Beatrice and Benedick by Marina Fiorato

Beatrice and Benedick “I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me.” These words are spoken by Beatrice near the beginning of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, when she is reunited with Benedick, a man whom it is hinted she had been romantically involved with in the past. Shakespeare never gives us any details of Beatrice and Benedick’s history together and in this new novel, Marina Fiorato imagines how they may have met, what could have led to their separation and what brought them together again.

As the novel begins in the summer of 1588, Beatrice, the daughter of Prince Escalus of Verona, is visiting Messina in Sicily, staying at the home of her uncle Leonato, the Governor of Messina. Sicily is under Spanish rule and Leonato is preparing to welcome a party of Spaniards to the island, including the Prince of Aragon, Don Pedro, who is accompanied by his two young Italian friends, Claudio and Benedick. Claudio instantly falls in love with Leonato’s beautiful daughter, Hero, while Beatrice and Benedick are also attracted to each other – but are unable to admit it, preferring to trade insults instead. Just as they begin to acknowledge their love for each other, the two are torn apart with Beatrice heading home to Verona and Benedick joining Don Pedro and Claudio at sea as the Spanish Armada sets out to invade England. Eventually they will all meet again in Messina, setting the scene for the events of Much Ado About Nothing

Well, this book was a surprise! I had expected a light, gentle romantic comedy, but what I got was an entertaining and often quite dark historical adventure novel filled with duels, pageants and puppet shows, sea voyages, mutinies and treasure troves. Like a play, the novel is divided into Acts and Scenes, each Scene narrated by either Beatrice or Benedick. The voices of the two narrators were very similar and I thought more effort could have been made to make them more distinctive, but otherwise I liked the way the novel was structured. I wondered whether Fiorato would be able to pull off the wars of words between Beatrice and Benedick, but I think she did this very well – although Benedick doesn’t seem as quick-witted as Beatrice and usually comes off worst in their encounters.

I know there are some readers who are not interested in prequels, sequels or rewritings of any kind (and actually, I usually am one of those readers) but I enjoyed this one and thought it was very cleverly done, with Shakespeare’s characters and storylines woven perfectly into the history of the period. There are also some elements and characters from other plays, most notably Othello and Romeo and Juliet. Fiorato even manages to incorporate Shakespeare himself into the novel – if you’re not already aware of the theories connecting Shakespeare with Sicily I’ll leave you to find out for yourself!

You don’t really need to be familiar with Much Ado About Nothing as this book does work as a straightforward historical fiction novel, but you will get more out of it if you do read (or watch) the play either before you start or after you finish. As for the historical aspects of the novel, it was interesting to learn about Spanish-ruled Sicily and the fate of the Moors who lived there. I also loved all the beautiful descriptions of both Messina and Verona.

Having enjoyed Beatrice and Benedick so much more than I’d expected to, are there any other Shakespeare-inspired novels you would recommend?

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13 thoughts on “Beatrice and Benedick by Marina Fiorato

  1. Alex says:

    Like you, I tend to avoid anything that sits on the back of Shakespeare’s greatness but I saw this reviewed and thought I might give it a go at some point. The only other book that immediately comes to mind is Carol Goodman’s ‘The Sonnet Lover’, which also deals to some extent with the possiblilty of Shakespeare having spent time in Italy, but I’m afraid it doesn’t have much to recommend it.

    • Helen says:

      I always think Carol Goodman’s books sound great, but I’ve tried two and gave up on both after a few chapters, so she’s probably not an author for me.

    • Helen says:

      Oh yes, I loved King Hereafter! I can’t remember if you said you’d read it yet, but if you haven’t, you still have something to look forward to when you’ve finished Niccolo. 🙂

  2. Lark says:

    Much Ado About Nothing was the classic I read in March, so the timing of this book couldn’t be better for me. I’m glad the author was able to pull it off in such a clever way. Thanks for the review and the recommendation!!

    • Helen says:

      Much Ado About Nothing isn’t one of my favourites of Shakespeare’s plays but I think I’ll appreciate it more in future now that I’ve read this book!

  3. Fleur in her World says:

    I read one of Mariana Fiorato’s books on holiday a few years ago, I loved it, and I do like the sound of this. I don’t know why, but borrowing characters from plays doesn’t seem as bad as borrowing them from literary classics, and I can see the space for a great story here.

  4. Lady Fancifull says:

    I have a couple which are ‘imaginative biographies’ of Shakespeare, both done remarkably well Jude Morgan’s The Secret Life Of William Shakespeare and Robert Winder’s The Final Act of Mr Shakespeare

    I reviewed both at different times – you can do a title search on my blog – or just head over to the Amazons.

    The Winder never got the sort of marketing push which books seem to need these days to get noticed, but it is magnificent (as is the Morgan, which at least I eagerly read in advance, having read a couple of his previous excellent books. I’d never heard of the Winder, it was a chance encounter in a remainder bookshop that led me to it years later!

    • Helen says:

      Thanks for commenting. I’ve read the Jude Morgan book and enjoyed it (I also loved two of his others, The Taste of Sorrow and Passion) but I haven’t read the Robert Winder one. I’m off to read your review!

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