Study Guide

Much Ado About Nothing Summary

By William Shakespeare

Much Ado About Nothing Summary

Leonato, Governor of Messina, has just gotten word that he’s to be visited by his great friend Don Pedro of Arragon, who’s on his way back from battle. Beatrice, Leonato’s niece, asks the messenger whether Benedick is returning. We learn that Beatrice and Benedick have been engaged in a war of wits for as long as they’ve known each other, and she seems to be full of scorn for the dude. 

Don Pedro, Benedick, Claudio, and Don Pedro’s illegitimate brother, Don John, arrive. Benedick and Beatrice exchange some barbs, and the sum of their interaction is that they both hate love and will never get married. (Unless they fall in love with each other and get married. Ahem.) After all the welcoming, Claudio pulls Benedick aside and reveals that he’s fallen for Leonato’s daughter, Hero. Benedick is full of jokes, and thinks marriage and women are bad news, especially the two combined.

Benedick reveals Claudio’s love to Don Pedro, who’s more sympathetic. Left alone, Claudio confirms to Don Pedro that he’d like to have Hero for his bride. Don Pedro is hyped about the idea, and says that tonight at the scheduled masquerade ball, he’ll pretend to be Claudio and woo Hero on Claudio’s behalf. He’s certain he’ll be able to secure a marriage for Claudio and Hero.

Meanwhile, news of the secret conversation is traveling fast around Leonato’s house. Leonato’s brother, Antonio, has a servant who heard some of the conversation between Don Pedro and Claudio. The servant misunderstood or misheard some of it though, so Antonio’s report to Leonato is that Don Pedro intends to woo Hero for himself. Leonato goes off to prepare his daughter, Hero, for what he assumes will be a proposal of marriage from Don Pedro.

The scene moves to Don John. He’s a jerk, and he likes being a jerk. Don John’s attendant, Borachio, enters with a newsy opportunity for Don John to practice some villainy while he’s at Leonato’s house. Borachio properly heard that Don Pedro plans to woo Hero on Claudio’s behalf. The men all agree that this has great potential for their evil attentions, so they’re off to flirt with some ideas for a while.

Leonato, Hero, Beatrice, and company are getting ready for the masquerade ball after dinner. Talk turns to how Beatrice will never find a man that she likes. Beatrice teases that she’s happy to be a bachelor (a gender neutral term in Shakespeare's day) for life, and even into death. Meanwhile, Hero is reminded that her father instructed her on how to return Don Pedro’s affections, and we learn that Hero is generally an obedient girl. 

As the men enter in their masks, everyone pairs off with partners. Don Pedro woos Hero privately. Meanwhile, Beatrice rails about Benedick to her disguised partner (who happens to be Benedick). Don John and his crew are still up to villainy, and they corner Claudio, pretending to think he’s Benedick. They suggest that Don Pedro has wooed Hero for himself. Hearing this news, Claudio declares that he should never have trusted the affairs of love to anyone else. Like a wet towel, he says goodbye to his love for Hero.

The first part of Don John’s dastardly plan is foiled when Don Pedro announces that Hero and Claudio can now get together, as he’s done his job and wooed Hero on Claudio’s behalf. He’s explained all of this to Benedick, but Benedick is too busy being hurt by Beatrice’s mean words to appreciate that Disaster Part 1 has been averted. 

As Beatrice approaches with Leonato, Hero, and Claudio, Benedick runs away to avoid further criticism from the lady. Claudio enters, sulking, and he’s immediately transformed from being a taciturn emo kid into a joyous puppy when he hears the good news: Don Pedro did exactly as he promised, and a marriage is being set up between Hero and Claudio. Claudio finds out that he won’t be able to marry Hero for a week, and now everyone has to figure out how to have fun during a week with no wedding and no weird courting conflicts. The answer: create weird courting conflicts. Don Pedro decides he’s going to hatch a plan to get Benedick and Beatrice together, which should be entertaining (or a disaster).

Back to the scheming Don John. Though he couldn’t destroy Hero and Claudio’s courtship, he’s sure he can destroy their wedding. Borachio suggests that Don John convince Claudio and Don Pedro to stand in the orchard outside Hero’s window on the night before the wedding. There, Borachio will be making love-talk with Hero’s servant, Margaret, who he’ll have dressed in Hero’s clothes. From far off, the men will think the girl engaged in inappropriate window activity is Hero, and they’ll write Hero off as disloyal.

Later, Benedick is in the orchard, lamenting that one more brave soldier has fallen to the petticoats of love. Benedick notes that Claudio is changed from being a brave, straight-speaking soldier into a milquetoast (pronounced like "milk-toast," and basically means what it sounds like: a piece of bread that has gotten all soggy), concerned with romantic music, fashion, and poetry. Benedick thinks he’ll never undergo such a ridiculous transformation.

Benedick hides when Don Pedro, Claudio, and Leonato approach. They see him hide, so they put their plan (to coerce him into loving Beatrice) into action. They launch into a loud, supposedly secret conversation about how Beatrice is tearing her hair out over her love for Benedick. They say Beatrice can’t make her love known because she’s certain that Benedick will scorn and mock her. They all leave. Benedick jumps out of the shrubbery, declaring that he can love Beatrice, and he’ll prove it. Beatrice has been sent out to invite Benedick to dinner, and Benedick dotes on her, already exhibiting the first signs of luuuurve.

Hero is in on the plan to get Beatrice and Benedick together. While Beatrice is within listening range, Hero and her attendant Ursula play the same old trick on Beatrice. They announce that they can’t tell Beatrice of Benedick’s love because no man can ever please Beatrice, she’s such a proud and scornful woman. Once they leave, Beatrice (surprise!) has the same reaction as Benedick, and promises she’ll leave her scorn behind. She’ll love and marry Benedick, if he’ll have her.

Later, Don Pedro and Claudio are with Leonato and Benedick, and they launch into teasing Benedick, who’s really changed by his crush—he has a shaved beard, he smells nice, and his wit is blunted—he’s already a milquetoast. Benedick can’t handle the teasing, and scampers off, leaving Don Pedro and Claudio to be approached by Don John. Don John claims Hero is disloyal, and he can show them proof. Claudio says if he finds Hero is disloyal, he’ll disgrace her in front of the whole congregation... which is a tad overly dramatic in our opinion.

Later that night, Dogberry, a constable, and his man Verges give muddled instructions to an incompetent group of watchmen, who plan to sleep through their duties. In spite of their incompetence, they hear Borachio recount to Conrade (another of Don John’s evil cronies) how Don John’s scheme went off without a hitch. Margaret appeared to be Hero and flirted with Borachio, while Don Pedro, Claudio, and Don John witnessed "Hero’s" disloyalty. Claudio has decided that he’ll renounce Hero tomorrow morning at the chapel. The watch then comes forth and arrests Borachio and Conrade for their wickedness.

It’s the morning, and Hero is getting ready for her wedding. Beatrice is helping her, although Beatrice isn't acting like her usual jovial self. Margaret teases that Beatrice looks like she’s in love. Just before the wedding can take place, Dogberry comes to Leonato, trying to get him to come to the examination of the captured prisoners, Borachio and Conrade. Leonato is in a rush to get to his daughter’s wedding, so he tells Dogberry to do the examination himself.

Finally, everyone’s ready for the wedding, except Claudio, who proceeds to call Hero a disloyal, deceptive, and faithless whore in front of the entire group that’s come to watch her get married. Hero denies Claudio’s claims that she was flirting with another man at her window, but Don Pedro says he definitely saw her too, as did Don John. Hero faints. The men stalk out, leaving the girl for dead, and everyone else tries to sort out just what in the world is going on.

Beatrice and the Friar are certain there’s some treachery afoot, and Benedick realizes Don John must be at the bottom of this. The Friar then comes up with a strategy—they’ll let word get out that Hero actually did die. People will then pity the girl, and forget this bad little groomzilla episode. Claudio will once again remember Hero fondly (once she’s dead) and in the meantime, some proof will probably surface that will clear her good name. If nothing shakes out, they can always send Hero off to a convent to be cloistered away.

Everyone leaves except Benedick and Beatrice. Benedick takes advantage of this really awkward moment to profess his love for Beatrice. She’s stoked, and says she loves him too, but she’s pretty preoccupied with her cousin’s ruin. However, if Benedick wants to prove his love to her, he should kill Claudio for slandering Hero. At first, Benedick tries to backtrack out of it, but Beatrice threatens to leave. Benedick comes around to thinking Claudio really has wronged Hero, and he goes off to challenge Claudio.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch (just kidding, the prison), Dogberry is interrogating Borachio and Conrade. He trips up the investigation, but the Sexton (the guy who’s documenting the whole process) manages to piece together that they’ve found the source of Hero’s ills. The Sexton is off to report the news to Leonato, with the prisoners in tow. Leonato and Antonio confront Don Pedro and Claudio, saying they’ve killed an innocent girl by wronging Hero. 

Claudio and Don Pedro, however, stick to their guns; they maintain they’ve done nothing wrong, they only exposed Hero as a harlot—it's not their fault that she's now a dead harlot. Next, Don Pedro and Claudio then run into Benedick. Benedick challenges Claudio to a duel for causing the wrongful death of an innocent girl. He calls Claudio a young punk, saying he’s waiting for the challenge whenever Claudio is ready.

