“Much Ado About Nothing” is a play written by the revered English author William Shakespeare. The play is believed to have been written between 1598 and 1599 towards the middle of Shakespeare’s career. It was first published in 1623 and has been regularly performed on stage since the 1600’s. It has seen countless adaptations including film and television and continues to be performed to this day.
The play is set in the town of Messina, where a wealthy man named Leonato welcomes a group of soldiers to his house to stay for a month. While there, a young soldier named Claudio falls in love with Leonato’s daughter, Hero. Hero’s cousin, Beatrice has a legendary “merry war” with another soldier, Benedick.
The play revolves around the courtship of Hero and Claudio and the most reluctant courtship between Benedick and Beatrice. Eventually, the play ends with a double wedding between the two couples and a happy dance.
Act I, Scene I
Deep in Italy in a town called Messina, a wealthy and kind man named Leonato waits to welcome home a group of soldiers returning from war. Leonato’s teenage daughter, Hero and his niece, Beatrice wait with him. A messenger arrives, and Beatrice asks after the health of one of the soldiers, a man named Signor Benedick. After Beatrice wittily mocks Benedick, the messenger tries to defend Benedick, but Leonato explains that Beatrice and Benedick have long had a “merry war” between them and that they trade insults whenever they meet. Beatrice confirms that when they last met, “four of his five wits went halting off, and now is the whole man governed with one.”
The soldiers arrive, led by their general, Don Pedro, a highly wealthy and respected man in Messina. Leonato greets Don Pedro, Benedick and a young but well-honored solider named Claudio. With the men is the sullen, quiet Don John, who is Don Pedro’s brother. Leonato leads Don Pedro away and Beatrice and Benedick begin to take up their witty war once again. In a fast-paced delivery, they cleverly insult one another, looks, personality and intelligence. When Benedick tells Beatrice that he has never loved a woman and intends to stay a bachelor forever, Beatrice notes that all women ought to be pleased to hear that.
Don Pedro tells his men that Leonato has invited them to stay in his house for a month and everyone except Claudio and Benedick go off together. Claudio begins asking Benedick what he thinks of Hero. Benedick announces that he thinks of her as passable, but nothing special. Claudio confesses that he has fallen in love with her and Benedick begins to tease him further. Don Pedro returns and says that he approves of the match between the two. But because of Claudio’s shyness, he decides that they should play a trick to discover Hero’s affections. Don Pedro says that at the costume ball that evening, he will disguise himself as Claudio and tell Hero that he is in love with her. He will then talk to Leonato as himself about the match. The three friends leave to prepare for the ball.
Act I, Scene II
Inside Leonato’s house, Leonato’s is told that someone overheard Don Pedro professing his love for Hero outside and that he intends to tell her this that night. Leonato disbelieves this and says that he will not assume anything until his daughter is courted. But he does say that he will tell Hero about it so that she won’t be ambushed with the idea.
Act I, Scene III
Don John speaks with his servant, Conrad. Conrad wonders why Don John seems angry and he answers that he is naturally somber and lacks the skills to change himself to suit other people. Conrad points out that Don Pedro has recently started being friendly with Don John again and that if he wants to remain on good terms he should try and remain cheerful and friendly. Don John is bitter that he must depend on his brother for financial status.
Another of Don John’s servants, Borachio, enters to say that he has overheard rumors of a possible marriage between Claudio and Hero. He has also overheard what passed in the courtyard, but he understood it better. He realizes that Don Pedro intends to court Hero for Claudio. Don John, who hates Claudio, decides to use this information to make trouble for him and his servants agree to help.
Act II, Scene I
Hero, Beatrice and Leonato wait for the masked ball to begin and the women discuss their idea of a perfect man. They agree that they would like some type of middle ground between Don John, who never speaks and Benedick, who seems to speak constantly. This conversation leads to Hero questioning whether Beatrice will ever marry and she asserts that she will not. Leonato reminds Hero that Don Pedro plans to propose to her that evening. Other party-goers enter and the men put on their masks so that the women will not be able to tell who is who.
The party begins and Don Pedro dances with Hero and begins flirting with her. Benedick dances with Beatrice and she insults him to his face, either because she does not realize that it is him behind his mask or because she is pretending not to in order to tease him. Don John lies to Claudio by pretending not to recognize him behind his mask and says that Don Pedro has changed his mind and intends to court Hero for himself.
