Can a Woman Make Sense of How She’s For & Against a Man & the World?

By Karen Van Outryve

Emma Thompson & Kenneth Branagh in "Much Ado about Nothing" [1993 film]
Emma Thompson & Kenneth Branagh in “Much Ado about Nothing” [1993 film]

The following excerpt from an Aesthetic Realism seminar by my colleague Karen Van Outryve, poet and actress, has a section about Beatrice & Benedict in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, showing how this play can be useful to women and men right now. – Anne Fielding

We Can Be Against Something Beautifully

Most often, and I know this first hand, when a woman objects to a man, even if her criticism is correct, she’s not inspiring; she’s too scornful, or patronizing.  She doesn’t have good will.

In an Aesthetic Realism class, Ellen Reiss, Chairman of Education, took up an article dealing with a husband and wife quarreling about Facebook. She pointed out that all over America, women are objecting to their husbands. And she explained what would have a man trust his wife: A woman needs to feel three things, she said, when objecting to a man:  a) she’s objecting in behalf of the world itself, b) she’s objecting in behalf of herself, and c) she’s objecting in behalf of him. She has to feel, “what you are doing is not good for you, and my objection is the same as my care for you.”

I learned how important this is some years ago when my husband Anthony, who is an architect, and I were moving to a new home. I felt he was disproportionate, too concerned about all the details.  In a class Ms. Reiss asked if there was anything in the situation that was related to poetry, the art I love. Did I see the opposites that were affecting my husband, like old and new, detail and whole. She asked, “Do you think everything Anthony Romeo is concerned about has to do with point and width? Even if he is, as you say, disproportionate, does it still say something about the world?” And she asked, “Did you marry him to manage him or to learn about the world through him?”  Hearing this, I saw that I’d been on the wrong track. Ms. Reiss commented, “There is no situation whatever in which a wife cannot have good will, “the desire to have something else stronger and more beautiful, for this desire makes oneself stronger and more beautiful.” This is what Cathy Ryan [the name has been changed] learned about in her Aesthetic Realism consultations.

The Education that Makes Sense of For & Against in Love

Cathy Ryan began to study Aesthetic Realism after graduating from college where she’d majored in science. She was a representative contemporary woman who thought she was all for love, and with her long, red hair and sparkling green eyes, she had received much attention and praise. Yet she was surprisingly bitter about men and despairing she’d every find real love. She told us the men she’d known were all disappointing. Meanwhile, when she did meet a man she was attracted to, she’d find herself constantly thinking about where he was, when he was going to call, and did he really love her?  We pointed out that, “A woman can think she’s ever so much for a man because she’s always thinking about him, but if she isn’t interested in knowing who he really is, what he feels, and how he sees the world, she’s against him.”

Cathy Ryan. Wow! I have to think about that. I guess I’ve always told myself the problem was men. In fact, I was thinking of giving them up.

Consultants.  The problem is not men; it’s how you see them. If you were really for a man, you would use him to know and like reality, to find out what you are, and to feel you are more yourself through knowing the world that he represents. Aesthetic Realism says the world is the third partner in any relationship.

Cathy Ryan.  I’m afraid that whenever a man praises me, the rest of the world disappears.

Ms. Ryan was describing, pretty courageously, what most women do, and with all the praise she’d gotten, we saw that she was thirsty for honest criticism. She studied her consultations, annotated “Love and Reality” a chapter of Self and World, and spoke with her friends about what she was learning. Some months later, she told us about Ben West [name also changed]:

Cathy Ryan.  We’re getting to know each other, and I really like him. But in our last conversation he said I have a tendency to make things smaller, and also that I present myself as smaller than I am.

Consultants.  Is that true?

Cathy Ryan. Well, yes.  I can see myself doing things girlish and gossipy, and I have to fight to be large and think of him not just in relation to me.

Consultants.  If you’re in a closer relation to a man, do you want to have your critical mind working with a good purpose? Do you want to meet his hopes, or do you want things to get misty?

Cathy Ryan.  I don’t know. He said he wants me to be a better critic of him, and I’m not sure why I find that so difficult. I feel I make him seem so good.

