Masks and Booze: Flirting, Shakespearean Style

A few days ago, my Shakespeare class and I engaged in an entertaining discussion on flirting and masked balls in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing where, 20 minutes into the play, the characters have a masked flirt fest. Part of the reason that the marriage between Hero and Claudio doesn’t work out, as pointed out by the person who said the aforementioned gem, was because the two young lovers never actually talk to each other (though I maintain that it’s mostly because Claudio is an insufferable ass with an inferiority complex that would shock even Freud).

Claudio, in all his insecure glory, lets the Prince, Don Pedro, intervene on his behalf to woo Hero. Now, this is creepy on two levels: 1) the prince is like twice her age or older, and 2) he’s in a mask so she has no idea who he actually is so she could be pledging her love to a psychopath with an oedipus complex and she wouldn’t know it. This lack of communication extends beyond this initial period of wooing and Claudio is unable to communicate anything to Hero ever. BUT THIS IS NOT A POST ABOUT SHAKESPEARE so hang on, I’m getting to my point.

So the characters flirt with each other in masks. At this point, my friend brought up an interesting point when she said that it’s easier to flirt with someone if you’re wearing a mask. You can hide behind it and remain anonymous. I then took this opportunity to point out that she didn’t exactly have to flirt much and yet she’s still been in a stable relationship for far longer than I have (all the single ladies put your hands up).

So, flirting; the act of engaging in mildly witty repartee with someone whom you want to think about you in ways other than “oh, I can ask this person about what the professor discussed on thursday”. Side effects may include objectification, teeth-gnashingly painful cliched remarks, impromptu hooking up, unforeseen sex, broken hearts, snarky grins, and a plethora of other symptons. Basically, flirting allows two people to think about each other in ways they, presumably, wouldn’t, outside the steamy environment of what they deem sexy banter (oh wait, that’s just the fumes from the people smoking outside).


Flirting is for everyone: perhaps you’ve been in a relationship with them for some time and are trying to rekindle some passion of love’s past; what better way than to flirt with your partner? It brings you back to the days when dating was exciting and a little bit forbidden because you knew that her dad would be waiting up for the two of you with a twelve gauge shotgun. However, flirting is most commonly seen between people who don’t really know each other. In my humble opinion, it’s kind of like the equalizer between men comparing the sizes of their genitalia and women comparing breast sizes. Two people engaged in a battle of flirts are trying to one-up each other each round. Ba-bing, ba-bong. But more often than not people eventually run out of things to say and are forced to turn to the standard of “Oh! I haven’t tried this combination of ridiculous things! Maybe this will work!” (#ShitAlexSays–>we should start a twitter account, updated mondays and wednesdays after class).

Flirting is a competition often culminating in a draw where one person will contest the other’s ability to do something (presumably sexual in nature) and they, in turn, serves it right back, countering with a “guess you’ll have to find out” kind of remark. At this juncture in time, the first person has two options: A) Realize this other person is a tool and probably has nothing to offer (why else would they be hanging out in a bar populated mostly by single men over the age of 35) and say something along the lines of “That’s nice of you but my girlfriend/boyfriend/mistress/sire/mom is waiting for me” or B) Just roll with it and, who knows, maybe something will come of it, or maybe you’re just going to have a fun romp ‘twixt the sheets with someone you barely know and it all started with a simple exchange of:

“that spot on your shirt above your right nipple brings out the color of your eyes”

“what that? oh, I spilled chlorophyll water on it an hour ago, I was hoping no one would notice”

“well, I guess I was just drawn to it following the supple curve of your shapely neck…”

That came out a lot creepier than I intended. People are weird. Moving right along.

So, it seems to me that flirting is the kind of thing that has to be done face to face. Sure, it’s fine to put on a mask that just covers your eyes because, honestly, no one would be fooled by a half-mask no matter what Shakespeare says. You can see the gamut of emotions run by your partner in social intercourse when you are able to look them in the face. You say something inflammatory and their eye twitches; that’s a tell that makes you realize you’ve said something unnecessary and hurtful. Behind a mask, you can’t tell if someone is smiling or cursing your very existence, but then I’ve always found masks creepy. Leave it to Shakespeare to use it as a staple of his comedy.

At worst, flirting is formulaic and cliched. At best, it can actually be kind of fun; that is, until the alcohol wears off and you realize you’ve just been repeating yourself over and over again and the person you’ve been talking to is miraculously still there but that’s when you realize that that is NOT a good sign so perhaps it’s time to go. Then again, I’ve always been terrible at flirting and it doesn’t help when you’re a perpetual cynic who has to dissect what your flirting partner has said and find the etymology of each phrase. That said, I’ve yet to flirt with someone who can say something as disturbingly original as me (though an obscure quote from the Bard might do the trick too…)


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