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Ado About Nothing is a stage play in the form
of a comedy. It centers on two couples and the trials
they encounter on their way to the altar. Shakespeare
knits the separate stories into a unified whole. The
play is unusual for Shakespeare in that the characters
speak in prose rather than verse most of the time. Prose
is the everyday language of conversations, news reports,
essays, and letters. Verse is an elegant, poetic means
of self-expression in separate lines of limited length,
usually about ten syllables.
wrote the play between 1598 and 1599. It was first
performed on a London stage before 1600 by the Lord
Chamberlain's Men, an acting company.
Much Ado About Nothing
was first published in a quarto edition in 1600 by
printer Valentine Simmes (1585-1622) for booksellers
Andrew Wise and William Aspley. A quarto was a sheet of
paper folded in half to create four pages. Friends of
Shakespeare published the play again in 1623, seven
years after the author's death, in a collection that
included thirty-five other Shakespeare plays. This
collection was carefully edited and proofread, then
printed in a folio edition. A folio consisted of a sheet
of paper considerably larger than a quarto. Like a
quarto, a folio was folded to create four pages. Because
the folio book was the first publication containing a
collection of Shakespeare's plays, it came to be known
as the First Folio after other folio editions were
published in 1632, 1663, and 1685.
One of the main
sources for the play was a novella in a collection of
tales by Italian writer Matteo Bandello (1485-1561).
Another source was Orlando Furioso, an epic poem by
Lodovico Ariosto (1474-1535). The poem was published in
Italian in 1516. Sir John Harington translated Orlando
Furioso into English for an edition published in 1591.
Shakespeare may also have used Il Libro del Cortegiano
(The Book of the Courtier), by Baldassare Castiglione
(1478-1529). It was published in Italian in 1528 and in
English in 1561 in an edition translated by Sir Thomas
takes place in northeastern Sicily in the province of
Messina, a busy port and trading center only about five
miles from the Italian mainland. Messina is a
mountainous province blessed with fertile fields for
agriculture. The capital bears the same name as the
province, Messina. The modern city of Messina has well
over 200,000 inhabitants.
lord from Padua, Italy, who thinks he despises Beatrice
but really loves her. He is friendly, has a quick and
witty tongue, and generally maintains an even
Beatrice: Niece of
the governor of Messina. She thinks she despises
Benedick but really loves him. Like Benedick, she has a
quick and witty tongue. Beatrice is loyal to her
and governor of Messina who is the uncle of Beatrice and
the father of Hero.
Don Pedro: Prince
of Aragon, a region in northeastern Spain. He led his
army to victory in a war against his brother, Don John.
Don Pedro is intelligent, confidant, diplomatic, and
Claudio: Young lord
from Florence, Italy, who distinguished himself in the
war against Don John. Claudio falls in love with
Leonato's daughter, 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.
Don John: Don
Pedro's bastard brother, a wicked fellow who was
defeated by Don Pedro. Although Don John has far fewer
lines than other characters, it is his desire for
revenge against his battlefield foe, Claudio, that
causes the deception, confusion, and mix-ups that drive
prim, proper, beautiful, gentle, and obedient daughter.
She falls in love with Claudio but becomes the innocent
victim of a plot that turns Claudio against her. She is
the cousin of Beatrice.
attendant. She has a penchant for speaking risqué
wisecracks and witticisms. Margaret is the girlfriend of
Ursula: Another of
Borachio: A comrade
and cat's-paw of Don John and the boyfriend of Margaret.
He is a key participant in Don's John's scheme to ruin
Hero's reputation, he
Conrade: Comrade of
Priest who helps Hero regain her reputation.
of Messina. He is memorable as a comic character for his
bumbling manner and ludicrous malapropisms. A
malapropism is the unintential misuse of a word as a
result of confusing its pronunciation with that of
and sidekick of Dogberry.
Hugh Oatcake, George Seacoal: The
only two of Dogberry's men who can read and write.
Sexton: Man who
helps Dogberry and his police force to expose the plot
Boy: Errand boy for
Messengers, Watchmen, Attendants.
Benedick and Beatrice, arguably, because they are both
real, hotblooded characters who are far more interesting
than the other protagonist candidates, Claudio and Hero.
