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Much Ado About Nothing (1598)

Much Ado About Nothing (1598)

Hundred Word Summary

Claudio and Benedick arrive in Messina, fresh from battle, and reconciled with former enemy Don John – they think.  Now it’s time for Claudio to romance Hero, with Don Pedro’s assistance.

By contrast Benedick has sworn he’ll never marry – which Beatrice says light-heartedly is lucky for women.  But privately Benedick likes Beatrice, and Beatrice likes Benedick.

Meanwhile Don John – who hates Claudio – plots to make Hero look unfaithful.  Claudio is deceived, but keeps his revenge to himself until the wedding.

Then the bumbling police force expose the plot – and with John arrested, all four youngsters can marry happily after all.


Table of Contents



Most of Shakespeare’s Histories and Tragedies have quite unambiguous names which leave little to the imagination.  With titles like “Henry V” or “Macbeth”, it’s fair to say, it does what it says on the tin.  His Comedies are different.  Around the turn of the century – between, say, 1594 (“Love’s Labour’s Lost”) and 1604 (“Measure for Measure”) – the titles of his Comedies are more often enigmatic and intriguing.

“Much Ado About Nothing” is a casual, self-deprecating phrase that has entered the language.  It means “a lot of fuss about very little”.  Indeed it’s enough of a cliché as to be almost lost as a quotation.  But in Shakespeare’s mind it has another meaning, and this second sense is central to the play.

“Noting” is a slang word in Elizabethan English, meaning “overhearing”.  It’s a verb (or to be absolutely accurate, a gerund, a verbal noun), with connotations of gossip, rumour, eavesdropping, listening in and even mishearing and misunderstanding.  It’s a recipe for half-hearing things that are half-understood, and then acting accordingly.  What could possibly go wrong?

Shakespeare lived at a time when it was often a good idea to keep quiet about what you believed. Rumour and gossip have privileged positions in a society that works like that.  One of Shakespeare’s central lessons in general is that things are not necessarily always what they seem.  In “Much Ado About Gossip and Getting it Wrong”, Shakespeare illustrates some of the dangers of knowing some but not all of the facts.


Scene by Scene:


Act One Scene One

Don Pedro, fresh from victory in battle, is on his way to Messina accompanied by two young men.

There they will meet Don Leonato, governor of Messina, his daughter Hero and Beatrice, her cousin.

Claudio, from Florence, who has relatives in Messina, has fought like a lion in the battle.

Beatrice wittily asks after Benedick, to be told he too has “done good service” in battle.

She recalls meeting him before, and is scathing in a light-hearted way about his intelligence.

When told he associates mostly with Claudio, she compares his friendship to a “pestilence”.

Pedro and his retinue arrive, to be welcomed in a teasing spirit by Leonato and the young women.

Beatrice and Benedick, clearly familiar and friendly, exchange barbed remarks with one another.

When Benedick announces he will never fall in love, Beatrice replies that this is a relief for women.

The introductions and welcomes are suspended while Benedick and Beatrice tease each other.

But eventually Pedro announces that they have been invited to stay with Leonato for a month.

The host then welcomes Don John, who is Pedro’s brother, happy he is “reconciled” with his brother.

Claudio reveals that Hero has caught his eye, calling her the “sweetest lady that ever I looked on”

Benedick replies that her cousin Beatrice would be much more attractive if she wasn’t so combative.

Claudio reveals to Pedro he is in love with Hero, while Benedick says he will remain “a bachelor”.

If he ever does get married, says Benedick to Pedro, he is willing to be publicly humiliated.

Now Claudio confesses his love for Hero: he liked her before the battle but the time was not right.

Pedro says he will pretend to be Claudio at this evening’s masquerade and reveal “his” love for Hero.

Then after he has spoken to her father, “she shall be thine”.

Act One Scene Two

Leonato is informed by his older brother Antonio that Hero will shortly receive a marriage proposal.

A servant overheard Don Pedro tell Claudio in the orchard that he means to propose this evening.

Leonato says it is best to be cautious but he’ll warn her anyway so that she is ready with a response.

