List of Characters
Don Pedro—Prince of Aragon, courtly and conventional. Fearful of his reputation, he is easily duped by his brother's deception. He enjoys matchmaking.
Leonato—Governor of Messina and father of Hero, whose conventionality is tested by the depth of his grief
Antonio—Leonato's older brother, who tries to philosophize his brother out of his grief, only to find his own anger stirred.
Benedick—Brave, quick-witted and spirited young lord of Padua and a professed misogynist, who will prove his love for Beatrice in a most serious manner
Beatrice—Leona Leonato's niece, whose spirited and merry wit is more than a match for Benedick, and who will, in the end, accept his love and marry him.
Claudio—Young lord of Florence, who, easily swayed by outer appearances, revengefully denounces Hero as a wanton on their wedding day.
Hero—Leonato's daughter; a chaste and docile maiden, wronged by Don John's slander
Margaret and Ursula—Both gentlewomen attending Hero, Margaret is unwittingly employed in Don John's plot to slander Hero.
Don John—Don Pedro's illegitimate brother; an envious and mischief-making malcontent and author of the slander against Hero.
Borachio and Conrade—Followers of Don John who assist him in his slander; Borachio is a drunkard.
Dogberry—Illiterate master constable, whose love of high-faluting words is only matched by his...
(The entire section is 378 words.)
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Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
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...
(The entire section is 818 words.)
Beatrice (Character Analysis)
Beatrice is the play's witty heroine. Much of her memorable character is original with Shakespeare rather than found in plot sources. She is mainly noted for her firm opposition to marriage and for her verbal dueling with Benedick. Her first comment is a question directed to the messenger about Benedick's welfare. Her asking a series of questions about him reveals an interest which she herself may be unaware of. Also, once Benedick and the other soldiers arrive, Beatrice makes a comment at the end of their first exchange of wit warfare that indicates that perhaps they knew each other before in some romantic way. Benedick's own comment about her appearance suggests that she would be considered very attractive were she not so sharp-tongued. Beatrice's good spirits are commented on by her uncle, who says that she is "never sad but when she sleeps" (II.i.343). He quotes Hero as saying that when she has had a dream of unhappiness, she "waked herself with laughing" (II.i.345-46).
Indeed, her comments at Leonato's party radiate out in many directions. She gives a negative review of Don John's sour looks and personality. She laughs about bearded and beardless husbands. Beatrice dances with Benedick, recognizing him beneath his mask, and ridicules his wit and personality, commenting that "he is the prince's jester: a very dull fool" (II.i.137-38). She is also aware of practicality and social niceties of behavior, as is shown in her prompting of Claudio to be other...
(The entire section is 675 words.)
Benedick (Character Analysis)
Benedick is a soldier returning from war. He is from Padua, a city in northern Italy and part of the Republic of Venice during the Italian Renaissance. He is the main male character in the play, even though his marriage is not the initial focus of the plot. Throughout the play, he displays his quick wit, loyalty, honorable nature, and his periodic lack of self-knowledge.
When the audience first hears a reference to Benedick, it is via Beatrice's scornfully posed question intended to conceal her interest: "I pray you, is Signior Mountanto returned from the wars or no?" (I.i.30-31). Beatrice does not even say his name, perhaps for fear of giving away too much to a messenger about her interest in Benedick. Yet even this nickname, taken from fencing, suggests something about Benedick—that he is skilled with a sword. Indeed, the messenger says Benedick "hath done good service, lady, in these wars" (I.i.48-49).
When the entire party of returning soldiers arrives at Leonato's and dismounts, Beatrice and Benedick immediately single each other out for an exchange of witty barbs. Just as Beatrice has a name for Benedick ("Signior Mountanto" [I.i.30]), so he has one for her ("Lady Disdain" [I.i.118]) and another later ("Lady Tongue" [II.i.275]). Benedick seems to get the best of Beatrice, which leads her to say that she knows him from before and that he always ends with a trick. This and other comments suggest a prior knowledge and perhaps even a...
