Should Claudio be forgiven so easily?
After making such a public, cruel, unfounded accusation, it comes as a surprise that Claudio is not only forgiven, but reconciles with Hero so swiftly. Shakespeare’s original text does not give the matter much stage time, saying they will “to the chapel” (Act 5, Scene 4), before moving on quickly to Benedick and Beatrice’s love story. Modern productions, such as James Evans’ 2019 production for Bell Shakespeare, address this moment with more scrutiny. In this production, Hero slapped Claudio across the face, and while she reconciled with him, it was clear that it was not going to be an instant forgiveness on her part. Interestingly, in the 2005 BBC Shakespeare Re;Told version of Much Ado About Nothing, the character of Hero (played by Billie Piper) did not forgive Claudio, and chose to be single at the conclusion of the story.
What is the history between Beatrice and Benedick prior to the play?
Obviously this is not their first encounter. At the start of the play Beatrice enquires about Benedick amongst the soldiers whom are said to be on their way to Messina, and her family and friends tease her about her past with Benedick. Shakespeare drops lots of hints about something between the two in the past, but is careful to never reveal too much. Why is there so much animosity between them? Is it all fake? The most interesting thing is that these are questions that productions and performers get to answer. Shakespeare is not prescriptive and it is these ambiguities that enable his work to be endlessly reimagined.
It is interesting to note, however, the differences this helps to highlight between Beatrice and Benedick’s relationship, and that of Claudio and Hero. Beatrice and Benedick seem to almost sit outside the stifling conventions of love and marriage to which the other couple must adhere. Obviously Shakespeare is using these two relationships to compare the nature of love but the fact that these two couplings are allowed to exist in the same world in the play is almost fantastical. The rules of wooing and courtship are slavishly adhered to for Hero and Claudio, and there seems nothing in the world as important as Hero’s chastity. But not only is the rule book thrown out the window for Beatrice and Bendick’s relationship (by both them and their friends), there is no question whatsoever of Beatrice’s ‘purity’. The kind of mature, raw, broad-minded, thoroughly modern relationship that Shakespeare portrays between Beatrice and Benedick not only serves as a foil to the other marriage in the play, but seems to transcend the values of the very world in which it exists.