What I’ve Learned from Beatrice

I’ve liked Emma Thompson for a long time. It goes back to high school and first being introduced to Much Ado About Nothing and Sense and Sensibility. I’ve been irrationally angry about the demise of her marriage to Ken Branagh for far longer than they were married. (And I was like five when they divorced.) I’ve only recently started to let that go and forgive Professor Lockhart for leaving Professor Trelawney to be with Bellatrix Lestrange. The point being…I like Emma Thompson. She tends to portray (with the exception of Trelawney) women who inspire me. Think about it…Elinor Dashwood, Beatrice…Mrs. Potts. (I’ve always wanted to be a housekeeper who was turned into a teapot. I do like tea, as you may have heard. Becoming a teapot is merely the next step.)

In the spirit of my love of Emma Thompson and in light of March Ado About Nothing, I want to share with you the most important things that I’ve learned from my favorite of Thompson’s film roles…Beatrice. Beatrice is a strong-willed woman who doesn’t fear much of anything. She isn’t afraid to stand up for herself or her loved ones. I’ve been compared to Beatrice before, and I am genuinely unsure as to whether I’m a natural Beatrice or if I’ve tried (consciously or unconsciously) to become a Beatrice because I like her so much. So…what have I learned from Beatrice?

  1. Be yourself. Beatrice is not interested in conforming to societal norms to make other people happy. Perhaps she could have married younger if she had adapted herself to social norms, but that is not in her nature. She is independent, and she is not willing to change herself to make a man happy. She doesn’t mince words or try to hide behind pretense. She does not allow Don Pedro’s power to intimidate, and even when she is romantically interested in Benedick she doesn’t sit and swoon over him. She keeps being herself, and he appreciates that.
  2. Intelligence is attractive. Beatrice is smart and witty. She is a woman who speaks her mind. Not everyone loves it, but those who understand her appreciate her and value her. People may tease her about her personality, but ultimately, she has several people in her life who value her for who and what she is. For example, Don Pedro is clearly impressed by her wit and her ability to keep up with other intelligent people like Benedick. Their mutual friends seek to pair them up partially as a joke or entertainment but also because they see the ways in which their wits are well suited.
  3. Treat your friends well. Beatrice is a wonderful friend. She treats her friends with respect and puts their own interests ahead of their own. Look no further than her relationship with Hero. Hero is both Beatrice’s cousin and best friend, and Beatrice treats Hero better than she treats herself. When Hero is hurt, Beatrice is willing to do whatever she can to help her. She even goes so far as to endanger her fledgling romance with Benedick to defend Hero’s honor. This works out well for her, but that is due in part to Benedick’s respect for Beatrice as well as his understanding of her relationship with Hero.
  4. Don’t be afraid to laugh. Life is not forever serious, and Beatrice knows that well. We need to laugh and enjoy life. Beatrice does that. As Leonato says, “she hath often dreamed of unhappiness and waked herself with laughing.” (Act II, Scene 1) She does not take life more seriously than it requires. She is serious when the situation calls for it, but she prefers to laugh. “I was born to speak all mirth and no matter.” (Act I, Scene 1) Similarly, Don Pedro speculates that she must have been born in a merry hour because of her disposition.
  5. Be realistic about the world around you. Beatrice knows who she is and her limits within her world. She knows that she would not do well married to the Prince because he is “too costly” for daily wear. He will make a good husband for someone, but she knows that they would not be well suited. She is not meant to be the wife of a prince. She is also aware that a woman is not allowed to defend the honor of another woman, and so she seeks out help from someone who is allowed to take that action. She knows her own limits, and she works within them to the best of her ability. 

Overall, I love Beatrice. I admire her strength and sense of humor as well as her awareness of how far she can push the boundaries of her world. I like being compared to her, and I think she makes a good role model for strong women.

