Act 1, Scene 1
In the Italian town of Messina, the wealthy and kindly Leonato prepares to welcome home some soldier friends who are returning from a battle. These friends include Don Pedro of Aragon, a highly respected nobleman, and a brave young soldier named Claudio, who has won much honour in the fighting. Leonato’s young daughter, Hero, and her cousin, Beatrice, accompany him. Beatrice asks about the health of another soldier in Don Pedro’s army, a man named Signor Benedick. Beatrice cleverly mocks and insults Benedick. A messenger from Don Pedro defends Benedick as a honourable and virtuous man, but Leonato explains that Beatrice and Benedick carry on a “merry war” of wits with one another, trading jibes whenever they meet. Beatrice confirms this statement, noting that in their most recent conflict, “four of his five wits went halting off, and now is the whole man governed with one” (I.i.52–54).
Don Pedro arrives at Leonato’s house with his two friends, Claudio and Benedick, and they are joyfully welcomed. Also accompanying Don Pedro is his quiet, sullen, illegitimate brother, Don John “the Bastard,” with whom Don Pedro has recently become friendly after a period of mutual hostility. While Leonato and Don Pedro have a private talk, Beatrice and Benedick take up their war of wits. In an extremely fast-paced exchange of barbs, they insult one another’s looks, intelligence, and personality. When Benedick tells Beatrice proudly that he has never loved a woman and never will, Beatrice responds that women everywhere ought to rejoice.
Don Pedro tells Benedick, Claudio, and Don John that Leonato has invited them all to stay with him for a month, and that Don Pedro has accepted. Everyone goes off together except Claudio and Benedick. Claudio shyly asks Benedick what he thinks of Hero, announcing that he has fallen in love with her. Benedick jokingly plays down Hero’s beauty, teasing Claudio for thinking about becoming a tame husband. But when Don Pedro returns to look for his friends, Benedick tells him Claudio’s secret, and Don Pedro approves highly of the match. Since Claudio is shy and Leonato is Don Pedro’s close friend, Don Pedro proposes a trick: at the costume ball to be held that night, Don Pedro will disguise himself as Claudio and declare his love to Hero. He will then talk with Leonato, her father, which should enable Claudio to win Hero without difficulty. Full of plans and excitement, the three friends head off to get ready for the ball.
Act 1, Scene 2
Inside his house, Leonato runs into his elder brother, Antonio. Antonio says that a servant of his overheard Don Pedro talking with Claudio outside. The servant thinks that he overheard Don Pedro professing his love for Hero and that he means to tell her that very night, during the dance, and then ask Leonato himself for Hero’s hand in marriage. Obviously, Antonio has misheard the truth: Claudio, not Don Pedro, loves Hero. Nevertheless, the only part of the conversation Antonio has intercepted is that Don Pedro will woo Hero that evening. Leonato’s prudent reply is that he will not consider the rumour to be true until his daughter is actually courted. But he declares that he will tell Hero about it, so that she may think about what she wants to say in response to Don Pedro, should this bit of information prove true.
Act 1, Scene 3
Elsewhere in the house, Don John converses with his servant, Conrad. Conrad asks Don John why he appears angry and melancholy. Don John replies that he is naturally depressed and somber; he lacks the skills—or the willpower—to change his face to suit other people. Conrad reminds Don John that Don Pedro has only very recently started to be friendly with him again, and if Don John wants to remain on good terms with his powerful brother, he ought to show a more cheerful face. But, bitter that he must depend both socially and economically on his much more successful and highly ranked brother, Don John bristles at having to conform to Don Pedro’s expectations.
Borachio, another of Don John’s servants, enters to tell Don John that he has overheard rumours of the upcoming marriage between Claudio and Hero. Borachio, like Leonato’s servant, has also overheard Don Pedro and Claudio making plans, but Borachio correctly understands what he has heard. He realizes that Don Pedro plans to court Hero in order to give her to Claudio. Don John, who hates Claudio for being so well loved and respected, decides to try to use this information to make trouble for Claudio. Conrad and Borachio swear to help him.