The latter two are less animated, rather shallow
characters, who idealize courtly love.
John; mix-ups and misconceptions
his troublemaking brother, Don John, in a military
campaign, Don Pedro of Arragon (Shakespeare's spelling
of Aragon) and
several of his compatriots decide to visit relatives and
other friends in Messina, a province 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).
The 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.
When 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 display nothing but contempt for each
other even though inwardly they probably love 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,
Beatrice 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). In 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.
After 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 not only
against Don Pedro but also against Claudio, who won high
praise for his heroics against Don John.
"I had rather be a canker [disease] in a hedge than a
rose in his grace (1.3.10)," Don John says of his
brother. Moments later, he says of Claudio: "That young
start-up [upstart] hath all the glory of my overthrow
[of overthrowing me in my fight with my brother]: if I
can cross him any way, I bless myself every way."
When Claudio first beholds the sight of Leonato's
beautiful daughter, Hero, he falls in love with her. She
is to him the paragon of young womanhood—as sweet as
honey, as innocent as a lamb. The fact that she is her
father's only heir further enhances her as young woman
worthy of Claudio's attention.
Meanwhile, when Benedick sees Beatrice and she sees him,
they fall madly in hate all over again even though they
harbor unexpressed romantic feelings toward 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 may eventually ignite the fires of
At a masked ball, Beatrice asks a masked man dancing
with her 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 argument can 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.) Later, 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.
After Don John hears of Claudio's love for Hero, he
tries to thwart the flourishing romance between them.
Claudio, after all, won glory in the military action
that subdued Don John. Claudio had humbled and
humiliated Don John. Did not Claudio, therefore, deserve
to work 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
While 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. The result of this little trick is that the
enmity of Beatrice and Benedick for each other softens,
and their love for each other quickens.
In 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 of Claudio and Hero. 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 Don Pedro and Claudio
watch, Margaret appears at the window in Hero’s clothes
as Borachio stands below, as if he had just climbed out
of the bedroom window. Borachio and Margaret exchange
loving farewells, making it seems as if Borachio is
Hero's secret lover. In the darkness, Don Pedro and
Claudio fall victim to the deception and believe Hero
has surrendered herself to Borachio. (The play does not
indicate where Hero is while Margaret is impersonating
her. Is Hero sleeping soundly in the same room? Is she
in another room? Shakespeare leaves the answers to the
imagination of audiences and readers.)
At the altar the next day when the wedding ceremony is
about to begin, Claudio condemns Hero as a whore for
making love with another man. 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. Only 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,
Your daughter here the princes
left for dead:
Let her awhile be secretly kept in,
And publish it that she is dead indeed;
Maintain a mourning ostentation
And on your family’s old monument
Hang mournful epitaphs and do all rites
That appertain unto a burial. (4.1.206-212)
Afterward, says Friar Francis—who perceives wronged
innocence in Hero's eyes—information may emerge that
will prove that Hero was the victim of slanderous plot.
Benedick and Beatrice, meanwhile, argue about what to do
next. During their conversation, Benedick tells Beatrice
that he truly loves her. But Beatrice, convinced of
Hero's innocence, says she will have nothing to do with
Benedick unless he challenges Hero's principal accuser,
Claudio, to a duel. Benedick bows to her wishes. Later,
Benedick and Claudio exchange insults at Leonato's house
in the presence of Don Pedro, and they agree to duel.
When Benedick leaves, he further insults Claudio,
addressing him as "boy" (5.1.89), and informs Don Pedro
that Don John has fled Messina. This news causes Don
Pedro to wonder whether his brother ran away to escape
punishment for troublemaking—troublemaking that could
have been related to Hero and her public disgrace.
Meanwhile, as Friar Francis had hoped, new information
does indeed come to light about the accusations against
Hero. It seems that Constable Dogberry has arrested
Borachio and Conrade after his watchmen overheard
Borachio bragging to Conrade about his part in the plot
against Hero. With the help of the sexton, Dogberry
questions the suspects at the local prison. One watchman
provides specifics, saying Borachio received a thousand
ducats from Don John for his part in a scheme to defame
Hero. After further questioning their suspects, the law
officers take their prisoners to Leonato at his home.
