Imagery in Much Ado About Nothing: Bird & Animal

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 the use of animal imagery, which is primarily used during playful banter, in William Shakespeare's ''Much Ado about Nothing.''


When Survivor sang ''Eye of the Tiger,'' they weren't singing about actual tigers--they were using the imagery of a tiger to describe the animal instinct possessed by Rocky in the movie Rocky III. Imagery is the use of figurative language to provide the sense of taste, touch, smell, sight, hearing, movement, or emotion to the reader. William Shakespeare frequently uses imagery of birds and animals during scenes in which the characters are playfully bantering with one another in Much Ado about Nothing. Let's look at some examples of this imagery from the play.

Beatrice and Benedick

Before Beatrice and Benedick realize that they should be together, their relationship is marked by their harsh mocking of one another. Both claim that they will never fall in love. Beatrice goes as far as to say, ''I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me.'' Beatrice uses this description of a dog barking at a crow to help the audience imagine a terrible noise, which she claims is still better than hearing talk of love.

As Beatrice throws insults in his direction, Benedick says, ''Well, you are a rare parrot-teacher,'' meaning that she babbles nonstop like a parrot. Beatrice's response is ''A bird of my tongue is better than a beast of yours.'' Beatrice compares herself to a bird that sings sweet melodies compared to his beast-like words. Benedick replies, ''I would my horse had the speed of your tongue and so good a continuer.'' Benedick claims her nonstop chatter has more energy and perseverance than his horse.

By using these images involving birds and animals in their insults, Beatrice and Benedick are able to provide vivid descriptions of how they see each other.

Benedick the Bachelor

Another place where a great deal of animal imagery is used is when Benedick insists to his friends Claudio and Don Pedro that he is not the marrying kind. When Don Pedro suggests that he would like to see Benedick in love, Benedick says, ''If I do, hang me in a bottle like a cat and shoot at me, and he that hits me, let him be clapped on the shoulder and called Adam.'' Benedick is referring to a morbid hunting game in which a cat in a bag is used for target practice; he is saying that he would rather be used as a target than fall in love.

Don Pedro responds, ''Well, as time shall try. In time the savage bull doth bear the yoke.'' Don Pedro is comparing Benedick to a wild bull that will eventually be tamed. Benedick retorts, ''The savage bull may, but if ever the sensible Benedick bear it, pluck off the bull's horns and set them in my forehead, and let me be vilely painted, and in such great letters as they write 'Here is good horse to hire' let them signify under my sign 'Here you may see Benedick the married man.''' Benedick compares himself being domesticated by a wife to a bull losing his horns and becoming a horse for hire.

In this scene, a bachelor is compared to a wild animal because of its virility and masculinity, while marriage is viewed as an emasculating event that tames the animal and turns the predator into prey.

Beatrice the Bachelorette

It is not only Benedick that views marriage as a problem. Beatrice also does not see herself tied down. Her uncles, Leonato and Antonio, worry that she will not find a husband because she is so critical.


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