Act 2, Scene 1
While Hero, Beatrice, Leonato, and Antonio wait for the evening’s masked ball to begin, Hero and Beatrice discuss their idea of the perfect man—a happy medium between Don John, who never talks, and Benedick, who engages himself in constant banter. This exchange leads into a conversation about whether or not Beatrice will ever get a husband, and Beatrice laughingly claims that she will not. Leonato and Antonio also remind Hero about their belief that Don Pedro plans to propose to her that evening. The other partygoers enter, and the men put on masks. Supposedly, the women now cannot tell who the men are. The music begins, and the dancers pair off and hold conversations while they dance. Don Pedro’s musician, Balthasar, dances with Hero’s servant Margaret and old Antonio dances with Hero’s other servant, Ursula. Meanwhile, Don Pedro dances with Hero and begins to flirt with her. Benedick dances with Beatrice, who either does not recognize him or pretends not to. She insults Benedick thoroughly to her dancing partner, saying that while Benedick thinks that he is witty others find him completely boring.
Act 2, Scene 2
The bitter and wicked Don John has learned of the upcoming marriage of Claudio and Hero, and he wishes that he could find a way to prevent it. Don John’s servant Borachio devises a plan. Borachio is currently the lover of one of Hero’s serving women, Margaret. He suggests that Don John go to Claudio and Don Pedro and tell them that Hero is not a virgin but a whore, a woman who has willingly corrupted her own innocence before her marriage and at the same time chosen to be unfaithful to the man she loves. In order to prove this accusation, Don John will bring Don Pedro and Claudio below the window of Hero’s room on the night before the wedding, where they should hide and watch. On the balcony outside Hero’s room, Borachio will make love to Margaret—whom he will have convinced to dress up in Hero’s clothing. The watchers will then see a woman who resembles Hero making love with Borachio, and will thus believe Don John’s claim that Hero has been false to Claudio. Very pleased with the plan, Don John promises Borachio a large reward if he can pull it off and prevent the planned wedding.
Act 2, Scene 3
Meanwhile, ignorant of the evil that Don John stealthily plots, Benedick’s friends enact their own benign trick to get Benedick and Beatrice to fall in love. They know that Benedick is currently wandering around in the garden, wondering aloud to himself how, although he knows that love makes men into idiots, any intelligent man can fall in love. He ponders how Claudio can have turned from a plain-speaking, practical soldier into a moony-eyed lover. Benedick thinks it unlikely that he himself will ever become a lover.
Suddenly, Benedick hears Don Pedro, Claudio, and Leonato approaching, and he decides to hide among the trees in the arbour and eavesdrop. Don Pedro and Claudio, noticing him there, confer quietly with each other and decide it’s time to put their scheme into effect. They begin to talk loudly, pretending that they have just learned that Beatrice has fallen in love with Benedick. Benedick, hidden in the arbour, asks himself in shock whether this can possibly be true. But Don Pedro, Leonato, and Claudio embellish the story, talking about how passionately Beatrice adores Benedick, and how they are afraid that her passion will drive her insane or spur her to suicide. She dares not tell Benedick, they say, for fear that he would make fun of her for it—since everyone knows what his mocking personality would do. They all agree that Benedick would be a fool to turn her away, for he currently seems unworthy of so fine a woman as Beatrice. The others go in to have dinner, and the amazed Benedick, emerging from the arbour, plunges himself into profound thought. Don Pedro’s plan has worked: Benedick decides that he will “take pity” upon the beautiful, witty, and virtuous Beatrice by loving her in return. He has changed his mind, and far from wanting to remain an eternal bachelor, he now desires to win and marry Beatrice. Beatrice appears, having been sent out to fetch Benedick in to dinner. She deals as scornfully as usual with him, but he treats her with unusual flattery and courtesy. Confused and suspicious, Beatrice mocks him again before departing, but the infatuated Benedick interprets her words as containing hidden messages of love, and he happily runs off to have a portrait made of her so that he can carry it around with him.
Act 3, Scene 1
In Leonato’s garden, Hero prepares to trick Beatrice into believing that Benedick loves her. With the help of her two waiting women, Margaret and Ursula, she plans to hold a conversation and let Beatrice overhear it—just as Don Pedro, Leonato, and Claudio have done to trick Benedick in the previous scene. Margaret lures Beatrice into the garden, and when Hero and Ursula catch sight of where she is hiding, they begin to talk in loud voices.