Claudio and Don Pedro joke about Benedick until Dogberry comes in with Borachio and Conrade in tow. Borachio admits that he and Don John are responsible for framing Hero, and now the innocent girl is dead. Claudio and Don Pedro are shocked. So Claudio and Don Pedro are sorry they killed a girl by calling her a harlot, and Leonato enters, having heard the same news. Claudio says he and Don Pedro are to blame as much as Borachio and Don John... because they believed the slander against Hero.

Leonato says Claudio can make it up to him by going to Hero’s grave and mourning her with an epitaph (a statement in memory of a deceased person), to be hung on the family tomb. That should clear Hero’s name to the public. After that, Claudio is to meet Leonato at the house, and marry Antonio’s daughter, who is apparently the spitting image of Hero.

During this time, Benedick and Beatrice have been flirting around in the orchard. Beatrice hears that Benedick challenged Claudio and is waiting for an answer, and she won’t make out with Benedick until he’s got some blood on his hands. Thankfully, before anyone can get their hands into some flesh, Ursula rushes in to announce that Hero’s name has been cleared.

That night, Don Pedro and Claudio go to Hero’s tomb, where they hang an epitaph and mourn. Claudio promises he’ll do this ritual once a year on the anniversary of Hero's death. Thankfully, it’s a new day, and they can get over all this sadness about Hero and get to Claudio’s new wedding. At Leonato’s house, everyone’s stoked that things worked out so nicely. The newly exonerated Hero and all the girls are sent off to cover their faces, and Benedick pulls the Friar aside to ask for his services in marrying him to Beatrice after the whole "Hero’s risen from the dead" hubbub.

Don Pedro and Claudio enter. Claudio agrees to marry Leonato’s niece before he’s even seen her. Then, he sees her, and realizes she’s actually Hero!

As everyone is about to head off to the chapel, Benedick makes a big public show of calling out Beatrice, asking if she loves him, maybe. Beatrice, embarrassed, basically says "Um, I love you in a friendly, non-sexual manner. Of course I don’t want to marry you, because that would make me a hypocrite for saying all the time how stupid marriage is." Benedick says (totally paraphrased) "Oh, friends are fun, I like having more friends." 

Then Claudio and Hero blow Beatrice and Benedick's cover by revealing love notes the two had written to each other, and Benedick and Beatrice say, "Aw shucks, guess we’ll have to get married after all... but it’s only because we pity each other and don’t want to die old and alone." 

Then Benedick declares he doesn’t mind getting married after all, as people change their minds all the time about who they really are.  Benedick also announces that he and Claudio are friends again, and everyone takes to dancing before they’re even married. The end.

  • Act I, Scene i

    • Leonato, the governor of Messina, is hanging around his house with his daughter, Hero and his niece, Beatrice.
    • Leonato chats with a messenger about some news: Don Pedro, the Prince of Arragon and friend of Leonato, has just finished up some battling and is on his way to stay at Leonato’s house this very evening.
    • Leonato learns the battle wasn’t terribly bloody, but it did give one young man a chance to distinguish himself as valiant beyond his years.
    • The Messenger tells Leonato he’s already delivered letters of honor to Claudio's uncle, who lives in Messina. The uncle was so proud he burst into tears. 
    • Leonato is pleased. He says it’s better to cry because you're happy than to be happy because you're crying. Um...okay. We guess he's saying people that enjoy being miserable are, well...miserable. 
    • Beatrice, Leonato’s niece, then inquires after a certain Signior Mountanto, better known as Benedick.
    • Beatrice gives us a bit of a veiled back-story: she claims Benedick came to Messina and challenged Cupid to an archery contest (maybe meaning that Benedick claimed to be immune to Cupid’s arrows, and thus immune to love).
    • Beatrice goes on to say that Benedick came to Messina and challenged Cupid to an archery contest, but that her uncle’s jester took on Benedick’s challenge in place of Cupid and used toy arrows. Translation: no one fell in love with Benedick that day. 
    • Beatrice is possibly alluding to some previous relationship she and Benedick had that clearly didn’t work out, since both of them are so hell-bent on never being in love.
    • There’s some more bantering at poor Benedick’s expense, and Leonato makes clear that the war of wits between Beatrice and Benedick is an ongoing battle.
    • Beatrice disses Benedick some more, saying that he doesn't have wits, plural, he just has one wit left after their last encounter, and it's barely enough to make him more clever than his horse. 
    • She then starts in on the fact that Benedick tends to have a new best friend in every one of his endeavors. She wonders who the poor dude is that’s been taken into Benedick’s confidence this time.
    • It turns out to be Claudio, the young man who recently distinguished himself in battle. Beatrice jokes that catching Benedick is like catching a disease—and it's something that will never happen to her. 
    • Just then, Don Pedro, Prince of Arragon, enters with Claudio, Benedick, an attendant named Balthasar, and Don Pedro’s illegitimate brother, Don John.
    • Don Pedro and Leonato banter and are generally happy to see each other, which is more than we can say for Beatrice and Benedick.
    • Benedick declares all ladies love him (except Beatrice) and sadly, he loves no ladies.
    • Beatrice thinks his lack of love is God’s gift to women, and she declares that, like Benedick, she has no intention of ever falling in love.
    • You’d think that was settled, but Beatrice isn’t done yet. As Benedick gracelessly drops out of the verbal sparring, Beatrice declares he’s played a jade’s trick (referring to the habit of old horses, called jades, to drop out of races before reaching the finish line). Beatrice declares she’s not surprised by his lame falling off, as she’s known him a while. (Also, while jade trick refers to his bowing out of this conversation, it might also apply to the relationship Benedick seems to have dropped out of with Beatrice earlier. So there’s big time tension.)
    • Don Pedro announces that Leonato has invited him, Claudio, and Benedick to stay with Leonato for at least a month, which will be ample time for drama to develop.
    • Leonato also personally welcomes Don John, who seems to have recently reconciled with his brother Don Pedro.
    • Benedick is left alone with Claudio as the others wander off, led by Leonato and Don Pedro.
    • The young Claudio reveals that he’s been smitten by Leonato’s daughter, Hero. Benedick, ever full of taunts, wonders that Claudio could be so bent on marriage, especially as Benedick thinks Hero’s cousin, Beatrice, is wading around in the more attractive end of the gene pool.
    • Don Pedro then returns, wondering what secret Claudio and Benedick have been sharing.
    • Benedick, entrusted with the knowledge of Claudio’s secret crush, immediately reveals to Don Pedro that Claudio has fallen for the Hero. Benedick thinks Hero is short.
    • Don Pedro thinks Claudio's interest in Hero is wonderful news, but Benedick takes the love-declaration as another chance to rail on women.
    • Benedick says he’s grateful to his mother for giving birth to him and raising him. Since he’s not a complete woman-hater, he’d never want to hurt a woman by distrusting her. Therefore he’ll never get into a relationship with a women where trust is required (i.e., marriage).
    • Don Pedro is certain that before he dies, Benedick will be pale with love, but Benedick quibbles. He says he’ll be made pale by anger, sickness, or hunger, but never by love.
    • In Shakespeare’s day, people thought that sighs of love made a person lose blood, while alcohol increased the blood supply. Benedick says if he should ever lose more blood from love than he could get again by drinking, then Don Pedro can poke out his eyes with a lovesick poet’s pen and hang him up as a blind Cupid sign outside of a brothel (these often used the symbol of a blind Cupid as advertisement).
    • Benedick goes on some more about how he’ll never wear cuckold’s horns. (Cuckolds are men whose wives ran around with other men, and generally abused their husbands. They were symbolized by wearing horns, and while this doesn’t make a lot of sense in the modern day, it was the closest thing those guys had to being whipped.)
    • Don Pedro promises Benedick will eat his words and fall in love after all, unless Cupid is too busy in Venice. (Venetians were known to love visiting brothels.)
    • Don Pedro dismisses the prattling Benedick.
    • This leaves Claudio to speak earnestly with Don Pedro, who, unlike Benedick, doesn’t take Claudio’s romance as a good occasion to mock and belittle him.
    • Claudio seems nervous about revealing his love to Hero, but Don Pedro can help him out here. Claudio begins to reveal his history with the girl.
    • Claudio admits he noticed Hero before he went off to war, but at the time, the upcoming battle was a higher priority than love. Now that he’s back, thoughts of love have replaced his bloodlust.
    • Still, Claudio worries that if he begins to woo her, it will seem like he fell in love too quickly and she might not take him seriously.
    • Don Pedro agrees to help Claudio secure his fast-action love. He’ll let Hero and Leonato know about Claudio’s affections, but it has to be revealed in an unnecessarily complicated way that’s prone to disaster... or else this wouldn't be a Shakespeare comedy.
    • There’s a masquerade ball planned for that very night, and Don Pedro plans to wear a disguise and woo Hero, pretending to be Claudio. Don Pedro promises his tale of love will be so wonderful and compelling that Hero won’t have a choice but to fall in love. Clearly, this is a fool-proof plan.
    • Don Pedro will also let Leonato know about Claudio’s intentions to marry Hero.
    • All Claudio’s really got to do is… absolutely nothing.
    • Don Pedro promises Claudio will have Hero (and this plot promises to be interesting).
  • Act I, Scene ii

