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Much Ado About Nothing:
A Synopsis (by Roger Scupham)

ACT 1

 

Scene 1

The main characters are introduced. Leonato , governor of Messina, is told by a messenger of the brave feats of Claudio in Don Pedro's military campaign. Beatrice asks whether Benedick has returned from battle. She mocks him ('He is no less than a stuffed man') and indicates that her acquaintance with him is long-standing. Don Pedro, Claudio, Benedick, Balthasar and Don John enter. Beatrice and Benedick soon become involved in clever verbal 'sparring', each mercilessly criticising the other. Claudio confesses to Benedick his love for Hero, Leonato's daughter. Benedick offers a cynical view of love and marriage, but Don Pedro is sympathetic to Claudio's position. He arranges to impersonate Claudio at the evening's masked festivities, and 'woo' Hero on Claudio's behalf.

Scene 2

Antonio, Leonato's brother, tells Leonato that one of his men has heard Claudio and Don Pedro speaking together. Antonio is mistakenly l ed to believe that it is Don Pedro who is in love with Hero, and that he (Don Pedro) intends to confess his love to Leonato that evening.

Scene 3

We are introduced to the melancholy Don John, Don Pedro's basta rd brother. Don John bears a grudge against his brother as he was defeate d by him in battle, and he is eager for any opportunity to plot against him. He hears from Borachio about Claudio and Don Pedro's plot, and sees an opportunity to exploit the intrigue for his own ends.

 

ACT 2

Scene 1

The scene opens with Leonato, Antonio, Hero and Beatrice. Beatrice mocks Don John's unsociable and melancholy nature as well as casting more scorn on Benedick and the nature of love and marriage in general; she makes it clear that she will never make the mistake of marrying ('No, Uncle, I'll have none. Adam's sons are my brethren, and truly I hold it a sin to match in my kindred.') The masked festivities commence, and Don Pedro starts to make advances to Hero on Claudio's behalf. Beatrice speaks with the disguised Benedick, mocking him mercilessly. Don John and Borachio lead Claudio to believe that Don Pedro has attempted - successfully - to win Hero for himself. Claudio is left bitter and confused. Benedick speaks to him, confessing his anger at being criticised by Beatrice, and in his longest monologue so far criticises Beatrice with equal vehemence. The misunderstanding between Claudio and Don Pedro is resolved easily, and the marriage of Claudio and Hero is arranged. The scene ends with Don Pedro planning to bring Beatrice and Benedick together with the help of Claudio, Hero and Leonato.

Scene 2

Don John is furious that his plot to foil the marriage of Claudio and Hero has failed. He and Borachio plan to prevent the marriage by devious means. In Borachio's plan, Don John must firstly tell Don Pedro and Claudio that Hero has been seeing Borachio secretly. Borachio will then make his friend Margaret go to Hero's chamber and pretend to be Hero, while Borachio will speak to her from outside. Don Pedro and Claudio will be made to witness the 'infidelity' of Hero, and the marriage will be prevented.

Scene 3

The scene opens with a monologue by Benedick, who mocks Claudio's transformation from a soldier to a lover. Don Pedro and Claudio enter and, seeing Benedick, plan to start their plot to bring him and Beatrice together. Leonato explains that Beatrice is actually madly in love with Benedick, despite her frequent criticisms of him. Because of his respect for Leonato, Benedick believes the information, and when the others leave, he starts to reflect on the possibility of marriage with Beatrice. At the end of the scene, Beatrice enters and behaves in her usual caustic manner, which Benedick now sees as being an indication of love.

  

ACT 3

Scene 1

Hero, with the help of Ursula, criticises Beatrice and tells of Benedick's love for her - making sure that Beatrice is present to hear the conversation. At the end of the scene, Beatrice reproaches herself for her critical manner, and swears to requite Benedick's love for her.

Scene 2

Claudio and Don Pedro mock Benedick for his 'lovesick' demeanour. Benedick ignores this gentle mockery, claiming to have toothache, and leaves with Leonato. Don John enters and begins to carry out Borachio's scheme to discredit hero. Don John, pretending to act in the best interests of Claudio, claims that hero has been 'disloyal', and asks Claudio and Don Pedro to come with him that night to Hero's window to witness this 'disloyalty'. Claudio swears that if he finds hero to have been disloyal, he will 'shame her' in front of the congregation.

