When I first read the book, I was amused at Don Pedro’s insistence that he woo Hero on behalf of Claudio. It seemed like such a cocky statement. (Learning about the social dynamics of that particular time and place helped to give me understanding on that one.) Later, during the masquerade ball, I just skimmed over Don Pedro’s proposal to Beatrice. I thought he was just trying to be kind and lift her spirits. And at the end, I read Benedick’s comments as a joke, not as an actual commentary on Don Pedro’s countenance.
But then I watched the movie.
Maybe it was just Denzel Washington’s interpretation of the lines, but in his portrayal Don Pedro’s proposal is not a joke. He truly seems drawn to Beatrice. She’s beautiful, she’s smart, she’s from an influential family. She’s everything he could want. And on the flip side, Don Pedro is a man of tremendous wealth and influence…and he’s witty, kindhearted, and successful to boot. So why does Beatrice refuse him? I think in that moment, Don Pedro figured out her true feelings and decided to use his influence to bring Beatrice and Benedick together.
So then why is he sad at the end of the play? Both of this schemes turned out just they way he planned. Not without a few scandalous misunderstandings in the process, but regardless, two happy couples stand before him in the final scene. I think he’s sad because he wants his happy ending too. But unfortunately for Don Pedro (and perhaps in a wee little defense of Shakespeare) this just isn’t his story.
I slightly digress. Watching the movie made Don Pedro come alive to me in a whole new way. Mostly because it brought to mind a scripture passage that has long been near to my heart:
Joshua 3:14-17 “So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water's edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground”The priests (worshipers) go first – blazing a path through the Jordan River at a time when the river is most dangerous. Then they stand in the gap (intercession), holding back the torrent of water, while all their brothers cross over into the promised land. They are perfectly content to wait for their promise until they see that their brothers have gotten to theirs safely.
This passage resonates so strongly with me because this is how I want to live my life: standing in the gap, doing what I can to hold back the flood, so that people can cross to the other side and find their promise.
A friend of mine told me there’s actually a name in Tibetan Buddhism for someone like that: bodhisattva. A Bodhisattva is anyone who is motivated by compassion and seeks enlightenment not only for him/herself but also for everyone. (Leave it to the Buddhists to come up with a fancy label.)
So I understand Don Pedro. I don’t want to elevate him too high, or read way to much into the fifth wheel of this love comedy. But I know what it’s like to drop into someone’s story, to use what influence and creativity I have to do what I can to help them cross their river, and then to quietly move on from their story to my next adventure.
Don Pedro as a river-holding bodhisattva. Betcha Shakespeare never saw that one coming!