    • Leonato chats with his brother, Antonio, who is nearly bursting with gossip. Antonio reports that one of his men overheard Don Pedro and Claudio talking in the enclosed garden area.
    • Antonio reports that his man heard Don Pedro declare his love for Hero, and his intention to reveal his love for Hero that night. If Hero accepts Don Pedro’s love, then Don Pedro will tell Leonato right away, so they can be married, or something. (Of course, the man did hear Don Pedro say he'll woo Hero that night, but he missed the whole part where Don Pedro will be wooing on Claudio’s behalf.)
    • Leonato decides he’ll spring this news on Hero, so she can be prepared to deliver an answer. (Important motif introduced here: These guys are sticklers for action, not accuracy. Also, they’re sneaky.)
  • Act I, Scene iii

    • Don John (Don Pedro’s illegitimate brother) meets with Conrade (his attendant).
    • Don John is being a his usual negative self, and Conrade tries to placate him with platitudes. (How’s that for vocab enrichment!)
    • Don John wonders how Conrade can be a regular Charlie of the Chipper Brigade when he’s supposed to be born under Saturn (which was thought to be the planet farthest from the sun, and thus the coldest and grumpiest planet to be born under). Don John doesn’t bother with silver linings; when he’s cranky, he’s not going to hide it.
    • Don John says he eats only when he’s hungry, sleeps only when he’s drowsy, and isn’t going dance like he’s some clown when he’s not feeling like a dancing clown. 
    • Conrade’s pretty serious though, and says Don John has to get his attitude in check, because he’s still treading on delicate ground. Don John only recently reconciled with his brother, Don Pedro, but the reconciliation is worthless if Don John can’t get it together and stop acting like a villain.
    • Like any good villain, Don John points out that he acts like a villain because he is a villain, and he doesn’t care whether he’s hated. Then he strokes his standard villain-issued white cat. (Not really.)
    • Don John notes that while he seems to be in the good graces of his brother, he’s actually more like a muzzled dog tied to a block than a trusted guy.
    • Don John doesn’t deny, though, that his brother’s precautions are reasonable ones, as he would like to do some mischief as soon as he gets the chance. (Plotline of the play = Don John’s chance to do mischief.)
    • In the meantime, Don John isn’t going to join the "Vote For Don Pedro" squad, no matter how much people try to convince him it’s a good idea.
    • Borachio enters and delivers to Don John news of an impending marriage.
    • Borachio was perfuming a smelly room by burning some incense when he heard Claudio and Don Pedro approach, deep in conversation.
    • Borachio got the gist of the conversation correctly (unlike Antonio’s man) about Don Pedro’s plan to court Hero on Claudio’s behalf. This is kind of a Tarantino approach to the wooing of Hero, which we now see is the focus of approximately eight million schemes from her dad, Don John, and of course Claudio and Don Pedro.
    • Don John is elated to hear news of this little plan between Don Pedro and Claudio, especially as he blames Claudio for playing a large part in overthrowing him in a vaguely-mentioned rebellion. (Some scholars think this alludes to the battle that took place before the play’s first scene, which may have been a contest between Don Pedro and Don John for power.)
    • The men exit, plotting their mischief, though we think Shakespeare may be gearing up with a lot of sardoodledom (that's a fun theater word for melodrama).
  • Act II, Scene i

    • Leonato, Antonio, Beatrice, Hero, and attendants have finished dinner and are preparing for the postprandial (= after a meal) masquerade ball.
    • Leonato notes that the sour Don John wasn’t at dinner, and Beatrice hijacks the conversation, as usual, to talk about Benedick, because she really, really doesn’t care about him—and a good way to show it is to talk about him all the time.
    • Beatrice says if a man could be halfway between Don John’s quietness and Benedick’s constant chatter, and rich, and handsome, he could have any woman in the world.
    • The subject then becomes whether Beatrice will ever get a man, because she’s saucy.
    • Beatrice points out that any man God would send her might as well come with his pair of cuckold’s horns attached. She's got a roving eye. Anyway, she says she’s too picky to get a man: she thinks men with beards are too old and itchy, and men without beards might as well dress up in her women’s clothes.
    • Beatrice says she isn’t too bothered by being single. Her uncle, Leonato, then unhelpfully adds that perhaps she’ll go to hell, which was rumored to be the destination for old maids.
    • Beatrice says the devil, who wears horns like a cuckold, would be sure to send her up to heaven once she got to hell. When she gets to heaven, Beatrice is sure she’ll be directed up to where all the bachelors (a gender neutral term in Shakespeare’s day) hang out.
    • This anti-marriage banter goes on for a while, when talk finally turns to Hero’s impending marriage.
    • Leonato still thinks that Don Pedro, and not Claudio, will be the one to try and court Hero, because of the (mis)information he got from Antonio’s servant. It’s clear that Leonato has already given Hero a good talking to about what her answer should be if Don Pedro proposes marriage to her.
    • Beatrice adds the helpful advice that "wooing, wedding, and repenting" correspond to three different kinds of dances. Wooing is like a Scotch jig—fast and fun. The process of wedding is a slow, stately affair, and the state of being married requires the liveliest dance of all, because one regrets the decision to marry and backtracks on fast legs all the way into the grave.
    • The masked party goers enter and break up the talk about Hero’s marriage. (You should note everyone except Hero has added their two cents about the whole affair.)
    • Everyone breaks off into pairs, with the men masked and the women guessing at each other's identities.
    • A disguised Don Pedro pairs with Hero, flirtatiously talking of love.
    • Then Borachio (attendant to Don John) snuggles up to Margaret (Hero’s maid).
    • Margaret says to Borachio that one of her chief failings is that she says her prayers aloud. Borachio basically says, "The better to answer your prayers, my dear." Their conversation tends toward the raunchy side.
    • Ursula (an attendant of Hero’s) is paired off with the playful Antonio (Hero’s uncle). This warm-your-heart moment is interrupted by Benedick and Beatrice, who have (here’s a shocker) been paired together.
    • Beatrice's mystery partner has been sharing a not-so-flattering claim he heard about her: that she gets all of her wit straight out of a bad joke book.
    • She says, "Oh, you must have heard that from Benedick. That sounds like something he'd say."
    • Benedick, who won’t reveal his identity, pretends not to know who she's talking about, so Beatrice launches into a description of him. She refers to him as a fool whose main talent is coming up with outrageous insults. She says he's good at making people laugh at the expense of others, which both amuses and angers them. 
    • She then adds that she knows he's here somewhere and she wishes he'd had the courage to match wits with her directly. (Hint, hint. She likely knows she's talking to him right now.) 
    • Benedick, still hiding behind his mask, says if he sees this guy, he'll tell him what she said. 
    • Go ahead, Beatrice tells him. Benedick will try to make a joke out of it, but if no one laughs, he'll get pouty because he's an attention monger.
    • After a bit of dancing, we’re spared any more thinly-veiled love talk by Beatrice about Benedick. Instead, we get to witness Don John’s villainy.
    • Don John and his fellow villains recognize Claudio by the way he carries himself, and saunter over to him, ready to spill poison in his ear.
    • The men approach, knowing full well that the disguised man is Claudio, but asking coyly if he’s Benedick.
    • Claudio wanders into the trap, declares himself to be Benedick, and then hears the awful suggestion from Don John that Don Pedro is actually in love with Hero.
    • In fact, Don John says he’s heard Don Pedro swear his affection for the girl, and his intention to marry her that very night. (Lies and slander.) He leaves Claudio, saying that as a good friend, "Benedick" should dissuade Don Pedro from his wooing Hero.
    • Claudio trusts Don John’s villainy, and believes that Don Pedro is courting Hero for himself.
    • Claudio says he should’ve known friendship couldn’t withstand love. He would’ve talked to Hero himself, but he hadn’t suspected Don Pedro. He admits he’ll suffer for his mistake.
    • Thus Claudio says goodbye to Hero, thinking he’s lost her to Don Pedro. Also, he’s not willing to fight for his love, because he’s lame.
    • Benedick enters with ample salt to rub in young Claudio’s new wound. He teases that Claudio will have to wear a garland of willow (representing unrequited love) because Don Pedro has stolen away Hero.
    • Claudio, heartbroken, has no patience to jest with Benedick, and quickly leaves.
    • Next we find out that Beatrice and Benedick should probably get along very well, as they share a common interest: thinking and talking about Benedick.
    • Benedick rankles at the tongue-lashing he received from Beatrice while he was her disguised dance partner. He decides he brings this kind of censure on himself, as he probably isn’t taken too seriously because he acts so silly all the time. Still, this is only Beatrice’s opinion, and he reasons it might not be shared by the whole world.
    • Don Pedro breaks up Benedick’s intimate thoughts about himself.
    • Don Pedro is looking for Claudio, and has found Benedick instead. Benedick explains that Claudio mourns because Don Pedro seems to have stolen his Hero.
    • Don Pedro, who’s more sensible than the whole lot of idiots, says he was simply going through with the plan, and that he has secured Hero for Claudio.
    • With that matter cleared up, there’s some more patter about how much Beatrice and Benedick hate each other, and how Benedick wouldn’t marry the girl if she were Eve before the Fall. With Beatrice on earth, he says, hell seems a sanctuary. (Ouch.)
    • Just then Beatrice approaches with Claudio, Leonato, and Hero. Benedick begs to be excused. He’d rather bring back a toothpick from the farthest corner of Asia than deal with Beatrice.
    • Getting no sympathy from Don Pedro, Benedick rushes off.
    • Don Pedro notes his hasty departure, and Beatrice once again alludes to some relationship it seems they had (and lost) in the past.
    • All attention then turns to Claudio, who is sulking around looking generally morose, despite claiming to be neither sad nor sick.
    • Beatrice teases that he looks civil as an orange (punning on the fact that oranges from Seville, which sounds like "civil," were rather bitter. Also, orange is close to yellow, and yellow was a color associated with jealousy. That’s a lot to put into a pun, we know.)
    • Claudio won’t confess what’s wrong, so Don Pedro announces he has wooed Hero, but wooed her in Claudio’s name.
    • Good news! Hero has accepted Claudio, Leonato has agreed to the marriage, and now they just need to call a wedding planner and get registered at Bed Bath and Beyond.
    • Claudio claims he’s struck dumb by his happiness, and Hero is quiet too, so naturally they move on to making out—a good problem-solver when young couples actually have nothing to talk about.
    • Beatrice, who encourages all the kissing, is applauded by Don Pedro, who notes that she’s rather merry for being an embittered old maid.
    • Don Pedro says he could get Beatrice a husband if she wanted one.
    • Beatrice responds that she quite likes the children of Don Pedro’s father. She inquires whether Don Pedro’s father maybe has any other sons. We call this leading Don Pedro on.
    • Don Pedro takes the bait, and basically says, "Well… you could marry me…" and Beatrice says, "No thanks! Bye!"
    • Actually Beatrice sticks around for a bit to say that she’s too full of silliness to marry someone as serious and lovely as Don Pedro. So she puts him down easy.
    • Don Pedro says he wouldn’t have Beatrice any other way, as she’s best when she’s silly. He says she must’ve been born during a merry hour.
    • Beatrice counters that her mother actually cried as she was giving birth to her, but a star danced, and then Beatrice was born.
    • Beatrice is sent off by Leonato to tend to some woman-stuff.
    • Leonato and Don Pedro chat about how Beatrice is a wonderful, warm girl, though she mocks all of her suitors into oblivion, and it seems she will never marry.
    • Don Pedro wonders what man could handle Beatrice’s wit, and declares then and there that Benedick should marry Beatrice (and that the world is round, and night comes after day, and Don Pedro is Conductor of the Obvious Train).
    • Don Pedro asks when Claudio means to marry Hero, and Claudio essentially replies: "Tomorrow isn’t even soon enough."
    • Leonato tells Claudio to hold his horses. The wedding will be in a week, and even that’s not enough time for Leonato to properly interrogate Claudio, but so be it.
    • Don Pedro, ever the peacemaker, says the week will go by quickly because they’ll all be having so much fun with a new little scheme.
    • He knows how to work on Benedick, and can teach the girls how to work on Beatrice. All in all, Don Pedro plans to get Benedick and Beatrice to fall in love, and he'd appreciate a little help from everyone.
    • Leonato, Claudio, and Hero agree to manipulate and deceive their respective friends (Benedick or Beatrice) into falling in love with each other.
  • Act II, Scene ii

