Much Ado About Nothing – Shakespeare

I was asked recently to assist someone who was studying this play. One of the first things I did with this student was to centre on the key factors, so I am sharing the file here.

Date: Approx. 1598 and performed as a ‘mature’ comedy rather than a farce. Usually, a writer creates something because someone or something has inspired them. Much Ado About Nothing follows an Italianate style of stories of lovers being deceived into believing each other are false, which were very common in northern Italy in the sixteenth century. Shakespeare’s immediate source could have been one of these stories. One version of the Claudio/Hero plot is told by Edmund Spenser in The Fairie Queen, a English epic poem written in 1590.

Setting: Messina, Italy.

Characters

Benedick – honourable and witty, self aware and cynical

Beatrice – dependent and witty, articulate and stubborn

Don Pedro – powerful and patriarchal

Don John – an honest villain, a social pariah

Claudio – romantic hero, honourable gentleman

Hero – romantic and dutiful, submissive and innocent

Dogberry – ignorant and self important

Margaret – bawdy, humorous, witty

Leonato – benign ruler who is warm and respectful; proud

much-ado-about-nothing-cast-1993

Plot: Soldiers from the war return home. Benedick and Beatrice are matched because of a trick played on them by their friends and through a convoluted plot, they come to realise that the one they think they hate is actually the one they love. The comedy is in the way that trick is played out successfully by their match making friends and how an unrequited love turns into a requited relationship based and bound in love. They marry at the end and there is a celebration.

Summary: A 5 act play in the usual Shakespearean fashion. Classified as a comedy but there are elements of tragedy and tragic irony in there as well.

Act Summary

Act 1

  • Leonato gets some news that some soldiers are returning from the war. He feels honoured to host them as guests.
  • Don Pedro brings his ‘bastard’ brother, or half brother
  • Claudio is a young nobleman who is at the party
  • He notices Hero, the daughter of Leonato and falls in love with her
  • Beatrice is Leonato’s niece. She asks after Benedick, but when they meet, although they know each other a long time, the only thing they do is argue
  • Claudio tells Benedick and Don Pedro of his love for Hero. Don Pedro promises to woo her for him because he is shy
  • A servant overhears this and thinks Don Pedro is in love with Hero
  • Leonato’s brother tells Leonato this
  • Don John is resentful of all this scheming and of Claudio and vows to subvert all their plans

Act 2

  • Don John makes a first attempt to confuse things by spreading a rumour about Don Pedro wanting Hero for himself
  • The plot is discovered
  • Then there is a second plan, much worse – he gets Claudio to think that Hero is unfaithful
  • He gets Hero’s servant to dress up as Hero and play out a love scene to be overheard by Claudio and Don Pedro
  • Don Pedro, Leonato, Claudio and Hero notice how alike Beatrice and Benedick are and plan to trick them into falling in love
  • They plan a light hearted scheme to make this happen and get Benedick to overhear things
  • He is shocked at this ‘news’ and resolves to make her love him

much-ado-about-nothing

Act 3

  • The plotters begin their little scheme. Hero and Ursula make Beatrice overhear their conversation about how Benedick has feelings for Beatrice. Don Pedro and Leonato do the same with Benedick
  • Beatrice now thinks Benedick will not let her know of his love because he fears her tongue and sarcasm
  • Don John’s plan for Hero begins to take effect. He says he has proof of her infidelity
  • the comic characters of Dogberry, Verges and The Watch play out a scene within the play that shows misconception and misunderstanding. It is a play within a play
  • They overhear Conrade and Borachio planning Don John’s venture and arrest them both
  • They report the arrest to Leonato but he is too busy to listen

Act 4

  • Claudio denounces Hero for her alleged wrong doing
  • It is done at a wedding, in a very public manner
  • She protests her innocence but not many want to believe her except Beatrice, Benedick and Friar Francis
  • Hero faints from the shock of all this
  • The priest comes up with a plan [like in Romeo and Juliet]
  • The plan is to fake Hero’s death so Claudio realises how silly he has been
  • She is to whisked away after her fake death
  • Beatrice and Benedick are now united in their sorrow for Hero
  • Beatrice and Benedick express their love for each other
  • Beatrice tells Benedick to kill Claudio for slandering her friend
  • He agrees, reluctantly, to do it
  • The three fools discover the plot by Don John and Don John flees in disgrace
  • It is announced that Hero has died of shock

Act 5 

  • Leonato and Benedick both challenge Don Pedro and Claudio to take back their words about Hero
  • They refuse to do so and when Dogberry and Verges enters with the prisoners, they are forced to see the truth of the event
  • They realise their mistake and Claudio is shocked at the death of Hero
  • He promises Leonato he will do anything to preserve the memory of Hero
  • Leonato makes him promise to marry his niece instead
  • At the wedding, Leonato’s niece is unmasked as Hero
  • Claudio is forgiven, Beatrice and Benedick make a public confession that they love each other
  • News reaches Messina that Don John has been captured and that he will be punished
  • The play ends with a party and celebration where everyone is happy again

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