I probably shouldn’t be emailing everyone all at once, as I don’t have time right now to flesh out my ideas, but I wanted to kind of bookmark them for myself so I can come back to them and add the requisite flesh.
Randall notes all the problems in the courtship of Hero and Claudio, to say nothing of their problematic reconciliation. Hero doesn’t speak at all, Don Pedro woos in Claudio’s name, and so on. Randall notes that this is of a different character than the Beatrice/Benedict relationship, and he’s right. Benedict says to Beatrice in Act 5 (I don’t have the text in front of me, or I’d cite it) that they were not framed “to woo peaceably.” Peaceable wooing, the observance of an extraordinarily chaste social code, has provided the opening that undermines Claudio and Hero, and though things wrap up neatly at the end, one has a better feeling about the future of Beatrice and Benedict than the two “primary” lovers.
In fact, that’s the real distinction in this play, for me. The end requires no actual forgiveness, it seems to me – when Hero declares that she’s NEW, I take her at her word. The Hero that Claudio marries has never been slandered. Hero herself (in one of her very, very few lines) wipes out the very existence of the wrong. That’s pardoning, not forgiving.
This play is much more a play of circumstance than Two Gentlemen of Verona, to which Randall compares it. Two people love each other, though they never speak to each other, even, in Claudio’s case, to woo; problems arise; problems dissipate; marriage occurs. But neither of the two primary lovers changes at ALL in order to overcome these circumstances. The mores of the time period or Claudio’s own willingness to let the prince woo in his name, provide the external evil that is Don John access to his solemnity. Don John contrives to slander Hero, Claudio acts on the slander, Hero is shamed, and so on. But when they wed at the end of the play, it’s as completely restored characters – Claudio has LEARNED nothing from this whole affair, and Hero is reborn in the full chastity of her maidenhood. Benedict and Beatrice, meanwhile, evince decidedly more alteration of character. But now I’ve run out of time, and will have to pick up later on…