    • Don John and Borachio are freshly sulky over the news of Hero’s wedding to Claudio. Borachio says he’s figured out a simple and fool-proof way to ruin the marriage, which would make Don John really happy.
    • Borachio reminds Don John of Hero’s attendant, Margaret, who he’s apparently been messing around with for some time.
    • Borachio talks vaguely of a plan to have Margaret stand in Hero’s window. Don John, however, is slightly confused about how exactly this is a foolproof plan to ruin weddings and lives.
    • Borachio’s got it all planned out: all Don John has to do is go to Don Pedro and announce that he’s discovered Hero is actually in love with Borachio. He’ll need to pretend to be apologetic that Claudio’s future marriage is ruined, as is Don Pedro’s reputation as a matchmaker and an honorable man. Don John can insist he’s only telling Don Pedro out of love.
    • Surely, Don Pedro will require proof of this slander, and that’s where big deception comes in.
    • The night before the wedding, Don John should bring Don Pedro and Claudio to Hero’s window. Borachio will have contrived to make Hero absent, and Margaret will stand in silhouette by the Hero’s window, appearing to be Hero. There, Borachio himself will be making love to Margaret (bow chicka bow bow) while calling her "Hero." The men will witness this, and it will seem like solid visual proof that Hero is cheating on Claudio. That should be enough to ruin the wedding.
    • Don John promises Borachio a thousand ducats in payment for this scheming, and the two men part to set their plan in action.
  • Act II, Scene iii

    • 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. Claudio used to speak plain and straight, but now his words are 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 and Balthasar, 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.
    • Don Pedro asks Balthasar to sing a song.
    • Balthasar’s all "Oh I can’t sing so well," so everyone else can say, "No! You’re the best singer in the world!"
    • Balthasar 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.
    • As Balthasar sings, Benedick mocks him from behind his tree. When he's done, Benedick says that if a dog had made that kind of noise, someone would have hanged it.
    • Prince Don Pedro sends Balthasar away to seek out some really good music for tomorrow night so they can play it outside Hero's window. Then 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.
    • Benedick is surprised, but definitely interested in this news.
    • Prince Don Pedro keeps saying he can't believe it, but Leonato insists it's true. 
    • Claudio quietly notes that Benedick is totally buying their act. It's time to reel him in. 
    • Don Pedro asks if Beatrice has told Benedick how she feels and Leonato says no, and she never will. She worries that he wouldn't believe her if she seemed to switch suddenly from hating him so completely to loving him so fervently. And so, she is tormented.
    • 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 biting 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, because Benedick is too proud to hear about Beatrice’s love without scorning her.
    • Next, the men take some time to praise Benedick, saying what a noble, brave, and witty man he is. 
    • The Prince asks one more time if maybe they should tell him, but Leonato says no way. They should just let it go, and maybe she'll eventually get over him. 
    • Prince Don Pedro says okay, but gee. Benedick is such a good guy. I hate to see him let such a worthy woman slip away. 
    • Certain that their task is done, they go off to dinner, snickering to themselves.
    • 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 & Co.’s conversation, didn't 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."
    • Benedick declares he’ll love Beatrice, because to not love her would make him stingy, although he uses a racial slur to communicate that idea. Thanks, Shakespeare.
  • Act III, Scene i

    • Hero pulls Margaret aside in the garden and gets the wheels turning on her part of Don Pedro’s scheme.
    • Hero wants Margaret to lure Beatrice to the garden (the Garden of Eavesdropping, remember?) by saying that Hero and Ursula are talking about her, and Beatrice should listen in on their secret conference. Hero plans to have a conversation with Ursula praising all of Benedick’s virtues, and insisting that Benedick is desperately in love with Beatrice. The girls are certain this trick will win Beatrice over to the Benedick fan club.
    • The scheme is put into action. Beatrice enters in a sneaky way, but Hero and Ursula see her just the same. They use the same metaphor the men did, about angling for a fish and getting it to take the bait.
    • They walk a little closer to Beatrice to make sure she can hear them and then get to work, talking of the "new news" from Claudio and Don Pedro: Benedick is in love with Beatrice.
    • Hero says that when the guys told her of Benedick’s love, they asked that she tell Beatrice about it. However, Hero says she thinks it best for Benedick to keep his love to himself and get over it, because he has no chance of making it with Beatrice.
    • Hero then lights into Beatrice’s flaws, calling the girl proud, disdainful, scornful, and too in love with her own wit to love any man.
    • Ursula agrees, saying that if Beatrice found out about Benedick’s love, it would only become the source of infinite jokes for her.
    • They go on to say that Beatrice has a knack for finding faults in even the best of men; she can never simply see the goodness in her suitors. 
    • The thing is, as horribly as Beatrice acts, no one dares to tell her. If anyone tried to, she'd rip them to shreds. 
    • That's why Hero thinks it's best to just let Benedick tire himself out pining for her. 
    • Ursula reconsiders. Maybe they should tell Beatrice.
    • No way, says Hero. In fact, she's going to help Benedick get over Beatrice. She'll tell him some unflattering lies about Beatrice to help him get over his crush. 
    • Ursula laments what a shame it would be for Beatrice, who seems so smart, to be so stupid as to let a great catch like Benedick get away. 
    • This provides a convenient segue to rattle on about how wonderful Benedick is. Hero declares him to be the most desirable bachelor in all of Italy, aside from her Claudio of course. There’s more rah-rah Benedick, and the ladies transition into talking about Hero's wedding that will happen tomorrow.
    • The ladies, out of earshot of Beatrice, gloat over what a fine job they’ve done. They’re sure they’ve caught Beatrice in the "loving Benedick" trap.
    • Beatrice, now alone, comes out of her hiding place.
    • It’s worth noting that her primary concern isn’t the shocking revelation that Benedick loves her. Instead, she seems really hurt that her friends condemned her for being so proud.
    • Beatrice declares she’ll put her bad attitude behind her, and give herself over to Benedick. If he loves her too, they’ll get married, in spite of all the nasty things they’ve both said about marriage.
  • Act III, Scene ii

