Benedick is about to take a walk in Leonato’s garden (which we like to call the Garden of Eavesdropping).
He laments that he remembers a time when Claudio was a solider instead a lovesick guy that sighs all the time. Whereas Claudio used to speak plain and straight, his words are now flowery and fawning.
Benedick wonders if love could ever transform him so tremendously (and hideously). Benedick lists off all of the impossible qualities a girl would need for him to want her. If a woman had all of his specified qualities together, which is kind of a tall order, he wouldn’t mind what color her hair was.
Seeing Don Pedro and Claudio approach with Leonato, Benedick runs and hides.
The men see Benedick hide, and Claudio notes Benedick’s hiding place. Now they’ll go have a loud and manipulative conversation right by Benedick’s hiding spot.
A musician named Balthasar enters and Don Pedro asks him to sing a song.
Balthasar’s all "Oh I can’t sing so well," so everyone else can be like "No! You’re the best singer in the world!"
Balthasar, the musician, notes that he’s like a suitor who will approach a girl thinking she doesn’t deserve him, but then he’ll go on and try to woo her anyway, and even declare he loves her.
Leonato, Don Pedro, and Claudio have a super-obvious conversation meant to make Benedick fall in love with Beatrice.
The discussion essentially amounts to the fact that Beatrice is in love with Benedick, though she seems to hate him outwardly. They say they’ve heard all this news from Hero, who Beatrice confides in.
Furthermore, though Beatrice loves Benedick, she would never reveal it to him, because it would seem so odd for her to switch from hating him so completely to loving him so fervently.
Things are so bad that Hero worries Beatrice might even hurt herself – that’s how deeply tormented she is by her secret love for Benedick.
It seems that Beatrice’s love for Benedick will kill her in one of the three ways: 1) she’ll die if he doesn’t love her; 2) she’ll die before ever revealing her love to him; or 3) she’ll die if he woos her, because it would kill her to be a gentle wooed maid instead of her usual virago self. (They really lay it on thick.)
The talk then turns to whether they should tell Benedick about Beatrice’s secret love for him. They all loudly declare (for Benedick to hear) that this is a bad idea, as Benedick is too proud to hear of Beatrice’s love without scorning her.
Certain that they’ve made it clear that 1) Beatrice loves Benedick, and 2) they don’t expect Benedick to be up to the challenge of being gentle enough to love Beatrice, their task is done.
They go off to dinner, snickering to themselves that they surely have convinced Benedick that he must love the girl – for her sake, and to show his humility.
When they’re out of earshot of Benedick, Don Pedro says that they’ve got to get the girls to perform the same trick on Beatrice.
Don Pedro delights in thinking of the time when Benedick and Beatrice will face each other; they’ll both be struck speechless by feelings completely opposite to their professed anti-loving natures. Their usual witty word play will become like watching mimes.
They plot to send Beatrice to call Benedick into dinner, because that will be hilariously awkward.
Benedick, who had been listening to Don Pedro and co.’s conversation, did not realize that he was supposed to be listening.
He seems shocked by what he heard. He says he would believe the whole conversation was a trick, except the old, venerable Leonato participated in the conversation, so it must’ve been legitimate.
Anyway, Benedick heard his friend’s criticism that he seemed proud, and says this is a great opportunity to improve himself.
In fact, Benedick says to himself, Beatrice is a great girl. If her greatest foolishness is to love him, then he can love her in return. He’s certain he’ll endure some teasing for changing his opinion on marriage so abruptly, but people change over time. And besides, the world has to be populated.
Beatrice was sent to call Benedick to dinner, so she approaches. Benedick already imagines that he sees signs of love for him written all over her.
The two have a strange little exchange. Benedick is all flattery and kindness (recall the beginning of the scene when he criticized Claudio for acting this way…) and Beatrice is confused about his change in attitude toward her.
She excuses herself, and Benedick misinterprets the brief interaction, mistaking "she’s trying to escape from me" for "she clearly likes me."