Hyperbolic, Anticlimactic, Clever
This is one of Shakespeare’s less complex plays. The writing doesn’t emphasize deep ideas... so much as exercise what a witty and clever guy William Shakespeare could be. (He could be insanely clever, btw.)
The characters in the play tend to be rather melodramatic and excessive in their speech (though not necessarily in their feelings). For example, Beatrice and Benedick will never marry, Hero is the sweetest lady Claudio’s ever seen, and everything Dogberry says needs to be as formal and lofty as the King James Bible... even though he misuses words all over the place.
The kind of grand speech the characters use, whether in their style or their fervor, is contrasted by the strange starts and stops of the action of the play. Disaster is constantly imminent and just barely averted, like Claudio losing Hero to Don Pedro, Benedick killing Claudio, or Beatrice deciding in the last minute to forsake her love for Benedick.
The best example of this purposeful anticlimax is in the lead-up to the actual climax. Hero is going to be publicly denounced at her wedding and the whole disaster is nearly averted by the bumbling Dogberry, who is ever so close to getting Leonato to talk to Borachio and discover the plot.
Even when the juicy bits of the scandal happen, they’re undone nearly as quickly as they arise. Borachio suddenly discovers his conscience and repents before Benedick can kill Claudio, and without leaving Hero much time to play dead. The swiftness with which the problems are resolved (and the arbitrary evil of the main villain, Don John) means you can’t take the problems all that seriously.
The merit of Much Ado doesn’t lie so much in its fast paced drama. Instead, Much Ado is one of the Shakespeare comedies that celebrates Shakespeare’s cleverness with language. Much Ado About Nothing is a chance for Shakespeare to do a quick storyboard on plot, and let the dialogue of his best characters simply show off his dexterous wit and writing ability. Dogberry’s blunders are actually brilliant writing on Shakespeare’s part. The gentle wit of the play’s less able jokesters, like Margaret and Don Pedro, is admirably executed.
However, the dialogues between Benedick and Beatrice are where the big money is:
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.
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)
Those two characters run the English language in circles: their individual phrases are wicked smart, but their ability to play off each other is, at some points, sublime.