Act I, Scene 1 Summary and Analysis
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
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...
(The entire section is 832 words.)