Act IV Scene 1 is the climax of the play, when the revenge against Claudio executed by Don John and his henchmen in the previous act takes its toll. Hero, unfortunately for her, is nothing more than Don John’s means to an end.
Everyone arrives at the church for Hero and Claudio’s wedding ceremony. Having overheard Borachio’s drunken boast to Conrade of the trick played on the Prince and Claudio, we as the audience know something is about to disrupt the solemnity and joy of the occasion.
Here we witness Elizabethan values as applied to both the noble class and the peasant class. As the governor’s daughter, Hero is expected to remain pure until her wedding day. With a sullied reputation, she has no hope of marriage to Claudio or any nobleman. Margaret, however, whom we know is the one actually seduced by Borachio, is not subject to the same morality.
Depending on the speaker, Hero is portrayed in different ways during the ceremony. There are few stage directions, but Shakespeare does offer some indication of character movements. Look for text in brackets or parenthesis. Following are several quotes to help you understand the action:
CLAUDIO: …There, Leonato, take her back again:
Give not this rotten orange to your friend;
She’s but the sign and semblance of her honour. [Lines 28-30]
DON PEDRO: …I stand dishonour’d, that have gone about To link my dear friend to a common stale. [Lines 63-64]
LEONATO: …Do not live, Hero; do not ope thine eyes: For, did I think thou wouldst not quickly die, Thought I thy spirits were stronger than thy shames, Myself would, on the rearward of reproaches, Strike at thy life… [Lines 126-129]
BEATRICE: O, on my soul, my cousin is belied! [Line 150]
FRIAR FRANCIS: Pause awhile,
And let my counsel sway you in this case.
Your daughter here the princes left for dead:
Let her awhile be secretly kept in,
And publish it that she is dead indeed… [Lines 205-209]