Illustration of Hero wearing a mask

Much Ado About Nothing

by William Shakespeare

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Much Ado About Nothing Summary

Much Ado About Nothing is a play by William Shakespeare in which Don Pedro and his friends visit Messina and become embroiled in a series of romantic complications.

  • Don Pedro, Don John, Claudio, and Benedick visit Leonato, the Governor of Messina. Claudio falls in love with Hero, Leonato's daughter.
  • Leonato approves Claudio and Hero's marriage.
  • Bitter, envision Don John conspires to make Hero appear unfaithful.
  • Claudio shames Hero during the wedding. Leonato and the priest fake Hero's death.
  • Hero's innocence is revealed, and Leonato asks Claudio to marry his niece instead. Claudio is overjoyed to realize that his bride is actually Hero in disguise.

Plot Summary

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Last Updated on June 22, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 755


Written by William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing is a comedic play believed to have been written between 1598 and 1599. Set in Messina, a port city in Sicily, the play explores themes of love, deception, and mistaken identity. It is considered one of Shakespeare's most popular and enduring comedies. 

What Happens:

Act 1: Don Pedro, the Prince of Aragon, and his companions, including Claudio and Benedick, visit the home of Leonato, the Governor of Messina. Claudio falls in love with Leonato's daughter, Hero, and they agree to marry. Benedick, a confirmed bachelor, engages in witty banter with Beatrice, Hero's cousin. Meanwhile, Don Pedro's brother, Don John, plots to disrupt the upcoming wedding.

Act 2: Don John employs his henchmen, Borachio and Conrad, to deceive Claudio into believing that Hero is unfaithful. They stage a scene where Borachio is intimate with Margaret, Hero's chambermaid, who is mistaken for Hero. Claudio is heartbroken and publicly shames Hero on their wedding day.

Act 3: Hero's innocence is proven when Borachio is arrested and confesses to the deception. Leonato fakes Hero's death to teach Claudio a lesson and plans for her to be revealed alive later. Meanwhile, Benedick and Beatrice's friends, including the bumbling constable Dogberry, uncover Don John's plot.

Act 4: The play takes a lighter turn as Dogberry and his associates provide comic relief through their comically inept attempts to reveal the truth. Benedick and Beatrice, influenced by their friends' manipulation, confess their love for each other. Meanwhile, Claudio agrees to marry a masked woman at Hero's "funeral."

Act 5: At the wedding, Hero is revealed to be alive, and the truth about Don John's plot is exposed. Claudio realizes his mistake and mourns Hero's "death." Leonato reveals Hero's true identity, and Claudio agrees to marry her. Benedick and Beatrice's relationship is also confirmed, and the play ends with joyous celebrations.

Why it Matters:

Much Ado About Nothing holds historical and literary significance, reflecting the social and cultural context of the Elizabethan era. It explores themes of love, honor, gender roles, and the power of language. The play showcases Shakespeare's mastery of comedic elements, such as witty wordplay, mistaken identity, and humorous misunderstandings.

The play also highlights the societal expectations placed on women during that time. Beatrice emerges as a strong and independent female character who challenges traditional gender norms through her wit and outspokenness. Hero, on the other hand, embodies the idealized image of a virtuous and obedient woman, despite being unfairly accused.

Furthermore, Much Ado About Nothing presents a nuanced exploration of the nature of love. It contrasts the gullibility of Claudio, who easily falls for deception, with the more skeptical and witty Benedick and Beatrice, who initially reject love, and all that goes with it. The play questions the sincerity and permanence of romantic relationships, challenging societal ideals.

Additional Context: 

Although there has been some speculation that Much Ado About Nothing may be a heavily revised version of a play that Shakespeare wrote earlier in his career (a "lost" work that is often referred to as Love's Labour Won), Much Ado was probably written by Shakespeare in 1598 or shortly thereafter.

This would make Much Ado one of Shakespeare's later comedies. Unlike his earliest comedic works, the humor of Much Ado About Nothing does not depend upon funny situations. While it shares some standard devices with those earlier plays (misperceptions, disguises, false reports), the comedy of Much Ado derives from the characters themselves and the manners of the highly-mannered society in which they live.

And while the main plot of Much Ado revolves around obstacles to...

(This entire section contains 755 words.)

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the union of two young lovers (Claudio and Hero), the play's sub-plot, the "merry war" of the sexes between Beatrice and Benedick, is much more interesting and entertaining by comparison. Indeed, the play was staged for a long period of time under the title ofBeatrice and Benedick. Especially when set alongside the conventional, even two-dimensional lovers of the main plot, Beatrice and Benedick display a carefully matched intelligence, humor, and humanity that is unmatched among the couples who people Shakespeare's comedies.

Beatrice and Benedick aside, Much Ado has been the object of sharp criticism from several modern Shakespeare scholars, the gist of their complaint being that it lacks a unifying dramatic conception. More pointedly, while Much Ado is comic, it also has some disturbing elements. That being so, it is often classified as a "problem play," akin to The Merchant of Venice in raising the possibility of a tragic ending and in presenting us with "good" characters, like Claudio, who nonetheless act "badly."