Don Pedro and Claudio are there. (Most of the other
principal characters gather there also as the final act
of the play unfolds.)
When Don Pedro recognizes Borachio as one of Don John's
men, he asks him why he was arrested. Borachio then
admits his guilt, recounting "how Don John incensed me
to slander Lady Hero" and "how you were brought into the
orchard and saw me court Margaret in Hero’s garments."
Upon hearing this confession, Don Pedro asks Claudio,
"Runs not this speech like iron through your blood?"
(5.1.172). Claudio replies, "I have drunk poison whiles
he utter'd it" (5.1.173).
Claudio repents his condemnation of the "dead" Hero and
praises her to the highest of heavens, then vows to do
whatever penance Leonato imposes upon him. Leonato, of
course, has been pretending that Hero is dead. He
continues the deception, telling Claudio that he can
redeem himself by marrying someone else:
Be yet my nephew: my brother hath
Almost the copy of my child that’s dead,
And she alone is heir to both of us:
Give her the right you should have given her cousin,
And so dies my revenge. (5.1.214-218)
Claudio embraces the offer.
On the day of the wedding, Claudio discovers that the
"new" bride is really Hero, who swears that her
virginity is intact. The friar then bids everyone to
follow him to the chapel. Before the group leaves
Leonato's home, 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. A messenger then arrives to announce that
Don John has been captured and is being returned to
Messina. Benedick says he will devise a fitting
punishment for him, then orders pipers to play. All ends
joyfully with music and dancing that precede the
The tone of the
play is generally merry, playful, carefree, and
mischievous. However, dark moments occasionally alter
the mood. The most noteworthy of these are scenes in
which (1) Don John complains about his melancholy
spirit, then plots against Hero; (2) Claudio accuses
Hero of betraying him; and (3) the normally
even-tempered Benedick becomes angry and challenges
Claudio to a duel.
conflicts in the play center on the following:
John's hatred of his brother, Don Pedro, who
defeated Don John in battle.
John's hatred of Claudio, a hero in Don Pedro's war
against Don John.
rejection of Hero after Don John's plot impugns
verbal sparring that Beatrice and Benedick engage
in, wittingly or unwittingly, to avoid acknowledging
their love for each other.
suggests that the characters in the play pay too much
attention to trivial matters. (Ado means fuss,
bother, commotion, confusion, or trouble.) But beware of
the word nothing. Elizabethans sometimes used
this word as a term for the female sex organ, which
resembles the mathematical symbol for nothing, 0.
Now consider that much attention—that is, much ado—is
focused on Hero as a prospective wife. At a masked ball,
Don John woos Hero in the name of Claudio, who has
become entranced with Hero's angelic beauty. The scheme
results in the betrothal of Claudio and Hero.
Meanwhile, the evil Don John and his partners carry out
a plot that makes Hero look as if she yielded her
virginity to Borachio. In Claudio's eyes, the angelic
Hero then becomes reduced to a besmirched "nothing."
Claudio publicly rebukes and humiliates her. Beatrice,
however, stands by Hero, refusing to believe the
accusations that Claudio so readily accepts as true.
Beatrice then urges Benedick to challenge Claudio to a
duel to defend Hero's reputation. To avoid losing
Beatrice's love and respect, Benedick does so. But at
the very moment that Benedick challenges Claudio,
Dogberry and his assistants arrive on the scene with Don
John's henchmen, Borachio and Conrade, in bonds.
Borachio admits his role in the scheme to ruin Hero's
reputation and reveals all the details of the plot. His
confession exonerates Hero and ends talk of a duel.
Thus, the title may refer to all the fuss and bother
resulting from Hero's supposedly tainted "nothing." Did
Shakespeare have have this meaning in mind when he wrote
the play? We don't know. But, considering all the puns
and jests in the play about sexual intimacy and
infidelity, it's a strong possibility. If Shakespeare
did not intend a double meaning for nothing, perhaps
Shakespeare scholar G. B. Harrison was right when he
observed: "The play should not be taken too seriously.
Shakespeare is providing entertainment for two hours,
very varied and agreeable, but for all that, as it turns
out, "much ado about nothing." (Shakespeare: The Complete Works.
