The theme of friendship in MAAN

Again, this question comes from the Edexcel IGCSE paper for January 2016.  And very interesting it is too.  Probably most students want to move away from friendship towards other more obvious themes such as honour and noting and try to engage from there, but I feel the theme does stand up on its own.

1: I want to establish an arc of friendship from 1.1 to the end in 5.4 Certainly 1.1 is all about friends – Leonato and Pedro have obviously known each other for a while and whilst Leonato can be seen as sycophantic, there is genuine friendship between them, as there is between Leonato and his niece, Beatrice, who is given full licence to display her wit and who is treated equally well by Pedro.  Into this mix comes Benedick and Claudio – best friends and the whole scene reeks of happy times and friendship – with the exclusion of Don John.  By the end of the play, friendship reigns again and even though Pedro is somewhat removed form the atmosphere of rejoicing, Benedick’s instruction to “get thee a wife” could be seen as some form of an attempt at reconciliation.  He has no idea that Don Pedro had once proposed to Beatrice, of course.

So friendship can be seen as surviving trials and tribulations.  Time to look closely at a few friendship groups.

2: Leonato and Pedro: these old friends get on well and represent a wealthy older generation whose power is derived from status at birth and wealth.  They seem well attuned to one another and sufficiently close for Pedro to stake his reputation on the marriage of Hero to Claudio.  So close is the friendship that Leonato is minded to believe Pedro over his own daughter once John’s plot has been put into action.  Only the Friar can persuade him otherwise at this point and Leonato’s courageous challenge to Claudio is the low point of this friendship.  But it does not break.  By the end all are reconciled and forgiven and the pair are friendly again.  Benedick seems to have control and Pedro is something of an outsider, perhaps indicating that though friendship has survived, the old social order is creaking somewhat.

3: Claudio and Benedick undergo the same trajectory, though if Beatrice is to be believed, this was always going to happen due to Benedick’s appalling record of loyalty.  They are close in 1.1, teasing each other, yet there is something unkind and selfish in Benedick’s response to Claudio’s first declaration of his love for Hero.  This is freindship but it seems to be on Benedick’s terms.  In 3.2 the boot is on the other foot with Claudio joining forces with Pedro to tease Benedick mercilessly about falling in love.  In 4.1 the friendship is ended and in 5.1 Benedick challenges Claudio to a duel – he is pained by this and his cry in 4.1: “not for the wide world” shows the pain he feels at having to challenge his friend in this way.  Claudio and Pedro mistake Benedick’s arrival in 5.1 for that of their old friend and are surprised.  Benedick is coldly formal to Pedro and challenges “Lord Lackbeard” appropriately.  by 5.4 they are reunited, though there is an underlying tension – “I did thought to have beaten you” between them and one senses that the friendship will not be as carefree as it once was.

4: The gulling scenes are perhaps the most carefree examples of friendhsip in the play, yet we should recall Balthazar’s warning song that “men are deceivers ever”, is found in 2.3 and casts a darker note to the scene than one based simply on the gulling taking place.  Still this is a near as the play comes to genuine fun and we should celebrate the scenes which help to heighten the fun prior to the shock of the wedding morning.  A similar scene is 3.5 when Hero is given her one and only scene of command in a room of excited women – including Margaret, the woman and friend who has betrayed her.  This scene is complex when looked at through friendship!

5: Hero and Beatrice are true friends and they survive – the one supported by the other through think and thin.  The girls share their hopes and fears throughout the play and it is beatrice who sets in motion the eventual rehabilitation of Hero by her staunch refusal to countenance her cousin’s infidelity.  An aside – where did they both spend the night?  Beatrice says she was not with Hero, but Hero cannot have been in her bedroom for obvious reasons…

So friendship seems to span the play, framing the events of the middle section and surviving relatively unscathed.  What is Shakespeare saying here?  I find it interesting that the female friends are the strong ones and that the male friendships are so prone to breaking.  I wonder if there is a message here.  Beatrice has so many characteristics of the Queen that this might be a message about her and her loyalty to friends when so many courtiers are scheming behind her back.  She stands tall and proud.  Who knows.  In short, friendship survives when one least expects it to do so, and that is worthy of note in this play about noting!


The sound file of a discussion lesson can be found here: