Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1390
This scene takes place in the hall in Leonato's house. Musicians are seated in the gallery. Hero, the prince, and Claudio have been declared innocent, and Margaret in some fault for the slander. Benedick is relieved that he need no longer keep Claudio under his challenge. Leonato directs Hero and the other ladies to withdraw and return, masked, when he sends for them. He directs Antonio to play the father of the bride. When Benedick asks Leonato for Beatrice's hand in marriage and Leonato exposes the double gull, Benedick, though nonplussed at Leonato's answer, reaffirms his request and receives Leonato's blessing.
Prince Don Pedro and Claudio arrive with attendants. Claudio answers in the affirmative when asked by Leonato if he will marry his niece. While Antonio summons Hero and the ladies, Claudio attempts to tease Benedick. Benedick briskly dismisses Claudio with an insult to his heritage. Antonio returns with Hero and the ladies, who are masked. Claudio swears before the friar that he will marry Antonio's masked daughter. When Hero lifts her veil, he and Don Pedro are amazed. Leonato explains that she was dead only as long as her slander lived, which the friar promises to explain. Benedick asks the friar which of the ladies is Beatrice. Unmasking, she coyly steps forth from the line of women. Benedick asks Beatrice if she loves him and she responds "no more than reason," which he echoes, and when Beatrice asks Benedick if he loves her, they both detail the particulars of their separate gulls, at which point Claudio and Hero step forth with papers, written in their hands, which evidence their love for each other. Benedick stops the wordplay with a kiss. When Don Pedro attempts to mock Benedick as a married man, Benedick refuses the bait and declares that since he purposes to marry he will not entertain any thing against it, including his own past parodies of the state. Claudio and Benedick resume their friendship. Benedick spiritedly calls for music and dance to lighten their hearts and advises the matchmaker, Don Pedro, to "[g] et thee a wife, get thee a wife." A messenger arrives with news that Don John has been taken, and is being brought back to Messina. The play ends with Benedick's call to the pipers and an exuberant dance.
In the denouement and resolution of the play, Shakespeare ties its loose ends up amiably, rejoining the polarized plots with a reconciliation scene. He clearly indicates he will do this in Friar Francis' dialogue, "Well I'm glad all things sorts so well." He immediately tells us that the prince and Claudio have been absolved, that Margaret underwent Leonato's examination and escaped with slight censure, and that Benedick has released Claudio from his challenge. The first 90 lines of this scene are in verse, including speeches by Benedick and Beatrice, and the rest is in prose except for the messenger's two verse lines interjected at its end.
Leonato's confession of the double gull does not sway Benedick from his determination to marry Beatrice. Although he tells Leonato that his answer is "enigmatical," it is unlikely that anyone as alert as Benedick does not understand his meaning, and his comical remark serves not only to end any exploration of the matter at this time and to affirm his commitment, but also serves to advise us that Benedick has reached a new level of self-acceptance.
Both Leonato and Benedick continue their reserve with Don Pedro and Claudio until the penance is fulfilled and their dialogue is direct, shorn of ornamentation. Benedick ignores the prince's gibe about his "February face" and disposes of Claudio's crude rally with caustic severity. Claudio's insensitivity (basically a play for masculine approval and probably developed during the war), though he is well-bred, indicates the immaturity which caught him in the circumstances of the play to begin with. The inappropriateness of his remarks serve to maintain a comic element to counterpoint the other characters' reserve. Without it, the denouement of the play would flatten.
Claudio, having submitted all choice to Leonato, has mourned at the tomb and, having rejected Hero on the basis of outer appearance (hubris), must now prove himself by accepting Leonato's masked niece as his wife (nemesis). His submission assures Leonato that there will be no similar trouble in the family in the future. It is here that Shakespeare puts his greatest emphasis on the mask motif and the row of masked ladies both parallel and counterpoint the masquerade ball in Act IL in which the men wore the masks.
Hero lifts her veil, after Claudio vowed before the holy friar to marry her, and we see an amazed Claudio. The benign hoax had such a salutary effect that his contrition makes it hard for him to believe that she is alive. Reunited with the reborn Hero, he is readily forgiven, in the Christian tradition, for, after all, the wrong done to Hero was not a betrayal of love and trust but an assault on her reputation and the break-off of a desirable marriage-wrongs easily righted. The decorous dialogue, so elaborate in the exposition, is now pared to the bone, void of polite routine. All oblique references are gone, and any question promises a prompt answer. At this point, the Claudio-Hero plot is resolved as the giving of trust and the move toward faith. The suspense has ended; they will be married.
Our three-dimensional players, Benedick and Beatrice, complete their journey that began as a trial of verbal supremacy, developed as the ability to see themselves as part of the human comedy rather than clever onlookers, and now concludes with the spontaneous and loving expression of their combined, generous wit. Their dialogue has lost none of its vitality and now expresses itself in unchecked joy and merriment that springs from their new levels of inner awareness.
Beatrice continues to keep Benedick wondering by playfully hiding herself among the masked ladies, secure in the knowledge that he will seek her out, and steps forward coyly when he asks where she is. They gracefully face the truth about their courtship publicly in an articulate exchange which is the exact antithesis that matchmaker Don Pedro had looked forward to:
The sport will be when they hold one an opinion of another's dotage, and no such matter; that's the scene I would like to see, which will be merely a dumb show.
A renewed Benedick will be no man's fool when it comes to the subject of love, and he responds to Don Pedro's baiting question, "[h]ow dost thou, Benedick, the married man?" with:
I'll tell thee what, Prince: a college of witcrackers cannot flout me out of my humor. Dost thou think I care for a satire or an epigram? No. If a man will be beaten with brains, 'a shall wear nothing handsome about him. In brief, since I do purpose to marry, I will think nothing to any purpose that the world can say against it; and therefore never flout at me for what I have said against it; for man is a giddy thing, and this is my conclusion.
So ends the fashion metaphor. Benedick is saying that a slave to convention will never be true to himself; that if he lives in fear of an epigram, he dare not marry a beautiful woman. He responds to Claudio's macho baiting by declaring his friendship for him. All defenses collapsed, Benedick insists on celebrating with music and dance and tells Don Pedro, the matchmaker, to "get thee a wife, get thee a wife."
This ends the play. Shakespeare has completed the three phases of his play: recognition of love, stress of trial, and resolution with love's confirmation. The lesson the play teaches is to learn to discriminate properly and to estimate everything at its true value. In the end, the counterplots initiated by the two princes have brought only the good result of strengthening love. Perhaps Shakespeare is saying that all of us, as Claudio claims, sin only through "mistaking".
It is not surprising that this is the only play of Shakespeare that ends with a dance because a play of such musicality as Much Ado About Nothing can only end with a dance-an exuberant dance! We have taken the emotional journey with the players, and renewed, we go our separate ways.