Hero tells Ursula that Claudio and Don Pedro have informed her that Benedick is in love with Beatrice. Ursula suggests that Hero tell Beatrice about it, but Hero answers that everybody knows that Beatrice is too full of mockery to listen to any man courting her—Beatrice would merely make fun of both Hero and Benedick and break Benedick’s heart with her witticisms. Therefore, she says, it will be better to let poor Benedick waste away silently from love than expose him to Beatrice’s scorn. Ursula replies by disagreeing with Hero: Hero must be mistaken, because surely Beatrice is too intelligent and sensitive a woman to reject Benedick. After all, everybody knows that Benedick is one of the cleverest and handsomest men in Italy. Hero agrees, and goes off with Ursula to try on her wedding dress.
After Hero and Ursula leave the garden, winking at each other because they know they have caught Beatrice, Beatrice emerges from her hiding place among the trees. Just as Benedick is shocked earlier, Beatrice cannot believe what she has heard at first. Also, like Benedick, she swiftly realizes that it would not be so difficult to “take pity” on her poor suitor and return his love. She knows how worthy Benedick really is and vows to cast off her scorn and pride in order to love him back.
Act 3, Scene 2
Elsewhere, Don Pedro, Claudio, and Leonato begin to tease Benedick about his decision never to marry. Benedick announces that he has changed, and the others agree; they have noticed that he is much quieter. They say that he must be in love and tease him about it. But Benedick is too subdued even to answer their jokes. He takes Leonato aside to speak with him.
As soon as Claudio and Don Pedro are left alone, Don John approaches them. He tells them that he is trying to protect Don Pedro’s reputation and save Claudio from a bad marriage. Hero is a whore, he says, and Claudio should not marry her. The two are shocked, of course, but Don John immediately offers them proof: he tells them to come with him that night to watch outside Hero’s window where they will see her making love to somebody else. Claudio, already suspicious and paranoid, resolves that if what he sees tonight does indeed prove Hero’s unfaithfulness, he will disgrace her publicly during the wedding ceremony the next day, and Don Pedro vows to assist him. Confused, suspicious, and full of dark thoughts, Claudio and Don Pedro leave with Don John.
Act 3, Scene 3
In a street outside Leonato’s house, the town policemen of Messina—collectively called the Watch—gather together to discuss their duties for the night. Dogberry, the head constable, and Verges, his deputy, command and govern them. Dogberry and Verges are well intentioned and take their jobs very seriously, but they are also ridiculous. Dogberry is a master of malapropisms, always getting his words just slightly wrong. Under Dogberry, the Watch is very polite but not very effective at deterring crime. As Dogberry gives his orders to his men, it becomes clear that the Watch is charged with doing very little. For example, when asked how the men should react should someone refuse to stand in Don Pedro’s name, Dogberry replies, “Why then take no note of him, but let him go, and presently call the rest of the watch together, and thank God you are rid of a knave” (III.iii.25–27).
Furthermore, the Watch is supposed to order drunkards to go home and sleep their drunkenness off—unless the drunkards won’t listen, in which case the men are to ignore them. The men are not to make too much noise in the street—they may sleep instead. They shouldn’t catch thieves, because it isn’t good for honest men to have too much to do with dishonest ones, and they should wake up the nurses of crying children—unless the nurses ignore them, in which case they should let the child wake the nurse by crying instead. In short, they may do anything they want and don’t have to do anything at all, as long as they are careful not to let the townspeople steal their spears.
Dogberry gives his men a final order: act particularly vigilant near the house of Leonato, for Leonato’s daughter, Hero, is to be married the next day, and the house is filled with commotion and chaos. After Dogberry and Verges depart, the men they have left behind sit down quietly on a bench and prepare to go to sleep.
