Much Ado About Nothing

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Beards Symbol Analysis

Beards Symbol Icon
Beards are a complicated symbol of masculinity in Much Ado About Nothing. Benedick’s beard symbolizes his rugged bachelorhood, while Claudio’s clean-shaven face indicates his “softness,” and vulnerability—Benedick at one point calls him “Lord Lack-beard.” Beatrice’s dislike of beards symbolically stands for her resistance to men in general. Much Ado connects beardlessness with falling in love: the first thing Benedick does when he falls in love with Beatrice is to shave. Altogether, the connection between beards, love and masculinity in the play seem to suggest that falling in love, for a man, comes with the risk of losing one’s masculinity—as represented by the beard.

Beards Quotes in Much Ado About Nothing

The Much Ado About Nothing quotes below all refer to the symbol of Beards. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Love and Masquerade Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Simon & Schuster edition of Much Ado About Nothing published in 1995.
Act 2, Scene 1 Quotes

“He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man; and he that is more than a youth is not for me; and he that is less than a man, I am not for him.”

Related Characters: Beatrice (speaker)
Related Symbols: Beards
Page Number: 2.1.36-39
Explanation and Analysis:

This scene opens with Antonio, Leonato, Beatrice, and Hero discussing Don John's attitude and comparing him with Benedick. Beatrice jokes that Don John talks too little and Benedick talks too much, saying that a good husband would be somewhere in the middle. After this joke Leonato tells Beatrice to be careful so that she can find a husband, at which point Beatrice says that she's happy that she doesn't have one, especially because she hates beards.

Thus begins a discussion here about beards, in which Leonato suggests Beatrice marry a beard-less man. Her response, given in the quote, is that someone with a beard is more than a youth, and someone with no beard is less than a man (boyish). She doesn't like bearded men, but beardless men are merely boys who cannot handle her. Beards become more and more important in the play as symbols of manliness.

Note also that this discussion has an extra level of irony because, in Shakespearean times, female parts were played by beard-less youths. When a young actor's beard came in, it was an indication that he could begin to play adult male parts instead of boys and women on stage. The original speaker of this line would have been a young man without a beard dressed as a woman.


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Act 3, Scene 2 Quotes

“Well, every one can master a grief but he that has it.”

Related Characters: Benedick (speaker)
Related Symbols: Beards
Page Number: 3.2.27-28
Explanation and Analysis:

This scene begins with the discussion of Claudio's upcoming marriage, and with Don Pedro saying that after the wedding he will spend time with Benedick, who is always merry and impervious to cupid's arrows. To this assertion, Benedick says "I am not as I have been," indicating he has changed and fallen in love. Leonato and Don Pedro think that Benedick is sad or just needs money, but Claudio correctly asserts that he is in love. Benedick says that he has a toothache, and when the other men suggest that his sadness seems inappropriate for only a toothache, Benedick delivers the quoted line. 

He essentially says that it is easy to give suggestions on how to get over sadness, but difficult to get over it yourself. This line also speaks to the way that romance and emotions are crossed between characters. Don Pedro courts Hero for Claudio, and a whole group is conspiring to make Beatrice and Benedick fall in love. It is easy for them all to intervene in each other's love lives, but many of the characters face difficulties when dealing with their own situations.

Note also that Benedick's appearance and reality are changed at once. He is not as he has been, emotionally, but he has also shaved his beard, changed his attire, and put on perfume. His appearance as a man changes with his inner shift towards love.

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Beards Symbol Timeline in Much Ado About Nothing

The timeline below shows where the symbol Beards appears in Much Ado About Nothing. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 2, Scene 1
Love and Masquerade Theme Icon
Courtship, Wit, and Warfare Theme Icon
Marriage, Shame and Freedom Theme Icon
...she is thankful to God she has no husband, in some part because she hates beards. When Leonato advises her to find a beardless husband, she suggests that such a husband... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 3
Love and Masquerade Theme Icon
Courtship, Wit, and Warfare Theme Icon
Language, Perception and Reality Theme Icon
Marriage, Shame and Freedom Theme Icon
...unworthy of her. Benedick, listening in, concludes that it must be true—someone as old and bearded as Leonato, the Governor of Messina, would never participate in a childish trick. Benedick quickly... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 2
Love and Masquerade Theme Icon
Marriage, Shame and Freedom Theme Icon
...tease him for having fallen in love. They point out that he has shaved his beard, rubbed himself with civet (a form of musk or perfume), and has begun to dress... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 1
Courtship, Wit, and Warfare Theme Icon
Marriage, Shame and Freedom Theme Icon
...him about Beatrice’s love. Paying no attention to this, Benedick leaves, promising to meet “Lord Lackbeard,” (5.1.192) later in combat. As he goes, he mentions that Don John has fled from... (full context)