Illustration for Much Ado About Nothing by the Czech artist Artus Scheiner.

Much Ado About Nothing is a play by William Shakespeare. It is believed to have been written between 1598 and 1599, although the earliest known performance was in 1612. It first appeared in book form in 1600 but was not published again until it appeared in the First Folio, the first edition of the complete works of Shakespeare which appeared seven years after the writer's death in 1623.

The plot centers around two pairs of lovers, Hero and Claudio and Beatrice and Benedick.

Beatrice and Benedick initially proclaim that they hate each other and never pass up an opportunity to insult each other. However, Benedick is easily tricked into believing that Beatrice loves him and Beatrice is equally easily tricked into believing that Benedick loves her. They both quickly come to think that the other is a good match, suggesting that they may secretly have loved each other all along.

Claudio falls in love with Hero at first sight, a marriage between the two is quickly arranged but Claudio is then fooled into wrongly believing that Hero is unfaithful to him.

The play is classified as a comedy because it has a happy ending, with the marriage of one pair of characters and the upcoming marriage of another pair. Productions of Much Ado About Nothing may either play up its comical aspects or its more serious ones.

It is unknown what sources Shakespeare drew on for the play but similar themes appear in several 15th century Italian poems and short stories.


Act I

Ellen Terry as Beatrice

Ellen Terry as Beatrice, 1909 photographs by Albert Sterner.

Following victory in battle, Don Pedro the Prince of Aragon, accompanied by his soldiers, is to visit his friend Leonato the Governor of Messina. While Leonato is preparing for the visit, he is accompanied by his daughter Hero and her friend and relative Beatrice. It is revealed that Beatrice has already encountered one of Don Pedro's soldiers, a man named Benedick, and that she and Benedick always insult and abuse each other whenever they meet.

Leonato gives a warm welcome to Don Pedro and his men. Accompanying Don Pedro are his illegitimate half-brother Don John, Benedick and a young soldier named Claudio. Beatrice and Benedick meet up again and make rude remarks about each other's character, intelligence and looks. Benedick proudly tells Beatrice that he never has and never will love a woman. Beatrice replies that all women should be grateful for that.

Claudio tells Benedick that he has fallen in love with Leonato's daughter Hero. Benedick mocks him but Don Pedro agrees to help his young friend. He says that at the masked ball that night he will pretend to be Claudio and tell Hero that he loves her. He says that he will further help Hero by speaking to Leonato on his behalf.

Don John confesses to his servant Conrad that he dislikes being dependent on his more powerful brother. He is also jealous of the well-loved and respected Claudio. Borachio, another of Don John's servants, tells his master that he has overheard Claudio telling Don Pedro of his love for Hero. Don John sees the possibility of exploiting the situation to cause trouble. Borachio and Conrad promise to help their master in his scheme.

Act II

Before the masked ball, Hero and Beatrice discuss the ideal man and whether or not Beatrice will ever marry. The laughing Beatrice says that she will not.

The guests arrive for the ball. The men are all masked and are apparently able to completely hide their identities from the women. Beatrice dances with the masked Benedick. It is unclear if she really does not recognize him or merely pretends not to. She asks her dance partner if he knows Benedick and goes on to speak of her dislike for him.

It is announced that Claudio will marry Hero in seven days. Borachio tells Don John of an idea to thwart Claudio's marriage plans. Borachio is the lover of Hero's servant Margaret. On the night before the wedding, he will go to see her and persuade her to put on Hero's clothes. Don John will lead Don Pedro and Claudio to Hero's window where they will apparently see her in the arms of another man. Don John promises Borachio a rich reward if the plan is a success.

Garrick as Benedick (crop)

David Garrick as Benedick, 1770 painting by Jean Louis Fesch.

Beatrice and Benedick's friends have hatched a plan of their own to make the two fall in love with each other. Pretending that they cannot see Benedick hiding behind the trees, Leonato, Don Pedro and Claudio talk about Beatrice's passionate love for him. They say that she dare not tell Benedick about it out of fear that he would mock her but they fear that she may go mad or die from her love. Benedick declares that he will "take pity" on Beatrice by loving her in return. He changes his mind about remaining unmarried all his life and vows to marry Beatrice.

Beatrice arrives to call Benedick in for dinner. She is rude to him, as usual, but he speaks very kindly to her. Confused and suspicious, Beatrice insults him again before leaving. After she has gone, Benedick decides that behind Beatrice's insults was a secret message of love. He goes off to have a portrait of Beatrice made that he can carry with him always.