Claudio believes this and rushes away. Don Pedro returns with Hero and Leonato and true to his word, he has courted Hero for Claudio.
Still bitter about how Beatrice has insulted him, Benedick waits till she approaches and begs Don Pedro to send him on some far-flung errand so that he may escape her. Don Pedro knows this for the silly request it is and laughingly tells him to stay.
Claudio returns and Don Pedro tells him that Hero intends to marry him and that Leonato supports them. Claudio is so happy and overwhelmed that he can barely speak but he and Hero go off to the side to speak to one another. Seeing this, Beatrice jokes about how she intends to never marry and Don Pedro half-seriously offers himself as a husband to her. Beatrice laughingly turns him down and says that he is too important and lavish for her to be with everyday. Leonato discusses when Claudio intends to marry Hero. Claudio says that wants the wedding to happen the next day but Leonato tells him that they should wait one week instead. Claudio agrees, but is saddened that he will have to wait so long. Don Pedro says that he intends to fill that time with a scheme of his own. He intends to create a plan to get Beatrice and Benedick to stop arguing and fall in love. The others agree to help him.
Act II, Scene II
Learning of the marriage between Claudio and Hero, Don John wishes that he could do something to prevent it. His servant, Borachio suggests a plan. He says that he has become the lover of one of the servant women in the household since they have been staying there. The servant woman, Margaret sees him often at night.
Borachio suggests that Don John tells Leonato and Claudio that Hero is not a virgin and unfaithful to Claudio. When they protest this, he is to bring them to the window of Hero’s room the night before the wedding so that they can see Borachio making love to Margaret and assume that she is Hero. Don John is happy with this plan and promises a monetary reward to his servant if it manages to go off without a hitch.
Act II, Scene III
Meanwhile, Benedick’s friends begins to enact their plan to get he and Beatrice to fall in love. Benedick wanders around the garden and questions to himself out loud how Claudio could have fallen in love and how men let love make fools of them. He hears Don Pedro, Claudio and Leonato coming over to him and hides in the trees so that he can eavesdrop. Don Pedro and Claudio realize that he is there and begin to talk loudly about how Beatrice has told them that she has fallen in love with Benedick.
In the trees, Benedick is shocked. He wonders if this could be true. His friends begin to add to the story as they go through it, saying that Beatrice passionately loves Benedick and that she feels she cannot tell him because he would only make fun of her. They all agree that he would be stupid to turn her down and that she is a fine woman and he is unworthy of her.
After the others leave, Benedick, stunned, emerges from the trees. He begins to question how this could be possible and if Beatrice loves him. Obviously intrigued and happy with the idea that she does, but wanting to protect his pride, he decides to “take pity” on the woman by loving her in return. He decides that he no longer wants to be a bachelor and now wants to marry Beatrice.
Beatrice soon appears to fetch Benedick for dinner. She deals with him in the same scornful way that she always does, but he suddenly treats her with flattery and respect. Beatrice is confused and suspicious. She mocks him before leaving again, and Benedick attempts to pick apart her mocking words for some hidden confession of love within them.
Act III, Scene I
Soon, Hero prepares for her part of the scheme, tricking Beatrice into thinking that Benedick has confessed his love for her. She plans to hold a conversation with her two servants, Margaret and Ursula so that Beatrice will overhear it from nearby. Beatrice does overhear it and the three women talk in loud voices to make sure. Hero tells her servants that she has been told that Benedick has confessed his love for Beatrice. Ursula wonders if she is going to tell Beatrice this but Hero says that everyone knows Beatrice is too full of scorn and mockery to take such a confession seriously. Hero says that it will be better to let Benedick waste away, unrequited than to expose him to Beatrice’s mocking words. The ladies leave to try on Hero’s wedding dress and Beatrice emerges from her hiding place, as shocked as Benedick was earlier. Also like him, she agrees to “take pity” on the poor man in order to save her pride from admitting that she is in love with him.
Act III, Scene II
In the house, Don Pedro, Leonato, and Claudio tease Benedick about his decision to never marry. Benedick announces that he no longer believes that he will not marry and his friends agree that he seems changed somehow. Benedick takes Leonato aside to speak with him. Don John approaches his brother and Claudio and tells them that he needs to speak to them urgently to protect Claudio from a bad marriage and a ruined reputation.
