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Much Ado About Nothing

SYNOPSIS

War is over. The victorious Prince of Aragon, Don Pedro, returns from battle to Messina, where he and his officers, Claudio and Benedick, are welcomed by the town’s governor, Leonato. Benedick and Leonato's niece, Beatrice, longtime adversaries, carry on their ‘merry war’ of words, while Claudio’s feelings for Hero, Leonato's young daughter, are kindled on his seeing her, and Claudio soon announces to Benedick his intention to court her. Benedick tries to dissuade his friend, but is unsuccessful in the face of Don Pedro’s encouragement. While Benedick teases Claudio, Benedick swears that he himself will never marry.

A masquerade ball is planned in celebration, giving a disguised Don Pedro the opportunity to woo Hero on Claudio’s behalf. Don John, the prince’s illegitimate and malcontented brother, uses this situation to get revenge on Pedro and Claudio by telling young Claudio that Don Pedro is actually wooing Hero for himself. A furious Claudio confronts Don Pedro before the misunderstanding is happily resolved.

Don Pedro and his men, bored at the prospect of waiting a week for the marriage ceremony to take place, hatch a plan to act as matchmakers for Beatrice and Benedick. The men, led by Don Pedro, proclaim Beatrice’s love for Benedick while knowing he is eavesdropping on their conversation. The women, led by Hero, do the same likewise to Beatrice. Struck by the ‘revelations’, Beatrice and Benedick, neither willing to bear their apparent reputations for pride and scornfulness, each decide to requite the love of the other.

Meanwhile, an increasingly embittered Don John plots to ruin Claudio and Hero’s wedding plans by casting aspersions upon Hero’s character. His henchman Borachio courts Margaret, Hero's waiting gentlewoman, calling her ‘Hero’, at Hero’s open bedroom window while Don John leads Don Pedro and Claudio to spy below. The latter two, mistaking Margaret for Hero, are convinced by what is seemingly evidence of Hero's infidelity.

The next day, during the wedding at the church, a disgusted Claudio refuses to marry Hero. He and Don Pedro humiliate Hero publicly before a stunned congregation. The two leave brusquely, leaving the rest in shock.

Hero, who has fainted from shock, revives after Don Pedro and Claudio leave, only to be reprimanded by her father. The presiding Friar interrupts, believing Hero to be innocent, and he convinces the family to feign Hero's death in order to exact the truth and Claudio’s remorse.

Leonato subsequently blames Don Pedro and Claudio for Hero’s death, and Benedick, forcefully prompted by Beatrice, to whom him he has now confessed his love and had it returned, challenges Claudio to a duel.

Unbeknownst to everyone, however, on the night of Don John's treachery, the local Watch has apprehended Borachio. Despite the Watch's comic ineptness (being led by Dogberry, a master of malapropisms), they have overheard Borachio discussing his evil plans with Don John, who flees before arrest. The Watch eventually obtain the villains' confession, and inform Leonato of Hero's innocence. Claudio, though maintaining he made an honest mistake, is repentant; he agrees not only to post a proper epitaph for Hero, but to marry a substitute, Hero's cousin, in her place.

During Claudio’s second wedding, however, as the guests enter, the ‘cousin’ is unmasked as Hero herself, to a surprised and gratified Claudio. Beatrice and Benedick publicly express their love for each other, and a double wedding will be enacted. As the play draws to a merry close, a messenger arrives with news of Don John’s capture – but his punishment is postponed another day so that the couples can enjoy their newfound happiness.

Much Ado is Shakespeare’s wittiest comedy, and Beatrice and Benedick some of the best-loved characters in theatre. Yet there are undertones of darkness in this comedy of verbal sparring and young love. The public humiliation of Hero is still one of the most shocking scenes in Shakespeare, and the play investigates ideas of appearance and performativity in ways which complement and contextualise the linguistic pyrotechnics the characters engage in. Ultimately, this is play about human interaction and self-discovery, in which love is presented in all its wonderful and dangerous complexity.

 

 

Claudio, deceived by Don John, accuses Hero by Marcus Stone

 
       

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