Love's Folly

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Love’s Folly


The development of the romantic relationship between Benedick and Beatrice in act II, scene iii brings home the essential plot of noting in Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing. The definitions of the types of “nothing”, or noting, are; spying or taking note of someone, eavesdropping, writing something down or recording, and music composition. In the beginning of the scene, we find Benedick talking to himself about the folly of falling in love, next he eavesdrops on a conversation between Claudio, Don Pedro, and Leonato about Beatrice being in love with him, then Benedick notes this new information and uses it to convince himself that falling in love is not as foolish as he originally thought. The folly Benedick constantly worries about is mentioned in The Praise of Folly and the nothings are mentioned in The Book of the Courtier, both of which are highly potential sources of inspiration for the themes of this play.

In the opening lines of the scene, Benedick performs a soliloquy regarding the folly of love:


I do much wonder that one man, seeing how much another man is a fool when he dedicates his behaviours to love, will, after he hath laughed at such shallow follies in others, become the argument of his own scorn by falling in love.(II.iii.8-11)

Benedick is afraid of appearing, in the eyes of others, foolish by dedicating his temperance to love. Benedick pretense is stoicism; he practices repression of emotion, indifference to pleasure or pain, in his love for Beatrice. Emotions to stoics “are diseases, [which]were given to us by nature as goads to virtue” (qtd. in Wehrs 27). Benedick laughs in scorn at such follies of others by calling Claudio a fool. He vows that if love ever makes “[an]oyster of me, he shall never make me such a fool” (II.iii.22-23). Benedick is very self-conscious and does not want others to see love make him as foolish as it has made Claudio. The Praise of Folly argues, “what appears as egocentric virility as ‘foolish’ devotion to other people is actually more significant than the scholarly quibbles and bloody worldly ambitions” (Wehrs 20). Contrary to what Benedick thinks, all the changes in behavior, fancying daintier music, and the other “follies” are actually things that matter more in life. Benedick has yet to discover this.


The Courtier depicts a sophisticated group of men and women, who discuss the qualities that should be possessed by the ideal courtier. Court ladies must be as modest and spirited, chaste yet slyly knowing, unspoiled and elegant. Courtiers must practice, what Castiglione calls, “sprezzatura”, a manipulative technique used for masking the hard work that underlies successful social performance. Beatrice is used as an example of possessing such a skill in this scene when the question of being “counterfeit” in her love for Benedick comes up. Leonato says, “There was never counterfeit of passion came so near the life of passion as she discovers it” (II.iii.98-99). We know that he is only saying this, so she is not really practicing sprezzatura however, by suggesting that, “the less she acts as though she were in love, the greater her actual capacity for loving may prove” (Collington 292). By putting on such an ostentatious performance, she uses “a certain Recklessness, to cover art withal, and . . . to do it without pain, and as it were, not minding it” (Castiglione 647). This explains how Benedick is able to understand and believe that the conversation he just heard was true because it explains her outward jests at him as a way Beatrice conceals her true passions for him.


Another theme that weaves through The Courtier and Much Ado about Nothing shows up in both soliloquies Benedick performs in this scene. In The Courtier, “Lord Gaspare’s subject for the dialogue is the ideal woman, what virtues she mus have, and what faults may be overlooked in her” (Scott 498). Benedick also defines what he wants in a woman and what doesn’t matter:


Rich she shall be, that’s certain. Wise…. Virtuous…. Fair…. Mild…. Noble…. Of good discourse, an excellent musician, and her hair shall be of whatever color it pleases God. (II.iii.26-29)

What is interesting about Benedick’s list is that all, or nearly all, of them apply directly to Beatrice and he even acknowledges this later when he recalls, “They say the lady is fair; ‘tis a truth, I can bear them witness; and virtuous; ‘tis so, I cannot reprove it; and wise, but for loving me” (II.iii.204-206). This sounds like Benedick has thought about Beatrice before this way. He is only just now making these new connections.


