Summary In the Italian town of Messina, the wealthy and kindly Leonato prepares to welcome home some soldier friends who are returning from a battle. These friends include Don Pedro of Aragon, a highly respected nobleman, and a brave young soldier named Claudio, who has won much honor in the fighting. Leonato's young daughter, Hero, and her cousin, Beatrice, accompany him. Beatrice asks about the health of another soldier in Don Pedro's army, a man named Signor Benedick. Beatrice cleverly mocks and insults Benedick. A messenger from Don Pedro defends Benedick as an honorable and virtuous man, but Leonato explains that Beatrice and Benedick carry on a "merry war" of wits with one another, trading jibes whenever they meet.
Beatrice confirms this statement, noting that in their most recent conflict "four of his five wits went halting off, and now is the whole man governed with one" (I. i. 52-54). Don Pedro arrives at Leonato's house with his two friends, Claudio and Benedick, and they are joyfully welcomed. Also accompanying Don Pedro is his quiet, sullen, illegitimate brother, Don John "the Bastard," with whom Don Pedro has recently become friendly after a period of mutual hostility. While Leonato and Don Pedro have a private talk, Beatrice and Benedick take up their war of wits.
In an extremely fast-paced exchange of barbs, they insult one another's looks, intelligence, and personality. When Benedick tells Beatrice proudly that he has never loved a woman and never will, Beatrice responds that women everywhere ought to rejoice. Don Pedro tells Benedick, Claudio, and Don John that Leonato has invited them all to stay with him for a month, and that Don Pedro has accepted. Everyone goes off together except Claudio and Benedick. Claudio shyly asks Benedick what he thinks of Hero, announcing that he has fallen in love with her. Benedick jokingly plays down Hero's beauty, teasing Claudio for thinking about becoming a tame husband.
But when Don Pedro returns to look for his friends, Benedick tells him Claudio's secret, and Don Pedro approves highly of the match. Since Claudio is shy and Leonato is Don Pedro's close friend, Don Pedro proposes a trick: at the costume ball to be held that night, Don Pedro will disguise himself as Claudio and declare his love to Hero. He will then talk with Leonato, her father, which should enable Claudio to win Hero without difficulty. Full of plans and excitement, the three friends head off to get ready for the ball. Character List Beatrice - Leonato's niece and Hero's cousin. Beatrice is "a pleasant-spirited lady" with a very sharp tongue.
She is generous and loving, but, like Benedick, continually mocks other people with elaborately tooled jokes and puns. She wages a war of wits against Benedick, and often wins the battles. At the outset of the play, she appears content never to marry. Benedick - An aristocratic soldier who has recently been fighting under Don Pedro, and a friend of Don Pedro and Claudio. Benedick is very witty, always making jokes and puns. He carries on a "merry war" of wits with Beatrice, but at the beginning of the play he swears he will never fall in love or marry.
Claudio - A young soldier who has won great acclaim fighting under Don Pedro during the recent wars. Claudio falls in love with Hero upon his return to Messina. His unfortunately suspicious nature makes him quick to believe evil rumors and hasty to despair and take revenge. Hero - The beautiful young daughter of Leonato and the cousin of Beatrice.
Hero is lovely, gentle, and kind. She falls in love with Claudio when he falls for her, but when Don John slanders her and Claudio rashly takes revenge, she suffers terribly. Don Pedro - An important nobleman from Aragon, sometimes referred to as "the Prince." Don Pedro is a longtime friend of Leonato, Hero's father, and is also close to the soldiers who have been fighting under him-the younger Benedick and the very young Claudio. Don Pedro is generous, courteous, intelligent, and loving to his friends, but he is also quick to believe evil of others and hasty to take revenge. He is the most politically and socially powerful character in the play. Leonato - A respected, well-to-do, elderly noble at whose home, in Messina, Italy, the action is set.
