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MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.
This admirable comedy used to be frequently acted till of late years. Mr. Garrick's Benedick was one of his most celebrated characters; and Mrs. Jordan, we have understood, played Beatrice very delightfully. The serious part is still the most prominent here, as in other instances that we have noticed. Hero is the principal figure in the piece, and leaves an indelible impression on the mind by her beauty, her tenderness, and the hard trial of her love. The passage in which Claudio first makes a confession of his affection towards her conveys as pleasing an image of the entrance of love into a youthful bosom as can well be imagined.
"Oh, my lord,
Than to drive liking to the name of love ;
In the scene at the altar, when Claudio, urged on by the villain Don John, brings the charge of incontinence against her, and as it were divorces her in the very marriage-ceremony, her appeals to her own conscious innocence and honour are made with the most affecting simplicity.
"Claudio. No, Leonato,
Hero. And seem'd I ever otherwise to you?
Claudio. Out on thy seeming, I will write against it: You seem to me as Dian in her orb, As chaste as is the bud ere it be blown; But you are more intemperate in your blood Than Venus, or those pamper'd animals That rage in savage sensuality.
Hero. Is my lord well, that he doth speak so wide?
Leonato. Are these things spoken, or do I but dream?
John. Sir, they are spoken, and these things are true.
Benedick. This looks not like a nuptial.
Hero. True! O God!"—
The justification of Hero in the end, and her restoration to the confidence and arms of her lover, is brought about by one of those temporary consignments to the grave of which Shakespear seems to have been fond. He has perhaps explained the theory of this predilection in the following lines:—
"Friar. She dying, as it must be so maintain'd,
The principal comic characters in Much Ado About Nothing, Benedick and Beatrice, are both essences in their kind. His character as a woman-hater is admirably supported, and his conversion to matrimony is no less happily effected by the pretended story of Beatrice's love for him. It is hard to say which of the two scenes is the best, that of the trick which is thus practised on Benedick, or that in which Beatrice is prevailed on to take pity on him by overhearing her cousin and her maid declare (which they do on purpose) that he is dying of love for her. There is something delightfully picturesque in the manner in which Beatrice is described as coming to hear the plot which is contrived against herself—
"For look where Beatrice, like a lapwing, runs Close by the ground, to hear our conference."
In consequence of what she hears (not a word of which is true) she exclaims when these goodnatured informants are gone,
"What fire is in mine ears? Can this be true?
Stand I condemn'd for pride and scorn so much? Contempt, farewell ! and maiden pride adieu!
No glory lives behind the back of such. And, Benedick, love on, I will requite thee;
Taming my wild heart to thy loving hand; If thou dost love, my kindness shall incite thee
To bind our loves up in an holy band: For others say thou dost deserve; and I Believe it better than reportingly."
And Benedick, on his part, is equally sincere in his repentance with equal reason, after he has heard the grey-beard, Leonato, and his friend, "Monsieur Love," discourse of the desperate state of his supposed inamorata.
"This can be no trick; the conference was sadly borne. —They have the truth of this from Hero. They seem to pity the lady; it seems her affections have the full bent. Love me! why, it must be requited. I hear how I am censur'd: they say, I will bear myself proudly, if I perceive the love come from her; they say too, that she will rather die than give any sign of affection.—I did never think to marry: I must not seem proud:—happy are they that hear their detractions, and can put them to mending. They say, the lady is fair; 'tis a truth, I can bear them witness: and virtuous ;—'tis so, I cannot reprove it: and wise—but for loving me :—by my troth it is no addition to her wit;— nor no great argument of her folly, for I will be horribly in love with her.—I may chance to have some odd quirks and remnants of wit broken on me, because I have rail'd so long against marriage: but doth not the appetite alter? A man loves the meat in his youth, that he cannot endure in his age.—Shall quips, and sentences, and these paper bullets of the brain, awe a man from the career of his humour? No: the world must be peopled. When I said, I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married.— Here comes Beatrice: by this day, she's a fair lady: I do spy some marks of love in her."
The beauty of all this arises from the characters of the persons so entrapped. Benedick is a professed and staunch enemy to marriage, and gives very plausible reasons for the faith that is in him. And as to Beatrice, she persecutes him all day with her jests (so that he could hardly think of being troubled with them at night) she not only turns him but all other things into jest, and is proof against every thing serious.