Act One Scene Three

Don John explains his melancholy by saying he has to accept that this is his natural state of mind.

Conrad says that having recently confronted and been forgiven by his brother, he must bide his time.

Don John says he will “be that I am”, and he’ll make use of his “discontent” when he’s ready.

Borachio, an associate of Don John, arrives to announce the upcoming marriage of Hero to Claudio.

He says he overheard Don Pedro promise to woo Hero for himself, then “give her” to Claudio.

Don John is angry with Claudio since he took credit for “my overthrow”, and now sees his chance.

Act Two Scene One

Beatrice says her ideal man is a cross between the melancholy Don John and the talkative Benedick.

Leonato warns Beatrice jokingly that a woman as sharp as she is will never “get thee a husband”.

Beatrice responds that she prays daily not to be married since no man young or old will please her.

Leonato tells his niece Hero he hopes she will marry – which Beatrice sees as an obedient gesture.

But she adds wittily that all men are her brothers and it would be “a sin” to marry her own family.

She tells Hero that marrying a man is “wooing, wedding and repenting” – and then the grave.

The “revellers” arrive, and in pairs, a masked dance begins – first Don Pedro is paired with Hero.

Margaret (an assistant to Hero) and Balthasar (an aide to Pedro) exchange flirtatious remarks.

Ursula (also Hero’s maid) spots Antonio behind his mask, though he denies he has been rumbled.

Beatrice and Benedick dance together – she pretends she does not know who is behind the mask.

When he asks who Benedick is, she denounces him as “a very dull fool”, villainous and irritating.

Meanwhile Don John, deliberately mistaking Claudio for Benedick, claims Pedro is attracted to Hero.

Don John mischievously suggests to Claudio that Hero is too lower-class to marry his brother.

Claudio, left alone, reflects that he should not have trusted Pedro and will not now marry Hero.

Benedick tactlessly teases Claudio, then when left alone, reflects unhappily on Beatrice’s insults.

Next Benedick jokes with Pedro that he has stolen Claudio’s girl but Pedro says he will give her back.

When asked about Beatrice, Benedick reveals his distress at her insults where “every word stabs”.

When she appears, he begs Pedro to send him away on an errand because he “cannot endure” her.

After Benedick leaves, Pedro discovers Beatrice is unconcerned about the wounds she’s inflicted.

Pedro and Leonato congratulate the shy and reserved Claudio and Hero on having agreed to marry.

Beatrice complains that she is fated to remain single, but rejects Pedro’s humorous proposal.

When she leaves, Pedro and Leonato agree that Beatrice would be an “excellent wife for Benedick”.

All agree that Hero and Claudio will marry in one week – time to match-make Beatrice and Benedick.

Act Two Scene Two

Don John is “sick in displeasure” with Claudio, and now hears Borachio’s plan to thwart the wedding.

He will meet Margaret at Hero’s bedroom window at night, pretending to be intimate with Hero.

John will pay Borachio a thousand ducats if this illicit encounter is witnessed by Pedro and Claudio.

Act Two Scene Three

Benedick is sad that his old companion Claudio seems to have abandoned soldiering for romance.

Unless he can find a perfect woman – fair, wise and virtuous – he will not be doing the same thing.

When Pedro and Claudio appear, they spot Benedick hiding himself in order to eavesdrop on them.

Balthasar, one of Pedro’s servants, is invited to sing a song – and he sings about men’s dishonesty.

Pedro – aware he is being overheard – asks Leonato to confirm that Beatrice is in love with Benedick.

Pedro pretends he can hardly believe it, but Leonato swears she has a secret passion for Benedick.

Claudio confirms Leonato’s story of Beatrice’s unrequited passion and the torment she is suffering.

Claudio reports Hero’s opinion that if Benedick finds out about Beatrice’s passion, “she will die”.

They agree not to tell Benedick but Pedro hopes he’ll reflect on falling in love with “so good a lady”.

Benedick reflects that Beatrice’s love “must be requited” since she is “fair”, “wise” and “virtuous”.

