Don Pedro and his men returning from war is significant to the plot of Much Ado About Nothing for many reasons. A few other answers on here have already dealt with Don Pedro’s war against his bastard brother Don Jon, but the return from the battlefield also acts as a...
Don Pedro and his men returning from war is significant to the plot of Much Ado About Nothing for many reasons. A few other answers on here have already dealt with Don Pedro’s war against his bastard brother Don Jon, but the return from the battlefield also acts as a catalyst for the romantic action of the play.
There are key hints throughout the play that Beatrice and Benedick share a long history with one another. In the opening scene, she asks: “I pray you, is Signior Mountanto returned from the wars or no?” (1.1). Mountanto is an unexplained nickname she has for him. Later on, when Don Pedro mentions Benedick’s heart, Beatrice replies: “Indeed, my lord, he lent it me awhile, and I gave him use for it, a double heart for his single one. Marry, once before he won it of me with false dice” (2.1). Beatrice seems to be insinuating that Benedick declared his love to her once before, but pulled away when she requited it. The war has been an impediment on their relationship. Now that the war has ended, however, Benedick has grown up a little and is able to accept love into his life.
A more direct reference to how the war has prepared these veterans for love is stated by Claudio, in regards to his feelings for Hero:
When you went onward on this ended action,
I looked upon her with a soldier’s eye…
But now I am returned and that war thoughts
Have left their places vacant, in their rooms
Come thronging soft and delicate desires. (1.1)
Claudio is saying that he was not prepared to live a life of love while the war was ongoing, but now that it has ended, he is mentally prepared for a more comfortable, loving life. Much Ado About Nothing is a comedy exploring the thin line between love and war, and Shakespeare uses the return from the battlefield as a backdrop and catalyst for these men embracing the next stages in their lives.
Before the events of the play, Don Pedro and his men had been engaged in a battle with Don Pedro's "bastard prince" brother Don John. Don Pedro is their leader, and the other men following him are his soldiers. They have been successful in their recent escapade and are coming home victorious, so the tone of the beginning of the play is quite joyful.
The backdrop of war is significant because even though Much Ado About Nothing takes place in a time of peace, the characters are not necessarily at peace with one another. Both Benedick and Beatrice are described by Hero's father Leonato as being in a "war" with one another due to their endless sparring. Neither is able to admit they are actually in love with the other, so the war there is a romantic/erotic one.
Also, Don John does not take losing lightly. He plans to avenge himself on the victors by ruining the happiness of Claudio and Hero. So once again, the battle is not yet over, even though this play is a comedy. These conflicts are perfectly set up, both dramatically and thematically, by the backdrop of a recent battle.
The opening lines of the play are "I learn in this letter that Don Pedro of Aragon comes this night to Messina." The arrival of Don Pedro and his men is significant because their arrival sets into motion the rest of the events of the play.
The letter also tells Leonato that Don Pedro has honored a young man named Claudio, and the Messenger expands upon how promising Claudio is. This is important because Leonato's daughter Hero and Claudio are in love, and Don Pedro is able to help them secure Leonato's blessing.
Beatrice then asks about Signior Mountanto, which confuses the Messenger. Beatrice means Benedick, as Leonato explains, "there is a kind of merry war betwixt Signior Benedick and her. They never meet but there's a skirmish of wit between them." Beatrice's first line is a jape, which gives us an idea of her character. It is important for us to hear that information about Benedick and Beatrice, because Benedick is about to arrive. We can expect jokes between the two of them, but we might not expect them to fall in love.
This backdrop is important because before Don Pedro and his men even arrive, the play sets up potential relationship conflicts. The audience is now eager to meet the young Claudio that is being praised. The audience is curious to see what will happen when Benedick and Beatrice cross paths in person. Finally, there is the conflict between the two brothers, Don Pedro and Don John. Don Pedro defeated Don John, but since John is arriving with Pedro, the play sets up the potential for further conflict between them.
When Much Ado about Nothing begins, Don Pedro of Aragon arrives in Messina, returning from the wars in which he and his brother have been involved. They will be the guests of Leonato. Claudio, Don Pedro's closest aide, is in love and wishes to marry Leonato's daughter Hero.
Don John, the illegitimate brother Pedro has been fighting, is a warped and bitter man. Although they are temporarily at peace, he resents his brother deeply. It is this bad blood that propels the whole plot. He decides to mess with Claudio as a way to unnerve Don Pedro. His duplicity sets the stage for the larger deceits and conflicts that threaten the young couple's happiness. Don John spreads gossip falsely accusing Don Pedro of courting Hero, which turns Claudio against his patron and causes him to doubt Hero's love—a mixup that takes a long time to straighten out.
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.