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Much Ado About Nothing - Extract 1

This GCSE English Literature quiz is the first of two extract questions for Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare. It takes place during the third act of the play, after Benedick’s and Beatrice’s friends hatch a plot against them. Ursula and Hero are walking in the orchard with the intention of allowing Beatrice to overhear them. The scene is amusing because although it is based on deceit, the ploy allows Hero and Ursula to aim some truths at Beatrice: their jokes about her seem to express some of their genuine feelings that they might normally hesitate to express directly. Read the passage through at least twice before tackling the questions. When answering, pay close attention to the text while also bearing in mind the wider issues of the play as a whole.

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How to answer an extract question in an exam:

Always read through the passage more than once before you begin to answer an extract question in an exam. On the first reading, you should aim for a broad understanding of the passage, considering especially how it relates to the question or questions you will be answering. As you read through the second time, you should begin noting details and making annotations. Ask yourself why the specific passage has been chosen: what is its significance? How does it relate to rest of the text? Can you define its place in the structure of the text? Are any significant characters or themes introduced? What happens next? Can you see evidence of foreshadowing? How does the passage develop? Can you think of a reason why the extract ends where it does instead of elsewhere? Is the final line significant?

You should also think carefully about the question you have been asked to answer. Does it concern mood and atmosphere of the extract or a particular character? Perhaps you have been asked to discuss dialogue, behaviour or feelings. Now think about the question you have been asked and the notes you have made in relation to the themes of the text. Remember to explain the passage’s immediate context: what has happened before this point in the text? How do prior events relate to those of the extract? Carefully consider the detail, setting and characterisation. When writing, group related ideas together, but remember to discuss the entire passage in your answer. Allow yourself time to cover the entire passage. Otherwise, you might spend all your time writing on the first half in great detail at the expense of the rest of the passage.

Read the passage below carefully before answering the questions.

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HERO: Why, you speak truth. I never yet saw man,
How wise, how noble, young, how rarely featured,
But she would spell him backward. If fair-faced,
She would swear the gentleman should be her sister.
If black, why nature, drawing of an antic,
Made a foul blot. If tall, a lance ill headed;
If low, an agate very vilely cut;
If speaking, why, a vane blown with all winds;
If silent, why a block moved with none.
So turns she every man the wrong side out,
And never gives to truth and virtue that
Which simpleness and merit purchaseth.

URSULA: Sure, sure, such carping is not commendable.

HERO: No, not to be so odd and from all fashions
As Beatrice is cannot be commendable.
But who dare tell her so? If I should speak
She would mock me into air, O, she would laugh me
Out of myself, press me to death with wit.
Therefore let Benedick, like covered fire,
Consume away in sighs, waste inwardly.
It were a better death than die with mocks,
Which is as bad as die with tickling.

URSULA: Yet tell her of it, hear what she will say.

HERO: No. Rather I will go to Benedick
And counsel him to fight against his passion.
And truly, I’ll devise some honest slanders
To stain my cousin with. One doth not know
How much an ill word may empoison liking.

URSULA: O, do not do your cousin such a wrong.
She cannot be so much without true judgement,
Having so swift and excellent a wit
As she is prized to have, as to refuse
So rare a gentleman as Signor Benedick.

HERO: He is the only man of Italy,
Always excepted my dear Claudio.

URSULA: I pray you be not angry with me, madam,
Speaking my fancy. Signor Benedick,
For shape, for bearing, argument, and valour
Goes foremost in report through Italy.

HERO: Indeed, he hath an excellent good name.

URSULA: His excellence did earn it ere he had it.
When are you married, madam?

HERO: Why, every day, tomorrow. Come, go in.
I’ll show thee some attires and have thy counsel
Which is the best to furnish me tomorrow.

URSULA [aside]: She’s limed, I warrant you. We have caught
her, madam.

HERO [aside]: If it prove so, then loving goes by haps.
Some Cupid kills with arrows, some with traps.

Exeunt [HERO and URSULA]

BEATRICE [coming forward]: What fire is in mine ears? Can this be true?
Stand I condemned for pride and scorn so much?

William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing (W. W. Norton, 2008)
  1. What is the immediate context for this passage?
    The story Margaret brings to Beatrice is true: she is being discussed in the orchard. She does not, however, question Margaret's motive for fetching her there, nor the possibility that the conversation has been staged for her benefit
  2. What immediately follows this passage?
    Beatrice falls into the trap laid for her
  3. Which of the following is an example of foreshadowing in this passage?
    Hero will soon be slandered, her own reputation stained and Claudio's "liking" poisoned
  4. Hero says she has never met a man that Beatrice does not "spell backwards". What does she mean by this?
    The examples Hero gives show that Beatrice exaggerates each man's qualities until they are unattractive or unpleasant
  5. What does Hero identify to be as bad as death caused by tickling?
    Hero says that it would be better for Benedick to sigh himself to death rather than to suffer Beatrice's sustained mockery. Mockery here becomes an instrument of torture; the pain caused by its intended humour is compared to the exquisite torture of tickling
  6. Hero says, in her aside, that Cupid kills some "with arrows, some with traps". What does she mean by this?
    Hero's language is violent: Cupid, the god of love, kills and traps his victims. Beatrice and Benedick are as lacking in choice as she has been
  7. Who is compared to a bird in this passage?
    Beatrice has been "limed" and "caught", like a bird ("birdlime" is a type of glue cruelly used to trap birds when they land in trees). Just before this passage Hero refers to Beatrice as a lapwing
  8. Which of the following lines expresses the idea that reputation is created by deeds?
    Ursula insists that a good name derives from excellence, rather than good personal qualities automatically proceeding from high social status (a good name)
  9. Ursula appeals to which of Beatrice's characteristics?
    Ursula cleverly implies that any woman with the wit and discernment of Beatrice could not possibly refuse such a fine man as Benedick. Pride is exactly the type of characteristic to make Beatrice wish to prove Ursula wrong
  10. Beatrice refers to "fire" in her ears. What is the significance of this metaphor?
    Having hot ears traditionally means that someone somewhere is talking about you. Beatrice is also likely to be blushing with shame

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