New York: Harcourt, 1952, page 700).
The climax of a
play or another literary 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 yielded to another man the day before.
According to the second definition, the climax occurs in
the final act when Hero unmasks herself and the two
couples—Beatrice and Benedick, Claudio and Hero—joyfully
dance before going to the altar.
The play relies
mainly on deceit for its effectiveness. For example, at
the outset of the play, Don John pretends to be
remorseful for rebelling against his brother. However,
inwardly he seethes with hatred for his brother and
looks for an opportunity gain revenge for his
humiliating defeat on the battlefield. Also early in the
play, Beatrice and Benedick pretend that they do not
like each other, let alone love each other. Whenever
circumstances bring them together, they spend their time
exchanging insults. In their first appearance together
in Act 1, Benedick is enjoying a conversation with
Leonato and Don Pedro when Beatrice interrupts and a
verbal skirmish ensues.
BEATRICE: I wonder that you
will still be talking, Signior Benedick: nobody marks
[notices; listens to] you.
BENEDICK: What! my dear Lady Disdain, are you
BEATRICE: Is it possible Disdain should die
while she hath such meet food to feed it as Signior
Benedick? Courtesy itself must convert to disdain, if
you come in her presence.
BENEDICK: Then is courtesy a turncoat. But it is
certain I am loved of [by] all ladies, only you
excepted; and I would I could find in my heart that I
had not a hard heart; for, truly, I love
BEATRICE: A dear happiness to women: they would
else [otherwise] have been troubled with a pernicious
suitor. I thank God and my cold blood, I am of your
humour for that [I also love no one]: I had rather
hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves
BENEDICK: God keep your ladyship still in that
mind; so some gentleman or other shall ’scape a
predestinate scratched face. (1.1.49-54)
Of course, as the plot progresses, it becomes obvious
that Benedick and Beatrice are deceiving each other and
everyone else, for in reality they love each other.
Meanwhile, Claudio confesses to Don Pedro that he has an
eye for Leonato's daughter, the comely Hero. Don Pedro
then proposes that he woo Hero for Claudio at a masked
I know we shall have revelling
I will assume thy part in some
And tell fair Hero I am Claudio;
And in her bosom I’ll unclasp my heart,
And take her hearing prisoner. (1.1.144-148)
The deceptive scheme works and Don Pedro seals the deal
by getting Hero's father, Leonato, to agree to a
marriage between Claudio and Hero. Enter the evil Don
John. After learning that Claudio—his hated battlefield
foe—plans to marry Hero, he oversees a plan to break up
the romance and thereby gain revenge against Claudio. In
the dark of night, Borachio appears at Hero's bedroom
window and converses with Hero's attendant, Margaret,
who is dressed in Hero's clothes. Don Pedro and Claudio
are observing from an orchard a short distance away and
think Margaret is Hero. Don John had previously poisoned
their ears against Hero, saying she was a wanton and
telling them they could witness her misbehavior
themselves at night from the orchard. What they see and
hear suggests that Borachio and Hero have just made
love. The deception works, and Claudio denounces Hero at
the altar on the day of the wedding.
But the good guys also use deceit. To save Hero's
reputation from further damage, Friar Francis proposes
to Leonato that they pretend Hero died of shock after
Claudio verbally assailed her in the chapel. As part of
the plan, they pretend to entomb Hero. While she lies
"dead," the friar says, information may surface proving
that Hero is a victim of foul play. The scheme works,
and Don John, Borachio and another partner in their
evildoing, Conrade, are exposed as villains who plotted
Claudio repents for having so readily condemned Hero in
public as a whore and tells Leonato that he will submit
to any punishment. Leonato replies,
To-morrow morning come you to my
And since you could not be my son-in-law,
Be yet my nephew. My brother hath a daughter,
Almost the copy of my child that’s
And she alone is heir to both of us:
Give her the right you should have given her
And so dies my revenge. (5.1.214-220)
Claudio agrees to marry the young woman. But Antonio's
"daughter" is really Hero. The next morning, Hero
carries the deception further by wearing a mask when she
appears before Claudio. Leonato then makes Claudio take
her hand and swear that he will be her husband. Claudio
does so. The bride-to-be then reveals herself as the
real Hero and says, "Surely as I live I am a maid
There are other examples of deceit, such as the
rehearsed conversations meant to be overheard by
Benedick and later Beatrice, and Antonio's concealment
of his identity from Ursula at the masquerade party.