“There was a star danced, and under that was I born. ”

-Act II, Scene 1


If They Had Only TALKED to Each Other…

There’s a point in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing where I get frustrated with the characters and think/say, “This never would have happened if they had only TALKED to each other.” Now, most of the action of the play wouldn’t have happened either, but that’s kind of my point. The entire premise of the play is built on people acting without talking to each other. Shakespeare is trying to make a point to us, the readers and viewers, about communication. What is that point? So much of life’s chaos could be avoided if people only talked to one another.

Crazy idea, right? Who would ever do that?

Clearly the characters in our play didn’t. There are several moments in the play where a character ought to have sought out another character and discussed something with the other and didn’t. Plot and action occur because of this lack of communication, so it’s not the worst thing ever. Plot and action are what we want in our entertainments. But these are not things we want in our real lives. If I found myself in Beatrice’s and Benedick’s shoes, I might not be so happy that my friends were manipulating me (into realizing that I am in love with a person to whom I am extremely well suited).

If Beatrice and Benedick had talked to one another after the staged overhearings in Act II, Scene iii, they might have found out that their friends were lying to them. Now, those lies were well-intended (and they further the plot) but the fact remains that they were lies. In many ways, this lack of communication actually led to a better outcome for the involved parties. (Actually, people, feel free to trick me like that if you find a person to whom I’m extremely well suited but I struggle to treat with kindness and respect.)

But other communication failures in the play are more dangerous. The biggest example of this is Don John’s manipulation of his brother and Claudio. Instead of talking to Hero about these actions that they’ve seen that do not line up with any of their previous knowledge or experiences of her, the pair just off and publicly denounce her. They refuse to trust her previous reputation. They refuse to talk to her.

And in doing so, they hurt Hero and those she loves. Claudio and Don Pedro damage (at least temporarily) Hero’s relationship with her father. They develop an unexpected foe in their former friend, Benedick. On the other hand, this rupture is caused by Benedick choosing to ally himself with Beatrice and Hero. Benedick is suspicious of what he hears from his friends at the failed wedding and chooses to communicate with a person he believes to be trustworthy in order to find the truth.

This is where communication comes into play. Leonato makes the (incomprehensible to me) choice to immediately believe the accusations hurled upon his daughter by Claudio and Don Pedro. (Sexism mayhap?) Before jumping to conclusions, Benedick and Friar Francis both stop and start asking questions.They talk to Hero, they figure out what is happening, and they formulate a plan to hopefully resolve the situation.

Then Beatrice and Benedick talk privately. This conversation is not an easy one for Benedick because the woman he likes wants someone to challenge his closest friends to a duel. But the two of them communicate. They talk about what Beatrice wants from Benedick AND why she wants him. “It is a man’s office but not yours,” she explains. (Act IV, Scene 1) Propriety does not allow women to fight duels, and Benedick is not closely related to Hero, which means that he does not need to defend her honor. Someone from her family ought to do the defending. Nevertheless, Beatrice explains her position, and Benedick comes to understand her to the point where he accepts her challenge.

Benedick is obviously partially motivated on this path by his feelings for Beatrice, but as the action continues we come to understand that he is also genuinely frustrated by his friends. As Act IV continues, they seem almost unaware of the impact of their actions on Hero’s family. They view their confrontation with Leonato and Antonio as something of a joke. Even after Benedick not only confronts them but threatens them, they still do not see the danger of their situation. It is only when they are confronted with Borachio’s confession that they realize what they have done, what they have misunderstood.

In the end, we have two weddings. But I have to suspect that one marriage will be happier than the other. Beatrice and Benedick seem to communicate well while Hero and Claudio seem to struggle in that regard. While we can hope that time and maturity will help them to grow in that area, it is not one of their strengths at the end of the play.

Literary Choices

I recently finished reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. If you’re not familiar with IF, it is a vast tome. The book is nearly 1,000 pages long-not including the footnotes. And the footnotes are crucial to the story; you cannot avoid them if you want to understand the book. It’s an endeavor. In all honesty, the only reason that I decided to tackle it during the month of February was that I had been given the gift of empty (not free but empty) time, and I needed something to occupy that time. So, I read Infinite Jest.

