They say the lady is fair. ‘Tis a truth, I can bear them witness. And virtuous—’tis so, I cannot reprove it. And wise, but for loving me. By my troth, it is no addition to her wit—nor no great argument of her folly, for I will be horribly in love with her.
Benedick has just overheard Claudio, Leonato, and Don Pedro discussing Beatrice’s fabricated love for him. Alone on the stage, he ponders this news and concludes that the best thing for him to do is to return this love: “for I will be horribly in love with her” (II.iii.208). This line produces a comical effect, as it seems preposterous that someone would fall “horribly” in love with another person after simply weighing that person’s virtues. The choice of the word “horribly” accentuates the comic aspects of Benedick’s decision. Not only does he return her love, but he does so to the point of overthrowing her, and all others in his midst, with love. The choice of “horribly” could also echo a bit of the merry war Beatrice and Benedick have been fighting with their wits. There has always existed an element of competition between them. It is not enough for Benedick to reciprocate Beatrice’s passions; he must outdo them, perhaps in order to unseat her and win the competition. The actor playing Benedick has a number of choices in performing this soliloquy: he can reveal that he has always been in love with Beatrice but is in denial about his true feelings and therefore must go through the motions of weighing the pros and cons of loving her in a rational manner. Or he can simply treat this moment as one more parry in the thrusts and blows of their “merry war” and conclude that the only way to win is to surpass her, even in love.