Ursula in Much Ado About Nothing: Character Analysis & Quotes

Instructor: Celeste Bright

Celeste has taught college English for four years and holds a Ph.D. in English Language and Literature.

Ursula is Hero's personal attendant in 'Much Ado About Nothing,' and she plays a small but essential role in the play. We'll learn about Elizabethan attendants and analyze Ursula's character by studying quotes from her lines.

Personal Attendants to the Elizabethan Nobility

Have you ever wished you had a personal attendant to make your daily life easier? During the Elizabethan period, members of the upper classes did (although only the queen had ladies-in-waiting). These servants were distinct from household grooms, maids, butlers, and cooks since their task was to assist specific ladies and gentlemen. They took responsibility for the care of their clothes and accessories and performed other small tasks.

A servant holds sheet music for an Elizabethan noblewoman (painting by Lavinia Fontana)
A servant holds sheet music for an Elizabethan noblewoman (painting by Lavinia Fontana)

Ursula is a good attendant: no one in the play finds fault with her. She accompanies Hero as needed, never draws attention to herself, and artfully assists Hero in her plot to unite Beatrice and Benedick.

Ursula's Character

Ursula has two main appearances in the play. The first is in Act 2, Scene 1, at the masquerade feast thrown by Leonato. The second is in Act 3, Scene 1, as she and Hero conspire to make Beatrice accept Benedick. In both instances, Ursula's few lines say quite a bit about her character.

An Eye for Detail

We discover during the masquerade feast that Ursula is a highly observant person: she recognizes Leonato's brother Antonio even in his mask and costume. When she tells him, he tries to deny his identity. She declares: ''I know you by the waggling of your head'' and ''Here's his dry hand up and down.'' Ursula studies people carefully enough that she's familiar with Antonio's body language.

If these Venetian carnival revelers were your friends, would you be able to recognize them?
If these Venetian carnival revelers were your friends, would you be able to recognize them?

An Extrovert

We also find that Ursula is a somewhat outgoing woman who is comfortable in social situations. We can easily imagine her approaching Antonio rather than waiting to be approached. Whereas a more introverted woman of her rank might notice him without saying anything, Ursula is direct: she announces that she knows who he is.

A Witty and Evenhanded Conversationalist

Ursula also executes a witty, if brief, conversation with him. After he denies his identity a second time, she insists: ''You could never do him so ill-well, unless you were the very man.'' Here, Ursula appears to deliver a kind of two-part insult. First, she discounts his ability to do good impressions of other people. Second, she points out that she's identified him primarily by his imperfections, not his charms. She highlights his ''dry hand,'' which is a sign of age, and by ''the waggling of his head,'' which is likely the idiosyncrasy of an older man.

However, a moment later, she changes her approach, and it seems as though she may only have been teasing him before. She speaks to him warmly, saying, ''Come, come, do you think I do not know you by your excellent wit? Can virtue hide itself?'' Here she compliments Antonio, balancing out the potential teasing she has done previously.

A Good-Natured Conspirator, Wing-Woman, and ''Good Cop''

In Act 3, Hero instructs Ursula to talk with her about what a good catch Benedick is and how he's wildly in love with Beatrice while Beatrice eavesdrops on them. Ursula does this without question or protest, showing that she's obedient and doesn't mind a little harmless conspiracy.

Ursula is careful, however, to let Hero do most of the complaining about Beatrice's behavior toward men. It would be inappropriate for a personal attendant to malign a household noblewoman behind her back, but Hero can do this because she's Beatrice's equal and confidante. Instead, Ursula sticks to praising Benedick and defending Beatrice as much as she can. The only negative thing she says is: ''Sure, sure, such carping is not commendable,'' which still comes across as a general observation rather than a direct insult.

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