Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

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Much Ado About Nothing Summary

Don Pedro, Prince of Arragon, pauses on his journey home to visit Leonato, the Governor of Messina. With Don Pedro are his brother, Don John, and his two friends Claudio and Benedick. Claudio immediately falls in love with Hero, Leonato's virtuous daughter.

  • Don Pedro agrees to disguise himself as Claudio to woo Hero on his behalf. Don Pedro then secures approval for Claudio to marry Hero from Leonato. While preparing for the wedding, the friends trick Benedick, a confirmed bachelor, into believing that Beatrice, an equally bitter maiden, is in love with him.
  • Don John conspires to disgrace Hero. He arranges a meeting between Borachio and Margaret, Hero's maid, to make it look like Hero is cheating on Claudio. On their wedding day, Claudio shames Hero at the altar. She faints, overwhelmed, and the priest and her father fake her death to give them time to prove her innocence.
  • Constable Dogberry and his incompetent watchmen, who heard Don John plotting against Hero, at last reach Leonato and proclaim her innocence. After Hero's "funeral," Leonato asks Claudio to marry his "niece" instead. To Claudio's delight, Leonato's niece is in fact Hero wearing a mask. Claudio and Hero marry, and Don John is captured.

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Although there has been some speculation that Much Ado about Nothing may be a heavily revised version of a play that Shakespeare wrote earlier in his career (a "lost" work that is often referred to as Love's Labour Won), Much Ado was probably written by Shakespeare in 1598 or shortly thereafter. This would make Much Ado one of Shakespeare's later comedies. Unlike his earliest comedic works, the humor of Much Ado about Nothing does not depend upon funny situations. While it shares some standard devices with those earlier plays (misperceptions, disguises, false reports), the comedy of Much Ado derives from the characters themselves and the manners of the highly-mannered society in which they live.

And while the main plot of Much Ado revolves around obstacles to the union of two young lovers (Claudio and Hero), the play's sub-plot, the "merry war" of the sexes between Beatrice and Benedick, is much more interesting and entertaining by comparison. Indeed, the play was staged for a long period of time under the title of Beatrice and Benedick. Especially when set alongside the conventional, even two-dimensional lovers of the main plot, Beatrice and Benedick display a carefully matched intelligence, humor, and humanity that is unmatched among the couples who people Shakespeare's comedies. Beatrice and Benedick aside, Much Ado has been the object of sharp criticism from several modern Shakespeare scholars, the gist of their complaint being that it lacks a unifying dramatic conception. More pointedly, while Much Ado is comic, it also has some disturbing elements. That being so, it is often classified as a "problem play," akin to The Merchant of Venice in raising the possibility of a tragic ending and in presenting us with "good" characters, like Claudio, who nonetheless act "badly."


Summary of the Play

The play is set in and near the house of Leonato, governor of Messina, Sicily. Prince Don Pedro of Aragon with his favorite, Claudio, and Benedick, young cavalier of Padua, as well as Don John, the bastard brother of Don Pedro, come to Leonato's. Claudio instantly falls in love with Hero (her name means chaste), Leonato's only child, whom Don Pedro formally obtains for him. While they wait for the wedding day, they amuse themselves by gulling Benedick and Beatrice (Leonato's niece), verbal adversaries who share a merry wit and a contempt for conventional love, into believing that they are hopelessly in love with each other.

Meanwhile, Don John, an envious and mischief-making malcontent, plots to break the match between Claudio and Hero and employs Conrade and Borachio to assist him. After planting the suspicion in the minds of Claudio and the Prince that Hero is wanton, Don John confirms it by having Borachio talk to Hero's maid,...

(The entire section is 1,813 words.)