So when Beatrice requests, then demands, then implores Benedick to “kill Claudio” (IV.i.288) in Act Four, Scene One of Much Ado About Nothing, we see a rhetorical preview to another strong female character, one we’ll see a little later in the project: Lady Macbeth.
After Benedick initially denies her request, she states,
Princes and counties! Surely, a princely testimony, a goodly count, Count Comfect, a sweet gallant, surely! 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, valor 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.
Beatrice repeatedly states her desire to be a man (“O that I were a man” three times). She has no patience for words, “courtesies… (and) compliment(s),” and the “melted” manhood of the males she sees around her; instead she wants action–like “eating (Claudio’s) heart in the market-place.” (and doesn’t that put a new and different light on her earlier statement that should would eat all of Benedick’s killings in the war!) She knows that she cannot become a man, however, so she resigns herself to “die a woman with grieving.”
Compare this to Lady Macbeth’s invocation after reading her husband’s letter, detailing the witches’ prophecy:
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty!
- Macbeth, I.v.39-42
While Beatrice merely wishes for manhood, Lady Macbeth takes action, invoking witches to turn her into a man. Lady Macbeth equates manhood with “cruelty,” but how cruel? She explains to her husband:
What beast was’t, then,
That made you break this enterprise to me?
When you durst do it, then you were a man;
And, to be more than what you were, you would
Be so much more the man. Nor time nor place
Did then adhere, and yet you would make both:
They have made themselves, and that their fitness now
Does unmake you. I have given suck, and know
How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me:
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums,
And dash’d the brains out, had I so sworn as you
Have done to this.
- Macbeth, I.vii.47-59
She says that she has had a baby in the past, and nursed it herself. Even in that tender moment, she would have pulled the babe from her breast and “dash’d (its) brains out.” To take a distinctly feminine act (nursing a baby) and turning it into violence, this is what being a “man” means to Lady Macbeth. She, too, has no trust in “sworn” words; she demands action from her man.
In the end, both get their men to do their bidding. And from what I’ve seen, Beatrice and Benedick, and Lord and Lady Macbeth (from memory only at this point), seem to me to be two of the happiest couples I’ve found in the Canon. So what does this say about relationships in general?
Something to think about.