A.N.: Beatrice's speech to Don Pedro about Benedick winning her heart with "false dice" is generally taken to mean that he broke her heart, but in the Tate/Tennant production, they seemed to get along too well for that interpretation to hold water; all their teasing, even from the beginning, seemed in good fun rather than with any real heat behind it. This is an exploration of the sort of incident Tate's Beatrice might be referring to - painful enough to make her wary of Benedick (and love) but mild enough that they could still have a good camaraderie afterward.
Set several years before the play.
Scene I - A Room in Leonato's House.
Enter Hero and Beatrice, dressing.
Beat. Troth, coz, I think your other rabato were better.
Hero. Say you so? Ought I to change them, think you?
Beat. I would not so, but do you what you like.
Hero. Wherefore not change, if t'other were better?
Beat. Marry, you'd change to catch the eye of some
Signior - with face and wits best suited to
A babe- who with Don Pedro and his fellows
Revels with us in Messina tonight
In celebration of their victr'y late.
But, mark, what do you once he's caught but wed?
And then, a husband gained, lose what you sought,
For, like a spider tangled up and starved
In its own web, you'll waste away,
Never again the object of a man's hot gaze,
But unremarked forevermore, therefore,
My pretty coz, it were not wise to change.
Hero. Save by my husband unremarked, you mean,
Which, by my troth, coz, will content me well.
Beat. Nay, nor by him, for nothing in this world
Is found so tiresome as a spouse, once had.
Hero. If marriage is so dull, I wonder then
Why you so rush for't with such goodly cheer;
For while you mock them so, methinks there's one
Among the men come to Messina that
E'en your sharp wit looks on with some measure
Of favour, for I've seen, while it may prick,
'Twill draw no blood from Signior Benedick.
Beat. Ha! Faith, his wit will bleed before his time
Here in Messina is run out. For though,
Unlike his fellows, he has wit enough
To see without being worn in's cap, as though
To show a difference 'twixt himself and's horse,
E'en this soldier's defense, mark, is not proof
'Gainst all assay that I can bring to bear.
[Aside.] And yet, in this, does my good coz say well,
For scarcely would I trust myself, though I
Had sworn to live a maid of Dian's band,
Were Signior Benedick to ask my hand.
Urs. What keeps you here? The hour is come, and now
Begin the revels. Both of you are sought.
Hero. Good cousin Beatrice, be kind to me
And answer truly, pray - Ought I to change?
Beat. Fret not, sweet cousin Hero. By my troth,
You are as fair as ever - let's go in.
Scene II - Leonato's Garden.
Enter Benedick and 2 Gentlemen, drinking and laughing.
1 Gent. You will excuse me, sir, an if this tale
Is one too hard for me to stomach.
Bene. Nay, believe't! For, by this hand, 'tis true.
2 Gent. That when you asked of Lady Beatrice
A measure of sugar, with vinegar she
Then half drowned you? In faith, how may this be?
Bene. Marry, when I with honeyed words, did look
To get from her as sweet an answer,
She spewed forth such a sea of vinegar
That I was nearly drowned withal!
1 Gent. Ha! A fitting end, methinks, for Signior Taunt
To die by woman's words. I like it well.
Bene. Nay, mock not, mock not, for you've no grounds.
If by a woman I must die, I would
Be drowned by this fair maiden's spleen before
The tears of weeping wenches like the one
That hangs on you and sighs and sobs she loves.
1 Gent. 'Tis well you say so, for your chance to do't
Appears. Your lovely Lady Spleen now comes.
Beat. O, this likes me not, for came I forth from
The smothered confines of the hall in search
Of fresher air, only to find it thus
Polluted with the noisome breath of one
That spews forth what he takes for cleverness.
Bene. What, my dearest Lady Wit! How do you
This fine evening?
Beat. In faith, my lord, much better than before,
For wit is ne'er so merry but when in
The presence of some fool to sharpen it.
Bene. Ay, that is true; 'tis why I was so glad
To see you come, for I can little sport
Derive from these, men wise enough to know
Their foolishness,and so make no assay
That's worth the thwarting, but you, good lady, think
To charge your wit 'gainst mine in the career,
And to unhorse one proud as you were victory indeed.
Beat. Ay, 'twere victory indeed, if you could do't. -
But, faith, good sirs, what make you from the revels held within?
1 Gent. I'faith -
2 Gent. Good maid -
Bene. Cannot you see? Our better here without!
Beat. Better for fools, perhaps. That can I see.
Bene. Why, then, 'tis meet you came to join us.
Beat. Yea, for so I may save you from yourselves.
Bene. Indeed. Ere your arrival, we three had
Too much good sense, by far, among us shared.
Beat. Yea, that can I believe, for these good lords
Had sense too much to leave you to your own
Foolish devices; that's sense enough to gall
You for want of mischief and, what's more,
Grieve them for want of good society;
That's sense too much by far. But, I come here
With sense greater than all your three together;
That's sense enough to leave you. - So, farewell.
Bene. You go so soon, and will not stay to laugh?
For never did I think to be outwitted
By a stale - and yet, 'tis even so.
What nunnery teaches such valiant wit?
Beat. You must forgive me, sir.
Bene. Sweet Beatrice, what offense?
Beat. In sooth, I mistook you for another.
Bene. O, what's he?
Beat. An honourable man, one that a maid
Might jest withal in merriment, and yet
Need fear no slander, though she best him.
But, as I am a maid - for so I am,
Though you may think not so - I now do fear
That no such man doth live, and I was but
Mistaken all this while. And so, go to.
I leave you.
Bene. Mark you, she seemed to part with choler true,
Not like her wonted jests. I fear lest that
I left my tongue too far ungovernéd.
2 Gent. It is an honest man that calls a stale
A stale, like he that deals in spades.
Bene. And as for him that calls a maid a stale?
2 Gent. Why, that were slander!
Bene. A charge, for all my taunts, I never thought
To lay upon my soul - and 'gainst that maid
I least would wish to hurt, though most to jest
Withal. And yet, believe't, I meant it not
But held it jest; most plain 'tis she did not,
And so, farewell. I leave you, sirs, for I've
No stomach more for merriment this night.
1 Gent. I'faith, I've never seen him sober till tonight.
2 Gent. Nor I. Indeed, he sure is much distressed;
But leave him to't. I'm for the revels, will you come?
1 Gent. Yea, friend, lead on.
Scene III - A Room in Leonato's House.
Enter Beatrice and Hero.
Hero. I know this talk to be a lie. Say now
Whate'er you will of men, but fair of late
Has Signior Benedick been in your eye.
Beat. O, by this day, there nothing has been in
Mine eye but dust, which now flushed out, once more
I see aright. Until men are composed
Of some high mettle, better than gross earth,
I'll never love, but count them all as dust,
Scarce worth the noting. Go on, sweet cousin,
Content yourself. I'll be poor company tonight,
But left to myself, thus to sort out myself,
You'll see me mended on the morrow.
Hero. Poor coz, I wish it may be so. Goodnight.
Beat. I wish so too. A stale! I thought to meet
Sharp wit, not sland'rous lies. - And yet, I do
Not blame the rogue, for now, my choler cooled,
Methinks he spoke unthinkingly, as one
Come to a fencing match, forgetting that
He left his foil untipped. There's sure no honor
in that he said, nor in the man could say't,
And yet, he's not to blame. Faith, he is not
the man I thought him t'be, yet I am well.
For now I know him what he is, so can
I hold him as: A merry fool, one good
To jest withal, but to be wary of
For like an overeager hound, will bite
Not knowing or forgetting he has teeth.