    • In another part of Leonato’s house, Prince Don Pedro, Claudio, Benedick, and Leonato are all gathered.
    • Don Pedro says he’s only sticking around until Claudio is married, and then he’s off back to Arragon. Claudio volunteers to come with him, but Don Pedro points out that Claudio will have more interesting things to do on his wedding night.
    • Instead of Claudio, Prince Don Pedro looks forward to Benedick’s company. He then makes some heavy-handed references to the fact that Benedick can be trusted to never fall in love. This would seem like a random thing to say, except we know Don Pedro’s trying to egg Benedick on.
    • Benedick says, "Actually, guys, I’m going through some special chan-ges." And knowing what we know about special changes, they’re a perfect invitation for mockery and derision.
    • While Claudio and Don Pedro tease Benedick mercilessly for seeming lovesick, Leonato notes that he looks sadder.
    • They offer all sorts of cures for his ache. Then they note that he’s gotten a haircut, is wearing cologne, and his beard has been shaven off and the hairs sent to fill tennis balls. (Weird!) Anyway, with all these changes, it looks like Benedick is totally in love.
    • They tease that his melancholy and newly subdued nature are sure signs of his sighs over a girl, and they figure that if any woman loves him, it’s only because she doesn’t know him very well.
    • Then there’s some taunting about how the girl Benedick loves will die for him, but she’ll die with her face upward. ("Die" is Elizabethan slang for orgasm—yet another cheap sex joke, courtesy of William Shakespeare).
    • Benedick shrugs off all this teasing and asks Leonato to go off with him to talk about serious stuff.
    • Don Pedro and Claudio are then conveniently left alone for Don John to prey upon.
    • Don John confirms that Claudio means to get married the next day, and then he’s like, "Well maybe you won’t want to get married tomorrow after you fall into my evil trap." But he doesn’t say that because then it wouldn’t be much of a trap, would it?
    • Anyway, Don John builds the melodrama by saying they might hate him for what he has to say, but they should wait until after hearing his news to pass judgment on him. Don John claims that Don Pedro’s efforts for Claudio’s wedding were sadly misguided: Hero is disloyal. He says he could call her all sorts of other nasty names, but he doesn’t.
    • Instead, he’ll let the seed of suspicion sprout in Don Pedro and Claudio until he can bring them to Hero’s window at midnight. There, he promises them they’ll see a man in Hero’s bedroom. After that, if Claudio still wants to marry, he can, but at least he’ll know what he’s signing up for.
    • Claudio pledges that if he sees anything unseemly tonight, he’ll be sure to be as dramatic as possible, by denouncing Hero in front of the whole wedding party tomorrow. Because that's adult.
    • Don Pedro pitches in that he’ll help Claudio disgrace Hero at the wedding if there’s proof of her disloyalty tonight. After all, he’s responsible for getting the two of them together in the first place.
  • Act III, Scene iii

    • Dogberry, a constable with an awesome name, is selecting a few new men to help stand watch over Messina. 
    • Dogberry may not be the most qualified person to perform this task. His vocabulary is questionable, as is his understanding of...well, lots of things. 
    • He asks the First Watchman to recommend some men for the watch, and the First Watchman suggests two guys who can read and write. 
    • Dogberry tells one of the reader-writers that he's lucky he's good looking. That's more important than being able to read and write, but reading and writing may come in handy when he can't get by on your looks. He puts this guy, Hugh Oatcake (another great name) in charge of the watch. 
    • Next he tell them the watch should look out for vagrants and stop them in the name of the Prince.
    • Dogberry goes on to give a series of nonsensical instructions to the watch: if a man doesn’t stop, he should be let go to do as he pleases, because any man who doesn’t stop isn’t one of the Prince’s subjects and therefore is not under the jurisdiction of the watch. Further, the watch should be grateful to be saved the trouble of dealing with vagrants.
    • In fact, Dogberry essentially gives the men permission to sleep through their shift, but advises that they make sure they aren’t robbed while they’re dozing.
    • More of Dogberry’s ridiculous instructions include: drunken men should be reprimanded, unless they’re too drunk, in which case they should be left alone to sober up.
    • Thieves should be avoided, because getting involved with them would compromise one’s honesty.
    • The men on watch should wake up nurses (nannies) whose babies are crying. If the nurses do not wake up at the watch’s calls, the babies’ cries are sure to wake their nurses up eventually.
    • Dogberry goes on in this vein, with Verges throwing in some supportive comments. Whenever they open their mouths, the two men generally reveal that Messina is very lucky to be a quiet town, because their watch is completely incompetent to handle any real crime or disturbance.
    • The watch doesn’t need to do much, except be careful that their swords don’t get stolen.
    • Before Dogberry leaves, he tells the men on watch to carefully observe Leonato’s door. With the wedding coming tomorrow, there’s likely to be a big to-do tonight. (If only he knew!) Lastly, he tells them to "Be vigitant!" (mistaking the word vigilant).
    • Dogberry and Verges exit.
    • The watch’s plan to settle into a peaceful sleep is interrupted by the entrance of Borachio and Conrade, Don John’s two partners-in-crime.
    • Borachio and Conrade haven’t noticed the watchmen, though the watch has noticed them. The incompetent men on watch listen carefully for signs of treason.
    • Borachio updates Conrade on the night’s events, sparing no little detail, and announcing that he’s earned his 1.000 ducats from Don John.
    • Conrade wonders how Borachio’s villainous assistance could come with such a high price tag. Borachio points out that when a rich villain needs a poor villain’s help, the poor villain can name any price.
    • Borachio compares his robbery to the robbery that fashion commits—fashion has a habit of making men change their minds too often.
    • Conrade chimes in that fashion is indeed a robber, as men will throw out their apparel because it’s no longer in style even before the clothing has been worn out. Conrade notes that Borachio must be stricken by the fashion sickness too, as it’s distracted him from the point of his story: how he brought about the ruination of Hero this very night.
    • Borachio describes how his plan went off without a hitch: Margaret leaned out of Hero’s window and bid him a thousand goodnights (we’re not sure what they were up to before they said goodbye, but likely it involved Borachio being in Hero’s bedroom).
    • Anyway, Borachio replied to Margaret’s goodnights, but he called her "Hero." Meanwhile, Don John was stationed with Don Pedro and Claudio in an orchard, close enough to hear what was going on, but not close enough to see that the woman was Margaret, not Hero.
    • Borachio confirms that Don Pedro and Claudio were fully convinced of Hero’s disloyalty, and didn’t suspect that the scene was a villainous plot masterminded by Don John.
    • Borachio makes the insightful point that the scheme had many layers, like an onion, or a layer cake. Claudio and Don Pedro were first inspired to distrust Hero by Don John’s claim of her disloyalty. Because they were primed to think of her as disloyal, Borachio’s villainy, combined with the dark night, cemented Claudio and Don Pedro’s suspicions.
    • Claudio became enraged after "witnessing" Hero’s disloyalty, and he vowed to reveal Hero’s love affair in front the whole congregation tomorrow at their would-be-wedding. He’s determined to send her home without a husband (or her dignity!). There will be no marriage, but everyone will get their money’s worth in the spectacle.
    • The watchmen, who have been listening this whole time, finally step out and seize Borachio and Conrade, calling them out for lechery (when they really mean treachery). The disease of poor grammar and word usage is apparently contagious; the watch suffer from it nearly as badly as Dogberry.
    • Borachio and Conrade surrender, but we’ve still got some unraveling to do before things get really good.
  • Act III, Scene iv

    • It’s the morning of the wedding, and the scene is set in Hero’s bedroom.
    • Hero has sent Ursula off to go get Beatrice, and Margaret is helping Hero get dressed. They go back and forth fondly over what Hero should wear. Margaret describes the beautiful dress Hero will wear as full of gold, silver, and pearls, but Hero seems uncomfortable.
    • Hero hopes the dress will bring her joy, because she says her heart is heavy. Instead of noting that Hero is clearly unhappy and has a weird feeling, Margaret makes a joke about the fact that soon, Hero’s chest will be heavy under the weight of a husband. Hey-o! These people and their cheap sex jokes.
    • Beatrice enters and, as usual, becomes the focus of attention. She says she doesn't feel well. When she sighs, Margaret asks her if she's sighing for a hawk, a horse, or a husband. 
    • She's hinting at Beatrice's new found love for Benedick, but Beatrice won't bite. She says she's sighing because of an "H," a pun on "ache." 
    • At one point Beatrice says she's stuffed, as in congested, but Margaret turns it into a dirty joke, and says, "Stuffed? That's quite a way for a young, unmarried woman to catch a cold!"
    • Beatrice wonders when Margaret became so witty, but the last straw is when Margaret suggests Beatrice could be cured of her ailment by some holy thistle that just happens to be named carduus benedictus. Her hints are getting pretty obvious. 
    • Beatrice flips out.
    • In response to Beatrice’s tizzy, Margaret says she didn't mean anything special by using the name carduus benedictus. She just meant regular old thistle. And of course, she doesn't think Beatrice is in love. That would be ridiculous. Although...
    • Benedick used to share Beatrice’s views on the absurdity of love, but he's obviously all-in now. 
    • Margaret finishes by saying that she doesn't know how it happened, but it seems to her that Beatrice's views on love have changed, too. She suddenly seems to be looking at love the way other women do.
    • Beatrice demands to know what Margaret is talking about, but she gets interrupted by Ursula, who informs them that everyone is ready to take Hero to the church—where she will be married. (Or maybe humiliated.) 
  • Act III, Scene v