Consultants.  When a woman doesn’t criticize a man, is it because she hopes to respect him more or less?

Cathy Ryan. Well, if you don’t want to think about where he could do better—you don’t hope to respect him more.

Consultants.  The big suspicion men have is that a woman wants them weaker. Do you think you’re good at appearing meek, as if you need a mentor?

Cathy Ryan.  Yes.

Consultants.  But as you act humble, are you also picking out flaws?

Cathy Ryan.  I have done that.

Consultants.  Well, he’ll trust you when he’s sure you hope to respect him. This is an opportunity for you. You don’t know how good you can feel if you want a man to be stronger.

Cathy Ryan.  That’s what I want to feel. I really want to meet his hopes.

Ms. Ryan was true to this statement. She became a better friend and critic of Ben West and their care grew.

Ellen Terry as Beatrice, c. 1882
Ellen Terry as Beatrice, c. 1882

Do We Long for Criticism?—Shakespeare Shows We Do

How much people are looking for criticism is hinted at in a great comedy about for and against: William Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing of 1599.

In a lecture Eli Siegel gave on this play in 1951, he said it has “some of Shakespeare’s best prose.” The two main characters, Beatrice and Benedick, insult each other from the beginning. Mr. Siegel said they represent the two ways of mind fighting and trying to meet in Shakespeare. These two ways of mind are always present in love: we want to be affected by another person, but we also feel this interferes with the purity of ourselves, which we fiercely want to protect. As the play opens, Benedick is jesting with the Prince and others, and Beatrice interrupts: “I wonder that you still be talking, Signior Benedick; nobody marks you.”

BENEDICK. What, my dear Lady Disdain, are you yet living?

BEATRICE.  Is it possible that 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.

BENEDICK. Then is courtesy a turncoat. But it is certain I am loved of all ladies, only you excepted; and I would I could find in my heart that I had not a hard heart; for, truly, I love none.

BEATRICE. A dear happiness to women; they would else have been troubled with a pernicious suitor. I thank God and my cold blood, I am of your humor for that: I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me.

With all the insults, they both agree that love is not for them. But their friends see that they really have a big feeling for each other that they are afraid to show. So these friends arrange for them to overhear that they are secretly loved by the other. As Beatrice is behind a bush, her cousin, a girl named Hero, describes her this way:

Disdain and scorn ride sparkling in her eyes,
Misprising what they look on, and her wit
Values itself so highly, that to her
All matter else seems weak: she cannot love.

Hearing this, Beatrice determines to change, saying:

Stand I condemn’d for pride and scorn so much?
Contempt, farewell! And maiden pride, adieu!
And, Benedick, love on; I will requite thee,
Taming my wild heart to thy loving hand:
If thou dost love, my kindness shall incite thee,
To bind our loves up in a holy band;

             It is lovely to hear Beatrice say, “Contempt, farewell!” And the way people change swiftly and utterly in this play is delightful. But Beatrice really begins to trust Benedick when he joins her in defending her cousin, Hero, who is falsely accused on her wedding day of being unfaithful. Nobody comes to her defense—not even her father—only Beatrice, who asks Benedick to join her, and challenge the bridegroom (who is a friend of his) to a duel in order to clear Hero’s name. Benedick does this, but the villains who have spread the lies are apprehended and confess, so the duel is unnecessary, and the play ends with dancing. It is Shakespeare’s poetic way with for and against, which has a meaning for people today that Aesthetic Realism illuminates.

William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare

The change in Cathy Ryan was not as instantaneous but was deep and logical. Ms. Ryan told us:

I felt like such a failure with men, and it means so much to me now that I am able to think consciously about how I can have Ben West stronger instead of wanting him weaker. Today, I have true love in my life. Through Ben, I really feel I’m closer to the whole world.  When we’re together, my mind and body are both present, working for a good purpose, and that’s so different from what I felt in the past. I’m very grateful to Aesthetic Realism: it makes for such a deep, meaningful change in a woman’s life.

Yes, Aesthetic Realism is knowledge that women and men everywhere have a right to know.

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