Pretending that they do not know that Beatrice is in the same garden, Hero and her two servants Margaret and Ursula discuss Benedick's love for her. They say that if he tells Beatrice, she will mock him and break his heart, but if he does not tell her, he will pine away. Beatrice is shocked by what she has heard but decides that she can "take pity" on Benedick and love him back.

The day before the wedding of Claudio and Hero, Don John tells Don Pedro and Claudio that he wants to save his brother's reputation and prevent Claudio from entering into a bad marriage. He announces that Hero is unfaithful and that the two of them can see proof of that fact that evening. Claudio says that he will publicly disgrace Hero at the wedding ceremony if what Don John says is true.

Marks dogberry

Dogberry is depicted in this 1853 oil painting by Henry Stacy Marks.

In the evening, Dogberry, the head constable of Messina who always mixes up and mispronounces his words, gathers together his officers to give them some commands. The commands amount to telling the men that they can ignore any wrongdoers if they like and that they should not cause any further trouble. After Dogberry and his deputy Verges leave, the other officers prepare to go to sleep.

The officers' sleep is interrupted by the arrival of Borachio and Conrad. Borachio tells Conrad that the plan to trick Claudio into thinking that Hero is unfaithful has been a complete success and that Claudio plans to disgrace Hero during the wedding ceremony. Hearing this, the officers seize Borachio and Claudio and take them to Dogberry and Verges for questioning.

The following morning, Claudio, Hero and their wedding guests leave for the church. Before Leonato enters the church, Dogberry and Verges approach him, saying that there are two criminals whose interrogation Leonato should watch. Leonato has great difficulty understanding the men's garbled speech and does not know that what Dogberry and Verges are talking about has any bearing on the wedding that he is about to attend. He tells the two officers that they will have to interrogate the criminals without him because he is busy.

Act IV

Claudio, deceived by Don John, accuses Hero stone

Claudio, Deceived by Don John, Accuses Hero, 1861 oil painting by Marcus Stone.

The wedding ceremony begins. When Friar Francis asks Claudio if he will take Hero as his wife, he announces that he will not. He says that he saw Hero being unfaithful to him the night before. Don John and Don Pedro support his claims. The stunned Hero faints. Claudio, Don John and Don Pedro leave the church.

From her reaction, Friar Francis determines that Hero is innocent. When Hero regains consciousness, she insists that she has no idea what her accusers were talking about. Benedick correctly suspects Don John of being behind the plot.

Friar Francis comes up with an unusual plan to punish Hero's accusers and maybe to make those responsible for tricking Claudio reveal themselves. Everybody should be told that Hero has died of shock. Her accusers will then realize that she was blameless and that the trick has caused the death of an innocent young woman.

Beatrice and Benedick are left alone. In an attempt to comfort her, Benedick suddenly declares his love for Beatrice. Beatrice says that she loves him too but that Benedick can prove his love by killing Claudio. Reluctantly, Benedick agrees to challenge Claudio to a duel.

Borachio and Conrad are interrogated by Dogberry, Verges and the other officers. Borachio confesses to his part in the plot. The two are tied up and taken to see Leonato.

Act V

Terry and Irving - Much Ado

Late 19th century chromolithograph showing Henry Irving (1838-1905) as Benedick and Ellen Terry (1847-1928) as Beatrice.

Leonato accuses Don Pedro and Claudio of causing Hero's death. Benedick challenges Claudio to a duel and informs the two men that Don John has suddenly left the city.

Dogberry, Verges and the other officers arrive with their prisoners. Borachio repeats his confession to Don Pedro and Claudio, who then feel responsible for the innocent Hero's death.

Don Pedro and Claudio tell Leonato that they will accept any punishment for causing the death of Hero. Leonato merely asks Claudio to compose a poem in Hero's honor and recite it at her tomb before marrying Leonato's niece, who is said to look very similar to Hero.

Before they learn that Don John's plot has been discovered, Benedick tells Beatrice that he has challenged Claudio to a duel. The two continue to tease each other but it is now done affectionately, suggesting that may have been the case all along.

Before the wedding at which Claudio believes he will marry Leonato's niece, it is revealed that Margaret was unaware of the part that she was playing in Don John's plot. Benedick is relieved because the discovery of the plot means that he does not have to fight his friend. Hero and other women, all wearing masks, enter. When Hero removes her mask, Claudio realizes who she is. Hero says that, now that her name has been cleared, she can, in a manner of speaking, come back to life and marry Claudio.

Benedick and Beatrice publicly deny that they love each other, until love poems that both of them have tried to write are revealed. They then publicly declare that they do love each other and will soon be married.

A messenger announces that Don John has been captured but Benedick tells Don Pedro to forget about the villain until the following day and to enjoy the wedding party.

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