    • Dogberry and Verges arrive at the door of Leonato’s house to tell him something very important. 
    • Leonato says he's busy, but asks them what's up.
    • Dogberry and Verges spend some time talking about how honest they both are, and Leonato tells them they are tedious. 
    • Dogberry thanks him, thinking that was a compliment, and says that even if he were as tedious as a king (he must think tedious = wealth or wisdom), he'd be happy to give all of his tediousness to Leonato. 
    • "Gee, thanks," says Leonato. "Now what do you want?" 
    • Dogberry and Verges finally get to the point. Sort of. They say they've captured two knaves, and they’d like to examine these men in Leonato’s presence. Unfortunately, this simple message is really poorly delivered, and Dogberry and Verges manage to totally obscure their meaning.
    • Leonato is kind of occupied trying to get his daughter married, and he tells Dogberry and Verges to do the examination themselves, and report back to him on the outcome.
    • A messenger arrives to tell Leonato it's time for him to give his daughter away, and they leave together. 
    • Dogberry tells Verges to get Francis Seacoal (um...his name is George—not Francis) to meet them at the station. 
    • Seacoal is one of those fancypants guys who can read and write, so they'll have him transcribe the interrogation (which Dogberry calls an excommunication). This should be good. 
  • Act IV, Scene i

    • Don Pedro, Don John, Leonato, Benedick, Claudio, Hero, Beatrice, the Friar Francis, and all their attendants are gathered at a church to watch Claudio and Hero get married.
    • Leonato recommends they get down to business, and the Friar gets off to a false start when he asks if Claudio has come to marry the lady.
    • Claudio says, "No."
    • Leonato tells the Friar it's his job to marry Hero. Claudio is getting married to her. That's clearly what Claudio meant with his "no." He was just being persnickety about the Friar's grammar. 
    • Turns out Leonato is wrong, because two seconds later, Claudio freaks out on everyone.
    • Claudio asks if Leonato is willing to give away his daughter, who is a precious gift. Leonato says he is, and Claudio says, "Don't bother. I won’t take her, because she’s a whore."
    • Hero blushes, naturally, as she is very chaste. Claudio says she blushes from guilt, not modesty.
    • Leonato is taken aback by the accusation that his daughter is an "approved wanton" (meaning a confirmed adulteress). Leonato asks if Claudio is referring to some effort he might’ve made to take Hero’s virginity before their wedding day.
    • Claudio cuts him off. He knew Leonato would suggest that it's really not that big a deal if Hero slept with Claudio before her wedding day, since she would only be sinning against (and with) her husband-to-be.
    • But that's not what happened. Claudio says didn’t try anything on Hero that a brother wouldn’t try with a sister, which is a really weird way to say he was being patient and not trying to sleep with Hero before their wedding.
    • Hero tries to stand up for herself, asking if she ever seemed less than modest to Claudio.
    • Claudio says that’s the whole point; she’s not what she seems, and she’s actually an animal full of savage sensuality.
    • Leonato appeals to Don Pedro, asking if he has anything to say about this madness. Don Pedro says he doesn’t have anything to say—he’s actually dishonored himself by linking his friend, Claudio, to this ‘round the way wanton.
    • Everyone’s shocked, slander’s being thrown left and right, and Benedick finally pipes up, saying he doesn’t think this is how weddings are usually supposed to go.
    • The madness continues for a while, and Hero asks who could possibly stain her name. Claudio points out she actually stained her own name. Then he asks who it was that Hero was talking to out of her window between midnight and one last night.
    • Hero insists she wasn’t talking to anyone.
    • Don Pedro replies that he, Don John, and Claudio clearly witnessed some man "talking" with Hero at her window last night. The man was kind enough to confess the thousand times that he and Hero had "vile encounters" before that. We don’t think he was talking about a friendly game of cribbage.
    • Before anyone can respond, Don John says it would be too offensive to repeat everything they heard. Also, he’s sorry that Hero is such a misguided young girl.
    • Claudio, not to lose his Mr. Melodrama title, laments that Hero would’ve been a great girl if her heart had been as pure as her outward appearance. Instead, she’s sleazy, and he’s out of here. Furthermore, he’ll now suspect all beautiful things to be faithless. She’s ruined love for him forever!
    • Leonato asks if anyone has a knife so he can kill himself.
    • Hero faints.
    • Don Pedro, Don John, and Claudio exit while everyone else is tending to the fainting, slandered girl, Hero.
    • Beatrice worries that Hero is dead, and Leonato’s like, "Awesome, being dead would be a good way to hide her shame."
    • Leonato is distraught when it turns out Hero isn't dead. 
    • He laments that he had only one child, and that it's Hero. He used to be so proud and full of love for her. Now he wishes she wasn't his biological child. If, instead, she was some beggar he had adopted, he could at least say her behavior wasn't his fault. He could blame it on bad genes. Sweet. 
    • Benedick, witnessing all of this, is speechless. Beatrice, however, knows that her cousin is the victim of a smear campaign.
    • Benedick asks if Beatrice slept with Hero in bed last night. Though Beatrice admits she didn’t sleep in Hero’s bed last night, she had slept with Hero for all of last year, so presumably she'd know if Hero had had a thousand vile encounters with some guy.
    • Leonato takes Beatrice’s absence last night as confirmation that the accusations against Hero are true. He is certain that Don Pedro, Don John, and Claudio wouldn’t lie, so he accepts their word above everything he knows about his daughter. Leonato decides Hero should be left alone to die.
    • Friar Francis perks up, and says he’s been silent too long about this madness. The Friar reflects on all of the goodness he’s noted in Hero. The good fire in her eye is evidence enough for him to believe that Don Pedro and Don John were wrong in accusing the girl. He’s willing to bet his friarhood that Hero is innocent.
    • The Friar then questions Hero about what man she’s accused of seeing. Hero points out that she wouldn’t know who the fellow is, because no such man exists. If anyone can prove that she entertained a man at improper hours, she’s willing to be tortured.
    • The Friar says something's up with these princes.
    • Benedick points out that of the accusers, Don Pedro and Claudio, are honorable men. If the two of them were misled, they were misled by Don John, who delights in mischief.
    • Hearing this, Leonato becomes as worked up about Hero’s accusers as he was about Hero just five seconds ago. He declares that if Hero’s honor has been wrongly tarnished, even though he’s old, he’ll make her accusers pay.
    • Friar Francis hatches a devious plan that will turn the whole course of the play.
    • The Friar notes that Don Pedro, Don John, and Claudio left the church while Hero was believed to be dead. They’ll all pretend that Hero is dead. The family should go ahead with all the mourning rituals as if Hero had died, even going so far as to have her buried in the family tomb.
    • Leonato wonders what the this "she’s really dead" ruse is going to accomplish.
    • The Friar says that news of Hero’s death will help change the public’s feeling. Once everyone hears how quickly the girl died after being accused, they’ll all lament and pity her (because only an innocent girl would die after an accusation like that).
    • After all, the Friar says, people don’t know what they’ve got ‘til it’s gone; they’ll value Hero more once they think she’s dead.
    • The Friar is sure that once Claudio discovers that his accusation caused Hero’s death, he’ll be moved to remember her sweet life, and not dwell on thoughts of her as a scandalous adulteress. The Friar insists that if Claudio really loved Hero, he’ll have no choice but to mourn her death and wish he hadn’t ever accused her.
    • Once they get the plan rolling, the Friar is sure the truth will shake out somehow, and Hero’s name will be cleared. If her innocence isn’t proven, worst case scenario is that she gets cloistered somewhere as a nun.
    • Benedick agrees to go along with the plan even though his allegiance and friendship belong to Claudio and Don Pedro.
    • Leonato will also participate because he’s too moved by grief to suggest another plan.
    • Either way, the Friar is convinced that only a cockamamie scheme can resolve this cockamamie situation.
    • Everyone except Benedick and Beatrice leave the church. It’s a totally inappropriate time for them to declare their love considering that everyone’s life was just ruined, but Benedick and Beatrice do have a habit of making everything about themselves sometimes.
    • Benedick approaches Beatrice, who's clearly been crying, and assures her that he considers Hero to be wrongly accused. 
    • Beatrice suggests that she'd be in debt to any man who could clear her cousin's name, but alas, there is no such man. 
    • Benedick says, "I'm a man," and adds that he loves Beatrice. Isn't that weird? 
    • Beatrice says it's no weirder than the fact that she loves him, too. Then she tries to take the words back, embarrassed.
    • Benedick is pysched that Beatrice loves him. 
    • They tell each other how much they love each other, and Benedick vows he’d do anything for Beatrice’s love. 
    • Beatrice says she actually does need something, and that’s for someone to kill Claudio. Um...what now? 
    • Benedick backtracks. He'll do anything for love, but he won't do that.
    • Beatrice starts to leave, but he calls her back. 
    • Beatrice declares his love is poor indeed, if he’s not willing to kill her enemy who purposefully waited to denounce Hero until he was in front of the crowd gathered to see the girl married.
    • Beatrice goes on here, and wishes she were a man, because then she could eat Claudio’s heart in the marketplace. Um.
    • Beatrice is stricken. Based on Benedick’s hesitation to kill Claudio, she vents that manhood nowadays seems to be more about polite fripperies than action and bravery.
    • Benedick asks if Beatrice really believes, deep down, that Claudio has so wronged Hero. Beatrice says yes, and Benedick gives in.
    • He promises to challenge Claudio to a duel and says Claudio will pay dearly for his wrong against Hero.
    • Then he kisses Beatrice’s hand and heads off to spread the rumor that Hero is dead. 
  • Act IV, Scene ii