He admits he was against marrying in the past, but people change and he is ready for marriage now. When Beatrice brusquely calls him in, he interprets her tone as evidence that she’s in love with him.

Act Three Scene One

Hero asks Margaret to tell Beatrice that she’s being discussed in the garden if she’d like to listen in.

Hero arranges with Ursula that they’ll praise Benedick while revealing that he’s in love with Beatrice.

In Beatrice’s hearing, Hero reveals she has been keeping Benedick’s affections a secret from her.

She says she did this because Beatrice is too self-centred to love, and therefore should not be told.

Hero adds that Beatrice always sees the negative side of men, criticising their looks or personalities.

She concludes that no-one could tell her, so Benedick’s love will have to be left to “waste inwardly”.

Hero says she will persuade him to “fight against his passion” with some measured criticisms of her.

Hero and Ursula leave Beatrice stunned to learn about her reputation for “pride and scorn”.

She resolves to return Benedick’s affections by committing her “wild heart” to his “loving hand”.

Ac t Three Scene Two

Leonato decides to leave Messina after Hero has married Claudio, and will take Benedick with him.

Benedick is ideal company because he is unmarried, but he reveals that he is a changed man.

Claudio and Pedro agree he looks younger since he shaved his beard, and speculate he’s in love.

When Benedick and Leonato go for a walk, Don John appears with bad news for Claudio about Hero.

He tells him bluntly “the lady is disloyal” and he will prove it if Claudio chooses to join him later.

They will watch her bedroom window where they will see someone climbing in secretly.

Claudio resolves that he will “shame” Hero during the wedding if what Don John alleges is true.

Pedro and Claudio unite in regretting John’s news – and they’re united in planning to disgrace her.

Act Three Scene Three

Dogberry and Verges address the junior members of the Watch with instructions for the evening.

Basically all vagrants, drunks, thieves and crying children are to be either cautioned or ignored.

Finally they should keep an eye on Leonato’s house because his daughter is to be married tomorrow.

When the Watch go on duty, Borachio tells Conrade he has earned a thousand ducats this evening.

Observed by Pedro and Claudio, he says, he disguised Margaret as Hero for an erotic encounter.

Claudio was deceived – partly by the darkness but also by John and Borachio – to believe her guilty.

Now Claudio means to shame her in front of everyone and “send her home without a husband”.

Suddenly the Watch appear and arrest Borachio and Conrade, marching them off to custody.

Act Three Scene Four

Hero, feeling anxious, and her servant Margaret argue about the right outfit for the wedding.

Margaret makes a light-hearted joke about the “weight” of a man, presumably in a sexual sense.

Beatrice arrives feeling ill, and Margaret notes how Benedick has changed his mind about marriage.

Now Ursula appears to announce that Claudio’s party has arrived ready to take her to the church.

Act Three Scene Five

Leonato is in a hurry to get to church but first Dogberry tests his patience with important news.

The Watch have arrested two “aspicious persons” who should be examined in his presence.

But Leonato cannot wait so the examination of the two men arrested will go ahead in his absence.

Act Four Scene One

All are assembled for the marriage of Claudio and Hero when suddenly the groom halts proceedings.

He rejects his bride because although she looks innocent, in fact she has been unfaithful to him.

Her father Leonato misunderstands and suspects that Claudio is confessing to having slept with her.

But he is supported in his conclusion by Pedro, who denounces Hero as “a common stale” or whore.

Hero denies that she talked to anyone through her bedroom window, but Pedro contradicts her.

When Claudio bids Hero farewell, Leonato appeals for a dagger to be offered for him to kill himself.

As Hero faints, Claudio leaves the church accompanied by Pedro and his brother, the villainous John.

Leonato is completely deceived by Don John’s plot, and wishes he had never fathered her.

He believes he can’t “wash her clean again”, such is her “foul-tainted flesh”, and he wishes her dead.

The Friar counsels caution, saying he believes he can see in her expression that she is “guiltless”.

Hero tells her father to prove she spoke to anyone inappropriate, and he can “torture me to death”.

