Plot Synopsis


News reaches the town of Messina that Don Pedro has won a battle and is coming to stay with Messina’s governor Leonato, his daughter Hero, and his niece Beatrice. Don Pedro arrives with his bastard brother Don John, the young Count Claudio, and Benedick. Beatrice and Benedick trade mocking wit as usual. Claudio admits to Benedick that he loves Hero but Benedick only teases him. Don Pedro, however, agrees to help Claudio’s wooing by disguising himself as Claudio and speaking to Hero. Leonato's brother Antonio overhears the plan but mistakenly believes Don Pedro is himself in love with Hero. Leonato is delighted at the news of the prince’s interest in his daughter. Conrad, one of Don John's servants, tells his melancholy master and Borachio of Don Pedro’s intention to woo Hero for Claudio, and Don John, hating his brother and wanting to cause trouble, sets out to foil the match.

Don Pedro’s friends arrive masked for a dance and, in the confusions of identity the masks create, Beatrice mocks Benedick, Don Pedro woos Hero for Claudio, while Don John tells Claudio, pretending to mistake him for Don Pedro, that Don Pedro woos Hero for himself, leaving Claudio depressed. But, to Claudio’s relief and general rejoicing, Don Pedro unites Hero and Claudio for marriage.

Don Pedro decides on a new plot: to convince Beatrice and Benedick that each is in love with the other, even though both have vowed never to marry. Don Pedro, Leonato, and Claudio discuss Beatrice's "love" for Benedick, knowing that Benedick is overhearing their words; Benedick takes the bait. Then Hero and her servant Ursula talk about Benedick’s "love" for Beatrice, while Beatrice listens; she too takes the bait.

Don John, still determined to prevent Claudio’s marriage, tells Don Pedro and Claudio that Hero is promiscuous and will be meeting her lover that night, the very night before her wedding. At night, Dogberry and Verges, town officials, instruct the Night Watch in their duties. In hiding, the watchmen hear Borachio tell Conrad how he wooed Margaret, Hero’s servant, at Hero's bedroom window, thereby convincing Don Pedro and Claudio that Hero is unfaithful. The watch arrests Borachio and Conrad but, when Dogberry and Verges try to tell Leonato the news, he, rushing to church for the wedding, shrugs them off.

At the altar Claudio rejects Hero and storms out with Don Pedro, leaving Hero collapsed from shock. Leonato believes the accusations but the Friar suggests they pretend that Hero has died, while they test the truth of the claim. Benedick and Beatrice admit their love to each other. She demands he prove his love by killing Claudio for wronging Hero.

The distraught Leonato and Antonio confront Don Pedro and Claudio who ignore their complaints. Benedick arrives to leave Don Pedro’s service and challenges Claudio to a duel. News comes that Don John has fled and Dogberry brings in Borachio who admits he has slandered Hero. Claudio is appalled at what he has done. Leonato, still pretending Hero is dead, instructs Claudio to mourn at Hero’s tomb all night and then, in recompense, to marry Hero’s “cousin” (actually, of course, Hero herself). With two impending weddings (Claudio-Hero and Benedick-Beatrice) and the news that Don John has been captured, the play can end with a dance.


- Peter Holland (McMeel Family Chair in Shakespeare Studies, University of Notre Dame)