    • At the prison, Dogberry and Verges, along with a sexton (who will take notes on the interrogation) prepare to examine Borachio and Conrade.
    • Dogberry does his usual mangling of the English language, and finally gets out that Borachio and Conrade stand accused of being "false knaves," though they deny it.
    • The watchmen are called in to make their accusations, and they present it in three parts, which Dogberry doesn’t quite understand, and mistakes the importance of.
    • First, a watchman says Borachio and Conrade are guilty of calling Don John a villain. Dogberry assumes the crime in this is perjury, since it must be a lie. 
    • A second watchman says that Borachio has received a thousand ducats from Don John for wrongfully slandering Hero. Dogberry misses the "wrongfully accusing Hero" part, and decides the crime here is theft.
    • Finally, the first watchman declares that because of the wrongful accusation against Hero, Claudio intended to disgrace the girl before the wedding party, and refuse to marry her. Dogberry gets this, but he condemns the knaves to "everlasting redemption." He actually means "everlasting damnation," but this is a useful slip if you’re a sinner.
    • Thankfully, the sexton has two brain cells to rub together, and he realizes that they’ve tripped upon a treacherous plot. The sexton combines the watchmen’s testimony with the news that Don John has secretly run away from town, and Hero died that morning as a result of an accusation of disloyalty.
    • The sexton orders Dogberry and Verges to tie up Borachio and Conrade. He intends to bring the two villains to Leonato, so he can deliver the news of the plot to Hero’s poor father.
    • The sexton departs. When Dogberry and Verges try to lay hands on Conrade, the prisoner immediately dismisses Verges as a coxcomb (referring to the popular jester’s hat that was fashioned after that fleshy red bit on a rooster’s head), and thus calling Verges a fool.
    • Dogberry wishes the sexton were still around, so he could add that insult the record. In response, Conrade declares Dogberry an ass.
    • Now we finally get some insight into why Dogberry is so full of highfalutin language, and constantly trying to prove himself a gentleman.
    • Dogberry lists off all the societal labels he has: he’s a householder, and a good looking guy, and he’s knowledgeable about the law, and he has money enough. But he also admits that he’s a man that’s "had losses." So it seems like Dogberry once had much more, lost his station in life, and now spends all his time trying to rebuild his legitimacy.
    • Either way, Dogberry resents being called an ass, and tells everybody to remember Conrade's crime against him.
  • Act V, Scene i

    • Antonio confronts the grieving Leonato and pleads with him not to be so suicidal.
    • Leonato claims Antonio can say nothing to make him happy again—he can only be consoled by someone who's gone through exactly what he's going through right now. 
    • He also says it's easy for people who have it good to give advice, which is more of him telling his brother, "You have no idea how I feel, so stop trying to tell me what to do." 
    • Leonato's main point here is that he feels perfectly justified in crying. After all, even philosophers, for all their philosophizing, whine when they have a toothache.
    • Antonio points out that Leonato is justified in his suffering. Instead of internalizing all of the suffering, though, it’s only right he should spread his suffering around, especially with the people that are the source of his grieving. (Basically, go beat Hero's accusers to a pulp.)
    • Leonato says it’s time to let everybody know that Hero was innocent, especially Claudio, Don Pedro, and Don John.
    • Claudio and Don Pedro wander on to the scene.
    • Leonato tries to pick a fight with the younger men, but they claim to be in a hurry to go somewhere.
    • Leonato seems to think that Claudio put his hand on his sword, leading Leonato to announce that he doesn’t fear Claudio’s sword thrusting at all.
    • Claudio fairly politely explains that he’s not really interested in beating up senior citizens.
    • Leonato declares that he may be old, but he’s still a mean sword thruster.
    • Leonato says that Claudio has no choice but to lay aside the gentle reverence of elderly people. Leonato insists Claudio has wrongly framed his child, and sent her to the family tomb, borne by false scandal.
    • Claudio is surprised that he's being accused of doing anything wrong. 
    • He swears didn’t lie about Hero, and only charged her with things he had proof of. 
    • But Leonato and Antonio—especially Antonio—are really itching for a fight on behalf of Hero’s honor. (You know someone's pretty angry when they go all the way to "milksop.")
    • Antonio declares he knows these young boys, they’re the type who go around threatening others, and generally trying to seem really tough, but they’re just full of hot air.
    • Don Pedro attempts to diffuse the situation; he says he’s sorry for Hero’s death, but the men need to realize that the accusation against Hero was proven true. Don Pedro refuses to hear Leonato’s appeals.
    • Leonato and Antonio leave, spitting out a whirlwind of threats.
    • Don Pedro and Claudio seem unfazed by the encounter. They greet the approaching Benedick with the news that they narrowly avoided a fight with two old, toothless men. Don Pedro and Claudio say they came to find Benedick to lighten their spirits.
    • Benedick, however, is all business.
    • They tease that Benedick looks rather angry, but they don’t get just how angry until Benedick pulls Claudio aside and tells him what’s what in a rather threatening way.
    • Benedick calmly asserts that Claudio is a villain, and is responsible for the wrongful death of Hero. Benedick challenges Claudio to meet him—wherever, whenever—so they can settle this score. If Claudio should back down, Benedick will declare him a coward. Otherwise, we hope he’s feelin’ lucky, punk.
    • Claudio, however, doesn’t seem to take Benedick’s threat very seriously. Claudio makes light of the situation, vaguely saying to Don Pedro that Benedick has accused him of being all kinds of stupid.
    • Don Pedro and Claudio then launch into a series of silly taunts about Beatrice’s love for Benedick, which they claim they heard from Hero (who is to their knowledge, dead, so they’re being pretty insensitive).
    • Finally they ridicule Benedick, saying that when he marries Beatrice, he’ll be hung with cuckold’s horns, though he claimed to once be an untameable bull.
    • Benedick doesn’t think any of this is funny. He says the men may be full of jokes now, but they’re like braggarts who talk big, but don’t know how to use a sword.
    • Benedick goes on to thank Don Pedro for his many courtesies, but he says he’ll have to part ways with Don Pedro’s company from here on out.
    • Further, he informs Don Pedro that his brother Don John has fled from Messina, and all three of them are implicated in the wrongful death of Hero. He calls Claudio "Lord Lackbeard," playing on Claudio’s youthful lack of a beard, and promises Claudio will get what’s coming to him.
    • Don Pedro and Claudio are left alone to wonder at all this very serious business from Benedick. He seems to be earnest in his love for Beatrice, and earnest in his challenge on Claudio’s life, both of which are a bit more severe than they’re used to.
    • As Don Pedro wonders about why Don John suddenly skipped town, Dogberry enters to clear up the matter, followed by Verges and the watchmen, with Borachio and Conrade in tow.
    • Don Pedro recognizes Conrade and Borachio as the henchmen of his brother, Don John. Don Pedro wonders at what offense the men committed in order to be brought forth in chains.
    • Dogberry, as usual, muddles his explanation. After playing with Dogberry for a bit, Don Pedro finally asks Borachio what he’s done.
    • Borachio breaks the mood of merriment, and finally reveals all of the truth, even though he’s scared Claudio will kill him. Borachio says he could have tricked these fine men’s eyes, but he was caught by fools. The watchmen heard him brag to Conrade about the counterfeit scene where Borachio courted Margaret, who posed as Hero.
    • Borachio admits this very scene was at the root of many evils: Hero’s undoing, Claudio’s denouncement of Hero, and Hero’s subsequent death. Borachio is actually really sorry, and says he and Don John are to blame for the death of an innocent lady.
    • Don Pedro and Claudio are shocked, and Don Pedro asks again for confirmation that this was all Don John’s doing.
    • Borachio admits he was paid handsomely by Don John for his wrongdoing. Now Don Pedro understands why Don John was so quick to skip town.
    • Claudio also realizes that he is an ass, and Hero appears now in his mind’s eye just as sweet and innocent as when he first realized he loved her.
    • Dogberry breaks up the scene by ordering the accused away (though he wrongly calls them the plaintiffs). Dogberry informs us that the sexton has gone off to tell Leonato about all of the new discoveries. He also adds to the list of Borachio and Conrade’s crimes, informing the men that the prisoners called him an ass, which is really important compared to the national scandal and wrongful death issues.
    • Leonato enters with the sexton, and demands to know if Borachio is responsible for Hero’s death.
    • When Borachio claims the fault is his alone, Leonato jumps to his defense. Actually, he says, the blame belongs to Claudio, Don Pedro, and Don John, as well as Borachio. Leonato then thanks Don Pedro and Claudio for their roles in all this villainy, which probably makes them feel pretty bad.
    • Claudio and Don Pedro are brief with Leonato, but full of sorrow. Claudio says Leonato can have any revenge desired, though he’s quick to point out that his only actual sin was mistaking. Don Pedro jumps on the "I’m completely guilty, except…" bandwagon, though he says that whatever punishment Leonato wants to put him through, he’ll accept.
    • Leonato says he just wants his daughter be alive again, and that isn’t within either of the perpetrator’s power. Still, they can earn their forgiveness by explaining to the people of Messina that Hero was actually innocent.
    • Also, Don Pedro and Claudio should go to Hero’s tomb, hang an epitaph for her, and mourn over her.
    • Finally, Claudio will be accepted back into Leonato’s fold if he shows up at Leonato’s house tomorrow morning for another wedding; this time Claudio will marry Leonato’s niece (presumably not Beatrice), who is almost an exact copy of Hero. (Maybe this niece was being hidden in an attic the whole time, we’re not sure.)
    • Claudio agrees to marry this other random niece, and thanks Leonato copiously for his kindness.
    • Leonato will expect them all in the morning for Wedding 2.0. In the meantime, he’s off to question Hero’s maid, Margaret, who was likely involved in this whole conspiracy.
    • Borachio speaks up again, saying Margaret had no idea what she was doing, she wasn’t involved in the plot, and is a just and virtuous girl.
    • Again, Dogberry addresses everyone, and reminds them he’s been called an ass, which he’d like to have added to the list of Borachio and Conrade’s crimes.
    • There’s some blabbering here as Dogberry insists that Borachio also must be examined about his knowledge of a thief named Deformed. ("Deformed" was lifted out of the conversation Borachio and Conrade had earlier about fashion; the watch and Dogberry mistook Borachio and Conrade’s conversation to be about an actual villain).
    • Dogberry putzes around some more like a tiresome fool, and finally leaves Leonato alone to punish the prisoners as he sees fit.
    • Don Pedro and Claudio promise they’ll see Antonio and Leonato at the wedding tomorrow morning; tonight they’ll be busy mourning at Hero’s tomb.
    • In the meantime, Leonato will busy himself finding out the details of Margaret’s relationship with Borachio.
  • Act V, Scene ii

