Act V, Scene 1 Summary and Analysis
The scene takes place in the street before the house of Leonato. Antonio tries to philosophize his brother, Leonato, out of his grief. Leonato says that his passion cannot be patched with proverbs and bids him to cease his counsel. Antonio advises him to make those who have harmed him suffer also, and Leonato vows to defend Hero's honor. At this point Claudio and Don Pedro cross their path. Both Leonato and Antonio challenge Claudio for the villainy of slandering Hero to death. Don Pedro tells them the charge against Hero was full of proof and refuses to listen further. Vowing that he will be heard, Leonato exits with his brother just as Benedick arrives.
Claudio and Don Pedro seek Benedick's wit to lift their spirits. Benedick challenges Claudio. Taking it as a jest, both Claudio and Don Pedro seek to enjoy their usual banter. Benedick tells Don Pedro that he must discontinue his company and repeats his challenge to Claudio. He informs them that Don John has fled Messina and that they killed an innocent lady. As Benedick exits, they realize that he is earnest. Don Pedro, in growing awareness, notes that his brother has fled.
The constables and the watch enter with Borachio and Conrade. Don Pedro recognizes them as his brother's men and asks Dogberry the nature of their offense. Finding Dogberry's answer too oblique to be understood, he questions Borachio. Borachio asks Don Pedro to let Count Claudio kill him and tells him that the watch overheard him confess his paid collusion in Don John's slander of Hero. Claudio now sees Hero in the light of the innocence he first loved her for.
Leonato and Antonio return with the sexton. Borachio declares sole responsibility for the death of Hero, but Leonato tells him that Don John, Don Pedro, and Claudio had a hand in it. Both Claudio and Don Pedro ask for a penance, claiming mistaking as their only sin. As penance, Leonato assigns them both the task of publicly mourning Hero and declaring her innocence. He assigns Claudio the further task of accepting his niece, sight unseen, in marriage the next morning. Dogberry takes this opportunity to tell Leonato that Conrade called him an ass and that the watch overheard the prisoners talk of another knave, one Deformed. Leonato thanks the watch and tips Dogberry. A thankful Dogberry humbly gives him leave to depart. As they leave, Don Pedro and Claudio promise to perform their penance. Leonato instructs the watch to bring the prisoners, then departs to question Margaret about her acquaintance with Borachio.
Throughout the play Shakespeare has kept us informed of the truth while his characters deceive each other (at this point the sexton is on his way to Leonato's and Hero is not dead), which puts us into a somewhat removed orientation that increases the comic value of the action. In a sense, he has manipulated us into believing we're above it all. This scene opens with a grief-stricken but wordy Leonato, speaking in verse. Were his dialogue in a tragedy, we might be teary, but knowing that he will soon have proof that his daughter was slandered we are unlikely to extend him much sympathy, which tones down his indignation to a subtly comic level. Leonato refuses to be consoled by Antonio, dismissing him with (35-37):
I pray thee, peace. I will be flesh and blood;
For there was never yet philosopher
That could endure the toothache patiently.
This echoes Benedick's toothache speech in Act III. He will take Antonio's suggestion to seek revenge, and he gets his opportunity immediately as Don Pedro and Claudio enter. The comedy leaps forward as Antonio flaunts his courage as he joins Leonato in challenging the young swordsman, knowing full well that neither Claudio nor the prince can dishonor themselves by fighting men of their advanced age. Don Pedro breaks up the mock challenge by saying a sympathetic word to Leonato, but when Don Pedro turns a cold ear to Leonato's appeal, he leaves, determined to be heard. His brother, Antonio, gives the...
(The entire section is 1,545 words.)