Leonato is the father of Hero and the uncle of Beatrice. As governor of Messina, he is second in social power only to Don Pedro. Don John - The illegitimate brother of Don Pedro; sometimes called "the Bastard." Don John is melancholy and sullen by nature, and he creates a dark scheme to ruin the happiness of Hero and Claudio. He is the villain of the play; his evil actions are motivated by his envy of his brother's social authority.
Margaret - Hero's serving woman, who unwittingly helps Borachio and Don John deceive Claudio into thinking that Hero is unfaithful. Unlike Ursula, Hero's other lady-in-waiting, Margaret is lower class. Though she is honest, she does have some dealings with the villainous world of Don John: her lover is the mistrustful and easily bribed Borachio. Also unlike Ursula, Margaret loves to break decorum, especially with bawdy jokes and teases. Borachio - An associate of Don John.
Borachio is the lover of Margaret, Hero's serving woman. He conspires with Don John to trick Claudio and Don Pedro into thinking that Hero is unfaithful to Claudio. His name means "drunkard" in Italian, which might serve as a subtle direction to the actor playing him. Conrad - One of Don John's more intimate associates, entirely devoted to Don John. Several recent productions have staged Conrad as Don John's potential male lover, possibly to intensify Don John's feelings of being a social outcast and therefore motivate his desire for revenge.
Dogberry - The constable in charge of the Watch, or chief policeman, of Messina. Dogberry is very sincere and takes his job seriously, but he has a habit of using exactly the wrong word to convey his meaning. Dogberry is one of the few "middling sort," or middle-class characters, in the play, though his desire to speak formally and elaborately like the noblemen becomes an occasion for parody. Verges - The deputy to Dogberry, chief policeman of Messina. Antonio - Leonato's elderly brother, and Hero and Beatrice's uncle.
Balthasar - A waiting man in Leonato's household and a musician. Balthasar flirts with Margaret at the masked party and helps Leonato, Claudio, and Don Pedro trick Benedick into falling in love with Beatrice. Balthasar sings the song "Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more" about accepting men's infidelity as natural. Ursula - One of Hero's waiting women. ACT ONE SCENE ONE A messenger arrives in Messina and informs Leonato, the governor, that Don Pedro will be coming to the town with his army. Leonato asks how the war campaign went and learns that no men of high rank lost their lives, and that a man named Claudio received many honors for his valor in battle.
Beatrice, the niece of Leonato, asks the messenger if Benedick of Padua has returned from the wars as well. The messenger informs her that he is with Don Pedro's army and has befriended Claudio. Beatrice sarcastically compares Benedick to a disease that men catch and says a great deal of negative things about Benedick. Don Pedro arrives accompanied by Claudio, Benedick, Balthasar, and Don John (his bastard brother). He greets Leonato and speaks with him while Beatrice and Benedick converse together. Beatrice is caustic and tells Benedick it is a good thing that he does not love any of the ladies because then they would have to put up with him far more than they do now.
Benedick is unable to compete with her wit and they finally break off conversation. Don Pedro announces to his men that Leonato has generously allowed them to stay for a month. Leonato turns to Don John and tells him he is glad that Don John and Don Pedro are reconciled. Don John says, "I am not a man of many words, but I thank you" (1. 1. 127).
Everyone leaves except Claudio and Benedick. Claudio turns to Benedick and asks him, "didst thou note the daughter of Signor Leonato?" (1. 1. 130-131). Benedick tells him, "I noted her not, but I looked on her" (1. 1.
132) and makes fun of Hero's complexion and height. Claudio tells him he is serious about her and wants to know what Benedick really thinks. Don Pedro enters and asks Benedick to tell him what is going on. Benedick reveals that Claudio is in love with Hero. Don Pedro agrees that Hero would be a good match for Claudio. He then turns to Benedick and asks him why he mocks Claudio.
