Today we are looking another one of my favorite literary characters, Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing.
Though not one of the most popular plays, it is by far my favorite. One major reason why is Beatrice. Besides the fact that Beatrice is an example of how feminism existed even in the 16th century, her story shows that a woman can be both strong and vulnerable. (Benedick has his own virtues that we can discuss another time)
She and Benedick are the sarcastic comedy relief in the play. When asked about when she will find herself a husband she responds:
He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man. And he that is more than a youth is not for me, and he that is less than a man – I am not for him.
In fact, when it comes to Benedick, her romantic interest, her words are harsher:
Beatrice: A dear happiness to women. They would else have been troubled with a pernicious suitor. I thank God and my cold blood I am of your humor for that. I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me.
Benedick: God keep your Ladyship still in that mind, so some gentleman or other shall ‘scape a predestinate scratched face.
Beatrice: Scratching could not make it worse ‘twere such a face as yours were.
Benedick: Well, you are a rare parrot-teacher
Beatrice: Well a bird of my tongue is better than a beast of yours
Benedick: I would my horse had the speed of your tongue and so good a continuer, but keep your way, i‘ God’s name, I have done.
Beatrice: You always end with a jade’s trick. I know you of old.
(As a side note, when I pulled out my very old worn out book to find this exchange, I found that 19-year-old Diana had already marked this section for me. Go her!!)
And yet for all that strength, she is incredibly vulnerable. She is a commitment phobic, she doesn’t just go running into Benedick’s arms after her family has played matchmaker. She expresses most of her vulnerability when she expresses her frustration about Hero’s honor being ruined:
O that I were a man for his sake! or that I had any friend would be a man for my sake! But manhood is melted into courtesies, valour into compliment, and men are only turned into tongue, and trim ones too: he is now as valiant as Hercules that only tells a lie and swears it. I cannot be a man with wishing, therefore I will die a woman with grieving.
Complicated women like Beatrice make excellent Fierce Femmes. Have a woman from history, literature that you would like to nominate? Contact me!