Suddenly, the watchmen are interrupted by the entrance of Don John’s associates, Borachio and Conrad. Borachio, who does not see the watchmen, informs Conrad about what has happened this night. Acting on the plan he developed with Don John, Borachio made love to Margaret, Hero’s waiting maid, at the window of Hero’s room, with Margaret dressed in Hero’s clothing. Don Pedro and Claudio, who were hiding nearby with Don John, saw the whole thing and are now convinced that Hero has been disloyal to Claudio. Claudio, feeling heartbroken and betrayed, has vowed to take revenge upon Hero by publicly humiliating her at the wedding ceremony the next day. The watchmen, who have quietly listened to this whole secretive exchange, now reveal themselves and arrest Borachio and Conrade for “lechery,” by which they mean treachery. They haul them away to Dogberry and Verges for questioning.
Act 3, Scene 4
On the morning of her wedding to Claudio, Hero wakes up early and tells her servant Ursula to wake Beatrice. Meanwhile, Hero’s maid Margaret argues affectionately with Hero about what she ought to wear for her wedding. Hero is excited, but she is also uneasy for reasons she cannot name; she has a strange foreboding of disaster. Beatrice arrives, and Margaret, in high spirits, teases her about her changed personality, saying that now Beatrice too desires a husband. Beatrice expresses annoyance, but Margaret is sure that she is right, and so she continues to tease Beatrice about Benedick—but in a manner subtle enough that Beatrice cannot accuse Margaret of knowing anything completely. Soon enough, Claudio arrives with his friends; accompanied by the large wedding party, apparently ready to take Hero to the church. They all set off together.
Act 3, Scene 5
Just as Leonato prepares to enter the church for his daughter’s wedding, Dogberry and Verges catch up with Leonato and try to talk to him. They explain that they have caught two criminals and want to interrogate them in front of him. However, their attempts to communicate their message are so long-winded, foolish, and generally mixed up that they fail to convey how urgent the matter is—and, in fact, they may not understand its importance themselves. Leonato defers their business, explaining that he is busy this day, and orders Dogberry and Verges to question the men themselves and tell him about it later. Dogberry and Verges head off to question the prisoners on their own, and Leonato enters the church in order to participate in the wedding ceremony about to take place.
Act 4, Scene 1
Everyone gathers inside the church to celebrate the wedding of Claudio and Hero. But when Friar Francis asks Claudio whether he wishes to marry Hero, Claudio breaks into an outraged speech. He tells Leonato that he sends Hero back to Leonato again, for though she seems outwardly pure and blushes with innocence, her outward features belie her inward corruption and that she is, in fact, an unchaste, unfaithful whore. The happy wedding transforms itself into a chaotic uproar. Leonato and the shaken Hero ask what Claudio means. Claudio tells Leonato, in front of everyone in the church, that the night before Claudio, Don Pedro, and Don John watched Hero “talk” with a vile man at her window (IV.i.82). This man has also “confessed” to having had sexual encounters with Hero many times before (IV.i.92). Don Pedro supports Claudio’s accusations, and they, together with Don John, accuse Hero of sexual looseness. Leonato cries out in despair, asking for a dagger with which to commit suicide. The overwhelmed Hero sinks to the ground, unconscious. Benedick and Beatrice rush to offer her their assistance, while Claudio, Don Pedro, and Don John leave the church without looking back. Leonato, weeping, tells Benedick and Beatrice to let Hero die, since that would be better than for her to live in shame. Beatrice, however, remains absolutely convinced that her cousin has been slandered.
Suddenly and unexpectedly, the friar steps in. A quiet observer to the whole proceeding, he has wisely determined from the expressions of shock he has seen on Hero’s face that she is not guilty of unfaithfulness. Hero regains consciousness and insists that she is a virgin, that she has been entirely faithful to Claudio, and that she has no idea what her accusers are talking about. The intelligent Benedick realizes that if the accusation is a lie, it must originate with the troublemaking Don John, who would happily trick these two to spoil their happiness.
The friar comes up with an unexpected plan: he suggests that Hero’s existence be concealed, and that Leonato tell everyone she has died of shock and grief. When her accusers hear that an innocent woman has died, their anger will turn into regret, and they will start to remember what a virtuous lady Hero was. If the accusation really is a trick, then perhaps the treachery will expose itself, and Hero can return to the world. In the worst-case scenario, Hero can later be taken off quietly and placed in a convent to become a nun. The grieving, confused Leonato agrees to go along with the plan.
