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Royal Shakespeare Company, 2006

Much Ado About Nothing

Synopsis and plot overview of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing

TL;DR (may contain spoilers): Benedick and Beatrice don't love each other but then they do. Claudio and Hero love each other but then they don't but then they do again. Everyone gets married.

Much Ado About Nothing Summary

Count Claudio falls in love with Hero, the daughter of his host. Hero's cousin Beatrice (a confirmed spinster) and Benedict (an eternal bachelor) are each duped into believing the other is in love with them. Claudio is deceived by a malicious plot and denounces Hero as unchaste before they marry. She faints and is believed dead, but recovers to be proved innocent by a chance discovery. Benedict wins Beatrice’s love defending her cousin’s honour, and to his surprise, Claudio is reunited with Hero, who he believed dead.

More detail: 1.5 minute read

Act I

Much Ado About Nothing  begins in Messina, where Leonato lives with his daughter, Hero, and her cousin and companion, the Lady Beatrice. Leonato receives word that his friend, the Duke Don Pedro has returned from war and plans to visit with some of his fellow soldiers. Among the party is Claudio, who quickly falls in love with Hero. Benedick, a bachelor who has sworn off love and marriage, also comes, and he enjoys speaking his mind in witty argument with Beatrice. 

In front of an ornate monument Hero faints into the arms of Beatrice, a  group of men stand around them, with expressions of shock, while in the centre behind the ladies two men are clearly having a confrontation. All are in eighteenth-century clothing.
Illustration of Much Ado About Nothing, N. Rowe, 1709

Act II

Leonato holds a masked ball to celebrate the end of the war. While at the ball, the engagement of Claudio and Hero is arranged. At the same time, Don Pedro's brother, Don John, seeks a way to spoil the general happiness (just because he's bitter and petty that way). Don John plots with the soldiers, Borachio and Conrad, to deceive Claudio into believing Hero has cheated on him. 

Let me be that I am and seek not to alter me.

— Much Ado About Nothing, Act 1 Scene 3


That night, Hero's maid, Margaret, talks with Borachio from Hero's bedroom window. Claudio and the Duke watch secretly from a distance and think that the girl at the window is Hero. Meanwhile, Hero, Claudius and Don Pedro decide Benedick and Beatrice are ideal partners, despite (or because of) their bickering. They make a plot to allow Benedick to overhear them discussing Beatrice's love for him and vice versa. After a series of overheard conversations, Benedick and Beatrice realise they do indeed love one another.

Benedick is on all fours with a hedge behind him; the three conspirators who wish him to think he is overhearing them secretly, are in fact looking at him over the hedge, unseen by him. They are all in modern dress.
Much Ado About Nothing, Davies, 2002

Ready to test your knowledge? Have a go at our multiple choice Much Ado About Nothing Quiz

Act IV

At Hero's wedding, Claudio is still deceived into thinking Hero cheated on him. He denounces her and leaves her apparently dead from shock. With the help of the priest, Leonato, Beatrice, and Benedick decide to pretend that Hero is actually dead until her name can be cleared. Later, the watchmen—managed by the bumbling village constable Dogberry–overhear Borachio and Conrad brag about the trick that they played on Claudio and Don Pedro. They arrest the pair. 

When I said I would l die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married.

— Much Ado About Nothing, Act 2 Scene 3

Act V

Dogberry's incriminating information is, after some difficulty, given to Leonato and Don Pedro. As penance for causing Hero's death, Claudio agrees to accept Leonato's "niece" in her place. The "niece" turns out to be Hero (conveniently). The play comes to a joyful conclusion as the lovers are reunited, and Benedick and Beatrice announce that they will share the wedding day. Don John has been captured while trying to escape and is left for future trial while the play ends with a merry dance.

Much Ado About Nothing, Holte, 1968. Three ladies, two clearly in eighteenth-century costume, are facing the audience. The one on the left, Hero, has her hands on her hips and is leaning towards the central figure (her maid) who is telling her something. The lady on the right (Beatrice) is clearly overhearing, as she stands with her hands clasped at her waist and her mouth open.

I do love nothing in the world so well as you: is not that strange?

— Much Ado About Nothing, Act 4 Scene 1

For additional reading, see our blogs on Much Ado About Nothing

Discover Shakespeare's poetic love lines from Much Ado About Nothing and other plays: Shakespeare Quotes on Love

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