Deceit, of course, is part of everyday life, and one of
Shakespeare's talents is to hold a mirror to life to
Much Ado About Nothing
reveals the flaws of the class system in England and
elsewhere in Europe. The most obvious flaw is its
unfairness. Those born into the aristocracy receive
rights and privileges unavailable to commoners. They
also receive far more wealth and property, as well as
benefits such as political power and favors resulting
from their connections with fellow aristocrats.
Consequently, a wide gap separates the upper classes
from the commoners.
Those born into the aristocracy usually have a
prestigious title, such as count or countess, duke or
duchess, lord or lady. Moreover, they generally receive
a superior education that includes instruction in the
fine arts and social graces. Most of those born into the
lower classes lack the titles, privileges, and benefits
of the upper classes and haveto work long hours to put a
jingle in their pockets.
Sometimes, though, the class system and its laws
adversely affect aristocrats. In Much Ado About Nothing,
Don John is a case in point. He is a bastard, a child
born outside of marriage. Under English law, as well as
the law of many other European countries, a bastard
cannot inherit his father's property except in rare
cases. Moreover, under unwritten law, a bastard often
does not receive as much respect as a legitimate child.
Don John's bastardy no doubt accounts in whole or in
part for his hatred of his brother. It also probably
accounts, at least in part, for his mean disposition.
Benedick takes note of Don John's status when he
comments that Don Pedro and Claudio appear to have been
deceived in regard to the accusations against Hero:
If their wisdoms be misled in
The practice of it lives in John the
Whose spirits toil in frame of villanies.
The class system also imposes limitations on
aristocratic female children. For example, the laws
governing the system state that men, not women, should
inherit property and wealth. Also, custom and tradition
under this system dictate that a highborn young woman
should to obey her father at all times, even when he
commands her to marry a man of his choosing. In the
play, it is assumed that Hero will obey her father after
he agrees with Don Pedro that Claudio would be a good
match for her. After all, Claudio is a count. His rank
would enhance the standing of Hero. Moreover, it would
assure the continuance of a noble family into the next
Beatrice, however, refuses to accept the traditional
role of women.
Whether Shakespeare's depiction of aristocrats and
commoners in the play was his way of advocating changes
in the social system is arguable. Most likely, he simply
wanted to present life as it was, not as it should or
should not be. If audiences wanted to respond to what
they saw and heard, advocating change or defending the
status quo, all well and good. One suspects, though,
that Shakespeare delighted in presenting bumbling
commoners doing what their supposed superiors could not
do: unmasking villainy and saving the reputation of an
innocent young woman.
Women's Inferior Status
England, women generally were subservient to men. In all
things, each woman was expected to yield to the will of
a father, husband, brother, uncle, or fiancè. A woman
was frowned on if she attempted to pursue a career as an
architect, an attorney, a merchant, a diplomat, a
politician, a law-enforcement officer, or even an actor.
(In Shakespeare's day, men and boys acted all the parts
in stage plays, even the parts of women.) Women could
not vote and were not entitled to a formal education,
although upper-class women often learned under tutors.
Lower-class women could become cooks, servants,
washerwomen, midwives, and perform various menial tasks.
Upper-class women were expected to remain in the home to
carry out the following duties: to please their
husbands, bear children, rear the children with the help
of attendants, oversee the preparation of food, and
conduct social entertainments. Although an unmarried
woman could own property, she had to yield it to a
husband if she married. A widow could inherit property
but had to give it to the oldest son when he grew up.
In Much Ado About
Nothing, Hero is an example of a highborn
Elizabethan woman who accepts her inferior status
without complaint. Young men regard her almost as if she
were an object to be bought, sold, or given away. For
example, when Claudio asks Don Pedro for his opinion of
Hero, Benedick replies, "Would you buy her, that you
inquire after her?" (1.1.72). He's only half-joking.