He tells them that Hero is not a virgin and at their shocked response, says that he has proof. He tells them to meet him outside Hero’s window that night so that they can see for themselves. Claudio instantly becomes paranoid and suspicious and agrees that if what he sees that night changes his mind about Hero than he intends to disgrace her publicly at the wedding ceremony. Don Pedro vows to help him.
Act III, Scene III
That night, on the street outside of Leonato’s house, the town’s watchmen meet to discuss their duties. Dogberry, the head watchman and his deputy, Verges command the watch. Both men take their jobs seriously and both are well intentioned, but they are also ridiculous. The watch is very polite but not well run. As Dogberry begins giving the men their orders, it becomes clear from the dialogue that they are not very good at being effective. They are told to send any drunkards home unless they are too drunk and then they are not to bother with them, to never tangle with any thieves so it will not damage their reputation and that they must sleep a lot during duty so that they will not make noise.
At last, Dogberry reminds them of the wedding the next day and that they should be particularly vigilant around Leonato’s house Suddenly, Borachio and Conrand enter. They do not see the watchmen and Borachio informs Conrad that their plan to deface Hero’s reputation has gone off without a hitch. Don Pedro and Claudio witnessed him making love to Margaret in the window and assumed it was Hero. Now Claudio is heartbroken and feels betrayed and has vowed to take revenge on Hero by publicly shaming her. The watchmen overhear this exchange and surprise Borachio and Conrad, arresting them for treachery.
Act III, Scene IV
The morning of the wedding, Hero wakes early and argues good-naturedly with her ladies maids about what she should wear to her wedding. Hero reveals that she has a strange sense of foreboding. Beatrice arrives, and Margaret teases her about her change in spirits and about Benedick. Beatrice is annoyed. Soon the group leaves for the church together.
Act III, Scene V
Just as Leonato is about to enter the church for the wedding, Dogberry and Verges meet him at the door. They tell them that they have caught two criminals and wanted to question them in his presence. However, their attempts to communicate this to him properly are so ridiculous and long-winded that Leonato tells them to come back later, misunderstanding the importance of the matter. He orders them to question the men themselves, and he will ask about it later.
Act IV, Scene I
Inside the church, everyone gathers to celebrate the wedding. But when the Friar asks if Claudio wishes to marry Hero Claudio denies that he is and breaks into an outraged speech in which he disparages Hero’s purity and says that she is corrupt and dark inside. The happy occasion instantly transforms into an angry scene. Leonato and Hero are horrified and demand to know what Claudio is talking about. Claudio relates his experience from the night before in front of everyone and Don Pedro supports him.
Leonato, despairing, asks for a dagger with which to commit suicide. Hero faints and Benedick and Beatrice rush to her to offer aid. Claudio, Don Pedro and Don John leave the church. Leonato says that they should let Hero die because her reputation has now been destroyed but Beatrice remains convinced that her cousin has been framed and that the accusation is untrue. Hero regains consciousness and insists that she has no idea what they were talking about and that she remains a virgin. Benedick realizes that the accusation must be a lie and that Don John must have had a hand in spreading it.
The group decide that they must conceal Hero’s health and announce to the town that she died of shock when she collapsed. When Don John’s lie is discovered and made public, Claudio will remember what a virtuous and innocent woman Hero was and be distraught that he killed her. Leonato is so upset and confused that he agrees to go with this plan. Hero and Leonato leave and Benedick and Beatrice are left alone together in the church. Benedick tries to comfort Beatrice and suddenly confesses that he is in love with her. She replies that she is in love with him, too and both agree that it is strange that their feelings would reverse so quickly.
Benedick asks if there’s anything in the world he can do to ease her pain and she asks him to kill his friend, Claudio. Shocked, Benedick refuses, and Beatrice says that if she were a man she would kill Claudio herself. After her speech, Benedick somberly agrees to kill Claudio for how he has wronged Hero.
Act IV, Scene II
Dogberry and Verges question Borachio and Conrad and Borachio confesses to the crime and Don John’s part in it. The watchmen tie up the prisoners and lead them to Leonato’s house.
