This Friday we will be looking at the culminating scene of Much Ado About Nothing, the wedding scene. For those of you that don’t know, this is when Claudio publicly shames Hero at the altar for her alleged infidelity. Afterwards, Beatrice talks with Benedick and delivers some of her most powerful lines. Beatrice expresses her frustration at being a woman and what that means in these situations.
Being a woman in the era of #MeToo, I found myself drawn to this scene as a sort of catharsis for my own feelings. In many ways, Beatrice put words to my feelings better than I could myself. In fact, I have tried to write this blog a few times to contextualize my feelings on the subject, but I kept getting hung up on one big problem: Hero faces a false allegation. In addition, Claudio had multiple witnesses to corroborate his story. It’s not even a he said/she said. How can my feelings about a movement all about believing victims of sexual assault be summed up by a response to a false allegation? I don’t know, but it does. Just know that I am aware of this fact as a move forward and look at the feelings Beatrice expresses. I can, of course, only speak for myself, but I think a lot of women can share these feelings.
Men will be believed over women.
“he is now as valiant as Hercules that only tells a lie and swears it”
While I can understand why Claudio was ultimately believed, what Beatrice expressed resonates deeply. This liar, because he is a man, will still be treated as a hero despite his horrible behavior. Hero has never given anyone a reason to doubt her, but she is immediately assumed to be promiscuous. Women bringing forward allegations today face the same hurdle. In an attempt to uphold innocent until proven guilty, women are often treated as liars until proven true. The problem is that sexual assault tends not to happen in front of a bunch of witnesses. In situations of he said/she said, he is almost always believed over she. It can be difficult as a woman to know that you probably won’t be believed if you speak out.
Men need to be allies.
“You dare easier be friends with me than fight with mine enemy”
Benedick wants to get on Beatrice’s good side. He offers to do anything for her, but, as soon as she asks him to confront Claudio, he would suddenly rather just be friends. This isn’t good enough for Beatrice and that is understandable. When talking with women, most men will express support of the #MeToo movement. However, when it comes to speaking out and confronting other men, especially their friends, most men will fall short. It’s understandable. It can be difficult to confront friends, but to make real progress, these confrontations have to happen.
Women are not allowed to and/or expected to be the fighters.
“Oh that I were a man! I would eat his heart in the marketplace.”
We women are not expected to make a scene or be aggressive. It’s why some women end up being victims of sexual assault. Beatrice is not in a position to fight for her cousin. That would be a man’s job, but there is no man willing to do it. This is a sentiment that women still face today. Even when speaking about horrible things that happened, women are expected to remain composed or be labelled as hysterical. Then, there is the sentiment that victims should just get over it. It can make one feel powerless.
Again, these are my personal feelings, but I think it’s important to look at Shakespeare both in the context of the time it was written and in our current time. For me, Much Ado About Nothing feels extremely relevant to what is going on today.
What Shakespeare plays feel most relevant to you today? What scenes or speeches provide you with catharsis?