Allusions in Much Ado About Nothing: Cupid & Hercules

Instructor: Lucy Barnhouse
''Much Ado about Nothing'' is a Shakespearean comedy in which witty banter abounds. This lesson analyzes characters' usage of allusions to Cupid and Hercules.

Much Ado About Words

Much Ado About Nothing is a Shakespearean comedy in which words and their uses are especially important to the plot. Allusions - references to commonly known events, persons, or texts - and double meanings abound, especially in the exchanges between Beatrice and Benedick.

The ways in which characters use the figures of Cupid and Hercules can reveal much about their personalities. These characters from mythology, or ancient stories about gods and heroes, are invoked by the younger generation of the aristocratic families at the play's center.

The Role of Cupid

Cupid, the god of love also known as Eros, was a popular figure in the art, songs, and poetry of Shakespeare's time. Shakespeare was one of many authors to raise questions about the character and role of this boy-god. The figure of Cupid, like love itself, is full of paradoxes: he is a wise child, a blind archer whose aim never misses. Is he fateful or fickle? The characters in Much Ado reveal their own views about love in how they speak about him.

Cupid and Beatrice

Beatrice, one of the main female protagonists of Much Ado, is an intelligent, independent woman whose outspokenness often disconcerts the men around her. Almost the only man who treats her as an equal is Benedick ... and they fight all the time.

The first long speech Beatrice makes about Benedick is to say that he ''challeng'd Cupid at the flight,'' claiming to easily inspire love in anyone. Beatrice adds that the local jester called himself Cupid and challenged Benedick to an archery contest in turn (Act 1, Scene 1, lines 38-41). Beatrice thus mocks both Benedick and the concept of romantic love as inevitable or inevitably desirable. She values her independence too much to easily view herself as a mere target for Cupid's arrows, or men's wooing.

Cupid and Benedick

The soldier Benedick, too, has Cupid on the brain at the outset of the play. His frequent allusions to the god of love can be interpreted as undermining his statements that he plans to remain a bachelor forever. When he's trying to figure out whether or not his pal Claudio is joking, he asks if the younger man is claiming that ''Cupid is a good hare-finder,'' an obvious absurdity for the blind god (Act 1, Scene 1, line 180).

Like Beatrice, Benedick professes that he can't be seriously changed by love: if he is, he says, ''pick out mine eyes with a ballad-maker's pen, and hang me up at the door of a brothel-house for the sign of blind Cupid'' (Act 1, Scene 1, lines 247-49). In reply, Don Pedro quips that Benedick will soon have his comeuppance, ''if Cupid have not spent all his quiver in Venice'' (Act 1, Scene 1, lines 265-66). This is a sly allusion to Benedick's casual sex in Venice, city of famously beautiful women and relaxed sexual customs.

Cupid and Other Characters

Beatrice and Benedick use allusions to Cupid most often. Other characters, however, also invoke him. When Don Pedro, the noble prince, is scheming how to bring Beatrice and Benedick together, the prince boasts to his friends: ''If we can do this, Cupid is no longer an archer; his glory shall be ours, for we are the only love-gods'' (Act 2, Scene 1, lines 376-77). In describing Benedick's former resistance to love, Don Pedro quips that his friend ''hath twice or thrice cut Cupid's bow-string'' (Act 3, Scene 2, line 10).

As part of the same scheme, Beatrice's cousin Hero and her maids plan to make Beatrice believe Benedick is in love with her. ''Of this matter,'' says Hero, ''is little Cupid's crafty arrow made, That only wounds by hearsay'' (Act 3, Scene 1, lines 22-24).

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