Hyperbole in Much Ado About Nothing: Examples & Meaning

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will examine some examples of hyperbole, particularly in the relationship between Benedick and Beatrice, from William Shakespeare's ''Much Ado about Nothing.''

Background and Definition

''You're like Santa Claus... on Prozac... in Disneyland...,'' said Phoebe on Friends to her boyfriend, Parker (Alec Baldwin) to describe his propensity towards optimism. This is an example of hyperbole that is used to display her frustration at his ever-positive spin on life. Hyperbole is the intentional exaggeration by an author for a specific purpose. In William Shakespeare's Much Ado about Nothing, the initially combative relationship between Benedick and Beatrice before they fall in love creates several opportunities for hyperbole. Let's look at some examples from the play.

Benedick's Influence on Claudio

When Beatrice learns that Claudio has been hanging out with Claudio, she expresses concern that Claudio will end up like Benedick. She says, ''O Lord, he will hang upon him like a disease! He is sooner caught than the pestilence, and the taker runs presently mad. God help the noble Claudio! If he have caught the Benedick, it will cost him a thousand pound ere a' be cured.'' Not only does Beatrice use a simile to compare Benedick to a disease, but the speed of the infection and the cost to be cured are hyperbole.

Beatrice's Thoughts about Love

While many advise Beatrice the best way to get a husband, Beatrice tells Benedick, ''…I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me.'' The preference for dogs barking over words of love is hyperbole that emphasizes Beatrice's negative opinion about love and marriage at this point in the story.

Benedick's Thoughts about Love

Benedick and Beatrice have a lot in common as far as believing they are immune from love. When Claudio and Don Pedro tease Benedick about falling in love, Benedick replies, ''… prove that ever I lose more blood with love than I will get again with drinking, 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.'' Benedick would not really prefer to have his eyes gouged than to be in love, but this graphic depiction of hyperbole serves to demonstrate his point.

Benedick's Opinion of Beatrice

Benedick is very loyal to his commanding officer, Don Pedro, but begs him not to make him talk to Beatrice. He says, ''Will your grace command me any service to the world's end? I will go on the slightest errand now to the Antipodes that you can devise to send me on; I will fetch you a toothpicker now from the furthest inch of Asia, bring you the length of Prester John's foot, fetch you a hair off the great Cham's beard, do you any embassage to the Pygmies, rather than hold three words' conference with this harpy. You have no employment for me?''

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