Favourite women in books: Beatrice from ‘Much Ado About Nothing’

In a study on sex and attraction, Rod A. Martin of Western University remarked, “Although both sexes say they want a sense of humour, in our research women interpreted this as ‘someone who makes me laugh,’ and men wanted ‘someone who laughs at my jokes,’”.

Beatrice, too quick-witted for Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, is told she’ll “never get a husband” if she continues to be “so shrewd”. The other characters agree: the woman is cursed. Beatrice doesn’t care. She wants to sit with the bachelors in heaven and live “as merry as the day is long.” She’s a woman who makes jokes and refuses to be a laugh track. Hero observes how “disdain and scorn ride sparkling in her eyes.”

What I like about Beatrice is that she spurns the offer to be any one thing. With one breath, she’s light, witty and unconcerned; in the next breath, she’s feeling and deeply empathetic. When Benedick finds her crying, she is unashamed of her emotion, “I do it freely” she tells him, “and I will weep a while longer.”

Her anger is extraordinary and, unusually for women of the time, it is taken seriously. She rages on behalf of every woman denied a voice and every girl not believed by their society. “Oh, that I were a man,” she repeats in fury, as impassioned by her cousin being wronged as if it were herself, “Oh god, that I were a man! I would eat his heart out in the marketplace.”

Beatrice is a reminder that women can be both: strong and broken, witty and sincere, clever and foolish. She is not a contradiction; she is a woman of complexity. In the words of Walt Whitman: she is large, she contains multitudes.

More can be read about “The Humour Gap” and Rod A. Martin’s study at:

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Liz Lane

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September 2021
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