Ado About Nothing
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
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
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.