Much Ado About Nothing
Summary and Synopsis

Much Ado About Nothing Setting

Much Ado About Nothing is set in Messina, a port on the island of Sicily. At the time in the play, Sicily was ruled by Aragon. Messina was involved in the sixteenth century “Italian Wars.” The Italian Wars, also known as the Great Wars of Italy were a series of wars fought between the years of 1494 and 1559, during the Renaissance. After those wars, the balance of power in Europe drastically shifted. Aragon became a part of the anti-French “Habsburg ring” around France. This is the war they celebrate the end of when the soldiers return to Leonato’s Estate. Don Pedro is known as the Prince of Aragon, giving the success a much heavier importance to the characters we see.

Much Ado About Nothing Plot Timeline

Much Ado About Nothing Summary

Act 1 Summary

The play begins in Messina, at Leonato’s home, where he resides with his daughter, Hero, and his niece, Beatrice.

A messenger arrives to announce that Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon, is returning from war. He plans to bring some friends and fellow soldiers with him: Claudio, who played a good part in the conclusion of the war, and Benedick, a young lord of Padua.

Beatrice manages to take the messenger’s words and twist them into insults about Benedick, and the witty feud between them is revealed.

Don Pedro and his crew arrive, as well as his illegitimate brother Don John. They are invited to stay the month.

Beatrice and Benedick begin their war of wit, which continues throughout the play.

Claudio falls in love with Hero upon seeing her, and as the group separates, he confesses to Benedick his new love. Benedick scoffs and states his rejection of the idea of marriage and is teased by Claudio and Don Pedro as a result.

Claudio speaks of his desire to marry Hero and convinces Don Pedro to disguise himself as Claudio to help him woo Hero at the masked ball to celebrate the victory of the war.

Leonato’s brother, Antonio, overhears their conversation and mistakenly tells Leonato that he heard that Don Pedro wants to marry Hero. Skeptical, Leonato treats the information as only a hope.

Don John is upset with his circumstances and, despite Conrad’s insistence, refuses to be happy with his situation. Borachio then enters with new gossip and tells the two of his eavesdropping on the prince and Claudio, namely the Prince’s intention to woo Hero in Claudio’s name. Don John decides to use the information to create conflict with the help of Borachio and Conrad.

Act 2 Summary

As Leonato, Antonio, Hero, and Beatrice wait for the masked ball to start, Beatrice and Hero contemplate the ideal man; somewhere between Benedick, who always talks, and Don John, who never talks. The group ponders whether or not Beatrice will ever marry, to which she laughs and declares that she will not. Antonio and Leonato then remind Hero of Don Pedro’s plan to propose that evening.

Crowds of people enter, and the men don their masks so their identities are a mystery to the ladies. Antonio dances with Hero’s chambermaid, Ursula, and Don Pedro’s musician, Balthasar, dances with Hero’s maid, Margret. Don Pedro, in disguise as Claudio, dances with and charms Hero.

While dancing with her unknown partner, Beatrice continues to insult and berate Benedick, lamenting how his friends think him to be boring. Her masked partner, who is actually Benedick, is irritated and offended by her harsh words.

Don John has seen his brother flirting with Hero and, pretending to be Benedick, approaches Claudio. Don John informs Claudio that, contrary to the original plan, Don Pedro intends to keep Hero as his own and marry her immediately. Claudio falls for Don John’s trick and rushes out just as the real Benedick appears.

Benedick discovers that Don Pedro has stayed true to his word in wooing Hero for Claudio. Still offended at Beatrice’s nasty insults, Benedick begs Don Pedro to send him on a lengthy errand to escape her company, but Don Pedro laughs and bids him stay. He leaves anyway.

When Claudio enters, Don Pedro informs him of the successful proposal and that Hero has agreed to marry him (Claudio) with Leonato’s full support. Claudio and Hero make heartfelt promises to each other as Beatrice states again that she will never marry. Don Pedro offers himself as a suitor, to which she declines, comparing him to fancy clothes far too luxurious for her to wear every day.

Beatrice leaves, and when the wedding day is settled for next Monday, Don Pedro employs the help of the group to create a plan that will make Beatrice and Benedick fall in love with each other.

Don John, after hearing about the wedding, wants to split Claudio and Hero and cause misery among the family. Borachio helps him scheme and decides that since he is courting Hero’s maid, Margret, he can convince her to dress in Hero’s clothes. Don John will approach Claudio and Don Pedro with the claim that Hero is unfaithful and will take them to Hero’s balcony. There they will see Margret, as Hero, and Borachio engaging in intimate relations, confirming Don John’s accusation and convincing Claudio and Don Pedro of her “disloyalty”.

Meanwhile, Benedick overhears Don Pedro, Claudio, and Leonato speaking of Beatrice’s passionate and undying affection for Benedick. They speak so strongly of her devotion to him, that he decides to take pity on her and love her passionately in return.

Giddy that Beatrice loves him, he encounters her, and she scathingly insults him. In his love-stricken state, he interprets her words as endearments and runs to have a portrait made in her likeness.

Act 3 Summary

Hero, with the help of Ursula and Margret, arranges to have Beatrice overhear a conversation about Benedick’s love for her to persuade her to fall in love with him. After luring Beatrice into the garden, they talk loudly of Benedick’s devotion and adoration of her and his fear of confessing. Beatrice, too, decides to “take pity” on her new suitor and deems him worthy of her love, casting off her promise of celibacy.

