The savage bull may, but if ever the sensible Benedick bear it, pluck off the bull’s horns and set them in my forehead, and let me be vilely painted, and in such great letters as they write ‘Here is good horse to hire’ let them signify under my sign ‘Here you may see Benedick, the married man.’
Benedick delivers this speech to Claudio and Don Pedro. Don Pedro has just quoted an old adage about even the wildest of people eventually calming down enough to submit to love and marriage, suggesting that in time even a savage bull will bear the yoke of a woman’s will. Benedick adamantly refuses to believe this commonplace and decides to mock it. The “sensible” Benedick means the rational Benedick, a person too intelligent to yield to the irrational ways of love. Benedick imagines a fantastical scene here, with horns clapped on his head and writing practically branded into his forehead. It was traditional in the Renaissance to imagine that cuckolds—men whose wives committed adultery—had horns on their heads. Benedick’s evocation of this image suggests that any woman he marries is sure to cheat on him. Claudio and Don Pedro continue to tease Benedick about the bull imagery throughout the play.