Take a story's temperature by studying its tone. Is it hopeful? Cynical? Snarky? Playful?
Snarky, Dismissive, Compassionate
This is one of Shakespeare’s more interesting comedies because not everyone—even our heroes—is portrayed sympathetically.
It seems deliberately difficult to relate to Claudio, who is about as fascinating as a limp dishcloth... except when he’s being an awful jerk. We love Beatrice and Benedick the most when they’re sharpest and cruelest with each other:
BENEDICK Then is courtesy a turncoat. But it is certain I am loved of all ladies, only you excepted; and I would I could find in my heart that I had not a hard heart, for truly I love none.
BEATRICE A dear happiness to women! They would else have been troubled with a pernicious suitor. I thank God and my cold blood, I am of your humor for that. I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me. (1.1.122-130)
These characters are most rich and complex when they’re portraying the darker side of life. This is not a play celebrating the gauzy happiness of love. Instead, Shakespeare is a bit dismissive about the more common, typical parts of people—he makes them uninteresting when they’re most stable.
Still, Shakespeare doesn’t let everything go to pot and dance on the ashes of the chaos (as he does in the tragedies). Ultimately he’s compassionate to the characters because they all succeed in the end— except the bad guy, of course.