Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 642
It is the night before the wedding. Don Pedro announces he will depart for Aragon right after the nuptials. He refuses Claudio's offer to accompany him. Don Pedro and Claudio observe a change in Benedick, including a shaved face and pristine habits of personal hygiene, and tease him about it. Benedick, unusually sober in demeanor, protests that he has a toothache. He invites Leonato to walk with him in order to enter into a short but private conversation. Don John enters. He tells Don Pedro and Claudio that Hero is disloyal and invites them to go with him to witness her chamber window entered that night at midnight. Claudio vows to shame Hero before the congregation if he witnesses such disloyalty that evening and Don Pedro vows to join him in disgracing Hero.
Although this prose scene opens in a relaxed manner, the pacing of the play is speeding up to propel us toward the crisis in Act IV. Claudio's prompt offer to leave with the prince, rather than stay for his honeymoon, indicates that he loves Hero as an image to be possessed rather than as a person to be explored. This does not surprise us since he kept his interest in her on the back burner until the war was over. We see a new and reflective Benedick, unwilling to play court jester and no longer completing Claudio and Don John's lines with witty rejoinders, hidden behind the excuse of a toothache. His memorable line from this scene is "everyone can master a grief but he that has it." Don Pedro and Claudio use clothes imagery to tease cleanshaven, perfumed, and fashionably dressed Benedick, who takes Leonaro offstage for a few short words, presumably about Beatrice, to avoid his friend's jesting. At this point the two harmoniously interwoven major plots begin a polarization, not to be reconciled until the solution, forming a strong dramatic rhythm.
The confusions thrown on the path of the action of the play have prepared us for this moment and the major action of this scene arrives with Don John and unfolds as he puts the scheme to slander Hero into action. Characterized as an observer rather than a participator, he knows exactly how to trap his prey, appealing to Don Pedro's reputation and Claudio's jealousy. He dominates the dialogue, feeding Don Pedro and Claudio their lines, which he completes with deceitful sophistry. The subordinate voice pattern Shakespeare assigned to Don Pedro and Claudio, in which their lines had no meaning unless completed by a third party, now traps them tragically (111-130):
Claudio: May this be so?
Don Pedro: I will not think it.
Don John: If you dare not trust that you see, confess not that you know. If you will follow me, I will show you enough; and when you have seen more and heard more, proceed accordingly.
Claudio: If I see anything tonight why I should not marry her tomorrow, in the congregation where I should wed, there will I shame her.
Don Pedro: And, as I wooed for thee to obtain her, I will join with thee to disgrace her.
Don John: I will disparage her no farther till you are my witnesses. Bear it coldly but till midnight, and let the issue show itself.
Don Pedro: O day untowardly turned!
Claudio: O mischief strangely thwarting!
Don John: O plague right well prevented! So will you say when you have seen the sequel.
Prisoners in Don John's world of sense evidence, they abandon their judgment and adopt his cruel view of the world; Don Pedro and Claudio reflect its emotional scenery as they move into prejudicial and vindictive stances prior to witnessing the evidence. We can easily guess what their response to Don John's hoax will be. The action toward the crisis of the play is now in full spin.