Who are the characters in Act 1 of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing? What happens in the first act?
In Act 1 of Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare begins setting up the two central conflicts.
The first conflict is between Prince Don Pedro and his illegitimate brother Don John. As an illegitimate brother, Don John is not entitled to the crown and is jealous of Don Pedro's position as ruler of Argon. Out of jealousy, Don John will do anything he can to overthrow his brother, even if all he can do is disgrace his brother by tricking his brother's dear friends.
A third major character Shakespeare uses to set up the first conflict is Claudio, a prized soldier and friend of Don Pedro who has just returned from the war. In the first act, Claudio falls in love with Hero, and Don Pedro promises to woo her for him since her father is already reserving her for Don Pedro. However, upon learning of their plans, Don John makes plans of his own to sabotage the courtship by making Claudio believe Don Pedro is wooing Hero for himself.
Two more characters Shakespeare uses to develop the second major conflict in the play are Beatrice, cousin of Hero, and Benedick, another prized soldier and friend of Don Pedro. Beatrice and Benedick secretly feel more affection for each other than either one cares to admit and hide their affection behind a war of wits. Benedick even declares he hates women and promises to be a bachelor all his life. Towards the end of the opening scene, Don Pedro promises that he'll see Benedick "look pale with love" (1.1.227), a promise that leads to trickery in the second act.
Shakespeare's comedy Much Ado About Nothing takes place in five acts. In Act I, Scene 1, Leonato–together with his daughter Hero and his niece Beatrice–prepares to welcome Don Pedro and his soldiers home from the war and host them in his home in Messina. Leonato learns from a messenger that Don Pedro favors a young soldier named Claudio, who has proven himself on the battlefront. Beatrice inquires after another soldier–Benedick. The Messenger speaks well of Benedick as a soldier, but Beatrice responds sarcastically, disparaging Benedick's character. Leonato reveals that Beatrice and Benedick are engaged in an ongoing battle of wits.
Don Pedro arrives, accompanied by Claudio, Benedick, Don John, and Balthasar. As greetings are exchanged, Benedick and Beatrice immediately start verbally sparring. Don Pedro introduces his traitorous brother Don John, who–although back in Don Pedro's good graces–is essentially a prisoner.
In private, Claudio asks Benedick his opinion of their hostess Hero: Benedick's response indicates he thinks little of marriage, though that is clearly what Claudio has in mind. Don Pedro agrees to help Claudio woo Hero by masquerading as Claudio at a dance that night and declaring his intentions to Hero and–if all goes well–her father Leonato.
In Act I, Scene 2, Antonio relays to his brother Leonato that one of his men overheard Don Pedro and Claudio discussing Hero. Antonio's man misunderstood the conversation, however, as he says Don Pedro plans to ask for Hero's hand that night.
In Act I, Scene 3, Conrade tries to cheer up Don John, who freely admits his villainous nature. Borachio arrives with the news that Claudio intends to propose to Hero. Don John seizes upon the news and begins to plan mischief. And so the stage is set...