Benedick sees “John the bastard” in this episode – and Leonato threatens his former friends.

The Friar suggests they pretend Hero has died in order to generate remorse among her accusers.

The Friar suggests that Claudio will mourn for Hero’s death, and her “infamy” will be forgotten. 

Or if this fails, he adds, she can be concealed in a convent away from “eyes” and “tongues”.

Benedick, left alone with his lover Beatrice, confides in her he believes Hero has been “wronged”.

When they confess their love for one another, Beatrice makes a request of him: “Kill Claudio”.

When Benedick refuses she concludes he doesn’t love her, and wishes to avenge Hero herself.

Benedick agrees to confront Claudio, remembering to “say she is dead” as agreed with the Friar.

Act Four Scene Two

The Watchman reveals that Borachio confessed he received a thousand ducats from Don John.

This was reward for “accusing Lady Hero wrongfully” – before Claudio disgraced her in public.

Now Don John has “secretly stolen away” and Hero, publicly accused as planned, has died suddenly.

Act Five Scene One

Leonato tells his brother Antonio there is no comfort in his situation, and his advice doesn’t help.

But he believes his daughter was wronged, and he means to bring Claudio and Pedro to account.

When they appear, he blames Claudio for Hero’s death and challenges him to a duel despite his age.

Antonio shares Leonato’s anger at Claudio over Hero, and reinforces his challenge to a duel.

Pedro points out that though he regrets Hero’s death, the charge against her has been proved.

When Benedick arrives, Claudio is flippant about recent events and ask him to cheer him up.

Benedick is serious with Claudio, accusing him of having killed “a sweet lady” and inviting answers.

But Claudio and Don Pedro exchange gossip about Benedick’s recent encounter with Beatrice.

Benedick’s anger boils over: he leaves them, repeating the accusation that they have killed Hero.

Pedro and Claudio remain light-hearted until they realise how significant it is that Don John has fled.

Now the Watch arrive with Borachio, who reveals that he is partly responsible for Hero’s death.

He admits that, “incensed” by John, he courted Margaret disguised as Hero to deceive Claudio.

Now she is dead because of his “false accusation”, and he deserves “the reward of a villain”.

Pedro and Claudio are mortified at the news – to Claudio it feels like he has “drunk poison”.

Finally Borachio adds that Don John “paid me richly for the practice” of his part in framing Hero.

Leonato appears, bitterly condemning Pedro and Claudio, to which they respond with abject regret.

Leonato orders Claudio to sing Hero’s innocence, and instructs him to marry Hero’s cousin instead.

Not knowing that she is in fact still alive, Claudio agrees enthusiastically to Leonato’s conditions.

Act Five Scene Two

Benedick enjoys a light-hearted conversation with some flirtation and innuendo with Margaret.

She asks him to write her a love poem, but when she goes to find Beatrice, he finds it impossible.

Beatrice demands whether he has punished Claudio yet – and is dissatisfied with “foul words”.

Benedick says Claudio has been challenged, and then changes the subject to their relationship.

Beatrice reveals that Hero is “Very ill” before news comes that she has been “falsely accused”.

Act Five Scene Three

At Leonato’s “monument” or family grave, Claudio reads the poem he has written in honour of Hero.

Then accompanied by Pedro he returns to prepare for his forthcoming wedding with Hero’s cousin.

Act Five Scene Four

Leonato, awaiting Claudio’s arrival for the re-organised wedding, forgives him for Hero’s humiliation.

Benedick intervenes to say his own “honourable marriage” to Beatrice should also happen today.

Claudio arrives to confirm he is ready to marry Hero’s cousin, the daughter of her father’s brother.

Hero arrives in a mask, and removes it only when, saying “I am a maid”, they are ready to marry.

Now Benedick asks for Beatrice to take off her mask, but they’re both shy about admitting their love.

Now two poems are discovered, one by each, in which they admit to their love for one another.

Benedick and Claudio are to marry cousins, and they cheerfully reconcile as members of one family.

When news of Don John’s arrest comes through, they decide to leave him to his fate at a later time.