Though Hero's father loves her, he treats her the same
way—as an object to be guided by him. For example, when
he is told that Don Pedro may ask for her hand, he tells
her, "Daughter, remember what I told you: if the prince
do solicit you in that kind [if the prince asks you to
marry him], you know your answer" (2.1.23). After
Leonato learns that it is Claudio, not Don Pedro, who
wants to marry Hero, Leonato readily approves of the
Beatrice, on the other hand, rebels against the
established order, saying she will marry a man of her
choice—but only if he measures up to her high standards.
Her behavior may have shocked some members of
Shakespeare's audience, but it may have heartened women
yearning for more freedom. The fact that their queen was
well-educated and independent-minded no doubt gave them
hope that Beatrice was the wave of the future.
and Misuse of Language
The use and
misuse of language in the play help Shakespeare to
develop his characters and themes, call attention to
social conventions, and present comic episodes.
Beatrice uses biting insults and witticisms to stand
fast against the age-old belief that men are superior to
women. She is a tigress who will claw at any man,
especially Benedick, who tries to better her. Benedick
acknowledges her verbal ferocity, saying it serves
notice on men to stay away from her to “escape a
predestinate scratched face” (1.1.54). Benedick responds
with insults and witticisms of his own. All the while,
readers and audiences suspect that both have the same
hidden motive for their caustic criticism of each
other—namely, that they are in love but regard love as a
threat to their independence and freedom.
Leonato and Don Pedro generally use gracious and elegant
language to reflect their generosity of soul and the
refinement and nobility expected of highborn leaders, as
in the following exchange:
DON PEDRO: Good Signior Leonato,
you are come to meet your trouble [the burden and
expense of hosting me and my men]: the fashion of the
world is to avoid cost [such trouble], and you
LEONATO: Never came trouble to my house in the
likeness of your Grace, for trouble being gone,
comfort should remain; but when you depart from me,
sorrow abides and happiness takes his
DON PEDRO: You embrace your charge [your burden]
Margaret's language, on the other hand, is down to earth
and at times vulgar. It may be that Shakespeare uses her
words to satirize the rarefied language of courtiers and
the sometimes priggish language of ingénues like Hero,
as in this exchange:
HERO: God give me joy to
wear it [this dress]! for my heart is exceeding heavy.
MARGARET: ’Twill be heavier soon by the weight
of a man.
HERO: Fie upon thee! art not
MARGARET: Of what, lady? of speaking honourably?
is not marriage honourable in a beggar? Is not your
lord honourable without marriage? I think you would
have me say, "saving your reverence, a husband": an
[if] bad thinking do not wrest [misinterpret] true
speaking, I’ll offend nobody. Is there any harm in
‘the heavier for a husband?’ None, I think, an [if] it
be the right husband and the right wife.” (3.4.14-17)
Moments later, Beatrice complains of symptoms of a cold,
saying that her nose is “stuffed” (3.4.33) and she
cannot smell. Margaret replies, “A maid [virgin] and
stuffed! There's goodly catching a cold” (3.4.34).
Margaret is saying, in effect, that being “stuffed” by a
man is a pleasant way to catch a cold.
If there is a prize for misusing the language, Dogberry
and his watchmen should win it handily for their
malapropisms. A malapropism is an unintentional misuse
of a word because it sounds like or in some other way
resembles the right word. An example is watchman Verges'
misuse of salvation
in the following lines, spoken when Dogberry is
instructing his men.
DOGBERRY: Are you good men and
VERGES: Yes, or else it were a pity but they should
suffer salvation, body and soul.
Verges means to say damnation.
In the following passage are other examples of
malapropisms. The speaker is Dogberry, who is addressing
a watchman who has learned to read and write.
Well, for your [good looks], sir,
why, give God thanks, and make no boast of it; for
your writing and reading, let that appear when there
is no need of such vanity. You are thought here to be
the most senseless [sensible] and fit man for the
constable of the watch; therefore bear you the
lantern. This is your charge: you shall comprehend
[apprehend] all vagrom [vagrant] men; you are to bid
any man stand, in the prince's name. (3.3.11)
Dogberry 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 (The Andy
Griffith Show). However, Dogberry gets laughs
mostly for his malapropisms rather than for slapstick.
