Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...©
in 2010 ©
This page has been revised,
enlarged, and moved to
Ado About Nothing is a stage play in the form of a comedy centering
on the activities of two war heroes and the women they love. Shakespeare
shifts back and forth between the stories of the couples—Benedick
and Beatrice, Claudio and Hero—interweaving
them into a unified whole. The story observes the three unities (place,
time, and action) established by ancient Greek and Renaissance thinkers
and writers: (1) It takes place in one locale, (2) it lasts about a single
day, and (3) it has one main story (although some view one or the other
of the two love stories as a subplot).
Written: Probably 1598.
Performance: Probably December 1598 or early in 1599.
Printing: 1600 quarto edition by Valentine Sims for Andrew Wise and
William Aspley; 1623 as part of the First Folio, the first authorized collection
of Shakespeare's plays.
probable main source for the play was a short tale by Matteo Bandello
(1485-1561), an Italian writer who became a bishop in France. Another apparent
source was Orlando Furioso, a great epic poem, by Ludovico Ariosto
action takes place in the city of Messina in northeastern Sicily. Messina
is in a mountainous province whose eastern shore is only about five miles
across from the toe of the Italian boot. Modern Messina is a large city,
with between 250,000 and 300,000 inhabitants.
Benedick and Beatrice, arguably, because they are both real, hotblooded
characters—far more interesting than the other
protagonist candidates, Claudio and Hero. The latter two are less animated,
rather shallow characters, who idealize courtly love.
Don John; mix-ups and misconceptions
Benedick: Young lord
from Padua who thinks he hates Beatrice but really loves her.
Beatrice: Niece of
the governor of Messina who thinks she hates Benedick but really loves
of Messina, uncle of Beatrice, and father of Hero.
Don Pedro: Prince
of Arragon, a fine fellow who has led his forces to victory in a war against
his brother, Don John.
Don John: Don Pedro's
bastard brother, a wicked fellow who was defeated by Don Pedro.
Claudio: Young lord
from Florence who falls in love with Hero. He seems knightly and pure,
but his conversations suggest that his attraction to Hero results partly
from the fact that she will one day become a wealthy heiress.
Hero: Leonato's daughter,
who falls in love with Claudio.
Margaret, Ursula: Hero's
Balthasar: Don Pedro's
No-good followers of Don John.
Friar Francis: Priest
who helps Hero regain her reputation.
Minor Characters: Messengers,
defeating his troublemaking brother, Don John, in a military campaign,
Don Pedro of Arragon and several of his compatriots visit relatives and
other friends in Messina, a city in northeastern Sicily. Leonato, the governor
of Messina, receives word that Don Pedro is but three leagues off (about
nine miles) and will arrive in Messina in a few hours with a company of
men, including the defeated Don John. Also with Don Pedro are two of his
most valiant soldiers, Benedick of Padua and Claudio of Florence. A messenger
tells Leonato that Claudio performed heroically: "He hath borne himself
beyond the promise of his age, doing, in the figure of a lamb, the feats
of a lion: he hath indeed better bettered expectation than you must expect
of me to tell you how" (1. 1. 8).
Michael J. Cummings...©
messenger has already informed Claudio’s uncle, who lives in Messina, of
the young man’s battlefield heroics. So overcome was Claudio’s uncle with
joy at this news that he broke down and cried.
Leonato’s niece, Beatrice, inquires about Benedick, the messenger tells
her that he also distinguished himself in battle. Benedick and Beatrice
are old acquaintances who inwardly love each other but outwardly display
nothing but contempt for each other. Whenever
they meet, they spend most of their time insulting each other in a long-standing
verbal war. When hearing that Benedick has become Claudio’s friend, she
says Benedick will surely be a corrupting influence on the Florentine:
"O Lord, he will hang upon him [Claudio] like a disease: he is sooner caught
than the pestilence, and the taker runs presently mad. God help the noble
Claudio! if he have caught the Benedick, it will cost him a thousand pound
ere [he] be cured" (1. 1. 34).
temperament, Beatrice is the opposite of Leonato’s lovely daughter, Hero,
a delicate gentlewoman of utmost propriety who obeys her father and keeps
her tongue in check.