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 975

Don Pedro, prince of Arragon, arrives in Messina accompanied by his bastard brother, Don John, and his two friends, the young Italian noblemen Claudio and Benedick. Don Pedro had vanquished his brother in battle. Now, reconciled, the brothers plan to visit Leonato before returning to their homeland. On their arrival in Messina, young Claudio is immediately smitten by the lovely Hero, daughter of Leonato, the governor of Messina. To help his faithful young friend in his suit, Don Pedro assumes the guise of Claudio at a masked ball and woos Hero in Claudio’s name. Then he gains Leonato’s consent for Claudio and Hero to marry. Don John tries to cause trouble by persuading Claudio that Don Pedro means to betray him and keep Hero for himself, but the villain is foiled in his plot and Claudio remains faithful to Don Pedro.

Benedick, the other young follower of Don Pedro, is a confirmed and bitter bachelor who scorns all men willing to enter the married state. No less opposed to men and matrimony is Leonato’s niece, Beatrice. These two constantly spar with one another, each trying to show intellectual supremacy over the other. Don Pedro, with the help of Hero, Claudio, and Leonato, undertakes the seemingly impossible task of bringing Benedick and Beatrice together in matrimony in the seven days before the marriage of Hero and Claudio.

Don John, thwarted in his first attempt to cause disharmony, forms another plot. With the help of a servant, he arranges to make it appear as if Hero is being unfaithful to Claudio. The servant is to gain entrance to Hero’s chambers when she is away. In her place will be her attendant, assuming Hero’s clothes. Don John, posing as Claudio’s true friend, will inform him of her unfaithfulness and lead him to Hero’s window to witness her wanton disloyalty.

Don Pedro pursues his plan to persuade Benedick and Beatrice to stop quarreling and fall in love with each other. When Benedick is close by, thinking himself unseen, Don Pedro, Claudio, and Leonato talk of their great sympathy for Beatrice, who loves Benedick but is unloved in return. The three tell one another of the love letters Beatrice had written to Benedick and had then torn up, and that Beatrice beats her breast and sobs over her unrequited love for Benedick. At the same time, on occasions when Beatrice is nearby but apparently unseen, Hero and her maid tell each other that poor Benedick pines and sighs for the heartless Beatrice. The two unsuspecting young people decide not to let the other suffer. Each will sacrifice principles and accept the other’s love.

Just as Benedick and Beatrice prepare to admit their love for each other, Don John is successful in his base plot to ruin Hero. He tells Claudio that he has learned of Hero’s duplicity, and he arranges to take him and Don Pedro to her window that very night to witness her unfaithfulness. Dogberry, a constable, and the watch apprehend Don John’s followers and overhear the truth of the plot, but in their stupidity the petty officials cannot get their story told in time to prevent Hero’s disgrace. Don Pedro and Claudio witness the apparent betrayal, and Claudio determines to allow Hero to arrive in church the next day still thinking herself beloved. Then, instead of marrying her, he will shame her before all the wedding guests.

All happens as Don John had hoped. Before the priest and all the guests, Claudio calls Hero a wanton and forswears her love for all time. The poor girl protests her innocence, but to no avail. Claudio says that he had seen her foul act with his own eyes. Hero swoons and lays as if dead, but Claudio and Don Pedro leave her with her father, who believes the story and wishes his daughter really dead in her shame. The priest believes the girl guiltless, however, and he persuades Leonato to believe in her, too. The priest tells Leonato to let the world believe Hero dead while they work to prove her innocent. Benedick, also believing in her innocence, promises to help unravel the mystery. Then, Beatrice tells Benedick of her love for him and asks him to kill Claudio and so prove his love for her. Benedick challenges Claudio to a duel. Don John had fled the country after the successful outcome of his plot, but Benedick swears that he will find Don John and kill him as well as Claudio.

At last, Dogberry and the watch get to Leonato and tell their story. When Claudio and Don Pedro hear the story, Claudio wants to die and to be with his wronged Hero. Leonato allows the two sorrowful men to continue to think Hero dead. In fact, they all attend her funeral. Leonato says that he will be avenged if Claudio will marry his niece, a girl who much resembles Hero. Although Claudio still loves the dead Hero, he agrees to marry the other girl so that Leonato should have his wish.

When Don Pedro and Claudio arrive at Leonato’s house for the ceremony, all the women are masked. Leonato brings one young woman forward. After Claudio promises to be her husband, she unmasks. She is, of course, Hero. At first, Claudio cannot believe his senses, but after he is convinced of the truth he takes her to the church immediately. Then, Benedick and Beatrice declare their true love for each other, and they, too, leave for the church after a dance in celebration of the double nuptials to be performed. Best of all, word comes that Don John had been captured and is being brought back to Messina to face his brother, Don Pedro, the next day. On this day, however, all is joy and happiness.


Act and Scene Summaries