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Scene Summaries With Notes
Act I, Scene 1
Don Pedro, the prince of Aragon, is returning home from a battle where he was able to suppress the mutiny against him initiated by his bastard brother, Don John. On the way, he and his two companions, Claudio and Benedick, stop to visit Leonato, Don Pedro's friend and the governor of Messina.
Leonato's daughter, Hero, and his niece, Beatrice, are present as the warriors are announced and praised for their feats in battle. Beatrice makes particular inquiries about Benedick, though she claims not to care for him and even pokes fun at him. She claims to detest any show of affection from a man, particularly Benedick. It is obvious, however, that she has some feelings for him. Leonato tells the others that his niece Beatrice and the noble young Benedick have always bantered and bickered with one another.
Claudio, who is exalted for his valor, meets Hero and falls in love with her instantly. He confides his feelings to his dear friend, Don Pedro, who promises at once to help Claudio court her at the masquerade ball that evening. Benedick expresses his admiration for women in general, but swears to always remain a bachelor. As is customary when the two of them are together, Beatrice and Benedick exchange insults and clever sayings about men and women.
As with many of Shakespeare's plays, Much Ado About Nothing opens with talk of battle. This particular battle involves a war between Don Pedro and his illegitimate brother Don John, another common scenario in Shakespeare. Don Pedro emerges as the victor and is traveling with his heroic companions when he stops to visit an old friend with a lovely daughter and a clever niece. This history becomes the backdrop for the entire action of the play.
In Messina, the couples who will form the basis of the romantic comedy are introduced. Claudio is not only a gallant soldier; he is also a romantic. He falls in love with Hero at first sight. While Claudio instantly falls in love with Hero, Benedick is set in contrast, constantly escaping from Cupid's arrow. Like Beatrice, Benedick makes witty speeches and swears his bachelorhood, all but confirming that he will fall in love by the end of the play. These situations are at the heart of the action of the play. Matchmaking is set in place to bring the two couples together. Don Pedro will help Claudio win the hand of his beloved Hero. And together the two of them will plot and conspire to bring Benedick and Beatrice together, despite Benedick's resolution.
This act also serves to illustrate and reveal the characters of the many of the main characters. For example, a comparison between the ladies reveals that Beatrice is bold and talkative whereas Hero is reticent and meek. Verbally, Hero is described as "Leonato's short daughter". Beatrice is clever and scornful of men. The male characters are also revealed more fully. For example, Claudio is described as brave and noble, but he is also impulsive. He falls in love at first sight. The scene also highlights Claudio's constant and persistent ideas about appealing to socially acceptable standards. He asks Benedick for his approval of Hero, which sets the tone for the events that follow. Benedick, for his part, is Claudio's total opposite. He is jaded, cynical. His view of women is not clouded by his appreciation of their finer attributes. Claudio and Hero make up the perfect "romantic couple"-she is demure and meek, he is brave and romantic. Beatrice and Benedick, on the other hand, make up the perfect passionate couple-both have fiery wills, clever minds, and bold hearts.