Don Pedro and his company arrive, they exchange pleasantries with Leonato,
and Don John expresses remorse and repentance for waging war against his
brother. Inwardly, however, he seethes with bitterness and looks for an
opportunity to gain revenge. When Claudio first beholds the sight of the
comely Hero, he falls madly in love with her. She is to him the paragon
of young womanhood—as sweet as honey, as innocent
as a lamb. Hero does not shy away from Claudio’s wooing eyes.
when Benedick sees Beatrice and she sees him, they fall madly in hate all
over again even though they secretly love each other. Of course, as they
parry savage insults that burn to the quick, the audience and the reader
realize that the sparks they make will eventually ignite the fires of passion.
a masked ball, Beatrice asks a masked man whether he knows Benedick, not
realizing that the man is Benedick himself. Playing a little game with
her, Benedick denies knowing the man and asks who he is. Beatrice replies,
“Why, he is the prince’s jester: a very dull fool; only his gift is in
devising impossible slanders: none but libertines delight in him; and the
commendation is not in his wit, but in his villainy" (2. 1. 64). (An interesting
argument could be made here that Beatrice does, in fact, know that she
is addressing Benedick and, further, that she improvised the insult to
prick his ego.)
when they confront each other without disguises, Benedick returns the insult
when, in a conversation with Governor Leonato, he compares Beatrice to
a harpy, a hideous winged monster in Greek mythology. Don John, the revenge-seeking
troublemaker, tries to thwart the flourishing romance between Claudio and
Hero. Claudio, after all, won
glory in the military action that subdued Don John. He had humbled and
humiliated Don John. Did not Claudio, therefore, deserve a comeuppance
of his own? Don John then tries to convince Claudio that Hero loves Don
Pedro. After much ado and confusion, his plan fails, and it is agreed with
the governor’s blessing that Claudio and Hero will marry.
all Messina prepares for the wedding, Don Pedro sets himself to a Herculean
task: making Benedick and Beatrice fall in love. With the help of Hero,
Don Pedro arranges occasions in which Benedick overhears that Beatrice
loves him, and Beatrice overhears that Benedick loves her. Their enmity
for each other softens; their love for each other quickens.
the meantime, the evil Don John tries another scheme, designed by his henchman,
Borachio. Borachio tells Margaret, one of Hero’s servants, to dress in
Hero’s clothes and stand at Hero’s window at midnight on the evening before
the wedding. Margaret is only too willing to do as she is told, for she
is sweet on Borachio. However, she is unaware that she is about to take
part in a plot against Hero. Just before midnight, Don Pedro and Claudio
arrive in an orchard nearby, having been told by Don John that Hero has
been trysting with another man and that she will meet with him again that
very night. While they watch, Margaret appears at the window in Hero’s
clothes and Borachio, pretending to be a paramour, climbs out while Margaret
bids him loving farewells. In the darkness, Don Pedro and Claudio fall
victim to the deception and believe Hero has surrendered herself to some
the altar the next day, Claudio condemns Hero as a whore for making love
with another man on the eve of her wedding. He tells Leonato, “Give not
this rotten orange to your friend. . . . She knows the heat of a
luxurious bed" (4. 1. 25. . . 34). Hero faints. Her father, Leonato, takes
Claudio at his word, believing Hero is indeed a whore.
Benedick and Beatrice—as well as the local
priest, Friar Francis—believe in Hero’s innocence.
After they plead their case in Hero’s favor, Governor Leonato has second
thoughts about his daughter, and Friar Francis persuades Leonato that it
would be best to pretend that Hero has died of grief. The friar says,
daughter here the princes left for dead:
Hero dead, perhaps Claudio, out of grief and sympathy for his former beloved,
will change his opinion of her. That is the idea, anyway. Benedick and
Beatrice, meanwhile, argue about what to do next. During their conversation,
Benedick tells Beatrice that he truly loves her. But Beatrice, in a torrent
of tongue-lash, challenges Benedick to kill Claudio because he has dishonored
Hero. Benedick cows before her verbal onslaught and agrees to do her bidding.
has already challenged Claudio. Now convinced of his daughter’s innocence,
he means to kill her dastardly accuser. When Leonato and Claudio are about
to square off, everyone learns of Don John’s treachery. It seems that Borachio
was overheard bragging about his plot against Hero to one of his cronies,
Conrade, and they confess the crime to the local constable, Dogberry. Dogberry
makes one of the henchmen confess again before Claudio, Leonato, Benedick,
and all the others.
her awhile be secretly kept in,
it that she is dead indeed;
a mourning ostentation
on your family’s old monument
mournful epitaphs and do all rites
appertain unto a burial. (4. 1. 206-212)
repents and praises the “dead" Hero to the highest of heavens, then vows
to do whatever penance Leonato imposes upon him. Leonato says Claudio can
redeem himself by marrying someone else:
yet my nephew: my brother hath a daughter,
embraces the offer. On the day of the wedding, Claudio discovers that the
bride is really Hero, who swears that her virginity is intact. The friar
then bids everyone to follow him to the chapel. On the way, Claudio produces
a secret love sonnet that Benedick wrote to Beatrice. Hero produces another
secret sonnet expressing Beatrice’s love for Benedick. Benedick and Beatrice
exchange final insults while agreeing to marry, but Benedick has the last
word, saying, “Peace! I will stop your mouth!" (5. 4. 104). Then he kisses
her. While the couples marry, Don John escapes but is captured and brought
back to await justice. Benedick says he will devise a fitting punishment
for him, then order pipers to play. All ends joyfully with music and dancing.