It was an adventure. I spent every spare minute I could find reading the book. At some point in my venture through the book, a friend asked me what I thought, and I said that while I was enjoying it, I had no intention of ever reading it again. She reminded me of one of life’s great truths-being an adult means that you don’t have to finish a book just because you started it.

But that wasn’t it. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to finish the book. I was hypnotized by the writing, and I desperately wanted to find out how the story ends. However, I don’t think that I’ll be revisiting the book. DFW and I had our adventure. We had a nice long fling together. As flings go, it was solid. I grew from the experience. I’ll always remember it fondly. But it’s not a fling that I feel any need to revisit. The book is on the shelf. I can look at it. I can remember. But I don’t have to go back there.

That’s the thing about reading books as an adult. You get to choose what you read and what you don’t read. And you don’t have to reread books if you don’t want to. You can have an enjoyable fling with a book and leave it behind when your fling ends. If you love it and revisiting it is good for you, go for it. Revisit it often. I used to read a few pages of Marisa Dos Santos’s Love Walked In almost every night because I was having trouble falling asleep and the book helped me calm down and sleep. (Also, I loved reading about Teo Sandoval right before bed.) I have friends who reread The Lord of the Rings every year.

Your time is your own, and you get to choose how you use that resource. Yes, some things in life are mandatory, but others aren’t. As an adult, you get to choose what you read and when you read it-within reason of course. It’s absolutely true that you don’t have to finish a book. You don’t have to have a set timeline for reading a book. And you can read a book as many times as you want. If you want to read it once, that’s your choice. Likewise, it’s your choice if you want to read it twenty times. It’s all up to you.

FO: Angostura

I don’t think that it’s any kind of a secret that Thea Colman is one of my favorite designers. (And I swear that it’s not just because we share a love of cocktails.) So naturally, when I learned that she was looking for knitters to test a new sweater pattern for her, I jumped on the chance. After some back and forth with Thea, I bought six skeins of Harrisville Shetland (from Spun in Ann Arbor; I love that place!) in Garnet and set to work knitting/testing Thea’s new design, Angostura.


Angostura is all kinds of fun. The front and sleeves are simple-just straightforward stockinette. The sleeves made great movie watching knitting back in January. But the back…oh man, the back is where the action is. The back is a lively cable panel that looks far more complex/intimidating than it really is. img_2677

The sweater is knit bottom up and then the sleeves and body are joined at the yoke. Thea used saddle sleeves to make everything flow together smoothly. This is one of the best things about this pattern. I was talking to a friend on Skype while working the first saddle, and I was a bit wary of the saddle as I’ve only ever used it for Chartreuse before. However, the directions were clear and easy to follow. In no time, I was back to talking to Laura and barely looking at the pattern. img_2679

This was my first time using a Harrisville yarn, and it won’t be my last. Before I started, Thea commented that Harrisville was really going to “pop” the cables, and she was so right. I really love how the yarn looks with those cable. The tweeding of the dye is consistent, and subtle, which allows the cables to really show off. img_2685

Raveled here

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Who Do You Trust?

I decided that since I instituted March Ado About Nothing I ought to write some Much Ado related blog posts. To that end, I’ve been reflecting on some of the major themes of the story.

One major theme of Much Ado is trust. Thinking over the play, it seems that Shakespeare is asking us to consider who we trust and why. The primary drama of the play revolves around mistaken identity and misplaced trust. In order to create frustration and unhappiness, Don John sets up a scenario in which his half-brother and the engaged Claudio believe that they are seeing Claudio’s fiancee kissing another man in her bedroom window the night before her wedding. Now, Hero has a reputation as a virtuous woman, and Don John has only been brought back into his father’s (and brother’s) good graces recently.

Instead of choosing to trust what they know of Hero’s character, Claudio and Don Pedro choose to believe the unreliable Don John’s assertion of Hero’s fallen virtue. They see something, and they choose to believe the construction placed upon it by Don John-despite the fact that Don John is known to be of unreliable character.