Benedick is teased by Don Pedro, Claudio, and Leonato about his desire to stay single and never marry, but he announces that he’s changed. His friends see the difference in his demeanour and realize that he’s in love.

When Claudio and Don Pedro are left alone, Don John arrives and as he speaks with them, he assures them that he is guarding their reputation and details Hero’s supposed infidelity. Stating that he can provide proof, Don John tells them when to meet him so they can see. Claudio claims that if he is given solid evidence, he will publicly humiliate and denounce Hero tomorrow at the wedding.

Outside in the street, the police of Messina, the Watch, discuss nightly duties. Head constable Dogberry is in charge of the Watch. Under his direction, the watch is a polite but not wholly effective police force. Constable Dogberry orders that they stay vigilant near Leonato’s house due to the commotion of the upcoming wedding.

Borachio and Conrad enter, causing the Watch to take cover, and Borachio fills in the details of the evening’s events. The plan was successful. Claudio and Don Pedro saw Borachio and the pretend Hero making love on the balcony. Hurt and angry, Claudio promises to follow through with the public humiliation. Unbeknownst to Borachio and Conrad, the Watch is observing. The police emerge from hiding and arrest the duo.

On the morning of her wedding, Hero has a strange feeling of foreboding and approaching disaster. Her maid and cousin sooth her fears and help her prepare. Margret teases Beatrice about Benedick and being in love, and Beatrice denies vehemently. When Hero is ready, the group gets ready to go to the church.

Dogberry and his associate try to tell Leonato of the men they arrested, but he brushes them off and leaves them in charge of the interrogation.

Act 4 Summary

Everyone gathers in the church for the wedding. When Friar Francis asks Claudio if he is ready to marry Hero, he bursts into a rage-filled speech about Hero’s corruption and lack of innocence. Claudio tells what he believes he saw on the balcony, with Don Pedro’s support and Borachio’s confirmation. Hero faints and Benedick and Beatrice rush to her aid.

After the accusers exit, Leonato wishes death upon Hero, rather than have her face the shame. The Friar steps in and assures Leonato of Hero’s innocence, having seen her genuine shock at the attack and harsh claims. He comes up with an idea to fake her death and keep her hidden away. They will say she died of grief and shock, and the accusers will begin to feel remorse and remember her virtue. Then she can return to the world. If they maintain that she was unfaithful, then she will be taken to a nunnery to live.

Beatrice and Benedick are left alone, and he confesses in the heat of the moment. Beatrice confirms her love for him, and when he says he will do anything for her, she demands that he kill Claudio. At first, Benedick refuses, but after hearing her reasoning and anger over the slander of her cousin, he agrees to challenge Claudio to a duel.

Dogberry and the Watch get a confession from Borachio that Don John paid him to fake intimacy with “Hero” and then to lie about the encounter to Don Pedro and Claudio.

Act 5 Summary

Leonato struggles to cope with the shock of his daughter’s fate, and Antonio tries to cheer him up. Don Pedro and Claudio enter but make an effort to avoid the other pair. Leonato accuses Claudio of causing Hero’s death and challenges Claudio to a duel to avenge his child. Claudio and Don Pedro ignore them until they leave.

Benedick enters and solemnly challenges Claudio to a duel, ignoring his friends’ attempts at humour to lighten the mood. He tells them he won’t tolerate the murder of a young girl and that Don John has fled the city. Don Pedro and Claudio begin to second guess their actions and Don John’s honesty.

Dogberry brings Borachio to Claudio and Don Pedro, and they hear his confession. They beg Leonato for forgiveness and declare to clear Hero’s tarnished name and write her an epitaph. Leonato requests that Claudio marry Antonio’s daughter, who closely resembles Hero, to make up for the loss. Claudio accepts.

Beatrice and Benedick meet and flirt with gentle insults. Benedick reveals his unsuccessful attempt to write a love poem for her, and then tells her that he challenged Claudio to a duel. Soon, Hero’s chambermaid, Ursula, arrives to tell them that the truth has come to light.

Claudio writes Hero’s epitaph, proclaiming her innocence and clearing the slander, and everyone prepares for his marriage to Leonato’s “niece”. As they get ready for the wedding, Benedick asks Leonato for permission to marry Beatrice.

The men arrive at the church for the ceremony and the women enter in masks. Claudio swears to marry the masked “niece”, and when her face is revealed he is shocked to see Hero alive and well. Now that her name is cleared, she can return to life and be by his side.

As the ceremony finishes and they all head to the chapel, Benedick asks Beatrice out loud if she loves him, and she denies any feelings for him. Benedick denies his love as well and they agree to be friends. Laughingly, Claudio and Hero show partial love poems, which had been found in Benedick’s and Beatrice’s rooms, to the arguing pair.

Slightly embarrassed at having been exposed, Benedick and Beatrice decide to marry and accept their love. A messenger arrives with news of Don John’s arrest, and Don Pedro puts his punishment off until tomorrow so Benedick can think up a clever torment for him. Benedick instructs the musicians to play, and the couples dance in celebration of love and marriage.

Mika is a musician with a passion for art, literature, writing, and theatre. She loves sharing the beauty of the creative arts, and strives to encourage others to boldly explore their creativity and bring their dreams to life.