Act I, Scene 1 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 832

New Characters: Leonato: governor of Messina and father of Hero, a man of manners and hospitality, whose conventionality will be tested by the depth of his grief

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Hero: Leonato's only child, a docile and conventional young woman, honored for her chastity

Beatrice: Leonato's spirited niece, gifted with a brilliant wit and interested in Benedick

Messenger: brings news of Prince Don Pedro's victory and approach to Messina

Don Pedro: prince of Aragon, who victoriously return from battle against his illegitimate brother for his throne; Leonato's guest during his stay in Messina and enjoys matchmaking

Claudio: young count, Don Pedro's courageous right-hand man, who seeks the hand of Hero; a man who relies on his outer senses, will be duped by Don John into shaming Hero

Benedick: quick-witted and spirited young count who, though an avowed misogynist, is attracted to Beatrice

Balthasar: musician, an attendant on Don Pedro

Don John: Don Pedro's malcontented , illegitimate brother who resents Don Pedro and Claudio and will do anything to cross them Much Ado About Nothing

The scene takes place before Leonato's house. The messenger informs Leonato that victorious Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon, will arrive shortly with his favorite, Lord Claudio of Florence, who performed courageously in battle. Beatrice asks about Lord Benedick of Padua and learns that he has returned a hero. Don Pedro arrives with his valiant lords, Claudio and Benedick, his attendant, Balthasar, and his bastard brother, Don John. Leonato and Don Pedro exchange niceties and Beatrice outspars Benedick in a spirited word-match during which Benedick calls Beatrice "disdainful" and Beatrice calls Benedick a "pernicious suitor." Leonato invites Don Pedro, Claudio, and Benedick to be his guests during their visit. All exit but Benedick and Claudio.

Claudio confesses his attraction to Hero and his desire to marry her if she be modest. Benedick reveals his attraction to Beatrice, "were she not possessed with a fury," and wonders if there is any man who does not fear his wife will be unfaithful. Don Pedro returns and, hearing of Claudio's love for Hero, attests to her chastity and offers to arrange the marriage, by first wooing Hero (disguised as Claudio), then asking Leonato for her hand. And, Benedick professes both his misogyny and his unwillingness to marry.

The exposition advises us that all the players are acquainted. Hero immediately recognizes Beatrice's oblique reference to Benedick as "Signor Mountanto," Leonato refers to the longstanding "merry war betwixt Signor Benedick" and Beatrice, and Claudio confesses his attraction to Hero before leaving for the war. This level of intimacy introduces a mimetic realism, much like that in Hamlet-giving credibility to the character's actions and easing their confrontations-that is sustained throughout the play. Approximately 75 percent of the play is written in prose, a style nearer to colloquial speech than verse. Both the prose and the verse sound with the vitality of Shakespeare's musical style.

The mask motif, predominant in this play, is emphasized by Benedick and Beatrice and subtly disguised as clever diatribe in the roles that they assume to hide their obsession with each other. Fashion imagery, a symbol of appearance versus reality, is introduced as Beatrice states that Benedick "wears his faith but as the fashion of his hat" and Benedick calls "courtesy a turncoat." Their wordspar reveals they are memory-locked, but Shakespeare indicates that their relationship will take a turn for the better by the choice of their names-Benedictus means blessed and Beatrice means blesser.

Beatrice's inquiry about Benedick, though well-seasoned with sarcasm, shows her concern about his welfare as she elicits information about whether he returned safely, if he performed well in battle, and the identity of his present associates. Hero's single line in this scene indicates her modest and retiring nature, builds suspense about her character, and subdues interest in her as emphasis is put on Beatrice, who observes everything around her with a relentlessly playful and unrestrained wit. Benedick momentarily lifts his mask to reveal that his misogyny is assumed as a whetstone for his wit, but closes it quickly.

Claudio suspiciously asks Don Pedro if he praises Hero merely "to fetch [him] in" and Don Pedro protests, both lines serving to initiate a symmetrical pattern which Benedick completes with greater force, stridently using musical imagery in his verbal assaults upon the holy state of marriage, creating an ensemble structure with Claudio and Don Pedro playing his willing straight men.

Since marrying an heiress was a young man's best opportunity, Claudio's first question to Don Pedro is, "Hath Leonato any son, my lord?" Don Pedro's plan, to disguise himself as Claudio in order to win Hero for him at the masked ball, renews the mask motif as a well-intentioned deception. This motif sets the stage for the plot, which turns on a series of misunderstandings and deceptions: a quest for honesty and mutual respect as each character learns to discriminate properly and to estimate everything at its true value. This scene is written in prose up to line 272, then continues in verse.

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Preface to the Summary


Act I, Scene 2 Summary and Analysis

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