The first scene of this play has three parts: The Wedding/Shaming, the Friar’s counsel, and Benedick and Beatrice revealing their affections. Let’s begin!
I think the most important thing to note with Claudio and Don Pedro in this scene is that they make a petition that no one trust their eyes to Hero’s innocence. Yet, the ground on which they base their scorn is rooted in their sense of sight. Shakespeare often uses the image of poison when he sculpts the speeches of his Iago’s, and I think the image fits well here–they are poisoned by their sight to see the truth of the blushing and innocent Hero.
I’ve seen many renditions of this play, and I usually have one particular qualm with many of them–they cut out the Friar’s line by which we understand what his plan does. He states, “For strange sores strangely they strain the cure./Come, lady, die to live” (IV.i.251-252). Now, maybe some of you are not neurotic like me, but I stress myself out over the fact that the Friar cures a lie with lying. I’ve gotten better, mostly because of the aforementioned line, and the paradox of dying to live. Now, the scene began with Leonato not wishing the Friar to catechize the duties of being husband and wife prior to their actual wedding. What is a wedding but a death to self, two becoming one flesh? While I feel unable to reconcile the whole “lying” aspect of the Friar, I think back to the Catholic Church printing off fake baptismal records to Jews in WWII. It helps me sleep at night.
Ah, and now for everyone’s favorite part. If it isn’t, it ought to be. And…I’m just going to quote my thesis again. Sorry folks!
“Their moment alone goes well, until Beatrice calls Benedick to prove his love in action, by killing Claudio. Benedick’s initial response is no, because she is asking him to forsake his previous office under the service of the Prince Don Pedro and to forsake his friendship for Claudio. The action she calls him to is a renunciation of self. She is enraged by his response, because his profession of love for her is not to be demonstrated by himself and his own interests for the sake of his love for Beatrice and her request. Then he relents and obeys her call to action, using his hand as a testimony of his promise to challenge Claudio for the dignity of Hero’s honor. He states, “Enough, I am engaged: I will challenge him. I will kiss your hand, and so I leave you. By this hand, Claudio shall render me a dear account. As you hear of me, so think of me”(IV.i.329-332). In their first conversation, not only do they profess their feelings for one another, but Beatrice submits to her role as a woman, while Benedick submits to her call for him to act. In the time allotted by the Friar for the truth about Hero to be revealed, the fruition of Don Pedro’s intentions behind his deception for Benedick and Beatrice’s good comes to be—they communicate and humble themselves in “a mountain of affection the one with the other.””
Finally, I leave you with this…
Oh that he were here to write me down an ass! But masters, remember that I am an ass: though it be not written down, yet forget not that I am an ass. (IV.ii.74-77)