The others depart with Hero, leaving Benedick and Beatrice alone together. Benedick, trying to comfort Beatrice, asks if there is any way he can show his friendship to her. He suddenly confesses that he is in love with her, acknowledging how strange it is for his affections to reverse so suddenly, and she, equally startled and confused, replies in similar terms. But when Benedick says that he will do anything for Beatrice, she asks him to kill his friend Claudio. The shocked Benedick refuses. Angry, Beatrice denounces Claudio’s savagery, saying that if she were a man she would kill him herself for his slander of her cousin and the cruelty of his trick. After listening to her, Benedick changes his mind and soberly agrees to challenge Claudio—for the wrong that he has done to Hero and for Beatrice’s sake.
Act 4, Scene 2
Elsewhere, Dogberry, Verges, and the Watch interrogate Borachio and Conrad. Borachio confesses that he received money from Don John for pretending to make love to Hero and then lying about it to Claudio and Don Pedro. When they hear about what has happened at the wedding, the watchmen tie up the captives and take them to Leonato’s house.
- Dost thou not suspect my place?
- Dost thou not suspect my years?
- O that he were here to write me down an ass!
- But masters, remember that I am an ass.
Act 5, Scene 1
Leonato, Hero’s father, falls into a state of deep grief and shock. Torn by his worries about whether Hero is indeed chaste as she claims and his questions about what actually occurred, he cannot function. His brother Antonio tries to cheer him, telling him to have patience. But Leonato answers that although people can easily give advice when they are themselves not unhappy, people in great pain cannot follow the advice so easily. Don Pedro and Claudio enter, see Leonato and Antonio, and quickly try to leave. But Leonato follows them and accuses Claudio of having lied about Hero and having caused her death. Leonato announces that, despite his great age, he challenges Claudio to a duel for the crime Claudio has committed against Hero by ruining her good name; Leonato states that he is not too old to kill or die for honour and for the love of his child. The embarrassed Claudio and Don Pedro pretend to ignore their challengers.
Finally, Leonato and Antonio leave, vowing that they will have their revenge.
After Leonato and Antonio depart, Benedick enters. Claudio and Don Pedro welcome him, asking Benedick to employ his famous wit to cheer them up. But Benedick is in no mood to be funny. He tells Claudio that he believes Claudio has slandered Hero, and he quietly challenges him to a duel. When the other two keep on trying to joke with him, Benedick finally discloses that he can no longer be their companion since their slanderous accusations have murdered an innocent woman. Benedick informs Don Pedro that Don John has fled the city and leaves. At first, Claudio and Don Pedro take in this change in Benedick’s behaviour and the information of Don John’s flight with shock and confusion. Slowly they begin to realize Benedick’s serious intent—and they rightly guess that his love for Beatrice must be the only thing that could have motivated him to challenge his dearest friend to a fight to the death.
Dogberry and Verges suddenly enter, accompanied by the other men of the Watch, dragging behind them the captured villains Conrad and Borachio. Dogberry tells Claudio and Don Pedro that Borachio has confessed to treachery and lying, and Borachio admits his crime again. Shocked and horrified, Claudio and Don Pedro realize that this information supports Hero’s true innocence and that she has died (so they think) because they have wrongly accused her, tarnished her reputation forever, and ruined her family. Leonato and Antonio return. Claudio and Don Pedro beg Leonato’s forgiveness, offering themselves up to any punishment Leonato thinks fit for killing his daughter with wrongful accusations. Leonato orders Claudio to clear Hero’s name by telling the entire city that she was innocent and to write her an epitaph—that is, a poem honouring her in death—and to read and sing it at her tomb. He also tells Claudio that Antonio has a daughter who is very much like Hero, and he asks Claudio to marry his niece in Hero’s place in order to make up for the lost Hero. Claudio, weeping at Leonato’s generosity, accepts these terms. Leonato orders that Borachio be carted away for further interrogation.