the copy of my child that’s dead,
she alone is heir to both of us:
her the right you should have given her cousin,
so dies my revenge. (5. 1. 214-218)
Study Guide in Book Form
a Guide to the Complete Works is now available in hardback and paperback.
It incorporates most of the information on this web site, including plot
summaries of all the plays. It also gives dates and sources of each play,
describes the setting and characters, discusses imagery, identifies
themes, points out the climax, and provides historical background wherever
necessary. In addition, it discusses and analyzes the sonnets, as well
as other poems written by Shakespeare.
the many additional features of the book are essays, glossaries, explanations
of versification and iambic pentameter, and a section on the Globe Theatre.
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road to marriage is often lined with pitfalls and impediments. Benedick
and Beatrice are hostile lovers before they warm to each other. Claudio
doubts Hero's chastity before he is proven wrong.
often wear masks to disguise their true feelings. For example, Benedick
and Beatrice pretend to despise each other even though they love each other,
and Don John pretends to be remorseful when all the while he is plotting
is not what it seems. Mistaken identities, false accusations, misleading
conversations, and ironic outcomes all confound the principle characters.
This theme is a variation of Theme 2.
Love is NOT blind.
Benedick well knows that Beatrice has a sharp tongue whose stings he must
endure if he is to be her husband and live with her for decades to come.
Likewise, Beatrice well knows Benedick's faults. Yet, before the end of
play, they acknowledge their deep love for each other and marry.
Love IS blind. Hero
ignores Claudio's faults. For example, she accepts Claudio as her husband
even though only a short time before he so readily believed the slanders
against her, called her a "rotten orange," and agreed to marry another
in her place. Moreover, she never questions his motives—one of which, apparently,
is to marry into money. (He had previously inquired whether Governor Leonato
had a son and was told Hero was Leonato's only child and, thus, sole heir
to his property.)
A woman's chastity is
a treasure no man should possess except in marriage. The brouhaha over
the false charge that Hero slept with a stranger underscores the high regard
that the central characters in the play have for a virginal bride.
climax of a play or another narrative work, such as a short story or a
novel, can be defined as (1) the turning point at which the conflict begins
to resolve itself for better or worse, or as (2) the final and most exciting
event in a series of events. The climax of Much Ado About Nothing
occurs, according to the first definition, when Claudio rejects Hero on
their wedding day in the mistaken belief that Hero has yielded to another
man the day before. According to the second definition, the climax occurs
in the final act when Beatrice and Benedick grudgingly acknowledge their
love for each other and marry in the same ceremony uniting Claudio and
Ado About Nothing centers on the activities of two war heroes and the
women they love. Shakespeare shifts back and forth between the stories
of the couples—Benedick and Beatrice, Claudio
and Hero—interweaving them into a unified
whole. The play observes the three unities devised by ancient Greek and
Renaissance thinker and writers: (1) It takes place in one locale, (2)
it lasts about a single day, and (3) it has one main story (although some
view one or the other of the two love stories as a sub-plot).
play is unusual for Shakespeare in that the characters speak in prose rather
than verse most of the time. However, even when the passages are in prose,
they contain the brilliant imagery typical of Shakespeare. The characters
who speak most often in verse are Claudio and Hero, perhaps as part of
an effort by Shakespeare to demonstrate—and
sometimes to mock—their lofty feelings of
love, and Leonato and Friar Francis, perhaps to express the formality of
their roles as governor and priest, respectively.
often uses animal imagery in exchanges between Beatrice and Benedick and
in references to them by other characters, perhaps to suggest the wildness
of the love/hate relationship between the two. The following exchange between
Beatrice and Benedick in Act I, Scene I, demonstrates this point:
had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me.
keep your ladyship still in that mind! so some gentleman or other
'scape a predestinate scratched face.
could not make it worse, an 'twere such a face as yours were.
you are a rare parrot-teacher.
bird of my tongue is better than a beast of yours.
would my horse had the speed of your tongue, and so good a continuer. (1.
declares that if he ever succumbs to the pangs of love, he will be like
a trapped animal: “If I do [submit to love], hang me in a bottle like a
cat and shoot at me; and he that hits me, let him be clapped on the shoulder"
(1. 1. 101). When Don Pedro tells him that even a “savage bull" (1. 1.
