Act 1, scene 1 of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing introduces the reader to Don Pedro and his men. Leonato speaks with a messenger regarding a letter he has received from Don Pedro that he will be arriving in Messina that night. Leonato then inquires of the messenger, “how many gentlemen have you lost in this action?” hinting that Don Pedro is returning from some sort of a battle. Leonato refers to a victory in Don Pedro’s favor and says that Don Pedro is returning with Claudio, a man whom he “hath bestowed much honour on.” This indicates that Claudio is a man of good reputation. The messenger confirms it, saying Claudio acted “beyond the promise of his age,” which tells the reader that Claudio is a young man who is achieving feats beyond his expected ability.
Beatrice inquires after a “Signior Mountanto” returning from the war, and the messenger replies that there was none in the army by that name. This short exchange clarifies with certainty that Don Pedro and his men are returning to Messina from a war.
The “Signior Mountanto” Beatrice referred to is Signior Benedick, whom she heaps insults upon, much to the confusion of the messenger. Leonato explains that Benedick and Beatrice have never met, yet they have a “skirmish of wit between them.” From this, one can deduce that Benedick is not only a good soldier of Don Pedro’s, but a clever man who enjoys playful arguments of wit.
Further along in the scene, Don Pedro, Claudio, Benedick, and Don John enter. Beatrice and Benedick meet for the first time, and their witty battle commences in person. Meanwhile, Leonato greets Don John, saying, “Let me bid you welcome, my lord—being reconciled to the prince your brother.” This line alone sets up a significant plot point. Don John is the brother of Don Pedro, who is a prince, and they have only just reconciled a feud. This feud is the very war referenced earlier in the scene. Don Pedro was fighting against Don John, who in the text is introduced as his bastard brother, which is a characteristic usually given to villains in Elizabethan era plays. There is clearly a rift between the two brothers, though it is apparently mended, but only recently. This unsteady dynamic between Don John and Don Pedro ends up being a huge part of the action of the play, explaining why Don John’s actions oppose everything his respected and honorable brother does. This, combined with Claudio’s young naivete and Benedick’s stubborn wit, helps drive all the main plot points of Much Ado About Nothing.