Act 5, Scene 2
Meanwhile, near Leonato’s estate, Benedick asks Margaret to bring Beatrice to speak to him. Alone, he laments his inability to write poetry. He has unsuccessfully attempted to write Beatrice a love sonnet according to the flowery and ornamental conventions of Renaissance love poetry. Ironically, despite his great skill at improvising in conversation, he is no good at all at writing. Beatrice arrives, and the two lovers flirt and tease each other with gentle insults but also with great affection—as they now seem always to have done. Benedick tells Beatrice he has challenged Claudio to a duel according to her wishes and that Claudio must respond to his challenge soon. Suddenly, the maid Ursula arrives in great haste to tell them that the scheme against Hero has come to light. Benedick pledges his love to Beatrice once again, and the two follow Ursula to Leonato and the rest of the house, which is in an uproar.
Act 5, Scene 3
Early in the morning, at the tomb where Hero supposedly lies buried, Claudio carries out the first part of the punishment that Leonato has ordered him to perform. Claudio has written an epitaph, or death poem, celebrating Hero’s innocence and grieving the slander that (he believes) led to her death. He reads the epitaph out loud and hangs it upon the tomb. He solemnly promises that he will come and read it here at this time every year. Everyone then goes off to prepare for Claudio’s wedding to Leonato’s niece, the supposed Hero look-alike, which is to occur that very day.
Act 5, Scene 4
Meanwhile, in the church, Leonato, Antonio, Beatrice, Benedick, Hero, Margaret, Ursula, and the friar prepare for the second wedding of Claudio and Hero. We learn from their conversation that Margaret has been interrogated, and that she is innocent of conspiring with Borachio and Don John—she never realized that she was taking part in Don John’s treachery. Benedick is also very relieved that Don John’s trick has come to light, for now he does not need to fight his friend Claudio. Quietly, Benedick also takes Leonato aside and asks him for his permission to marry Beatrice. Don Pedro and Claudio enter, and Antonio goes off to fetch the masked women. While they are waiting, Don Pedro and Claudio tease Benedick about his love for Beatrice and about the fact that he will soon be married, although they do not know that he actually does plan to be married that very day. Hero, Beatrice, and the waiting women enter, all wearing masks. Claudio vows to marry the masked woman by his side, whom he believes to be Leonato’s mysterious niece. But when Hero takes off her mask, the shocked Claudio realizes that it really is Hero. Leonato and Hero tell him that now that Hero’s name has been cleared, she can figuratively come back to life and be his wife, as she should have been before.
The party prepares to go to the chapel to finish the ceremony, but Benedick stops everybody. He asks Beatrice, out loud and in public, whether she loves him. Beatrice denies it, and Benedick, in turn, denies loving her. They both agree that they are good friends, but not in love. But, laughingly, Claudio and Hero tell them that they know that isn’t the truth—and both whip out scribbled, half-finished love poems that they have found in their friends’ rooms and pockets, written from Benedick to Beatrice and from Beatrice to Benedick. Benedick and Beatrice realize that they have been caught red-handed and, giving in, finally agree to marry. Benedick silences Beatrice, for the first time, by kissing her. Claudio and Don Pedro begin to tease Benedick again, but Benedick laughingly says that he does not care—he remains determined to be married, and nothing he has ever said against marriage in the past makes any difference to him now. He and Claudio assert their friendship again, and Benedick calls for a dance before the double wedding. Suddenly, a messenger rushes in to inform the company that Leonato’s men have arrested Don John in his flight from Messina. They have brought him back to Messina a prisoner. Benedick instructs Don Pedro to put off thinking about the villain until tomorrow, when Benedick will invent fine tortures for him. In the meantime, Benedick insists that all must dance joyfully in celebrating the marriages, and he commands the pipers to strike up the music.
- Much Ado About Nothing - Context
- Much Ado About Nothing - Plot Overview
- Much Ado About Nothing - Characters
- Much Ado About Nothing - Themes, Motifs and Symbols
- Much Ado About Nothing - Scene by Scene Analysis
- Much Ado About Nothing - Important Quotes and Explanations
- Much Ado About Nothing - Study Questions and Essays
- Much Ado About Nothing - Further Reading
These notes are aimed at people studying Much Ado About Nothing for AS English Literature.
Originally posted by sweetlovinchick2k1 on TSR Forums.