I wrote this in like a rambley freak out at work. Forgive me.

So like the line ~kill Claudio~ is a bit of meme. I have made memes about it. But like, I love it. I love Much Ado, it’s 100% in my top 5 favorite plays (not that I could ever actually decide on my top five), and it has so many killer lines. “I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me.” “O God, that I were a man! I would eat his heart in the marketplace.” “I do love nothing in the world so well as you. Is not that strange?” “I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest.” “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.” But if I really, really think about it Kill Claudio has to be my favorite line in the play because it does so much. It is fucking hilarious line and it’s also so serious and filled with so much meaning.

So, we’re in this scene and Benedick says “Come, bid me do anything for thee.” He’s just told Beatrice he loves her and she said it back! They’re full of this giddy, lovey energy. “Come, bid me do anything for thee.” What she should say is marry me. What Benedick is expecting her to say is marry me. What an audience is expecting her to say is marry me. But what she says is, I want you to kill your best friend. “Kill Claudio.”

The anatomy of the most basic joke can be broken down into two parts: setup and punchline. The setup is usually something innocuous something you would hear and think ah yes I know how this is supposed to end (Two men walk into a bar; Bid me do anything for thee). The punchline, the part that makes it a joke, is the surprise. The story doesn’t end where the audience thinks it’s going to (the third one ducks; kill Claudio). Half of what makes something funny is the surprise. Kill Claudio is definitely a surprise to everyone and can 100% be played for laughs.

But here’s where Kill Claudio becomes more than a joke.

Beatrice knows what she is. She spends the whole play doing whatever she wants, saying whatever she wants, because she doesn’t have any skin in the game. Her life isn’t over if she doesn’t get married. She’s a well-off woman who doesn’t have any parents or anything to inherit, so she doesn’t have anything to lose and really doesn’t have anything to gain either. Beatrice is as free as woman can be in her situation. She doesn’t have any power, but she does have her freedom. Why would she ever do anything that requires her to give that freedom up?

So if we back this scene up from Kill Claudio to Hero’s wedding. We watch the most important person in Beatrice’s life get ruined in just one moment. Claudio breaks his promise to marry Hero, a promise that in Elizabethan England would have been near unbreakable, and humiliates her in the most public way imaginable, almost guaranteeing that Hero will never again find an eligible suitor, which means she will never get married and when her father dies, her entire life and the lives of everyone she loves will be ruined.

Then we come to Beatrice and Benedick. Alone for the first time since they realized how they felt, and they confess their love.

“Come, bid me do anything for thee.”

Beatrice can change her life right here. Hero’s life is ruined and Beatrice can no longer rely on her family to provide for her. But she can marry Benedick, her uncle can make her the heir, and she can save her family. But the person she cares for most would still be ruined.

“Come, bid me do anything for thee.”

The only way to restore a smidgen of Hero’s reputation is for someone to challenge Claudio.

“Come, bid me do anything for thee.”

Beatrice acknowledges something important. Her freedom doesn’t give her power. She can’t issue any challenge. She can’t save her cousin. The only person who would have that power is a man. She says, “Ah, how much might the man deserve of me that would right her!” and “Oh, that I were a man for his sake! Or that I had any friend would be a man for my sake!”

Beatrice is entirely self-aware. She knows her limits. So when Benedick offers to do anything for her she asks him to do the one thing that might save her cousin.

“Kill Claudio.”

I will ramble on top of this ramble if you permit. 

One of the things I dislike about adaptations of MAAN is when they choose to play this line as though Beatrice is being completely out of left field. In my high school teaching of this play we were told “she just told him to kill his best friend, isn’t that insane?’

No one put into context what Claudio did for us. So he left her at the altar, so what? No, not so what. In my university Shakespeare course we decided that the modern equivalent would have been something like revenge porn, sharing Hero’s nudes with everyone in town. You see a guy who’s been your sworn brother for about a month do something this drastic, out of the blue, citing evidence that seems circumstantial at best (and do the reasons matter, really in this case), is he still your friend? 

Benedick’s “Is Claudio thine enemy?” Is not the logical man trying to reason with his crazy girlfriend. It’s a dramatic turn that gives Beatrice an opening to remind the audience that yes, we liked Claudio in the beginning, but what he has done here is atrocious. He has decided that rather than quietly dealing with the matter, as could have been done with less disgrace to Hero, he is going to destroy any chance she has for life and for a future. 

People can laugh at that line, it comes as a surprise. But when adaptations have Beatrice raving like a mad woman about “princes and counties, surely a princely testimony, a goodly count” it does a disservice to the rest of the scene. The point of all that follows is that her request is not crazy, its not some feminazi out-of-left field thing. It is what would have been done to answer Claudio’s acts. And the fact that Benedick chooses to believe what she says over what the men have said is the crux of the play, where infidelity is so central to the dialogue and theme. Believe in women, trust women, and your relationships and your life will be better.

#There’s something else I desperately love about this line#which is that the challenge it places before benedick#is one that is actually already before him#its a reminder#It’s incredibly jarring#Beatrice asking him to kill his friend#but at this point#if he still considers Claudio his best friend#Beatrice can’t trust him either#if Benedick can excuse this#he isn’t a safe person to stake her life on#this moment is the ultimate measure of who Benedick is under all of the bluster#which is and has been a HUGE question throughout the entire play#is he a man of substance?#is there ANYTHING under the surface#or is he all jokes and light affection?#and when he is tested#Benedick shows a steadiness and commitment that is absolutely exceptional in the world of the show#he breaks with his best friend and with his lord#who are the center and structure of his life as a soldier#because he believes that what they did is inexcusable#much ado#shakespeare#still the best play (via @acesgroupchat, who should absolutely not have hidden that A+ commentary in the tags)