After his confession of Beatrice possessing all the qualities he’s looking for, Benedick admits, “I have railed so long against marriage; but doth not the appetite alter” (II.iii.209-210)? After having scoffed at the foolishness of others for settling down and getting married, he becomes the subject of his own mockery by falling in love. This is the key theme of The Praise of Folly, asking what follies a man is willing to perform to be accepted by the female society (Desiderius 20). He acknowledges, “A man loves the meat in his youth that he cannot endure in his age” (II.iii.210-211), but questions, “Shall quips and sentences and these paper bullets of the brain awe a man from the career of his humor” (II.iii.211-213)? His questioning here proves that he’s still slightly worried about what others will think, but he decides “No, The world must be peopled” (II.iii.213-214). He changes his mind and decides that the most important thing is not staying single but to devote himself to repopulating the world and he promises to “be horribly in love” with Beatrice (II.iii.207-208). This is a sign of maturity according to The Courtier. “The Courtier repeatedly asserts [that]falling in love is age-appropriate behavior . . . for a bachelor like Benedick” (Collington 298). His excuse for his new behavior is, “When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married” (II.iii.214-215). Before, he never thought he would mature and want to become a man that The Courtier suggests a man to be before he gets married, one “who continually refashions his beautiful image to fit the myriad scenes he finds in the great theatre of his world” (qtd. in Collington 297). Benedick is finally starting allow his image of the world to transform and include marriage and love as something wise, not foolish.


To folly, to be foolish and deficient in understanding, to have a weakness or derangement of the mind, to lack good sense resulting in unwise conduct, and to carry out mischievous calculated deceptions for admiration are topics which carry forth thoughtful societal ideologies from the 16th to the 21st century. In a 1960’s Paris Review interview, Robert Frost discloses, “I like to fool – oh, you know, you like to be mischievous. The whole thing is a performance and prowess and feats of association.” This behavior of hiding true emotions is a practice that continues today but, as outlined above and even mentioned in class, this kind of behavior is considered childish and immature. There is a point in life where it is right to settle down and accept that folly and love go hand in hand but it’s nothing to worry about.

Annotated List of Work Cited:

Castiglione, Count Baldassare. “The Courtier.” Trans. Sir Thomas Hoby. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, The Sixteenth Century, The Early Seventeenth Century. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006. 645-661.


Collington, Philip D. “’Stuffed with all honourable virtues’: Much Ado About Nothing and The Book of the Courtier.” Modern Philology: Critical and Historical Studies in Literature, Medieval Through Contemporary 103.3 (Summer, 2006): 281-312.


An Eighteenth-century forger William Ireland signed Shakespeare’s name in a 1603 edition of The Courtier. Why would he do this? Whatever Ireland’s motive, the association of these two authors is founded. The scene in which Benedick and Beatrice are duped into falling in love (II.iii) recall Canossa’s tale of a woman falling for a man upon hearing the opinion of many attesting to his worthiness. The play mirrors Castiglione’s appreciation for verbal wit, decorum, dancing, and music. It probes the shifting foundation of personal and social identity through characters that offer advice, debate virtues, and question wisdom regarding gender, love, marriage, and service. The book is written by Count Baldassare Castiglione, and in the play, Balthasar participates in popular courtiers’ pastimes: dancing, debating, uttering social adages, composing witticisms, and playing music. The goal is to perform those activities in a effortlessly nonchalant manner referred to as spezzatura. In accordance with spezzatura, the performer must conceal all effort and thought; as though it comes naturally.


Erasmus, Desiderius. The Praise of Folly. Trans and Ed. Robert M. Adams. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1989.

Frost, Robert. Interview with Richard Poirier. “The Art of Poetry No. 2.” The Paris Review 24 (Summer-Fall 1960): 19-38.

Cambridge, Massachusetts interview of Robert Frost in his living room. He says of certain poems that he doesn’t “want them out,” that phrase offers some peculiar evidence of the degree to which he feels in control of his poetic character. As well, it indicates his awareness that attempt to define him as a tragic philosophical poet of man and nature. He discusses where and how he writes, being cofounder of a school, his days in England from 1912 to 1915, his friendship with Ezra Pound, William Butler Yeats, Edward Thomas, T.S. Elliot, teaching Greek and Latin, personal biographical facts, being a modern poet, critics of contemporary poets, relationship of his poetry to other poetry, science and literature, specific poems, “Provide, Provide,” “The Death of the Hired Man,” “A Servant to Servants,” “The Most of It,” “The Subverted Flower,” “Putting In the Seed,” and “Birches,” reading in public, subject matter, definition of modern poetry and poetry today.


