The opening scene

Act 1 Scene 1 – Key Scene

In this scene, Beatrice and Benedick meet at Leonato’s house. Beatrice has been making fun of Benedick before he even arrives and then they immediately fall into old habits of mocking and outdoing each other, using witty puns and put downs. It is a short meeting but immediately we want to know more about them, why they feel this way about each other and what will happen next time they meet.

Take a look at an extract from this scene and watch it in performance here. Using the following steps, remember to look at it line by line and if you’re looking at the scene for the first time, don’t worry if you don’t understand everything at once.

  • Look

    Take a look at the scene. Who has the most lines? Are they using prose or verse? Actors at the RSC often put the language into their own words to help them understand what they are saying. We’ve added some definitions (in green), questions (in red) and paraphrased some sections (in blue) to help with this. You can click on the text that is highlighted for extra guidance.

    I wonder that you will still be talking, Signor Benedick; nobody marks you.
    What, my dear Lady Disdain! Are you yet living?
    Is it possible disdain should die while she hath such meet food to feed it as Signor Benedick? Courtesy itself must convert to disdain, if you come in her presence.

    How can I run out of things to make fun of with you around? Even the nicest of people can’t help mocking you.

    Then is courtesy a turncoat. But it is certain I am loved of all ladies, only you excepted; and I would I could find in my heart that I had not a hard heart, for, truly, I love none.

    How many times do they repeat each other’s words or pick up on each other’s imagery? What might this tell us about them and how they feel about each other?

    A dear happiness to women; they would else have been troubled with a pernicious suitor! I thank God and my cold blood, I am of your humour for that; I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me.

    Women are lucky they don’t have to put up with you. I’m glad I feel the same way about love as you do. I would rather hear the ugliest, stupidest thing ever than a man say he loves me.

    God keep your ladyship still in that mind! So some gentleman or other shall 'scape a predestinate scratched face.

    These two characters have met before. Is there anything in this exchange which suggests what happened between them?

    Escape the fate of getting his face scratched.

    Scratching could not make it worse, an 'twere such a face as yours were.
    Well, you are a rare parrot-teacher.


    A bird of my tongue is better than a beast of yours.
    I would my horse had the speed of your tongue, and so good a continuer. But keep your way, in God's name, I have done.

    Were as good at keeping going.

    You always end with a jade's trick; I know you of old.

    Refers to a difficult horse that finds devious ways to throw off its rider.

  • Listen

    Read the scene aloud, then watch the actors trying it in different ways. Which way feels right? What in the language makes you think that? Are there any words or lines that really stand out?

  • Watch

    Take a look at the actors performing this scene. How do the characters come across in this version?

  • Imagine

    Explore some images from past versions of Much Ado at the RSC. Which sets and staging choices for the opening scene feel right to you?