In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, the famous British poet William Blake wrote that without contraries there is no progression – Attraction and repulsion, reason and imagination, and love and hate are all necessary for human existence (Blake 122). As Blake noted, the world is full of opposites. But, more importantly, these opposites allow the people of the world to see themselves and their thoughts more clearly.
For, as Blake asserts, without attraction, one cannot understand repulsion, and without imagination, one cannot understand reason. In Much Ado About Nothing (MAAN), William Shakespeare uses this idea of the power of opposites to show the differences in two types of love. Using the relationship, language, and actions of Hero and Claudio as a foil against those of Beatrice and Benedick, Shakespeare has painted a world in which the ideas of courtly love only serve to illuminate those of true love.
In an essay on Chaucers Canterbury Tales, William Kittredge defined the idea of courtly love that is illustrated in MAAN. Kittredge said that courtly love must involve a love that is extremely idealized and superficial, with the vassal or servant-like suitor, who is often a valiant knight, devoting himself completely to an ideal woman who is often the daughter of a powerful man (Kittredge 528-529). When this definition is applied to the relationship between Hero and Claudio in MAAN, one is able to recognize a perfect match.
For example, Claudio, a young lord of Florence, is a valiant soldier as is shown in the first scene of the play with the comments made by the Messenger: [Claudio] hath borne himself beyond the promise of his age, doing in the figure of a lamb the feats of a lion (Shakespeare 1. 1. 11-12). He is, from the very beginning of the play, hopelessly in love with Hero, but that love is a relatively superficial thing. This is proven by the fact that he easily believes others comments about her and even goes so far as saying that she knows the heat of a luxurious bed and refusing to marry her based solely on false allegations made by other characters.
Hero, just like her suitor, follows the model, at least in the eyes of Claudio, of the perfect ideal woman. Even though Benedick does not like her and thinks that she is too low… , too brown… , too little… , [and] unhandsome (Shakespeare 1. 1. 138-141), Claudio thinks that she is the sweetest lady that ever [he] looked on (Shakespeare 1. 1. 151-152). Throughout the play, Hero is a model of speechless modesty. She has very little to say or do in the play except live up to the expectations of the courtly lover.
For example, rather than violently or angrily objecting to the false accusations made against her by Claudio at the alter, she, as would be considered proper for the ideal woman, only swoons, blushes, and blanches. If Claudio and Hero can be accepted as the perfect models of courtly love, than Beatrice and Benedicks love is easily proven as a flawless example of true love both through an understanding of their characters as well as their interaction. Benedick, a young lord of Padua, is, like Claudio, a gallant gentleman, but this is where their similarities cease.
Benedick is baffled by the emotions which seize him whenever he sees Beatrice, but, unlike Claudio, he does not rely on the definitions of courtly love to explain them. Even though he seems to like to interact with Beatrice using witty and absurd statements, he does not object when Claudio and Don Pedro tell him of Beatrices supposed love for him. In fact, when he spies Beatrice approaching, he calls her virtuous, intelligent, and a fair lady (Shakespeare 2. 3. 217).
This true love and true relationship causes him to become physically sick with love in the possibility of her rejection, something that Claudio would never have to endure. But he recovers from this love sickness (or the toothache as he calls it) and does express his love for Beatrice and eventually, at the end of the play, marries her (Shakespeare 3. 2. 18). Beatrice, unlike Hero, does not get lost in the conventions of the ideal woman, and, therefore becomes the true lover.
This becomes apparent not so much through a study of her character, but through an analysis of her interaction or merry war with Benedick. At the beginning of the play, Beatrice and Benedick constantly rattle and torment each other. Benedick says that Hero speaks poniards, and every word stabs, and Beatrice obviously believes the same of him. But, only through an understanding of the language under the merry war does their true love become apparent, as is shown when Beatrice states: 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 a holy band; For others say thou dost deserve, and I Believe it better than reportingly. (Shakespeare 3. 2. 112-117) In this passage, Beatrice clearly shows that her disdain that she expresses for Benedick is really a way to cover up her true feelings. These true feelings rely on this cover to maintain their truth rather than become false like those of the courtly lovers.
Through the magnificent power of Shakespeares hand, a simple story that is truly Much Ado About Nothing, becomes a commentary on the idea of love. True love becomes illuminated through its reflection in its own foil – the ideals of courtly love. The true relationship of Beatrice and Benedick compared to the relationship of Claudio and Hero, gives the reader not only a better understanding of the power of the literary foil, but also a foil into which that reader can reflect and better understand himself.