Act I

Tired of their constant bickering, Beatrice and Benedick's friends hatch a plan to get the two to fall in love. Learn these words from Shakespeare's comedy about fidelity and deception. Read the full text here.
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definitions & notes only words
  1. victual
    any substance that can be used as food
    You had musty victual, and he hath holp to eat it.
    Earlier, Leonato declared that "a victory is twice itself when the achiever brings home full numbers." But Beatrice disagrees and insults the soldiers, especially Benedick, by comparing their easy military victory to eating musty (stale or moldy) victual.
  2. valiant
    having or showing heroism or courage
    He is a very valiant trencherman; he hath an excellent stomach.
    The Latin "valere" means "be strong, have power" and in the face of danger, that means being brave. Beatrice uses both "valiant" and "excellent" to describe Benedick, so her speech sounds positive. But instead of praising his efforts in the trenches (ditches dug in the ground for protection during a war), she praises his efforts in front of a trencher (a wooden board or platter where food is served).
  3. skirmish
    a minor short-term fight
    They never meet but there's a skirmish of wit between them.
  4. halting
    limping; not able to walk steadily or properly
    In our last conflict four of his five wits went halting off, and now is the whole man govern'd with one; so that if he have wit enough to keep himself warm, let him bear it for a difference between himself and his horse; for it is all the wealth that he hath left to be known a reasonable creature.
    The adjective also means "fragmentary or broken from emotional strain." This could describe Benedick's reaction to losing a battle of wits. But here, Beatrice compares Benedick's wits to an injured horse that limps away from its rider. For a soldier, a horse is a valuable weapon. Beatrice claims to have unhorsed Benedick, but she admits that he has one wit left, because otherwise, her victory would be musty victual too.
  5. pestilence
    any epidemic disease with a high death rate
    He is sooner caught than the pestilence, and the taker runs presently mad.
  6. encounter
    contend against an opponent in a sport, game, or battle
    Good Signior Leonato, are you come to meet your trouble? The fashion of the world is to avoid cost, and you encounter it.
  7. sorrow
    an emotion of great sadness associated with loss
    Never came trouble to my house in the likeness of your Grace; for trouble being gone, comfort should remain; but when you depart from me, sorrow abides and happiness takes his leave.
  8. disdain
    lack of respect accompanied by a feeling of intense dislike
    Is it possible Disdain should die while she hath such meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick? Courtesy itself must convert to disdain if you come in her presence.
    In the first example sentence, Beatrice personifies the attitude of disdain in order to respond to Benedick calling her "Lady Disdain." In the second, she personifies courtesy ("a respectful or considerate manner") to further disdain Benedick, but also to suggest that disdain is not her natural attitude but one brought on and fed by Benedick's presence.
  9. pernicious
    exceedingly harmful
    They would else have been troubled with a pernicious suitor.
  10. predestinate
    unalterably established or arranged in advance
    So some gentleman or other shall scape a predestinate scratch'd face.
  11. reconcile
    bring into consonance or accord
    Being reconciled to the Prince your brother, I owe you all duty.
    The Latin "re" means "again" and "conciliare" means "to bring together, make friendly." The word suggests that a conflict has been resolved. But although Pedro has publicly forgiven John for standing against him, John has not reconciled with Pedro. As a bastard who does not have the same rights as the Prince, John does not take joy in Pedro's victories, yet he gladly accepts the invitation from his brother's friend.
  12. tyrant
    any person who exercises power in a cruel way
    Do you question me, as an honest man should do, for my simple true judgment? or would you have me speak after my custom, as being a professed tyrant to their sex?
  13. exceed
    be superior or better than some standard
    There's her cousin, an she were not possess'd with a fury, exceeds her as much in beauty as the first of May doth the last of December.
  14. contrary
    exact opposition
    I would scarce trust myself, though I had sworn the contrary, if Hero would be my wife.
  15. forbid
    keep from happening or arising; make impossible
    If my passion change not shortly, God forbid it should be otherwise.
  16. heretic
    a person whose religious beliefs conflict with church dogma
    Thou wast ever an obstinate heretic in the despite of beauty.
    Accused heretics were often given a chance to change their beliefs. But Benedick is obstinate ("unwilling to yield" or "resistant to guidance or discipline") and declares he'll rather burn at the stake than admit that Hero (or any woman) is beautiful and worthy of being loved.
  17. mock
    treat with contempt
    Nay, mock not, mock not.
  18. flout
    treat with contemptuous disregard
    Ere you flout old ends any further, examine your conscience.
  19. throng
    press tightly together or cram
    But now I am return'd and that war-thoughts
    Have left their places vacant, in their rooms
    Come thronging soft and delicate desires,
    All prompting me how fair young Hero is,
    Saying I lik'd her ere I went to wars.
  20. sufferance
    patient endurance especially of pain or distress
    If not a present remedy, at least a patient sufferance.
  21. canker
    a fungal disease of woody plants that damages the bark
    I had rather be a canker in a hedge than a rose in his grace, and it better fits my blood to be disdain'd of all than to fashion a carriage to rob love from any.
    A canker is also "a pernicious and malign influence that is hard to get rid of." This definition literally describes John, but in the example sentence, he uses the word figuratively and extends the metaphor by contrasting it with the more pleasant and loving image of a rose.
  22. enfranchise
    grant freedom to, as from slavery or servitude
    I am trusted with a muzzle and enfranchis'd with a clog; therefore I have decreed not to sing in my cage.
    John uses the word "enfranchise" ironically here. Although Pedro has not thrown John into a dungeon for trying to overthrow him, he does not trust him. Thus, John describes his freedom with images of a muzzle (a leather or wire restraint put over an animal's mouth to silence or control) and a clog (any object that hinders movement, such as wooden shoes or chains).
  23. alter
    cause to change; make different
    If I had my mouth, I would bite; if I had my liberty, I would do my liking. In the meantime let me be that I am, and seek not to alter me.
  24. discontent
    a longing for something better than the present situation
    Can you make no use of your discontent?
  25. subdued
    quieted and brought under control
    Their cheer is the greater that I am subdued.
Created on April 28, 2015 (updated September 5, 2018)

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