Much Ado About Nothing Summary

William Shakespeare

Much Ado About Nothing

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Much Ado About Nothing Summary

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Much Ado About Nothing, a comedy dating from the mid-career period of William Shakespeare was probably written just prior to 1600. The play has the trappings of a theatrical farce with its use of assumptions and misunderstandings. Main characters Benedick and Beatrice are duped into announcing their love for each other while Claudio is fooled into spurning Hero at the altar when he mistakenly believes that she has not been faithful to him. The theme of lovers being tricked into thinking one or the other has been unfaithful was common in Shakespeare’s era, though no definitive source or inspiration for this play is agreed upon.

Infidelity and deception serve as major themes in the play. A wife’s infidelity or cuckoldry, real or feigned, drives the plot. Women are able to use the fact that men cannot be completely certain of a wife’s fidelity. Deception is used as a thematic device to great success in creating the atmosphere of bewilderment. Deception, even when aimed at a noble end, such as bringing lovers together, often backfires, leading to the misunderstandings that are essential to the farcical genre that predates Shakespeare and stretches to the Hollywood “screwball” comedies of the 1930s and beyond.

Messina, a port on the island of Sicily near the toe of Italy, provides the setting for Much Ado About Nothing. At the start of the play, it is announced that Don Pedro, an Aragon prince is about to return from a successful battle. Claudio is among his soldiers. Leonato is governor of Messina and the father of Hero as well as the uncle of Beatrice. When the soldiers, including Benedick return, he and Beatrice engage in what Leonato calls their “merry war.” Claudio tells Benedick that he plans to court Hero; Benedick attempts to discourage him as Benedick is against marriage. Don Pedro in turn tells Benedick that once he meets the right person he, Benedick, will get married.

At a masquerade party commemorating the conclusion of the war, Don Pedro, in disguise, courts Hero for Claudio. Meanwhile, Don Pedro’s illegitimate brother, Don John, falsely tells Claudio that Don Pedro is not acting on Claudio’s behalf but rather for his own interest in Hero. The duplicity is not successful and Claudio wins Hero. The trickery at the ball continues as Benedick dances with Beatrice while in disguise only to have her tell this “unknown” man that she considers Benedick a fool. Benedick vows revenge. Don Pedro and his companions, looking for something to do while waiting a week for the wedding of Claudio and Hero, decide to promote a relationship between Benedick and Beatrice, so float a rumor, being certain that it reaches Benedick, that Beatrice is in love with him but not comfortable telling him. The rumor mill works in both directions as Hero and her maid let Beatrice and her maid overhear them say that Benedick is in love with Beatrice. All of the deception proves successful when Beatrice and Benedick are both won over by the perceived love bestowed upon them by the other and decide to reconcile.

Don John plots to prevent the wedding from taking place and embarrass his brother. He tells Don Pedro and Claudio that Hero is not faithful and sets in action events that make it seem that Hero is entertaining Borachio in her chamber when he is really with Hero’s chambermaid, Margaret. Don Pedro and Claudio fall for the ruse and Claudio is determined to publically humiliate Hero. On the following day, their wedding day, Claudio rejects Hero, shocking the wedding guests and leaves with Don Pedro. Hero faints and her father wishes her dead. However, the friar conducting the ceremony believes Hero to be innocent and encourages the family to stage Hero’s death with the hope that it will lead Claudio to feel regret. Meanwhile, Benedick and Beatrice confide that they love each other and she wants Benedick to prove his love for her by killing Claudio. He refuses at first but when Leonato and his brother, Antonio, blame Hero’s “death” on Claudio, Benedick follows their lead and challenges him to a duel.

On the evening that Don John and his accomplices, Borachio and Conrade, perpetrate their plot, the local Watch, although incompetent, arrests Borachio and Conrade. Don John has already left the city. A confession is obtained and Leonato is told that Hero is innocent. Claudio, who is filled with remorse over the “death” of Hero, agrees to her father’s command that he wed the daughter of Antonio, telling him the girl is almost identical to Hero. At the wedding ceremony, Claudio finds out that the bride is actually Hero. Benedick and Beatrice publically profess their mutual love. News comes of the capture of Don John, but rather than call for his immediate punishment, Benedick suggests waiting so that the couples can bask in their new happiness. A lonely Don Pedro has not found love but does get a bit of advice from Benedick, “Get thee a wife.”