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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.
Click here for a short PDF summary of the sources relating to Much Ado About Nothing from 'Discovering Literature: Shakespeare'.
Eric Rasmussen explains the complex process of getting married in Shakespeare’s England, and the way this worked for young Will himself. He explores the tension, in Shakespeare’s plays, between the old order, in which fathers chose their daughters’ husbands, and the new order based on mutual love, but still plagued by the threat of infidelity.
Much Ado About Nothing pits male bonding against heterosexual relationships. Emma Smith examines this conflict and the ways in which it threatens the play's status as comedy.
Although the characters might be fooled by the many deceptions in the play, the audience seems to know better, but Andrea Varney suggests that our role as observers is more complex and uncertain.
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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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.
PDF Download Available
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