hates talking to him—because obviously if you love someone you should definitely tell them repeatedly how much you hate being in their presence.
Benedick: You took pleasure then in the message?
Beatrice: Yea, just so much you may take upon a knife’s point,
and choke a daw withal.
— (act 2 scene 3).
This one is only self-explanatory if you know that a daw is a very small bird that eats, you guessed it, a very small amount of food.
Beatrice is saying something like the following:
- I enjoyed telling you that dinner was ready about as much as it would take to make a daw choke.
Ooh, Elizabethan burn! As you can see, Shakespeare is the perfect guy to go to when you need a little inspiration for some good old-fashioned insults to mask your undying love for someone. Because if it worked for them… just kidding. I don’t think you should try this at home.
But all joking aside, Much Ado About Nothing is filled with romantic relationships that are really complicated.
Beatrice and Benedick’s relationship is no exception. Their fears and insecurities cause the two to push one another away, but their game of wits shows them to be compatible in their intelligence, humor, and wit. They eventually admit their love to one another with the help of meddling from their friends and well-timed letter reading, as only characters in a play can.
I for one, am happy for these two lovebirds.