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How Does Shakespeare Ensure That Benedick's Conversion (from a Man Who Swore He Would ‘Die a Bachelor’ Into a Man ‘Horribly in Love’) Is an Amusing and Entertaining Change of Heart for the Audience?

  • Date Submitted: 06/17/2010 10:48 AM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 53.7 
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How does Shakespeare ensure that Benedick’s conversion (from a man who swore he would ‘die a bachelor’ into a man ‘horribly in love’) is an amusing and entertaining change of heart for the audience?
Benedick is the character in the play that most fits the Elizabethan stereotype of the scared bachelor fearful of cuckoldry. “That a woman conceived me, I thank her” Benedick acknowledges women for the good part they have played in his life. “I will do myself to trust none”, although he still has a deep distrust for women. And so he declares, “I will live a bachelor”. Up until his conversion, he sets himself up higher and higher as a misogynist, only to make it more humiliating and amusing for the audience when he so renounces his reputation. Shakespeare uses various techniques to make this a very comic scene to the audience.
Firstly, the main reason we seem to find the situation humorous is because of the sense of superiority the character gives the audience. For example, unlike Benedick, we know that he is being gulled, and find it funny that he should be tricked so easily when he sets himself up to be such an intelligent man, set in his ways in the previous scenes. The knowledge that he will inevitably be humiliated makes it even more comical. Having been ranting to himself just a few minutes ago about how he will never marry, using phrases such as how a man could “become the argument of his own scorn by falling in love”, accusing such men (as Claudio) of becoming boring by preferring to listen to the “tabor and pipe” rather than the “drum and fife” and how love would “never make me such fool”. He does wonder if he could ever be converted to love (“may I be so converted and see with these eyes?”), then quickly dismisses the idea with a witty analogy about oysters (“I will not be sworn but love may transform me to an oyster”), with oysters being a silly, low being that he would rather become than fall in love. Moreover, when he describes the ‘perfect woman’, saying...

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