Much Ado About Nothing

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The Savage Bull Symbol Analysis

The Savage Bull Symbol Icon
Don Pedro teases Benedick that “In time the savage bull doth bear the yoke.” This image acts as a symbol for marriage throughout the play. Just as the free and proud bull is broken and tamed by the farmer, the bachelor is tamed by responsibility when he becomes a married man. The bull’s horns are another part of the image: the cuckold—or man whose wife is cheating on him—was depicted as having horns sprouting from his head. Altogether, the image of the tamed bull suggests that marriage robs a man of his freedom, turns him into a beast of burden, and comes with a risk of cuckold-like shame. But the meaning of the image changes as the play goes on. In the fifth act, Claudio reassures Benedick that his horns will be “tipped with gold,” like those of Jove (Zeus), who transformed himself into a bull to seduce Europa. Just as Benedick’s view of marriage becomes more positive, so too does the image of the bull. The bull first symbolizes a humiliated beast of burden, but by the end becomes associated with the mythological sexual adventures of Zeus, King of the Gods.

The Savage Bull Quotes in Much Ado About Nothing

The Much Ado About Nothing quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Savage Bull. 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 1, Scene 1 Quotes

“Well, as time shall try: ‘In time the savage bull doth bear the yoke.’”

Related Characters: Don Pedro (speaker), Benedick
Related Symbols: The Savage Bull
Page Number: 1.1.255-256
Explanation and Analysis:

Don Pedro has entered whil Claudio and Benedick are speaking about love. Benedick immediately reveals to Don Pedro that Claudio is in love with Hero. Though Claudio tries at first to deny it, ultimately he admits to his love. With a dramatic statement about being burned at the stake, Benedick claims that Hero is unworthy of Claudio's love. This point causes Don Pedro to accuse Benedick of being a "heretic" of love.

Don Pedro then says these words, a proverb, to suggest that Benedick will eventually fall in love himself. The proverb says that eventually, even the "savage bull" will "bear the yoke," playing on Benedick's own assertion that married men are like beasts of burden.

Note that the proverb is a line of iambic pentameter though the rest of the dialogue is in prose. This small detail helps underscore Don Pedro's prediction, which eventually comes to pass at the end of the play.

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Act 5, Scene 4 Quotes

“…get thee a wife, get thee a wife: there is no staff more reverent than one tipped with horn.”

Related Characters: Benedick (speaker), Beatrice
Related Symbols: The Savage Bull
Page Number: 5.4.126-128
Explanation and Analysis:

The drama of the play has been resolved, with all plots and confusions rectified. Hero's innocence has been established, and she and Claudio have married. Beatrice and Benedick learn that they have been tricked and set up by their friends, but nonetheless agree that they are truly in love and agree they too will wed. Benedick's views on marriage have changed: he excitedly insists on music and dancing, and even advises Don Pedro to get married. Benedick tells Don Pedro that he seems sad, and repeats the idea that he should get a wife.

It seems, then, that the play has resolved completely in favor of marriage. Yet Benedick's line that "there is no staff more reverent than one tipped with a horn" complicates things. A man who had horns was the standard description of a cuckold – a man who's wife has been unfaithful. What exactly Benedick is saying here is not clear. He may be implying that all women will eventually be unfaithful, and so all married men are essentially cuckolds. He may be suggesting that married men, because they are vulnerable to being cuckolded if their wives are unfaithful, love their wives (are "more reverent") more than they would otherwise. And he may just be joking about the idea that women are likely to make men cuckolds. Nonetheless, even as the play ends happily, with a marriage complete and another to come, it continues to complicate the very idea of love and marriage with male anxiety about female infidelity and the associated shame.

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The Savage Bull Symbol Timeline in Much Ado About Nothing

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Savage Bull appears in Much Ado About Nothing. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, Scene 1
Love and Masquerade Theme Icon
Marriage, Shame and Freedom Theme Icon
...Benedick will someday fall in love himself, quoting the proverb that “In time the savage bull doth bear the yoke.” (1.1.260-261) Benedick wittily denies it, promising that if he ever gets... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 4
Love and Masquerade Theme Icon
Language, Perception and Reality Theme Icon
Marriage, Shame and Freedom Theme Icon
...nervous, teases him about becoming a married man, but promises that he shall have gold-tipped horns like Jove (Zeus). As Claudio prepares to marry the masked woman, presented to him as... (full context)
Love and Masquerade Theme Icon
Language, Perception and Reality Theme Icon
Marriage, Shame and Freedom Theme Icon
...favor of marriage, saying “there is no staff more reverend than the one tipped with horn.” (5.4.122-123) (full context)