Benedick tells him he wishes to remain a bachelor for the rest of his life and that he will never flush with love for a woman. Don Pedro tells him that he will see Benedick in love before he dies. He then sends Benedick away to Leonato. Claudio asks Don Pedro is Leonato has any sons and learns that Hero alone is his heir. Don Pedro promises to speak with Leonato about arranging a match between them, but Claudio is afraid to speak to Hero and tell her he loves her. Don Pedro informs him that there will be a masked ball that night and that he will pretend to be Claudio and woo Hero in Claudio's name.
Act One, Scene Two Leonato and Antonio, his elder brother, meet and discuss Leonato's guests. Antonio informs Leonato that a servant of his overheard Don Pedro and Claudio speaking together in his peach orchard. The man reported that Don Pedro told Claudio he loved Hero and would acknowledge it that night at the dance, intending to go to Leonato if he found Hero consenting. Leonato is excited by this news, but tells Antonio to keep it a secret until Don Pedro actually comes to him. He only decides to tell Hero so that she may prepare an answer. Act One, Scene Three Conrad approaches Don John and asks him why he is so sad looking.
Don John tells him that there is not reason, merely that he prefers to be the way he is. When Conrad points out that since Don John only recently was reconciled with Don Pedro, he should try to seem happy, Don John exclaims, "I had rather be a canker in a hedge than a rose in his grace" (1. 3. 21-22).
Borachio, another friend of Don John, arrives and informs Don John that he has overheard his brother and Claudio plotting a marriage with Hero. He hid behind a wall hanging and listened to them discuss how Don Pedro would woo Hero and then give her to Claudio. Don John tells them to come with him so that he can figure out a way to thwart Claudio. Act Two, Scene One Leonato has noticed that Don John did not attend the dinner, but Hero tells them he is melancholic.
Beatrice says that a combination between Don John and Benedick would create the perfect man, one who spoke just enough. Leonato tells Beatrice she will never get a husband if she continues to make such "shrewd" remarks. Beatrice acknowledges that she is happy without a husband and plans to die a spinster. Antonio turns to Hero and tells her he hopes she will obey her father, but Beatrice interrupts him and mocks his expectation that Hero will curtsy to her father's every demand. Ignoring her, Leonato orders Hero to accept the Prince's offer if he comes to her. Beatrice gives Hero some advice about how to accept, telling her how to make the Prince wait for an answer and comparing wooing, wedding and repenting to various dances.
Leonato tells Beatrice, "Cousin, you apprehend passing shrewdly" (2. 1. 67). Don Pedro and the other revelers arrive wearing masks. He immediately goes over to Hero and asks her to dance a with him. She agrees, but tells him she hopes the face underneath the mask is far better looking than the mask itself.
Meanwhile, Balthasar, the servant to Don Pedro, has approached Margaret, a serving-gentlewoman to Hero, and they flirt briefly. Antonio and Ursula form another couple on the dance floor, and Ursula tells him she recognizes him as Signor Antonio. Antonio tries to deny it, but she refuses to believe him. Benedick meets up with Beatrice and refuses to reveal who he is. She starts to talk about Benedick, calling him, "the Prince's jester, a very dull fool" (2. 1.
118). Benedick assures her he will inform Benedick what she has said about him. Don John and Borachio figure out who Claudio is by his bearing. Don John approaches him and asks him if he is Benedick, and Claudio plays along, claiming he is. Don John tells Claudio that he should separate Don Pedro and Hero because she is not equal to his brother's birth.
Borachio chimes in as well, telling Claudio that he heard Don Pedro swear his affection for Hero and plan to marry her that very night. Once Claudio is alone he comments that it must be true since friendship is constant in all things except for love. He remarks, "Farewell, therefore, Hero" (2. 1. 160).
Benedick arrives and invites Claudio to go with him, telling him the Prince "that got your Hero" (2. 1. 169). Claudio, depressed by the thought that Don Pedro has stolen Hero from him, leaves. Don Pedro himself arrives and Benedick accuses him of betraying his friendship to Claudio by stealing Hero. Don Pedro denies the charge and says that he was merely doing what he could for the couple.
