Preface to the Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 465

Preface to the Summary:

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Trying to follow the multiple, interwoven narrative lines of Much Ado About Nothing from this summary (or even the written text itself), may prove frustrating. To simplify matters, it is useful to observe that three distinct plots or schemes unfold within the play. For the sake of convenience, we can speak of "plot A" ("A" standing, perhaps, for "abbreviated"), "plot B" ("B" for "Beatrice and Benedick"), and "plot C" ("C" for "central"). In plot A, having learned that his good brother, Don Pedro, intends to court Hero at a masked ball on behalf of his young lieutenant, Claudio, the villain of the play, Don John schemes to convince Claudio that Don Pedro actually intends to have Hero for himself. This half-baked plot is abbreviated or aborted in Act II, coming to naught when all of the good characters agree on Claudio's proposal of marriage to Hero. Plot B develops immediately thereafter as the good characters in the play (including Don Pedro, Claudio, and Hero) form a benign conspiracy meant to bring Beatrice and Benedick to the marriage altar. This plan ultimately succeeds. Concurrently, the malcontent Don John and his principal henchman, Borachio, launch Plot C. They stage a romantic meeting between Borachio and Hero's serving-woman, Margaret, who play the parts of an unknown lover and Hero, to demonstrate Hero's infidelity to Claudio and Don Pedro. This leads to a very bad scene at the wedding chapel as Claudio denounces his bride, Hero, causing Beatrice to come to her cousin Hero's defense and demand that Benedick kill Hero. Plot C is eventually straightened out, partly due to the inept intervention of the local constable, the clownish Dogberry, and partly due to the wise counsel of the clergyman who was to have presided over the wedding, Friar Francis.

Two additional points are worth noting. First, all of the scenes in Much Ado have essentially the same setting. The action takes place exclusively in and around the "great house" of the governor of Messina, Leonato, who is Hero's father and Beatrice's uncle. This uniformly urban setting differs from the pattern of Shakespeare's earlier comedies that typically move from the city to the country (or a "fairyland/magical" abode) and then back to the city. Second, other than the romance between Hero and Claudio (which is rendered in verse), most of the dialogue in Much Ado (including the repartee between Beatrice and Benedick) is rendered in prose. On the other hand, not only does the character of Balthasar provide songs, including a famous ditty that ends with the refrain "converting all your sound of woe/Into hey nonny-nonny" (II, iii, ll.62-74), these set pieces (and the dance or masque which concludes the play) refer to and reinforce the play's narrative situations and principal themes.

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Act I, Scene 1 Summary and Analysis

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