Benedick is the willful lord, recently returned from fighting
in the wars, who vows that he will never marry. He engages with
Beatrice in a competition to outwit, outsmart, and out-insult the
other, but to his observant friends, he seems to feel some deeper
emotion below the surface. Upon hearing Claudio and Don Pedro discussing
Beatrice’s desire for him, Benedick vows to be “horribly in love
with her,” in effect continuing the competition by outdoing her
in love and courtship (II.iii.
Of course, since Benedick is so invested in performing for the others, it is not easy for us to tell whether he has been in love with Beatrice all along or falls in love with her suddenly during the play. Benedick’s adamant refusal to marry does appear to change over the course of the play, once he decides to fall in love with Beatrice. He attempts to conceal this transformation from his friends but really might enjoy shocking them by shaving off his beard and professing undying love to Beatrice. This change in attitude seems most evident when Benedick challenges Claudio, previously his closest friend in the world, to duel to the death over Claudio’s accusation as to Hero’s unchaste behavior. There can be no doubt at this point that Benedick has switched his allegiances entirely over to Beatrice.