It was probably written in 1598 and 1599, as Shakespeare was approaching the middle of his career. Like As You Like It and Twelfth Night, Much Ado About Nothing, though interspersed with darker concerns, is a joyful comedy that ends with multiple marriages and no deaths.
Army of Don Pedro of Aragon arrives in Messina, welcomed by Leonato, Messina’s Governor. Benedick of Padua and Count Claudio are returning heros of war. Claudio, confesses his love for Governor’s daughter, Hero, and Don Pedro agrees to woo her for him. Confusion results and will continue throughout; Leonato’s brother overheard don Pedro and Claudio and thinks Don Pedro loves Hero. Don John, brother of don Pedro, hears about the wooing plan; he decides to mess things up because he was the opponent of his brother and Claudio in the war and is still angry.
Wedding. Broachio will convince Claudio that Hero is unfaithful by staging a meeting with Margaret, her servant, dressed in Hero’s clothes. Claudio will think it is Hero. Scene 3: Leonato, Claudio, and Don Pedro stage a conversation for Benedick to overhear. They pretend that Beatrice loves him. She comes to fetch him to dinner and he misreads her insults as signs of affection because the men have planted this idea that she loves him in his head.
Hero accepts the wedding proposal of a man in a mask and then quickly transfers her affection from him to the man’s friend, Claudio, whom she barely knows. He wants to get married in a week. Is this love? In contrast, B and B do actively court through word play and jesting.
Obedient daughter and wife or a Shrew.
Raises Questions about Love. How can true love be based upon deception?
1. “Much Ado About Nothing”
Dr. Alan Haffa
2. Act I
• Return from War
• Beatrice and Benedick
• Hero and her Father
• Claudio and Hero
• Don Pedro to woo Hero on
• Counter Plot: Sir John the
Bastard seeks to foil the
3. Act II
• Three Deceits
• Don Pedro woos Hero
• Don Pedro’s plan to
trick B and B into falling
• Don John and his men
agree on a plan to trick
4. Act III
• Beatrice tricked by Hero
• Don John tells Don Pedro
that he can prove Hero is
• The nightwatch overhear
and capture the
• Hero and Benedick are in
• The watch try to tell
Leonato about Borachio’s
arrest but he doesn’t
5. Act IV
• Wedding Fiasco
• Benedick and Beatrice confess love
• Benedick challenges Claudio
• Guards question Borachio and Conrade
6. Act V
• Hero’s “Death”
• Benedick issues a challenge to duel
• Dogberry enters with prisoners and truth is
• Claudio sings an epitaph at Hero’s tomb and is
to marry her niece
• Hero arrives at wedding masked
• B and B to marry out of mutual pity
• Claudio is forgiven by all and a double marriage
7. Question 1
• Does the play present a true depiction of
love? Compare and contrast the two
loving couples, Hero and Claudio and
Beatrice and Benedick.
8. Question 2
• How has love and marriage changed from
the era of the play to the present?
• Catholic ideas of chastity and marriage
• Reformation ideas of love and women
• Play reflects the tension of these two
9. Question 3
• What choice or role do women have with
respect to love? (Hero, Beatrice). Why do
the mothers of the two heroines not
appear in the play? How would it be
different if they did?
10. Question 4
• Is Don John’s deception for the purpose of
dissolving love worse than the deception
of the others to create love?
1) Prince woos falsely for Claudio
2) Claudio/Prince/Leonato trick Benedick
3) Hero/Ursula trick Beatrice
4) Borachio/Don John trick Claudio
5) Friar/Hero/Leonato pretend Hero is dead
11. Question 5
• Why do fools (Doggberry et al) see truly
what the nobles do not?
• Do education and culture make us more
susceptible to deception in some ways?
• How do the various deceptions work?
Don’t they play upon people’s pre-
12. Question 6
• Why is the play “Much Ado about
Nothing?” The plot almost leads to a
family disgraced, political strife, friends
ready to duel. It seems like serious
business about Something!
13. Question 7
• Like many Shakespeare comedies, the
play includes abundant joking and
punning surrounding female infidelity. For
all the jokes about cuckoldry, the play
seems to take this issue seriously as the
suggestion that Hero was not faithful has
severe consequences. How is it possible
for something the culture takes so
seriously to be such a common motif for
humor in the play?
14. Scenes of Infidelity and Misogyny
• 1.1.102-3: Leonato implies that the
legitimacy of Hero is based on her
• 1.1.234-40: Benedick trusts no woman
• 5.4.126: Don Pedro tells B. to “get thee a
wife. There is no staff more reverend than
one tipped with horn.”
15. Why the focus on Female Infideltity
in a Love/Marriage Comedy?
• Common motif in Shakespeare and the era
• Othello; Winter’s Tale
• Male anxiety about wifely fidelity in an era
when “legitimate inheritance of lands, wealth,
property, rank, and name” are at stake.
• Society order requires a marriage as much
as dramatic closure; female infidelity is a
natural dramatic tension to exploit.
“Much Ado about Nothing” is really much ado about
something very important—marriage and female
fidelity– the cornerstone of social stability. The
contrasting couples shows two competing views: one
naïve and idealistic, the other experienced and
realistic. Yet the theme of deception complicates this
reading too. Beatrice and Benedick were tricked into
loving—are they really so discerning? How can one
deception be good and another bad? Is the theatre
itself, a place where deception flourishes,
compromised? In the end this play raises more
questions than it answers.