(The entire section is 1200 words.)
Claudio (Character Analysis)
Claudio is a young soldier returning from war. He is originally from Florence, a city in northern Italy noted for culture during the Italian Renaissance. His mind has been dominated by thoughts of war. After his return, however, his thoughts have turned in a new direction. He is smitten immediately by Hero, Leonato's daughter. Her looks and gentle behavior have won him over very quickly, almost prior to any conversation or acquaintance with her. He is a conventional lover and, as most critics agree, without much depth or complexity in his character.
Despite his apparent lack of complexity, Claudio demonstrates his capacity for friendship in that he is well-liked by Benedick, the central male character in the play. Also, he is capable of reciprocating friendship. He enters into the scheme originated by Don Pedro to help convince Benedick that Beatrice is in love with him. This helpful plot allows Benedick to realize, express, and act on his feelings. Claudio even displays a sense of humor and love of play in this scene.
Claudio proves himself to be a somewhat jealous and gullible man. When Don Pedro woos Hero on behalf of Claudio, the latter readily believes Don John's deceitful claim that Don Pedro is wooing Hero for himself. More seriously, Claudio falls for the window trick in which Borachio and Margaret, whom Borachio calls "Hero" in this scene, have an "amiable encounter" (III.iii.151-52).
Claudio's capacity for anger and...
(The entire section is 431 words.)
Dogberry (Character Analysis)
Dogberry is the constable of Messina. This title is a British usage and refers to a police officer or official in charge of keeping the peace. This part was originally written for a famous comic actor in Shakespeare's day, Will Kemp. Kemp's name appears before Dogberry's spoken parts in the Quarto edition printed in 1600. This is one piece of evidence used in establishing the date of composition of this play, because Will Kemp left the Lord Chamberlain's men in 1599.
Dogberry's name refers to an ordinary hedgerow bush or shrubbery, and is perhaps suggestive of the constable's intelligence level. Dogberry's notable characteristics include his flagrant misuse of language, his pride in who he is and his official position in town, his reckless disregard for actually doing his job according to a reasonable standard of performance, and his overly literal insistence on setting the record straight about being called an ass by Conrade.
Examples of Dogberry's misuse of language abound in scenes in which he appears. He inquires of the watchmen who among them is "the most desartless man to be constable" (III.iii.9-10). By "desartless" he means deserving. When George Seacoal is identified as the proper man, Dogberry interrupts Seacoal in midsentence, as befitting a higher authority figure addressing a lower, and gives him a lantern as a symbol of authority. His charge, or set of directions to the watch, show the ineptitude of his peace-keeping mission. He...
(The entire section is 633 words.)
Hero (Character Analysis)
Hero, depicted as a virtuous and mild young woman, proves to be loving, affectionate, and dutiful to her father, her cousin, and to her fiancé. Claudio describes her as a jewel, and in appearance she is fair, young, short, and dark-haired. She is referred to by other characters in the play as being gentle and modest. Her answer to Don Pedro's attempt to get her to join their conspiracy to trick Beatrice shows her goodness and stands in contrast to Don John's villainy. She says that she "will do any modest office to help [Beatrice] to a good husband" (II.i.375-76). During the trick, she does as much to instruct Beatrice in her deficiencies in being so joking and critical as she does to deceive Beatrice about Benedick.
On the morning of her wedding, Hero has an unexplained sadness but shows an interest in her wedding gown, in the perfumed gloves sent her by Claudio, and in her cousin Beatrice. She reproves Margaret for a mild jest about the wedding night. At her wedding, she blushes at the accusations made against her, asks very brief questions, denies her accuser, and finally faints. At this point, she supposedly dies and is entombed. In accordance with Friar Francis's plan, this ruse will allow the rumors about her to die down and Claudio to grow remorseful. She appears in the final scene, masked until Claudio agrees to marry whoever it is behind the mask. True to her character throughout, her words are mild, but they now have a potential, though...
