Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing opens at the end of a conflict in Italy: Don Pedro of Aragon has defeated his brother Don John and been reconciled. Don Pedro, Claudio and Benedick arrive in Messina in Sicily and are welcomed by the Governor, Leonato. While Benedick begins wittily sparring with Leonato’s niece Beatrice and scorning the idea of marriage, Claudio bashfully tells Benedick that he loves Leonato’s daughter Hero. Don Pedro proposes to disguise himself as Claudio and do the wooing for him at a masked ball. Hearing of his intent, Don John resolves to thwart him. After a variety of confusions, the wedding is publicly agreed, while Claudio, Hero, Don Pedro and Leonato resolve to trick Benedick and Beatrice into falling in love.

The night before the wedding – interspersed with comic scenes involving Dogberry, the inept Constable of the Watch – Don John deceives Don Pedro and Claudio into believing they have seen Hero with another lover. The next day, the three of them accuse her of falsehood at the altar. She faints, and Leonato, Benedick and the friar agree to pretend she is dead. Benedick and Beatrice confess their love to each other, but Beatrice asks Benedick to prove his love by killing Claudio for his slander. The truth of the plot emerges and Leonato demands that Claudio marries a niece of his who resembles Hero; unveiled, she proves to be Hero herself. Don John is captured, but punishment is put off until Beatrice, Benedick, Hero and Claudio are married.

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William Shakespeare
Q1 (1600); F (1623)
Renaissance drama
Literary period:

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Much Ado About Nothing: Comedy and Tragedy

How does Much Ado About Nothing tread a fine line between comedy and tragedy? Analyse the roles of the Watch, Don John, Beatrice and Benedick alongside contemporary sources.

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Putting Much Ado about Nothing in context: a summary of sources

This summary of sources is a quick and easy way to explore the contexts for Much Ado about Nothing– from ideas on marriage, bastards and cuckoldry, to masked balls and disguises.

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