Other examples of his malapropisms are the the
malapropisms of Dogberry and the other watchmen serve to
underscore the educational gap between the lower and
upper classes. Ironically, though, it is the watchmen
who discover the wrongdoing against Hero, proving that
they can sometimes be more valuable to society than
their learned and refined superiors.
- 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
- Truly, I
would not hang a dog by my will, much more [less] a
man who hath any honesty in him (3.3.25).
- Adieu: be
vigitant [vigilant], I beseech you (3.3.36).
Verges, sir, speaks a little off the matter: an old
man, sir, and his wits are not so blunt [keen]
Comparisons are odorous [odious] (3.5.11).
watch, sir, have indeed comprehended [apprehended]
two auspicious [suspicious] persons" (3.5.23).
- Is our
whole dissembly [assembly] appeared? (4.2.3).
villain! thou wilt be condemned into everlasting
redemption [perdition] for this” (4.2.32).
Importance of Reputation
Having a good
reputation was extremely important to aristocrats in
Renaissance Europe. For men, it meant treating a spouse
or fiancée with gallantry, maintaining loyalty to family
and friends, and performing courageously in war. For
women, it meant obeying the will of parents, guarding
virginity in the nubile years, and remaining faithful to
a husband after marriage.
Examples of references to these standards include the
for Claudio and Benedick in fighting with valor for
Don Pedro in his war with his rebellious brother,
disloyalty of Don John in his relationship with his
willingness to accept her father's approval of a
marriage between her and Claudio.
respect Claudio exhibits for Hero after their
disrespect Claudio exhibits for Hero after Don John
impugns her virginity.
Beatrice's loyalty to Hero in the face of the
shocking accusation against her.
Benedick's willingness to risk his life in a duel
rather than lose Beatrice's respect nd love for him.
frequent jests centering on unfaithful wives.
Claudio and Don Pedro motivates Don John to develop the
scheme that impugns Hero's reputation and casts a pall
over the festive atmosphere of the play.
Claudio's faults. For example, she accepts Claudio as
her husband-to-be 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.)
Is NOT Blind
knows that Beatrice has a sharp tongue and feisty spirit
that he must accept if he is to be her husband and live
with her for decades to come. Likewise, Beatrice well
knows Benedick is not the kind of man she can dominate.
Yet, before the end of play, they acknowledge their deep
love for each other and marry.
often uses animal imagery in exchanges between Beatrice
and Benedick and in references to them by other
characters, perhaps to suggest the wildness of their
love/hate relationship. The following exchange between
Beatrice and Benedick demonstrates this point:
BEATRICE: I had rather hear my dog
bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me.
BENEDICK: God keep your ladyship still in that mind!
so some gentleman or other shall 'scape a predestinate
BEATRICE: Scratching could not make it worse, an
'twere such a face as yours were.
BENEDICK: Well, you are a rare parrot-teacher.
BEATRICE: A bird of my tongue is better than a beast
BENEDICK: I would my horse had the speed of your
tongue, and so good a continuer. (1.1.53-58)
Benedick 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, "The 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 man." (1.1.104)
When 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). (Here, horns may be a phallic symbol,
representing the penis.)
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).
Imagery of Fire
uses images of fire to demonstrate the passion with
which characters express their viewpoints or feelings.
An example is an exchange between a messenger and
Beatrice in a conversation about Benedick.
MESSENGER: I see, lady, the
gentleman is not in your books [not a favorite of
yours in your book].
BEATRICE: No; an [if] he were, I would burn my
Another example is Benedick's reply to Don Pedro and
Claudio during a discussion of Hero.
CLAUDIO: That I love her, I
DON PEDRO: That she is worthy, I
BENEDICK: 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. (1.1.92-94)
When Hero and Ursula are discussing Beatrice's verbal
assaults against Benedick, Hero says,
Benedick, like cover’d fire,
Consume away in sighs, waste inwardly:
It were a better death than die with
Which is as bad as die with tickling. (3.1.83-86)
Upon hearing this observation, Beatrice, hidden nearby,
says to herself,
What fire is in mine ears? Can
this be true?
Stand I condemn’d for pride and scorn so much?
