Don Pedro (PEH-droh), the prince of Aragon. A victorious leader, he has respect and affection for his follower Claudio, for whom he asks the hand of Hero. Deceived like Claudio into thinking Hero false, he angrily shares in the painful repudiation of her at the altar. On learning of her innocence, he is deeply penitent.
Don John, the bastard brother of Don Pedro. A malcontent and a defeated rebel, he broods on possible revenge and decides to strike Don Pedro through his favorite, Claudio. He arranges to have Don Pedro and Claudio witness what they think is a love scene between Hero and Borachio. When his evil plot is exposed, he shows his guilt by flight. He is a rather ineffectual villain, though his plot almost has tragic consequences.
Claudio (KLOH-dee-oh), a young lord of Florence. A conventional hero of the sort no longer appealing to theater audiences, he behaves in an unforgivable manner to Hero when he thinks she is faithless; however, she—and apparently the Elizabethan audience—forgives him. He is properly repentant when he learns of her innocence, and he is rewarded by being allowed to marry her.
Benedick (BEHN-eh-dihk), a witty young woman-hater. A voluble and attractive young man, he steals the leading role from Claudio. He spends much of his time exchanging sharp remarks with Beatrice. After being tricked by the prince and Claudio into believing that Beatrice is in love with him, he becomes devoted to her. After Claudio’s rejection of Hero, Benedick challenges him, but the duel never takes place. His witty encounters with Beatrice end in marriage.
Hero (HEE-roh), the daughter of Leonato. A pure and gentle girl, and extremely sensitive, she is stunned by the false accusation delivered against her and by Claudio’s harsh repudiation of her in the church. Her swooning is reported by Leonato as death. Her character contains humor and generosity. She forgives Claudio when he repents.
Beatrice (BEE-ah-trihs), Hero’s cousin. Although sprightly and witty, she has a serious side. Her loyal devotion to Hero permits no doubt of her cousin to enter her mind. She turns to her former antagonist, Benedick, for help when Hero is slandered and insists that he kill his friend Claudio. When all is clear and forgiven, she agrees to marry Benedick, but with the face-saving declaration that she does so for pity only.
Leonato (lee-oh-NAH-toh), the governor of Messina, Hero’s father. A good old man, he welcomes Claudio as a prospective son-in-law. He is shocked by the devastating treatment of his daughter at her wedding. Deeply angry with the prince and Claudio, he at first considers trying to kill them but later consents to Friar Francis’ plan to humble them. When Hero is vindicated, he forgives them and allows the delayed marriage to take place.
Conrade (KON-rad), a tale-bearing, unpleasant follower of Don John.
Borachio (boh-RAH-kee-oh), another of Don John’s followers. He is responsible for the idea of rousing Claudio’s jealousy by making him think Hero has received a lover at her bedroom window. He persuades Margaret to wear Hero’s gown and pretend to be Hero. His telling Conrade of his exploit is overheard by the watch and leads to the vindication of Hero. Borachio is much disgruntled at being overreached by the stupid members of the watch; however, he confesses and clears Margaret of any willful complicity in his plot.
Friar Francis, a kindly, scheming cleric. He recommends that Hero pretend to be dead. His plan is successful in bringing about the repentance of Don Pedro and Claudio and in preparing the way for the happy ending.
Dogberry, a self-important constable. Pompous, verbose, and full of verbal inaccuracies, he fails to communicate properly with Leonato; hence, he does not prevent Hero’s humiliation, though his watchmen already have uncovered the villains.
Verges (VUR-jehs), a headborough. An elderly, bumbling man and a great admirer of his superior, the constable, he seconds the latter in all matters.
Margaret, the innocent betrayer of her mistress, Hero. She does not understand Borachio’s plot and therefore is exonerated, escaping punishment.
Ursula (UR-sew-luh), a gentlewoman attending Hero. She is one of the plotters who trick the sharp-tongued Beatrice into falling in love with Benedick.
First Watchman and
Second Watchman, plain, simple-minded men. Overhearing Borachio’s boastful confession to Conrade, they apprehend both and take them before the constable, thereby overthrowing clever malice and radically changing the course of events.
Antonio, Leonato’s brother. He plays the role of father to Leonato’s supposed niece (actually Hero), whom Claudio agrees to marry in place of his lost Hero.
Balthasar (BAL-theh-zahr), an attendant to Don Pedro.
A sexton, who serves as recorder for Dogberry and the watch during the examination of Conrade and Borachio.