Thinking Aloud


1.1 introduces the four central characters of this comedy: Hero and Claudio, together with Beatrice and Benedick.  Their romances will dominate the narrative.  It also briefly takes note of Don John, brother of Don Pedro, evidently “reconciled” with his brother.  The play will reveal as it progresses that this reconciliation is superficial at best, but the word alerts the audience to the fact that in Shakespeare’s plays brothers often fall out with one another – and don’t always “reconcile”.  Shakespeare himself was the oldest of four brothers, but brotherly love is rarely the picture he paints in his plays.


At the end of 1.1 Pedro reveals that there will be a masquerade ball that evening, where he will pretend to be Claudio and “unclasp my heart” to Hero on Claudio’s behalf.  Masquerade balls, or balls where masks were worn, are a recipe for confused identities in Shakespeare’s plays, especially where love is in the air.  The best-known case is probably “Romeo and Juliet”, in which the “star-crossed lovers” don’t find out until it’s too late who was behind the mask.


Antonio tells Leonato in 1.2 that a servant overheard Don Pedro tell Claudio he is going to propose to Hero later that evening: Leonato suggests that they should hold this information “as a dream” – in other words, they should wait and see if it turns out to be true.  Very good advice, because in practice what the servant overheard was actually misheard, or misunderstood – as 1.1 makes clear.  It’s the first of many important misheard or misunderstood events in the play, reminding the reader of the pun in the title: “Noting” in Elizabethan slang meant “overhearing”, and this is a play in which eavesdropping is endemic.


Shakespeare’s villains are among his best-known characters: Iago in “Othello”, for example, or Edmund in “King Lear” – not to mention Richard III.  This play introduces us to Don John, and in 1.3 we learn at least three things we need to know about him: he has recently been in conflict with his brother, Don Pedro; he was defeated but has been forgiven; and a major cause of his defeat was Claudio (who “hath all the glory of my overthrow”).  Don John is also, like Edmund, a “bastard brother” – born as a result of an extra-marital liaison – and in the collective mind of Tudor England, that seems to be enough in itself to fuel his bitterness and anger.


Much of this play is constructed around overhearing, and (as mentioned above) this is referenced in the title.  In a way the audience does plenty of eavesdropping of its own – otherwise known as dramatic irony.  So when for example Borachio hatches his evil plot to frame the blameless Hero in 2.2, the audience is able to listen in and overhear what is being planned.  Dramatic irony is endemic in Shakespeare – it’s a way of engaging the audience and holding their attention.  But it’s especially important in a play which, like this one, has a thoroughly confusing plot in which secrets are endemic, plotting is routine, and identities are sometimes (as in the masquerade in 2.1) confusing. 


The final scene of the second act, 2.3, in which Benedick overhears Pedro, Leonato and Claudio discussing himself is a must for connoisseurs of dramatic irony.  Benedick knows that they’re discussing him but doesn’t know that they know he knows.  They’re different: they know he knows they’re discussing him (after all, what they’re saying is meant specifically for his ears) and they know he doesn’t know they know he’s there.  Otherwise they wouldn’t be saying it.  Confusing play, “Much Ado About Nothing”.  (Bear in mind that at this stage of the play, the audience knows that Claudio and Pedro know that Benedick doesn’t know that they know he’s listening.  But let that pass.)


As soon as Benedick “discovers” that Beatrice is in love with him, and as soon as Beatrice discovers that Benedick is in love with her, these two are suddenly ready to sign up for married life after all. The implication is that those who turn up their noses at marriage are bluffing, and if they knew they had a decent offer on the table, they’d take it.  Questionable, surely, but it’s a comedy, and comedies conclude with a trip to the altar.


At the heart of the play – scenes 2.3 and 3.1 – stand two episodes which are intended to parallel and reflect one another: Benedick overhearing how much Beatrice loves him in 2.3; and Beatrice hearing how popular she is with Benedick in 3.1.  The positioning of these two scenes at the heart of the play, in contrast to one another, is quite deliberate, and serves as a further reminder that a central theme of the play is eavesdropping, or overhearing, or (in contemporary parlance) “noting”. 