    • In Leonato’s orchard, Benedick jokes with Margaret, asking her to help him write love poems to Beatrice. Margaret suggests that if she does, he should then write a poem in praise of her (Margaret's) beauty. 
    • Benedick says he'll write something so wonderful no man will ever be able to top it, which Margaret turns into a sexual innuendo. ("No man atop me?")
    • The pair jests back and forth for a bit, with Margaret continuing to turn everything into a sexual pun—she takes "bucklers," the word for a shield with a spike in the middle, to mean "vaginas." It's like a scene out of Animal House.  
    • Margaret leaves to get Beatrice and we get a sampling of Benedick's mad (read: bad) poetry skills.
    • Benedick laments that he is a terrible writer of love poems. He says he loves more fiercely than Leander, Troilus, and all the great heroes of love epics, but he doesn’t seem to have quite the same ability with romantic words as they did.
    • In fact, he can only rhyme "scorn" with "horn," "school" with "fool," and so on. Benedick’s inability with words on the page is rather funny, given how quick he is in his speech.
    • Benedick gives up on writing silly poetry in the Renaissance style, and greets Beatrice, who has just entered the scene.
    • Benedick is pleased that Beatrice came when he called her, and she says that she'll gladly stay until he tells her to go. Then she teases him by suggesting that he's told her to leave when he hasn't. It's kind of a cute little dance they're doing to confirm that they like each other. 
    • They get to the meat of the matter when Beatrice asks what happened with Claudio.
    • Benedick says he went through with his promise, and now he's just waiting for Claudio’s answer to his formal physical challenge, American Gladiator style.
    • The two then degenerate into love babble about who loves who, and how, but they do maintain their previous character by being kind of affectionately mean with each other. 
    • Benedick says he loves Beatrice against his will. 
    • Benedick says the two of them are too smart to flirt without challenging one another, but Beatrice says he can't possibly be wise because wise men never have to tell people they're wise. 
    • Benedick finally asks after the supposedly dead Hero, who Beatrice says isn't doing well. Beatrice says she's not so hot, either, and Benedick tells her his love with help heal her. 
    • Just then, Ursula rushes in with great news. It has just been discovered that Hero was falsely accused, Claudio and Don Pedro were misled, and Don John is to blame for it all. 
    • She asks Beatrice to come to Leonato's house immediately, and Beatrice ask Benedick to come along.
    • Benedick says he'll happily go with her everywhere, always, and manages to get in a sex joke, too (the reference to dying in her lap). He's a true Shakespearean hero. 
  • Act V, Scene iii

    • Claudio and Don Pedro meet in the churchyard at Hero’s family tomb.
    • Claudio has brought with him the epitaph that Leonato asked him to write. He reads it aloud, and it basically says (in kind of poor rhyming) that Hero was put to death by slander, and Death will try to compensate for her wrongful passing: though her life was ruined by shame, her death will be marked with fame (he’s as bad as Benedick).
    • Then there’s more singing about how Hero was a virgin knight of that virgin goddess, the moon. Claudio announces he’ll come to Hero’s tomb and read (bad) poetry every year.
    • Don Pedro notes that the sun is coming up. It’s about the hour when they should go off and change out of their funeral clothes and into some wedding clothes, because it’s party time!
    • They exit, with Claudio being like, "Man, I hope this goes better than the last time I tried to get married, like two days ago."
  • Act V, Scene iv

    • At Leonato’s house, Leonato, Benedick, Beatrice, Margaret, Ursula, Antonio, Friar Francis, and Hero are gathered and recounting all the recent developments. Everyone’s glad that Hero is innocent. Don Pedro and Claudio are innocent too, since they were only misled.
    • Further, Leonato says it came out in the court examination that that though Margaret played a role in the deception, she didn’t know it, and is innocent of the crime too.
    • Leonato’s glad things turned out so well, and Benedick is glad that he won’t have to kill or severely maim his friend Claudio after all.
    • It’s about time for Don Pedro and Claudio to arrive, and Leonato begins to instruct people on the roles they should play. The ladies should all go away and not come back until they’re called. When they arrive, they should all have their faces masked in some way.
    • Antonio will play his part by pretending the masked girl he’ll present to Claudio for marriage is his daughter, when actually it’s Hero!
    • With the ladies out of the room, Benedick speaks with Leonato and Friar Francis. He says that Beatrice loves him (which Leonato says is thanks to Hero), and the he loves Beatrice (which Leonato then credits to himself, Don Pedro, and Claudio). 
    • Benedick doesn’t quite understand what Leonato means, but he does say he’d like to be married to Beatrice today if possible. 
    • Leonato gives his blessing, and the Friar says he's happy to perform the service. Double wedding, everybody!
    • Then Don Pedro, Claudio, and some others enter.
    • Leonato asks if Claudio is still ready to marry Antonio’s daughter, and Claudio graciously replies that he’ll marry her even if she’s an Ethiope (way to be racist, Shakespeare.)
    • Leonato sends Antonio off to get "Antonio’s daughter."
    • Don Pedro and Claudio start heckling Benedick, who they think is looking out of sorts, likely over the marriage situation. 
    • Benedick doesn’t reveal to them his intention to marry Beatrice just yet, instead he compares Claudio’s mom to a cow. (This is a good read. You should definitely check out your book.)
    • Before Claudio can call Benedick’s mom a heifer, Antonio re-enters with all the masked ladies.
    • Claudio would like to see his soon-to-be wife's face, but Leonato says he has to take her hand and accept her first.
    • Claudio takes the mystery girl’s hand and swears that he’s her husband, if she’ll have him.
    • Hero whips off her mask, and Claudio is psyched to see "another Hero." 
    • Hero says that the Hero who was slandered is dead, but this Hero—who is still an innocent maiden—lives. 
    • Prince Don Pedro then declares this is the former Hero, the one that's dead. Um...at least they're getting warmer. 
    • Leonato clarifies that Hero was "dead" only while her slander lived on.
    • The Friar says he'll explain everything, but for now, they should just roll with it and get this marriage in the books.
    • There’s another hold up on the way to the chapel, as Benedick stops the Friar and asks which masked lady is Beatrice.
    • Beatrice steps forth, and then she and Benedick engage in the most silly, passive aggressive (and, even we’ll admit it, kind of endearing) exchanges ever to happen between two lovesick people. Benedick publicly asks Beatrice if she loves him, and she denies it —kind of. So Benedick also kind of denies it when she throws the same question back at him.
    • Both seem a little taken aback, first by how publicly their word is being tested, but also by the fact that they each had "inside information" about the other's secret crush. 
    • They’re about to shake hands and relegate each other to a life of being in simply the friend zone, but thankfully Hero and Claudio pipe up.
    • Claudio shows off a little note he’s stolen—it’s a really bad poem in Benedick’s handwriting, clearly meant for Beatrice.
    • Hero is also a thief, as she’s taken from her cousin Beatrice’s pocket a similar note, declaring Beatrice’s love for Benedick.
    • Benedick and Beatrice realize their hands have revealed their hearts.
    • Though they tease that they’re only marrying each other out of pity, they finally just start making out (at least it’s the first time in the stage directions).
    • Prince Don Pedro again teases Benedick about getting married (in spite of how often he railed against it). 
    • Benedick says nobody can wreck his mood today, and he won't listen to any bad words about marriage—not even his own. Then he tells Claudio that he would have kicked his butt if they had ever dueled, but he'll let Claudio off the hook now that their related by marriage. 
    • Claudio jests that he hoped Benedick wouldn’t marry Beatrice, as Claudio wanted to see Benedick become a married man and also a cheater. Then again, Benedick might end up being a cheater anyway...if Beatrice doesn’t keep a close eye on him. (If this is his best man toast, it needs work.)
    • Benedick calls for dancing, though Leonato thinks they really should have marriages before dancing. The old man is ignored, and Benedick calls for music.
    • Then Benedick teases Don Pedro about needing to get a wife.
    • Finally, randomly, a messenger comes in and announces that Don John was captured and brought back to Messina. 
    • Benedick counsels Don Pedro to not worry about this right now, and instead, to be merry, and everyone exits in a dance.