Scene 3

At the beginning of this scene we are introduced to the 'Watch', a kind of citizen's police, led by the pompous Dogberry. His speech is marked by constant verbal inaccuracies. Borachio and Conrad enter, and Bo rachio relates that he has successfully carried out the second part of his plot against Claudio, now convinced of hero's guilt. At the end of the scene, the two are apprehended by two watchmen, who suspect an intrigue.

Scene 4

A mirror scene to Act 3 scene 2. Margaret recognizes the symptoms of love in Beatrice, who claims to be feeling sick. As a cure, Margaret offers her 'carduus benedictus'. The scene ends with Hero preparing herself for the wedding.

Scene 5

Dogberry and Verges speak to Leonato, in order to tell him about the two men that they arrested the previous night (Borachio and Conrad). Leonato, who is in a hurry to prepare for Hero's wedding, is exasperated by Dogberry's unclear and pompous manner of speaking. He tells them to conduct an examination themselves, and leaves in haste.

 

ACT 4

Scene 1

The scene is set for the marriage of Hero and Claudio, but Claudio, believing Hero to have been unfaithful to him, stops the ceremony, damning Hero in the most extreme language ('Give not this rotten orange to your friend!'). When Don Pedro echoes the sentiments of Claudio, Leonato is dazed by the revelations. The full tragedy of the situation and the shame which he is made to feel as the father of Hero prompts him to wish for her death. ('Do not live, Hero, do not ope thine eyes'). Benedick and Beatrice are less hasty in their judgments than the others, and show more sympathy for Hero. When Hero finally faints, the Friar suggests that the best course would be to make people believe that she had in fact died. This would, in his words, help to change 'slander to remorse', and would make Claudio, realizing the full extent of his loss, more forgiving in his attitude. The friar suggests that if the outcome of this deception is unsuccessful, Hero could enter a convent in order to be hidden from society. Leonato agrees to this plan.

Beatrice and Benedick are left together at the end of the scene. Showing a more 'human' face than previously in the play, they confess love for each other and dismay at the course of events. Beatrice exhorts Benedick to kill Claudio for her, and although Benedick finds the idea distressing, he finally agrees.

Scene 2

In this scene the members of the watch tell the Sexton and Dogberry that they have arrested Borachio and Conrad in suspicious circumstances. Despite their incompetence, the information the watch learn about Borachio's plot is correct. Dogberry, incensed by the insults he receives from Conrad, orders them to be taken to Leonato for questioning.

 

ACT 5

Scene 1, Scene 2

Benedick tells Beatrice of his challenge to Claudio, and woos Beatrice , although there is a good deal of self-mockery in his wooing. ('I was not born under a rhyming planet, nor can I woo in festival terms.') Ursula enters and tells of the revelation the Hero is innocent.

Scene 3

A short scene in which Claudio and Don Pedro mourn the loss of Hero. T he language reaches a highly poetic level in this scene, bringing a new note of genuine sadness and tragedy to the play. Balthasar's song contrasts strongly with his previous one (Act 2 scene 3)

Scene 4

Leonato plans to carry out his plan to marry Hero, in the guise of an 'identical' cousin, to Claudio. Antonio is to play the part of the father. Benedick asks Leonato to give his assent to the marriage of himself, Benedick and Beatrice. Don Pedro and Claudio enter. Claudio agrees to marry Leonato's 'niece', and Benedick, maintaining the pretence of Hero's death, is cold in his attitude towards Claudio. The women enter, masked. He ro is revealed to Claudio, and the friar reveals the truth of her existence ('She died, my Lord, but whiles her slander lived'). Beatrice and Benedick confess to each other that it was from other people that they discovered their 'love' for each other, but Claudio and Hero offer written proof of their affection. Don Pedro is left in a pensive mood at the end of the play, thus preventing an entirely optimistic conclusion.




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