Feb 17, 10
Read from February 15 to 16, 2010
I’ve always found feistiness attractive. It’s probably the only consistent trait in the girls I’ve fallen for since high school. The clever retort, the unimpressed eye roll, the sarcastic aside: for better or worse, these are the things the pique my interest and prepare me for that unique form of suffering known as love. On my own, I’m hardly confident or witty enough to succeed in one-on-one situations with women who are shy or generally unforthcoming. I need someone to throw down the gauntlet and challenge me to emerge from my self-absorbed, overly-staid default setting. I need a Beatrice.
Beatrice, Beatrice, Beatrice. She represents the most extreme range of feistiness that I’ve encountered in my romantic life; I’ve known two like her, and let’s just say that neither are my wife. I realize that, confined by the necessities of a comedic ending, Shakespeare ‘reforms’ both Beatrice and Benedick. In real life, however, there’s usually no such reformation, and while I shrink from suggesting that this type of extreme personality is antithetical to extended relationships, I have no doubt that it’s not for me in the long run. This isn’t to say that Beatrice’s personality no longer spins me around. It does and it has: I have a crush on Beatrice.
So it’s a small, playful crush, you’re thinking. Ah! but she’s more than just a well-timed bon mot. She has layers and a past deftly intimated. She’s been hurt, but she doesn’t let this trap her into the usual insecurities and vulnerabilities of a stock character. She rises above it and, if we disallow some mean-spirited trickery from her friends, I have no doubt that she’d forget Benedick as easily as I’ve forgotten loves long past*. Regardless, I’m sure she continues abusing Benedick verbally for years to come while, if his friends’ jests are to be seen as prophecy, she ends up giving him the horns (with me) after he returns to his flighty, bacheloresque ways. And anyway, I’ve a suspicion that some of Shakespeare’s comedies are more enjoyable if you simply disregard or adjust the ending when it doesn’t quite feel appropriate.
I’m not the only one in the room with a crush on Beatrice though. For starters, I need to compete with the Bard himself, who’s so enamored with his creation that he allows her to entirely overshadow (and occasionally speak for) the ironically named Hero. Plot-mover she may be; Hero is still a timid little thing who offers us very little personality or justification for compassion. In a way this is a smart move by Shakespeare, as it keeps the darker aspects of the play in check: without a large investment in either Hero or Claudio, we take their misfortunes in stride and are allowed the illusion of lightness in a play that’s brimming with calculated villainy.
While I’m temporarily distracted from thoughts of Bea, I’ll go ahead and discuss another character worthy of mention, Dogberry. He plays the hit-or-miss role of the clown, but he rises above the cringing due to a goofy habit that's been inspirational for modern writers. Both David Foster Wallace and Jonathan Safran Foer have made a practice of substituting incorrect but generally more difficult words in the dialogue of ill-spoken characters for comedic effect, which is exactly what Shakespeare does with Dogberry. So I must apologize to William for failing to give credit where it’s due in past reviews. But where was I? Oh! Beatrice. Beatrice, Beatrice, Beatrice.
*I’ve avoided the doghouse, right?