We might describe scene 3.2 as a scene of two halves.  The atmosphere at first is cheerful and optimistic, with plenty of affectionate banter directed at Benedick.  But the mood changes with the appearance of Don John, whose vendetta against Claudio is now getting underway.  It’s perhaps surprising that Claudio believes him – he was deceived by him earlier, when he was suspicious of Don Pedro’s motives in romancing Hero – but Claudio is weak and his decision to shame Hero during the ceremony itself (rather than beforehand) smacks of a vindictive as well as a gullible personality.


Medieval Mystery Plays, which were popular before Shakespeare revolutionised the theatre, contained a character called “The Vice”, whose job was to tempt the more virtuous characters with the pleasures of evil-doing. This character roughly approximates to the devil, and Shakespeare creates plenty of memorable characters with a touch of the devil about them.  In 3.3, Borachio uses that term specifically to reference Don Jon: “the devil my master”, he calls him. 


Act Three of “Much Ado About Nothing” is something of a hybrid of different theatrical genres: romance in the preparations for Hero’s wedding, tragedy in the underhand machinations of Don John and Borachio, and farce in the bumbling attempts of the Watch to maintain order. It reflects how diverse Shakespeare’s audience was that he should mix such different ingredients into one single recipe.  Sequences like Act Three suggest Shakespeare knew how to appeal to all types of spectator, and help to explain his popularity among his own contemporaries.  But how do we know he was popular?  We don’t know much about Shakespeare’s life, but we do know he died a very rich man.


There are one or two loose ends in the plot of “Much Ado About Nothing”, and the reaction of the Friar to the news that Hero has been unfaithful is one of them.  The obvious path at this stage is to interview all concerned – to discover that Hero was not the person Pedro and Claudio observed at the bedroom window the night before.  Instead, one deception is piled onto another, and a plot is hatched to pretend that Hero is dead.  Sharp-eyed audiences may remember similar convolutions being drummed up in “Romeo and Juliet” in order to squirrel Juliet away from a marriage to Count Paris.  Curiously that plan was also conceived by a Friar – one Friar Lawrence – and it ends disastrously.  One wonders what Shakespeare had against Friars that he presents them as simultaneously addicted to deception – and inept.


The theme of sexual fidelity (or infidelity) is a mainstay of Shakespeare’s narratives, whether comedy or tragedy – but rarely if ever is it proven. Most often – in plays as diverse as “The Merry Wives of Windsor” on one side and “Othello” on the other – it’s a false allegation.  Here too.  But it’s interesting that Shakespeare (living most of his life some three days’ travel from his wife, remember) should dwell on such a theme.


When Leonato and Antonio make it clear to Claudio that they’re willing to fight him (despite the difference in age), they place themselves in a long tradition in Shakespeare’s drama: duels are routine ways of solving disputes here, and are used in plays like “Romeo and Juliet” to advance the plot (Romeo is banished from Verona after killing Tybalt), and in “Hamlet” to complete the action (Hamlet and Laertes fatally stab each other).  In this as in much else, Shakespeare was writing from his own experience: among his contemporaries who chose to live by the sword (as well as the word) was the playwright Christopher Marlowe, born (like Shakespeare) in 1564 and stabbed to death in a pub brawl in 1593.


Characters / Who’s Who


With the exception of Beatrice, no character in the play is transformed like Benedick.  Initially he’s a warrior, fresh from battle, most at ease in male company, with his best friend Claudio, and determined never to marry: “I will do myself the right to trust none” he says of women in general, “and … I will live a bachelor” (1.1).  But in his professions of indifference to Beatrice he looks like one who “protests too much”, and so it proves: by the end of the play he is ready to take revenge on Claudio for his treatment of Hero and very much the groom-to-be: “By this hand,” he tells Beatrice, “I love thee”.