Act V, Scene I
Leonato, torn apart with grief and confusion, sees Don Pedro and Claudio and accuses them of lying about Hero. He challenges Claudio to a duel, despite his old age and Don Pedro and Claudio pretend to not hear him as they are embarrassed by his brashness. Leonato leaves, vowing that he will have his revenge. Benedick enters and Claudio and Don Pedro ask that he use his renowned wit to cheer them. But Benedick soberly says that he is not there for jokes. He confesses that he believes that Claudio has slandered Hero and challenges him to a duel. The other two do not believe him and Benedick says that he can no longer be their friend as he believes that they have done wrong. Benedick says that Don John has left the city. Claudio and Don Pedro realize that Benedick’s love for Beatrice must be the reason for his actions now.
Dogberry and Verges enter, bringing with them the Borachio and Conrad. Dogberry tells Don Pedro of Borachio’s confession. Claudio is horrified and in shock, realizing that Hero was innocent and that she died because of his treatment of her. Leonato returns and Claudio begs his forgiveness, offering himself up for any punishment that the man wants. Leonato orders him to clear Hero’s name by telling the city that he was wrong in accusing her. Claudio agrees to do this and to compose and epitaph for her. He also tells Claudio that he has a niece who looks much like Hero that Claudio will now have to marry and Claudio agrees. Leonato also orders that Borachio be taken away for more questioning.
Act V, Scene II
Nearby, Benedick asks Margaret to bring Beatrice to speak to him. While he waits, he curses his inability to write poetry and the play returns some levity to the story as he goes over the failed poems that he has attempted to compose for Beatrice. Beatrice arrives and the two flirt and tease each other gently. Benedick confesses that he has challenge Claudio to a duel but that he still doesn’t know how the boy will respond. Suddenly, Ursula arrives to tell them that the scheme against Hero has been revealed and they follow her back to Leonato’s house.
Act V, Scene III
Early the next morning in the graveyard, Claudio reads the epitaph that he has written aloud and hangs it on her tomb. He promises that he will return every year to read it again. Everyone leaves to prepare for the wedding between Claudio and Leonato’s niece.
Act V, Scene IV
In the church, Benedick confesses that he is relieved that he no longer needs to fight Claudio and he quietly takes Leonato aside and asks for his permission to marry Beatrice. Don Pedro and Claudio enter and the women begin to enter, wearing masks. A woman approaches Claudio and, assuming that this is the niece that he is there to marry he vows to marry her. The woman removes her mask and reveals herself to be Hero. Claudio is shocked. Leonato tells him of their scheme to fake Hero’s death and that now that her name has been cleared she can marry him. The party is happy and prepares to leave for the church. But before they can, Benedick stops everyone and asks Beatrice whether she loves him I front of everyone.
Beatrice denies it and Benedick denies that he loves her. They both agree that they are only friends. However, Claudio and Hero pull out half-finished love poems that they have found in each of their rooms about the other and begin to read them. Realizing that they have been caught, Benedick and Beatrice give in and agree that they are in love. Benedick kisses Beatrice and as his friends begin to tease him again, he admits that he doesn’t care and is determined to be married. They determine to have a double wedding and a dance before.
A messenger arrives to say that Don John has been arrested. Benedick tells Don Pedro to put off thinking about this until the next day and that they must dance and be happy to celebrate the marriages.
Beatrice – Leonato’s niece and Hero’s cousin. Beatrice is a headstrong and witty woman. Beatrice vows never to love nor marry a man as she believes that no man is worth the effort. She once says, “I would rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man tell me that he loves me”. Beatrice has a long-standing “merry war” with Benedick, an officer in Don Pedro’s army. The two regularly trade barbs when they meet. Beatrice is more reluctant to reveal that she loves Benedick and markedly less giddy and gone over him that he is over her. This reveals that Beatrice is perhaps the more stubborn of the couple. In the end, Beatrice does admit that she loves Benedick although she uses his similar revelation to convince him to duel Claudio.
Benedick – a soldier in Don Pedro’s army who has recently returned from war. Benedick is a funny, witty, clever man who is always ready with a joke. Like Beatrice, he swears in the beginning of the play that he never intends to marry and will remain a bachelor till his last day. Of course, Benedick goes back on this when he realizes that Beatrice is in love with him and instantly turns into a lovestruck, poem-writing sap. Benedick becomes the opposite of himself in a comedic way and the other side of the true romantic plot of the play.