Scott, Mary Augusta. “The Book of the Courtyer: A Possible Source of Benedick and Beatrice.” Publication of the Modern Language Association of America 16.4 (1901): 475-502.

A possible source of Benedick and Beatrice is The Courtier by Count Baldassare Castiglione. It is a book regarding good breeding. It teaches minute decorum to regulate conversations, to correct depravities, and to remove grievances. The relationship to Much Ado About Nothing includes Benedick and Beatrice, who are of Italian origin. They do not belong to Hero’s story in Bandello, and fit into it loosely in Shakespeare, as if they did not belong to any story. They are detached persons, and have “just growed,” precisely as the Lord Gaspare and Lady Emilia appear in The Courtier. Comparison between the book and dialogue shows remarkable coincidences in character, action, environment, thought and language. The vividness of the representation is due to the fact that Benedick and Beatrice were originally real persons, the Lord Gaspare Pallavicino and the Lady Emilia Pia.


Shakespeare, William. “Much Ado About Nothing.” The Norton Shakespeare, Oxford Edition. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2008. 1407-1470.

Wehrs, Donald R. “Touching Words: Embodying Ethics in Erasmus, Shakespearean Comedy, and Contemporary Theory.” Modern Philology: Critical and Historical Studies in Literature, Medieval Through Contemporary 104.1 (August, 2006): 1-33.


Shakespearean comedies dramatize how Erasmian dialogues assume the task of inducing language to acknowledge one another, mutual recognition on hope of personal and communal regeneration and propagation rests. Folly argues—foolish egocentric devotion may be transferred into love of others. The cross is folly to those untouched by “foolish” transmutation of self-love into sociability through which divine grace present to us and prepares us to emulate. Folly claims that life itself is sustained by foolish love of pleasure and the lovability of folly: “What is there about babies which make us hug and kiss and fondle them? . . . Surely it’s the charm of Folly.” (Erasmus 89,90) Without some folly supplied by nature, not just sensual pleasures but also sociable affections would be impossible. Folly’s foolishness is her disregard for faults, and her aspiration for stoicism, emotional impassivity.



#1, Title page from the First Folio in 1623 of the quarto version of “Much Adoe about Nothing,” by William Shakespeare.

#2. First page from the First Folio in 1623 of “Much Adoe about Nothing,” by William Shakespeare.

#3. The Chandos portrait of William Shakespeare, National Portrait Gallery, London, England.


#4. Birthplace of William Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon, England.

#5. Gilbert, Sir John. “The Plays of William Shakespeare.” 1849.

#6. Holbein, Hans Portrait of Desiderius Erasmus. 1523. Musée du Louvre, Paris, France.

#7. Holbein, Hans “Drawing of Folly” first edition, copy owned by Desiderius Erasmus.

#8. Holbein, Hans “Folly Mounts the Pulpit.” 1515.

#9. Holbein, Hans “Folly Distracted by Beauty.” 1515.

#10. Cover of the “Book of the Courtier.”


#11. Portrait of Baltasar de Castiglione (1483-1520). Musée du Louvre, Paris, France.

#12. Setting of the Book of the Courtier, the Ducal Palace, built between 1450 and 1507.

#13. The Ducal Palace façade.

#14. The Ducal Palace arcaded courtyard.

#15. The Ducal Palace features a small study, measuring 3.6 x 3.35 meters, executed intarsia work surrounds the room’s occupants with shelves, benches, and half-open latticework doors, all displaying symbolic objects representing the Liberal Arts. It is the single most famous example of this Italian craft of inlay. “Intarsia paneling of the studiolo.”


#16. The Ducal Palace, study, inlay, “Astronomical instruments and mazzacchio.”

#17. The Ducal Palace, study, inlay, “A mechanical clock.”

#18. The Ducal Palace studiolo also features iconic representations of persons, contemporary and historical. On the intarsia panels are depicted statues of Federigo in scholarly attire and of Faith, Hope, and Charity. Above the intarsia are portraits of great authors. Van Wassenhove, Joos, “The Humanist Pope Pius II.” 1460-1480.



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