Contempt, farewell! and maiden pride, adieu [French
No glory lives behind the back of such.
And, Benedick, love on; I will requite thee [return
your love]. (3.1.113-117)
Figures of Speech
examples of figures of speech in Much Ado About Nothing.
Repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of words
God sends a curst
cow short horns (2.1.12)
Unless he have a fancy
to this foolery, as it appears he
hath, he is no fool
for fancy, as you would
have it appear he is.
O! what authority and show of truth
cunning sin cover
itself withal. (4.1.28-29)
If Cupid have
not spent all his quiver in Venice,
thou wilt quake for this shortly.
(Note that c
and q have
the same consonant sound.)
Repetition of a word or a group of words at the
beginning of a sentence, clause, or phrase.
If I had my mouth, I
would bite; If I had
liberty, I would do my liking.
One woman is fair, yet I am well;
another is wise, yet I am well. (2.3.8)
Presentation of contrasting or opposing ideas in a
sentence or group of words with balanced construction
How much better is it to weep at
joy than to joy at weeping! (1.1.13)
Thou pure impiety, and impious purity! (4.1.101)
Hyperbole: A gross
Thou wilt be like a lover
And tire the hearer with a book of words.
Benedick goes to extremes when he tells Don Pedro that
he will perform any service for him rather than be
made to converse with Beatrice. He says, "Will your
Grace command me any service to the world's end? I
will go on the slightest errand now to the Antipodes
[opposite side of the earth] 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 John’s foot, fetch you a hair off the great
Cham’s beard, do you any embassage to the Pigmies,
rather than hold three words’ conference with this
harpy. You have no employment for me? (2.1.114)
Legendary king of a Christian nation in Asia
Title of the ruler in Mongolia and certain other Asian
countries in medieval times
In classical mythology, a monster that was part woman
and part bird of prey. Here, Benedick is comparing
Beatrice to a harpy.
Situation in which the reader or audience is aware of
what a character is not
Dramatic irony occurs throughout
the play. For example, readers and audiences know that
Don John, who supposedly has made peace with his
brother, despises him. Readers and audiences also know
that Hero is innocent of wrongdoing when most of the
other characters believe she is guilty.
Comparison of unlike things without using like, as, or than
BENEDICK: Would you buy her,
that you inquire after her?
CLAUDIO: Can the world buy such a jewel?
(Comparison of Hero to a jewel)
Alas! poor hurt fowl. Now will he
creep into sedges. (2.1.100)
(Comparison of Claudio to a fowl)
Time goes on crutches till love have all his rites.
(Comparison of time to a crippled person)
My talk to thee must be how Benedick
Is sick in love with Beatrice: of this matter
Is little Cupid’s crafty arrow made,
That only wounds by hearsay. (3.1.22-25)
(Comparison of hearsay to the effect of the arrow of
Cupid, the god of love)
Disdain and scorn ride sparkling in her eyes. (3.1.56)
(Comparison of disdain and scorn to sparkles)
Oxymoron: Use of
contrasting or opposing words side by side
merry war (1.1.27)
hot January (1.1.38)
You could never do him so ill-well (2.1.51)
Paradox: Use of
contrasting or opposing words or groups of words
He hath borne himself beyond the
promise of his age, doing in the figure of a lamb the
feats of a lion. (1.1.8)
(Comparison of Claudio to a lamb that
fights like a lion)
of unlike things using like, as, or than
He [Benedick] will hang upon him
[Claudio] like a disease: he is sooner caught than the
(Comparison of Benedick to a disease)
For look where Beatrice, like a lapwing, runs.
(Comparison of Beatrice to a bird)
Runs not this speech like iron through your blood?
(Comparison of speech to iron)
Synecdoche: Use of
a part to represent the whole, as in "all hands on deck"
The ladies follow her and but one
represents a disguised person at the masquerade
Questions and Essay Topics
your opinion, why do Benedick and Beatrice at
first refuse to acknowledge their love for each
is the most admirable character in the play? Who
is the least admirable? Explain your
an essay comparing and contrasting Benedick and
an essay comparing and contrasting Beatrice and
an essay that argues for or against the belief
that love is blind.