Much Ado About Nothing: Overview
Much Ado About Nothing begins in Messina, soon after the end of a war. A group of soldiers are returning, victorious. Amongst them are Don Pedro, Claudio (a handsome youth) and Benedick, who is known to be proficient both in the art of war and the art of speech. He is also a self-proclaimed woman-hater, who avers that he will never settle down. Soon, Claudio falls in love with a nobleman's daughter, Hero (a beautiful and quiescent young maiden), and they decide to marry. Hero's elder sister, Beatrice, is unlike her sister in that she has a fast tongue. She and Benedick enjoy baiting each other as both are clever and quick-tongued.
The lovers, along with the rest of the wedding party, decide to bring the together. They perceive, perhaps, that there is already a spark of love between them. By the time the wedding comes around, the two are very much in love. However, tragedy befalls the night of the wedding when Don Pedro's bastard brother, Don John, decides to break up the marriage by convincing Claudio that his betrothed has been unfaithful.
Claudio goes on to the wedding and calls Hero a whore, disgracing her before the whole community. Beatrice and Hero's father hide the poor girl, and let it be known that she has died from the shame that Claudio unfairly placed upon her. In the meantime, Don John's henchmen are arrested by the local constable (whose malapropisms create a little comic relief) and the plot to besmirch Hero's name is exposed.
Claudio is wracked with grief. To make amends, he promises to marry Hero's sister, Beatrice. However, when he reaches the altar and lifts his wife's veil, he finds that he is marrying the woman he thought to be dead. The wedding is made into a double celebration when Benedick and Beatrice also determine to tie the knot.
Much Ado About Nothing as Forerunner
The majority of the plot in Much Ado About Nothing revolves around Hero and Claudio, but Shakespeare's dramatic sympathies remain very clear. Benedick and Beatrice are ever at the center of our attention. They get the most stage time, as well as the majority of the best lines. With their gentle bickering, they hope to expose the frailties not only of their opponent, but also of his or her entire gender. These interchanges are early examples of what would become the fast-paced exchanges in modern screwball comedy.
Of course, Much Ado About Nothing is never simply just a romantic comedy. Rather, the play creates a lighter, more frivolous counterpart to some of his darker tragedies. For example, like Romeo and Juilet, we see a lover pretend to be dead, hoping for a Romantic reconciliation with the man to whom she is betrothed. Unlike that tragedy, however, the lover does not realize his mistake too late. And, a happy reunion and resolution ensues.
Much Ado About Nothing: The Power
In Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare affirms the power of romantic love (and, in particular, the possible fruitfulness of marriage) over the dominion of death. Love--and only love--can overcome all the problems and difficulties that life provides.