103) must in time yield to the yoke of love, Benedick says that
savage bull may; but if ever the sensible Benedick bear it [the yoke],
pluck off the bull's horns and set them in my forehead: and let me be vilely
painted, and in such great letters as they write 'Here is good horse to
hire,' let them signify under my sign 'Here you may see Benedick the married
(1. 1. 104)
Leonato and Antonio tell Beatrice that her tongue is too cursed to ever
get a husband, Beatrice answers, “Too curst is more than curst: I shall
lessen God’s sending that way; for it is said, ‘God sends a curst cow short
horns’; but to a cow too curst he sends none" (2. 1. 12).
goes to extremes when he compares Beatrice to a harpy, a hideous winged
monster in Greek mythology, telling Don Pedro that he will perform any
service for him rather than be made to converse with Beatrice. The complete
passage is worth repeating here for its use of hyperbole:
your Grace command me any service to the world's end? I will go on the
slightest errand now to the Antipodes2
that you can devise to send me on; I will fetch you a tooth-picker now
from the furthest inch of Asia, bring you the length of Prester
fetch you a hair off the great Cham’s4
beard, do you any embassage to the Pigmies, rather than hold three words’
conference with this harpy.5
You have no employment for me? (2. 1. 114) When Beatrice finally acknowledges
her love for Benedick, she also implies that she is like an animal who
needs to control her feral instincts: “Benedick, love on; I will requite
thee, / Taming my wild heart to thy loving hand" (3. 1. 117-118).
spite of his outward disdain for Beatrice, Benedick inwardly burns with
love for her, as the following passage suggests: “That I neither feel how
she should be loved nor know how she should be worthy, is the opinion that
fire cannot melt out of me: I will die in it at the stake" (1. 1. 94).
Hero repeats this motif when she says it is better for Benedick to be consumed
by the fire of his passion than to die from Beatrice’s tongue-lashings:
Therefore let Benedick,
like cover’d fire,
Consume away in sighs, waste
It were a better death than
die with mocks,
Which is as bad as die with
tickling. (3. 1. 83-86)
is an archetype for bumbling police officers in modern film and television
comedies. Among movie and TV policemen who followed in his footsteps are
Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Smoky and the Bandit), Inspector Clouseau
(The Pink Panther), Maxwell Smart (Get Smart), and Barny
Fife (Andy Griffith Show). However, Dogberry gets laughs mostly
for verbal faux pas—in particular, malapropisms—rather than for slapstick.
Examples of his malapropisms are the following underlined words:
1. “You are thought
here to be the most senseless [sensible] and fit man for the constable
of the watch" (3. 3. 11).
Questions and Essay Topics
2. “True, and they are to
meddle [mingle] with none but the prince’s subjects. You shall also make
no noise in the streets; for, for the ....watch
to babble and to talk is most tolerable [intolerable] and not to be endured"
(3. 3. 15). Note: The use of for, for after streets is as Shakespeare wrote
the words. The first for is a conjunction and the second, a preposition.
3. “Truly, I would not hang
a dog by my will, much more [less] a man who hath any honesty in him" (3.
4. “Adieu: be vigitant,
[vigilant] I beseech you" (3. 3. 36).
5. “Goodman Verges, sir,
speaks a little off the matter: an old man, sir, and his wits are not so
blunt [keen], as, God help, I would desire ....they
were; but, in faith, honest as the skin between his brows" (3. 5. 9).
6. “Comparisons are odorous"
[odious] (3. 5. 11).
7. “Our watch, sir, have
indeed comprehended [apprehended] two a[u]spicious [suspicious] persons"
(3. 5. 23).
8. “Is our whole dissembly
[assembly] appeared?" (4. 2. 3).
9. “O villain! thou wilt
be condemned into everlasting redemption [perdition] for this" (4. 2. 32).
In your opinion, why do Benedick and Beatrice at first refuse to acknowledge
their love for each other?
Who is the most admirable character in the play? Who is the least admirable?
Explain your answers.
an essay comparing and contrasting Benedick and Claudio.
an essay comparing and contrasting Beatrice and Hero
an essay that argues for or against the belief that love is blind.
Announce, make it known.
Plural noun referring to two places on earth that are opposite each other,
such as the North Pole and the South Pole.
John: In legend, a Christian ruler of the East whom the crusaders expected
to come to their aid in their fight against the Muslims.
Archaic title for Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan and his successors.
In Greek mythology, a hideoous winged monster.
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