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Don Pedro, the prince of Aragon, is an old friend of Leonato, the governor of Messina. Don Pedro has been invited to stay with Leonato after quelling the rebellion started by his illegitimate brother, Don John. On the visit, two companions accompany Don Pedro: the valiant fighter Claudio and the witty bachelor Benedick. Claudio is instantly attracted to Leonato's daughter Hero. He wants to marry her, but is hesitant in wooing her. Therefore, Don Pedro promises to woo Hero for Claudio at the masquerade ball.
Leonato's niece, Beatrice, is a clever match for Benedick. Like him, she vows never to marry. The two of them spar constantly, claiming to dislike one another. Don Pedro and Leonato think up a plan to bring Benedick and Beatrice together, since they know the bickering couple is attracted to one another but do not want to admit it.
Meanwhile, Don John, Don Pedro's bastard brother, dislikes Claudio intensely, since Claudio defeated him in the recent battle. Don John plots with his henchman Borachio to frustrate Claudio's marriage plans. Borachio convinces Margaret (Hero's maid-in- waiting) to stand at Hero's chamber window and talk to him late at night. This way, the easily duped Claudio will think his bride-to-be has betrayed him
Don Pedro puts his plan into action, dropping hints to Beatrice that Benedick is madly in love with her, and dropping hints to Benedick that Beatrice pines for him. Their egos are stroked, their passions aroused. The plan succeeds and they emerge as a confirmed pair of lovers.
A couple of night watchmen of the palace overhear Borachio reveal his part in the heinous plot and arrest him. The deception is brought to light and Claudio repents of his lack of faith. Leonato takes Claudio to Hero's "grave" to show that he is truly sorry. He then brings out his niece (Hero in disguise) and offers her to Claudio as a bride. A rejoicing Claudio sees that Hero is alive. The two couples, Hero and Claudio and Beatrice and Benedick, marry. The news reaches them all that Don John has been arrested for his evil deeds. The group dances and the curtain falls.