(The entire section is 481 words.)
Leonato (Character Analysis)
Leonato is the governor of Messina, a city in northeastern Sicily in Italy. He is the father of Hero, a daughter eligible for marriage. He is a genial host who immediately invites the returning soldiers to stay in Messina. He is concerned with making his guests as comfortable as possible and their stay as pleasant as possible. He seeks to provide music for their rest, dinners for their nourishment, and parties for their diversion. He is also an able though not a superb wit who jests in turn with Benedick about Hero's parentage and Beatrice about her marriage prospects. Early in the play he does not seem susceptible to gossip, questioning the source of what soon proves to be an erroneous report his brother delivers him from a conversation overheard by a servant. He is gracious to Claudio as his future son-in-law and tells the impatient youth that a week is needed to prepare adequately for such an event. He shows insight into his niece Beatrice's character, when he says of her that she is not ever really sad, even when asleep. He willingly enters into the scheme to trick Benedick into believing Beatrice is in love with him; though as a basically honest man, he is at first a little slow in inventing proofs of Beatrice's affection for Benedick for the sake of the eavesdropping Benedick. However, once he fully enters into the jest, his made-up evidence is exaggerated and absurdly funny. Though his patience can be tried, he is ever courteous, accustomed as he is to his...
(The entire section is 569 words.)
Pedro (Character Analysis)
Don Pedro, a nobleman and soldier, is the Prince of Arragon (Aragon), a region of eastern Spain. He is referred to by Leonato as "your Grace" (I.i.100) and indeed his behavior throughout much of the play is gracious and courtly. When the audience first meets Don John, who is Don Pedro's brother, it hears of Don Pedro's gracious behavior to his rebellious brother.
Don Pedro's actions throughout the play display his power and influence as well as his good humor. He has the power to confer honors for valor on the soldiers in his company and has done so to Claudio just before the beginning of the play. He speaks for his company of men to Leonato. He goes back to call the privately conferring Benedick and Claudio to their duties to Leonato, their host. He also agrees in a separate conversation with Claudio to intervene for him in marriage negotiations with Hero. He says he will disguise himself as Claudio, reveal his affections, and then speak of the matter to Leonato.
Don Pedro announces Claudio's and Hero's successfully negotiated wedding, both to Claudio and to their circle of friends. When he proposes on his own behalf to Beatrice and is rejected, he takes Beatrice's reply in good humor, appreciating her merry nature. He proposes the plot of tricking Benedick, both to pass the time until Claudio's wedding and to challenge Cupid at his own love game. He shows his own playful humor during the gulling scene and also reveals again his own interest...
(The entire section is 492 words.)
Other Characters (Descriptions)
Antonio is Leonato's brother. Antonio is described in the Dramatis Personae as an old man. Ursula mentions that he has a dry hand, a feature associated with old age, just as a modern audience would associate wrinkles or liver spots with old age. He is a minor character, but his relationship to Leonato stands as a model of a good fraternal relationship in contrast to that between Don Pedro and Don John.
He is an advisor and confidant to his brother. When a servant tells him of an overheard conversation between Don Pedro and Claudio, he relays the information to Leonato. He is present at Leonato's party and dances with one of Hero's gentlewomen.
At the end of the play, he counsels patience to his brother and a moderating of his grief. Also, like a loyal brother and uncle, he utters defiant words to Don Pedro and Claudio. He challenges Claudio to a duel and calls them both a series of insulting names. In fact, in his turn, he has to be counseled to patience by Leonato. Finally, he is asked to give Hero away at the wedding as his own daughter and does so willingly.
He does not have a speaking part. He provides music and perhaps helps in other ways in Leonato's busy household, especially during the soldiers' visit. Leonato addresses him briefly in Act I.
The attendants do not have speaking parts, but various editors mention...
(The entire section is 2305 words.)