Benedick has been stung by what Beatrice said about him while they danced, and the he tries to tell Don Pedro what she said that hurt him. He is mostly upset because she called him the "Prince's jester", yet he ironically confirms this accusation by comically reenacting the scene for Don Pedro. Beatrice arrives with Hero, Claudio and Leonato. Benedick leaves as soon as he sees her, unable to bear her comments any longer.
Don Pedro chastises Beatrice for having been so harsh to Benedick, but she replies that Benedick once won her heart and toyed with her. He then turns to Claudio, who is still jealous of him, and informs Claudio that he wooed Hero successfully and spoke with Leonato who consented to the marriage. Neither Claudio nor Hero are able to speak to one another, and finally Claudio says, "Silence is the perfectest herald of joy" (2. 1. 267).
Beatrice remarks that everyone is getting married and leaving home except she herself. Don Pedro gallantly offers to marry her but she refuses, telling him he is "too costly to wear every day" (2. 1. 287). She leaves after Leonato reminds her of some work she needs to take care of. Claudio and Leonato agree to hold the wedding in one week, and in the meantime Don Pedro tells them they will contrive to get Benedick and Beatrice to fall in love.
Claudio and Hero agree to participate in the plot. Act Two, Scene Two Don John is furious over the fact that Claudio is marrying Hero. Borachio, his friend, offers to thwart the marriage. He tells Don John that he is a good friend of Hero's servant-gentlewoman Margaret and that he can get her to look out at Hero's chamber window. Borachio proposes that Don John get Don Pedro and Claudio to watch the chamber window at an appointed time, and he will then meet Margaret in the room, thereby making them think that Hero has another lover. Don John promises Borachio a thousand ducats if the plan succeeds.
Act Two, Scene Three Benedick is walking in Leonato's garden contemplating the change in Claudio since he fell in love with Hero. He decides that he will never fall in love the way Claudio did. He sees Claudio and Don Pedro coming and hides so he can listen to them. Don Pedro arrives with Claudio and Leonato. Don Pedro asks them if they saw where Benedick hid, and Claudio tells him they will give Benedick more than he bargained for. Balthasar is brought onstage to perform a song for them that he duly sings.
After the song is over, Don Pedro asks Leonato if it is true that Beatrice is in love with Benedick. Leonato plays along with the lie, saying that he would never have suspected it given the way she treats Benedick in public. Don Pedro continues asking questions about Beatrice's love for Benedick while Benedick listens in the background, slowly becoming convinced that what Leonato is saying must be true. Claudio joins in, telling Don Pedro what he purportedly heard from Hero, and claiming that Hero thinks Beatrice will surely die before she reveals her love. The men leave, with Don Pedro hinting in an aside that the same net must be spread for Beatrice by Hero and Ursula. Benedick comes out of hiding and remarks that he cannot sit idly by and be censured for not returning Beatrice's love.
He determines to be kind to Beatrice and consider marrying her. She comes out and bids him come to dinner, unaware that Benedick thinks she loves him. Beatrice is as unflattering as ever, making Benedick's attempts to be polite even more comical. Act Three, Scene One Hero tells her servant Margaret to fetch Beatrice and tells her that she overheard Hero and Ursula gossiping about Beatrice in the orchard.
Hero then orders Ursula to talk about Benedick as if he were madly in love with Beatrice. She agrees, and they wait until they see Beatrice hide herself in the orchard before walking towards the hiding spot. They arrive where Beatrice is hiding and Hero informs Ursula that Benedick is madly in love with Beatrice, but that she will never tell Beatrice because she is afraid her cousin would only ridicule Benedick. Ursula agrees, and Hero then mentions that Beatrice is so sharp tongued that she often finds faults in men that are not really there. Ursula then praises Benedick as a man, saying he is one of the best men in Italy and would be an excellent match for Beatrice. After they leave, Beatrice steps forward and comments that rather then be condemned for her pride and scorn she will requite Benedick's love and marry him..