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In Much ado about nothing by William Shakespeare, Act 1 Scene 1, Beatrice declares to Benedick

'I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swears he loves me.'

I understand that Beatrice is basically saying 'I would rather X than hearing a man say he loves me.' But I don't understand the dog barking at a crow bit.

What does a dog barking at a crow signify?

I did some research and found that a crow is a bad omen, so perhaps the dog barking is warning the owner of a bad omen?

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    My gut feeling is that it's just 'I'd rather hear this annoying noise than you saying that you love me', but I'm still looking for stuff. – Mithical May 2 '17 at 7:24
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    I'd agree with @Mithrandir, a dog barking at a crow is neither going to catch it or scare it away, crows will hang around to taunt other animals (apparently) for fun. If you search You Tube for 'crow taunts dog' you will see what i mean. So the barking goes on, and on, and on.... – Spagirl May 2 '17 at 9:04
  • I also concur with @Mithrandir. I have not found any special symbolism or proverbial meanings. It's just an example of an unpleasant, tedious sound. (Not just from Benedick, but from any man: she's aromantic, or at least claims she is.) – Joshua Engel May 2 '17 at 18:59
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    @Beastly You might want to wait a bit longer before accepting an answer. Mith's answer, while it may be correct, isn't really about literature, and it's possible that someone may come up with something better (there may indeed be some deeper meaning that nobody has come up with yet), but people are less likely to look at a question which already has an accepted answer. – Rand al'Thor May 2 '17 at 22:54
  • It strikes me as an analogy. Dogs just bark at crows. It's a natural reaction but just a noise, not words with meaning that could be true or false. Similarly men say they love beautiful women. I guess "I'd rather" the one because (absurdly) the noises of dogs have no meaning and the noises of men have even less. – Chaim May 3 '17 at 20:37
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It doesn't appear to be symbolic at all; a dog barking at a crow is merely an annoying sound that she would rather listen to.

Crows are notorious for teasing other animals. I mean... look at this!

In the above linked video, the crow is hanging around behind a dog, who's tied up, and repeatedly going and pecking the dog with it's beak and dashing away. It just keeps bothering the dog. Presumably the dog is barking at the crow, but the crow doesn't leave.

Beatrice is taking an example of an annoying sound, and saying that she would rather listen to that then the man's declaration of love. She's giving a very clear message - I don't love you.


Here's a video of a dog barking at a crow. The crow is just staying there, while the dog continues to bark.

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One should read this quote with the preceding lines in mind, for example, when Beatrice says to Benedick:

I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior Benedick: nobody marks you.

and

Courtesy itself must convert to disdain, if you come in her presence.

Beatrice expresses disdain for Benedick, and the words

I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swears he loves me

are a continuation in the same vein.

Human speech, unlike the barking of a dog to a crow, has meaning to humans; Benedick's words have as little meaning to her as a dog's barking.

One should not too quickly jump to the conclusion that she considers Benedick's words as "annoying noise" (see Mithrandir's answer). It was perfectly possible for Elizabethans to consider the sound of barking as pleasant. Witness the following passage from Act IV, Scene 1 in A Midsummer Night's Dream, where Hyppolita talks about a hunting experience (emphasis mine):

I was with Hercules and Cadmus once,
When in a wood of Crete they bay'd the bear
With hounds of Sparta: never did I hear
Such gallant chiding: for, besides the groves,
The skies, the fountains, every region near
Seem'd all one mutual cry: I never heard
So musical a discord, such sweet thunder.

However, in this case, the hounds were chosen in such a way that their combined barking is somehow "harmonious". (I think there is at least one other play where Shakespeare mentions this sort of thing.) The barking of a single dog may still sound monotonous though.

So my interpretation of Beatrice's words is that she finds Benedick's talk both less meaningful and more monotonous than the barking of a dog.

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