At the start of the play she is difficult, spirited, contrary – even, perhaps, angry.  Among the most assertive of Shakespeare’s female characters, and one of the wittiest, she seems to have history with Benedick, and it gives fuel to her fire.  Yet she is surprised when she’s told that she is too bitter and scornful for her own good, and by the play’s end – though her anger is now directed at Claudio, whom she wants killed – her last act is symbolically a kiss that seals her love for Benedick.


Painfully shy and reserved, she plays the complementary role to her cousin Beatrice, passive and accepting of her fate where Beatrice is demanding and assertive.  First she is romanced by Pedro acting on behalf of Claudio, and she accepts his offer of marriage. Then when confronted with Claudio’s accusations in the church, she does no more than say the truth (“I talk’d with no man at that hour, my lord” etc) while others devise the narrative that they hope will save her.  If all else fails, they conclude, she can live out her days in a convent: a cruel fate, but maybe apt.


His romance with Hero is in practice the work of Don Pedro, and when he is shown what he thinks is evidence of Hero’s infidelity, that is the work of Don John.  When he eventually comes to marry Hero, he believes her to be her own cousin – the work of Leonato.  In short, Claudio has occasional outbursts, in which he explores his own ideas, but his actions are largely willed by others, and if Hero is passive, she is well-suited to her equally passive groom.

Don John

A classic Shakespearean villain.  First like Iago in “Othello” he has almost no motive (there is talk of Claudio having enjoyed the credit for his defeat, but this is vague), and second because there is almost nothing he won’t do to damage Hero. But he runs away after the damage has been done, revealing his own cowardice and failing to pay his debt to Borachio, so his capture announced in 5.4 is an appropriate place for the play to close: a happy ending.

Quick Quiz

  1. On which Mediterranean island is the play set?
  2. For how long are Pedro, Claudio and Benedick invited to stay with Leonato?
  3. Why does Don John tell Claudio that Hero is not right for him?
  4. Who proposes to Beatrice in 2.1, asking “Will you have me, lady?”?
  5. How much does Don John promise to pay Borachio for his part in deceiving Claudio?
  6. What is the main theme of the song sung by Balthasar in 2.3?
  7. Why does Benedick look younger in 3.2?
  8. Why is Leonato late for the wedding ceremony in 3.5?
  9. What does Beatrice want Benedick to do to Claudio after the wedding is abandoned?
  10. Who does Claudio think he is marrying in the play’s final scene?
  1. Sicily
  2. One month
  3. She is “no equal for his birth”
  4. Don Pedro
  5. One thousand ducats
  6. Men’s dishonesty
  7. He’s shaved his beard
  8. Dogberry has important news for him
  9. Kill him
  10. Hero’s cousin

Last Word

At the centre of the play stand the two “eavesdropping” scenes, 2.3 and 3.1, in which Benedick and Beatrice discover – by somewhat devious means, admittedly – that they are in love with one another.  These two comical scenes give the play a cheerful, light-hearted spirit.

Two scenes later, in 3.3, members of the Watch assemble to receive their instructions for the evening.  To summarise: drunks, thieves and crying children are to be cautioned unless they refuse to co-operate, in which case, they should be ignored.  The cheerful spirit of the play is reinforced.

But the play, unusually for a Shakespearean comedy, also has a dark side, easily overlooked.  Don John is a villain in the rich traditions of Iago, Edmund and Richard III.  The difference is that the plays in which those three criminals appear are classified as tragedies – an appropriate setting for their villainy.    But “Much Ado” is a comedy ….

Then there is 4.1, the scene of the wedding, where Claudio’s accusations threaten to cause mayhem and heartbreak, with Leonato in profound distress wishing himself and his daughter dead.  This is a scene that belongs not in a comedy but in a play like “Othello”, preoccupied with jealousy and infidelity. 

It’s quite possible that the depths the play plumbs in scenes like these give greater emphasis to the light touch felt in scenes involving eaves-dropping or the Watch.  And no doubt the “happy ending” required by the genre is happier still for the uncertainties that preceded it.  But there is nonetheless a prevailing tension between love (the marriages) and hate (Don John) that gives this particular comedy an edge not to be found in other comedies by Shakespeare.


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