Hero – the daughter of Leonato. Hero is a sweet, pure young girl who falls in love with Claudio and wishes to marry him in her impulsive youth. However, when she is betrayed by Claudio and slandered by Don John, Hero becomes the opposite of her cheerful self, turning into an understandably depressed, sad woman. Hero’s good name is returned to her, and the happy ending comes when she and Claudio marry.
Claudio – a soldier in Don Pedro’s army. Claudio is a young man who has recently returned from war as an honored hero. Claudio confesses that he has seen Hero before and thought nothing of her, but that now that he considers himself a man he sees her as a marriage prospect and has fallen in love with her. However, Claudio is too shy to confess this to himself so he asks Don Pedro’s help. When Claudio is tricked into thinking that Hero has betrayed him he denounces her in front of the entire town, causing a scandal. Later, when Claudio realizes that he was tricked he despairs, feeling like he killed Hero. At the end of the play, Hero and Claudio have their happy ending.
William Shakespeare Biography
Born the son of a glove maker and a rich landowner in 1564, William Shakespeare did not grow up in poverty. He attended good schools and learned all the basics a well rounded young man of means required. But, studying all the great play wrights led to the stage. He was one of eight children and the oldest surviving son, so turning to a career in the theater would not have been what was expected of a well brought up Englishmen, but, Shakespeare was a bit of a rebel.
At the age of 18 he suddenly married 26 year old Anne Hathaway. Six months later they became parents of their first daughter, Susanna. Later they had twins, Judith and Hamnet, but young Hamnet died at the age of 11. Most scholars feel their marriage might not have been very happy. In his will, written days before his death, Shakespeare only left his wife his “second best bed”. Whether his marriage was ideal, or not, his career as a playwright, director, producer and actor of plays was auspicious.
By the age of 28, in 1592, Shakespeare had already advanced enough in his career to get billing at a London theater. Only two years later, 1594, his plays were only performed by “Lord Chamberlain’s Men”, a troupe on the rise in London. Until her death in 1603 Queen Elizabeth I was his patron. She was a great fan of his work, and although she never visited his theater, he and his troupe gave private performances for her at the palace. After her death her heir King James I became his patron, and the troupe’s name was then changed to “The King’s Men”. “Lord Chamberlain’s Men” and later, “The King’s Men” were very popular and successful. In 1599 they built the “Globe Theater” by the River Thames (which was destroyed by fire in 1613 and rebuilt in 1614) and in 1608 went on to take over the “Blackfriars Theater”. Both theaters were closed in 1642 due to the start of the English Civil War.
Although some scholars question the complete authenticity of Shakespeare’s plays, he is responsible for some of the greatest plays in history, including, but no where near limited to, “The Comedy of Errors”, “Richard III”, “The Taming of the Shrew”, “As You Like It”, “Romeo and Juliet”, and “Julius Caesar” (rumored to be based on a Plutarch’s Parallel Lives, translated by Sir Thomas North in 1579).
As an actor, Shakespeare often took to the stage to perform in his plays. He is said to have played the ghost of Hamlet’s father and the part of Adam in “As You Like It.” In plays by Ben Johnson, he is also listed on the cast lists for “Every Man in His Humor” and “Sejanus His Fall,” among others.
The theater was Shakespeare’s life. He had a hand in every aspect of it, from designing the building to choosing props. Even during the years of frequent outbreaks of Bubonic Plague in London between 1603 and 1610, when the theaters were often closed, he kept writing and working. Then on the 23rd of April in 1603, purportedly after a drinking binge, the world lost one of the greatest playwrights of all time. He was only 52 years old and had signed his will only a month prior. He was survived by two married daughters and a wife. Most of his estate was left to his oldest daughter, Susanna, with the stipulation that it be given to the ‘first son of her body’. She had three children who all died without marrying, and his daughter, Judith one child who never had children, either. So, Shakespeare’s (legitimate) line ended. But, not his legacy.
To this day, the plays of Shakespeare have been and are being performed all over the world. His plays are one of the most unifying forces throughout history. Dictators, saints, scholars and dunces can almost all recite at least one line from his plays. Admirers tour his grave sight in Holy Trinity Church to read his epitaph or curse, depending on how it’s viewed, “Good Friend, For Jesus’ sake Forbear/ To dig the dust enclosed here./ Blessed be the man that spares these stones,/ And cursed be he that moves my bones”. When the restoration of the church was performed in 2008, his grave was not touched.