Words . . . for their own sake, for the mad and musical patterns they can be strung into—it’s Shakespeare and it’s Elizabethan theatre, so this play is as word-obsessed as any from the time. The plot of this one is pretty slight, but it sparks enough passion to get people going. As is usual for the time, people speak in both prose and verse. The prose, open, rapid, sprawling at times, but usually highly coordinated and orderly, sounds like this:
I do much wonder that one man, seeing how much another man is a fool when he dedicates his behaviors to love, will, after he hath laughed at such shallow follies in others, become the argument of his own scorn by falling in love: and such a man is Claudio.
That’s Benedick condemning his friend. Claudio, under the force of his passion, speaks it in verse:
Out on thee seeming! I will write against it.
You seem to me as Dian in her orb,
As chaste as is the bud ere it be blown,
But you are more intemperate in your blood
Than Venus, or those pampered animals
That rage in savage sensuality.
Or Leonato, Governor of Messina, when he is convinced that his daughter’s reputation is destroyed forever—the poetry expands to the size of his humiliation:
O, she is fallen
Into a pit of ink, that the wide sea
Hath drops too few to wash her clean again
And salt too little which may season give
To her foul-tainted flesh!
Both of those speeches might have come from a tragedy as easily as a comedy; in their evocations of jealous rage and horror at the supposed inconstancy of women, they might as well have been from Othello or Hamlet. And that shows something else of interest—though this is a comedy, and doesn’t end in the pile of corpses usual to that genre, we might still conclude that is a matter of luck: the passions of these characters are just as intense, the situations just as dangerous.