A pretty cool explanation of the meaning behind the lyrics of Mumford And Sons' song Sigh No More:
It's been almost 15 years since I had the great fortune to play the role of Signior Benedick in a regional theater production of "Much Ado About Nothing". But, when I heard the first line to "Sigh No More" ("Serve God, love me, and mend") I knew it immediately.
Many (but not all) of the lines to "Sigh No More" are taken directly from "Much Ado About Nothing" (MAAN)
If only one or two lines of the song were from MAAN, it could be considered "artistic license". But more than half of the lines are pretty much direct quotes from MAAN.
So, it makes sense to first know a little about the plot of the play. While there are several sub-plots, the primary story follows Benedick and Beatrice.
Benedick and Beatrice have known each other for many years. (Beatrice: "You always end with a jade's trick: I know you of old.")
Benedick, a veteran soldier, is an avowed bachelor ... as is Beatrice.
But, they are not just common acquaintances. There are hints of an earlier relationship between them ... one that did not end so well. Perhaps with infidelity on the part of Benedick:
DON PEDRO: Come, lady, come; you have lost the heart of Signior Benedick.
BEATRICE : Indeed, my lord, he lent it me awhile; and I gave him use for it,
a double heart for his single one: marry, once before he won it of me
with false dice, therefore your grace may well say I have lost it.
They have an obvious attraction to each other that all can see. However, they are constantly jibing and parrying with each other. There is a "merry war" between them.
Benedick starts the play railing against love: "I would I could find in my heart that I had not a hard heart; for, truly, I love none." And "I will live a bachelor."
As does Beatrice: "I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me."
Their friends and family conspire to make them fall in love with each other (or at least, to admit that they already ARE in love with each other) by simply letting each one know that the other secretly loves them.
It is while Benedick's friends are in the process of tricking him that Balthasar sings his song:
Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never:
Then sigh not so, but let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into Hey nonny, nonny.
Benedick then "overhears" (by design) his friend's conversation that Beatrice loves him and she is too proud/frightened to tell him. His friends leave him to ponder this and he delivers a pretty great Shakespearean monologue with lines like:
"Love me! Why, it must be requited!"
"I may chance have some odd quirks and remnants of wit broken on me, because I have
railed so long against marriage: but doth not the appetite alter?"
Beatrice's friends and family do the same thing to her ... and it works just as well:
"Benedick, love on; I will requite thee!"
"If thou dost love, my kindness shall incite thee to bind our loves up in a holy band"
Claudio (Benedick's friend) and Hero (Beatrice's cousin) are the young lovers in the play. They are engaged to be married. On the wedding day, Claudio arrives and essentially calls off the wedding, claiming that Hero has been unfaithful ... that he saw her the night before, at her window, with another man. This is all a choreographed ruse perpetrated by Don John, the "villain" of the play. (But nobody figures this out until later on).
Beatrice is heart-broken for her cousin, and angry that Claudio would defame Hero. Benedick attempts to comfort Beatrice and eventually confesses: "I do love nothing in the world so well as you: is not that strange?" Beatrice then confesses that she loves Benedick, and things get really interesting ...
BEATRICE: You have stayed me in a happy hour: I was about to protest I loved you.
BENEDICK: And do it with all thy heart.
BEATRICE: I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest.
BENEDICK: Come, bid me do any thing for thee.
BEATRICE: Kill Claudio.
(As an aside here, that line above is one of the reasons why people are still performing this guy's plays 400 years after he died. "I love you", "Prove it ... kill your best friend")
Benedick tries to calm Beatrice down ... to explain that there must be some kind of mistake, that Claudio is not this evil person that he appears to be. Beatrice will hear nothing of it. She is angered that she even needs to ask someone else (a man) to take care of this for her: "O God, that I were a man! I would eat his heart in the marketplace."
Eventually, her grief and emotion are too much for Benedick to bear and he agrees to fight his friend to the death.
Benedick challenges Claudio: "You are a villain; I jest not: I will make it good how you dare, with what you dare, and when you dare." (NOTE: Benedick is a much more seasoned warrior than Claudio and he will dispatch him quickly. Benedick and Claudio know this.)
Luckily, the world's dumbest town sheriff (Constable Dogberry) stumbles upon some of Don John's men bragging about the treachery they performed (framing Hero). Therefore, everyone discovers that Hero was not unfaithful after all.
Word of this discovery has not yet reached Benedick and Beatrice. He meets with Beatrice to confirm that he has challenged Claudio. They have a playful moment where they once again express love for each other. But there is a serious undertone as well ... Benedick knowing that he will have to deal with Claudio, and Beatrice knowing that her cousin Hero has taken ill from the stress and grief she feels. This all leads to the following exchange:
BENEDICK: ...how doth your cousin?
BEATRICE: Very ill.
BENEDICK: And how do you?
BEATRICE: Very ill too.
BENEDICK: Serve God, love me and mend.
This is an incredibly gentle, loving moment. And, it can be thought of as a sort of "emotional climax" for the play. Until now, all of the declarations of love and hate between Beatrice and Benedick were grand statements, sweeping gestures. Here it is simple, basic, perfect ... "I will protect you".
And amazingly, the very NEXT line of the play is delivered by a handmaiden who runs in to inform Beatrice and Benedick that: "...it is proved my Lady Hero hath been falsely accused, the prince and Claudio mightily abused; and Don John is the author of all!"
So in the end, Claudio marries Hero and Benedick marries Beatrice. This is where Benedick says (to Claudio) "live unbruised" and also "we are friends".
Everyone rails at Benedick (the professed bachelor is now getting married).
He defends his position as best he can:
"In brief, since I do purpose to marry, I will think nothing to any
purpose that the world can say against it; and therefore never flout
at me for what I have said against it; for man is a giddy thing,
and this is my conclusion."
The play has been a journey for Benedick ... to understand the nature of love.
He is given several lengthy monologues on the subject and spends much time debating the nature of love and whether it really has a roll in his life. But, in the end, it is the moment when he says "Serve God, love me, and mend" where he realizes the simplicity of it. Love is impossible to describe. Impossible to understand. Impossible to control. Impossible to ignore. Love just IS. For man is a giddy thing.