From its opening lines to its final scene, MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING is a feast of wit and verve. The play’s humor runs from slapstick to subtle wordplay, and it features Shakespeare’s wittiest couple, Beatrice and Benedick.
The plot consists of two interwoven love stories: those of Beatrice and Benedick, and that of Claudio and Hero. Claudio, accompanying his friend, Don Pedro to Messina, is smitten with the lovely Hero, daughter of Leonato, governor of Messina. To help his friend, Don Pedro assumes Claudio’s identity at a masked ball and woos Hero. In the meantime, Don John, bastard brother of Don Pedro, does his worst to undermine the love affair by convincing Claudio that Hero is unfaithful.
Benedick, another friend of Don Pedro, has arrived in Messina a confirmed bachelor, ridiculing men who succumb to marriage. Equally opposed to marriage is Beatrice, Leonato’s niece, the verbal jousting partner of Benedick. The fireworks between these two spark the play. Don Pedro, Hero, Claudio, and Leonato all conspire to bring this unlikely couple together.
The plot speeds to its climax on Hero and Claudio’s wedding day as Don John’s deceit convinces all but Beatrice and Benedick. When Don John’s evil plot is exposed in a hilarious report by the constable, Dogberry, Claudio is led to believe that his foolish acceptance of Don John’s lies about Hero has led to her death. One remaining plot twist awaits the repentant Claudio. After he consents to marry Leonato’s niece, he learns that Hero in fact is alive. A double wedding ensues.
Bloom, Harold, ed. William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” New York: Chelsea House, 1988. Contains eight significant articles from the 1970’s and 1980’s. See especially the essays by Richard A. Levin, who looks beneath the comedic surface to find unexpected, troubling currents, and Carol Thomas Neely, who contributes an influential feminist interpretation.
Evans, Bertrand. Shakespeare’s Comedies. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1960. Important critical study. Concludes that Shakespeare’s comic dramaturgy is based on different levels of awareness among characters and between them and the audience. The comedy in Much Ado About Nothing reflects an intricate game of multiple deceptions and misunderstandings that the audience enjoys from a privileged position.
Hunter, Robert Grams. Shakespeare and the Comedy of Forgiveness. New York: Columbia University Press, 1965. Argues persuasively that the thematic core of several Shakespeare comedies derives from the tradition of English morality plays. In Much Ado About Nothing, Claudio sins against the moral order by mistrusting Hero and is saved by repentance and forgiveness.
Macdonald, Ronald R. William Shakespeare: The Comedies. New York: Twayne, 1992. Compact introduction to Shakespeare’s comedy that is both critically sophisticated and accessible to the general reader. Essay on Much Ado About Nothing reveals various subtextual relationships of class and gender by probing the characters’ semantically complex and ironic verbal behavior.
Ornstein, Robert. Shakespeare’s Comedies: From Roman Farce to Romantic Mystery. London: Associated University Presses, 1986. Award-winning book by a major Shakespeare scholar. The chapter on Much Ado About Nothing offers a sensitive, graceful analysis of the play that focuses primarily on characterization, plot, and moral themes.
The following paper topics, each with a sample outline, are designed to test your understanding of Much Ado About Nothing.
Each deals with the play as a whole and requires analysis of important themes and literary devices.
Shakespeare interweaves two love stories in Much Ado About
Nothing, the Claudio-Hero plot and the Benedick-Beatrice plot. Write an analytical essay on the ways in which they parallel or counterpoint each other in characterization, in dialogue, and in plot structure.
I. Thesis Statement: The Claudio-Hero and the Benedick-Beatrice love stories are interwoven in Much Ado About Nothing through a series of parallels and contrasts in characterization, in dialogue, and in plot structure.
1,. Hero and Beatrice are kinswomen and good friends and Claudio and Benedick are comrades-in-arms and good friends
2. Both couples knew each other in the past
3. Both couples are learning to discriminate properly and to estimate each other's true value
4. Both couples' ability to love will be tested
1. Claudio and Hero are slaves to convention and Benedick and Beatrice are free spirits
2. Claudio seeks a wooing intermediary and Benedick woos directly
3. Claudio and Hero rely on knowledge, and Benedick and Beatrice rely on their intuition.
4. After professing their love, Claudio and Hero are easily derailed, but nothing will stop Benedick and Beatrice
III. Dialogue A. Parallels
1. Both couples are educated aristocrats
2. Both couples talk about marriage
3. Both Claudio and Benedick speak about their fears of cuckoldry
4. Both couples will learn to speak more directly
1. Claudio and Hero usually speak inverse and Benedick and Beatrice usually speak in prose
2. Claudio and Hero comply with social superior's voices and Benedick and Beatrice challenge social superior's voices
3. Benedick and Beatrice radically change their speech patterns and Claudio and Hero do not
IV Plot structure A. Harmony of plots
1. The Claudio-Hero plot and the Benedick-Beatrice plot are harmonized because they are friends
2. The Claudio-Hero plot and the Benedick-Beatrice plot are harmonized because they are both love stories
3. The Claudio-Hero and the Benedick-Beatrice plot are both harmonized by their gaiety until crisis occurs
B. Polarization of plots
1. The polarization of the plots begin when reflective Benedick will no longer play court jester for Claudio and Don Pedro
2. The crisis in the Claudio-Hero plot, the refusal and accusal of Hero, precipitates an extended crisis in the Benedick-Beatrice plot
3. The crisis in the Benedick-Beatrice plot, Beatrice's demand that Benedick kill Claudio, accelerates the polarization between the two plots
4. The two plots are completely polarized when Benedick agrees to, and then challenges, Claudio
C. Reconciliation of plots
1. The Claudio-Hero plot is reconciled with the Benedick-Beatrice plot when Benedick releases penitent Claudio from his challenge
2. The Claudio-Hero plot is reconciled with the Beatrice-Benedick plot as both couples prepare for their double-wedding
V. Conclusion: Shakespeare uses parallels and counterpoints to interweave two love stories, one based on convention, the other on invention, in a pattern that begins in harmony, splits in crisis, and resolves in reconciliation. Sample Analytical Paper Topics 109
(The entire section is 1575 words.)