Only Benedick is suspicious of the situation. Admittedly, he has not seen what his friends saw, but he mistrusts their claims that Hero is other than she says she is. Benedick says “And if their wisdoms be misled in this, The practice of it lives in John the bastard, Whose spirits toil in frame of villanies.” (IV, 1, 187-89) Benedick knows what Don John is, and he doesn’t trust him. It isn’t easy for him to challenge his friends on their belief, but he chooses to believe that they have been misled.

“A miracle! Here’s our own hands against our hearts.” -Act V Scene 4 Line 95

This is the main situation out of a few that bring the idea of trust into play. The means by which Hero is wooed for Claudio are a bit unorthodox and put Claudio’s trust of Don Pedro to the test. The circumstances by which Benedick and Beatrice are brought together are more than a little suspect. Shakespeare plays with his characters’ trust both of self and of those around them throughout the story. The moral of the story? Be careful who you trust. It may be your ruination or your redemption.

March Ado About Nothing

It’s that time of year again…where I invent new holidays and festivals. It’s March, kids. That means that we’re going to start an entire month devoted to celebrating my favorite Shakespeare play, Much Ado About Nothing.

From Encyclopedia Brittanica.

From Encyclopedia Brittanica.

So, how does one devote 31 days to one play? Well, read on…

  1. Greet your friends warmly with “Sigh no more!”
  2. Respond to everyone with “I cannot endure my lady tongue.”
  3. It’s Friday. Tell everyone “God help the noble Benedick.”
  4. It’s Saturday. Greet everyone with “hey, nonnny, nonny.” And then tell them to March forth.
  5. Ask people what they are to a lord.
  6. Tell everyone that you were born to speak all mirth and no matter.
  7. Greet everyone with “Never came trouble to my house in the likeness of Your Grace.”
  8. Ask randomly “Shall I never see a bachelor of three-score again?”
  9. Feeling grumpy today? Repeatedly tell people “You are an ass! You are an ASS!”
  10. Ask people “For which of my bad parts didst thou first fall in love with me?”
  11. Encouragingly tell people “Man is a giddy thing.”
  12. Daylight Savings Time is back. Tell people “Is it possible disdain should die while she hath such meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick? Courtesy itself must convert to disdain, if you come in her presence.”
  13. Cryptically greet others with “You always end with a jade’s trick: I know you of old.”
  14. Tell people that you must eat when you have stomach. Then eat pie for Pi Day.
  15. Beg everyone to kill Claudio-or Julius Caesar. Someone’s got to do it.
  16. Greet others with “I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me.”
  17. Randomly tell people “I will live in thy heart, die in thy lap and be buried in thy eyes, and moreover I will go with thee to thy uncle’s.”
  18. It’s Saturday. Enjoy the Kenneth Branagh MAAN film.
  19. Tell others that a star danced and under that were you born.
  20. Cryptically respond to others “There’s a double meaning in that” to others.
  21. Randomly tell others “He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man. And he that is more than a youth is not for me, and he that is less than a man – I am not for him.”
  22. Tell people that Silence is the perfectest herald of joy.
  23. Listen to “Sigh No More” by Mumford and Sons. It was inspired by MAAN.
  24. Gallop around with coconuts. Act like Michael Keaton while doing so.
  25. It’s Saturday. Enjoy the Joss Whedon MAAN film.
  26. Tell others “Some Cupid kills with arrows; some with traps.”
  27. Remind others that “Friendship is constant in all other things save in the office and affairs of love.”
  28. Remark “I love in this world so well as you.”
  29. Tell your friends that their significant others are “too low for a high praise, too
    brown for a fair praise, and too little for a great praise. Only this commendation I can afford her, that were she other than she is, she were unhandsome, and being no other but as she is, I do not like her.”
  30. Tell someone that you love them with so much of your heart that none is left to protest.
  31. Greet others with “Prince, methinks thou art sad. Get thee a wife! Get. Thee. A. Wife!”