Here is a more detailed look at what happens in each scene of Much Ado About Nothing, to help you look at the structure of the play and interrogate it.

As you look at each act we’ve included some things to notice. These are important character developments, or key questions that an acting company might ask when they first go through the play together at the start of rehearsal. If you work through these as you go, they will help you to make sense of the play as well as starting to look at the text itself. It’s a good idea to have a copy of the play nearby!

  • Act 1

    Act 1 Scene 1

    The play opens at the house of Leonato, governor of Messina. A messenger arrives with news that the Prince of Aragon, Don Pedro, and his soldiers are returning triumphant from war and that a young Count called Claudio has received honours from the Prince and ‘hath borne himself beyond the promise of his age.’ Leonato’s niece, Beatrice, asks about Benedick, a soldier whom she knows and makes fun of. The soldiers arrive and Leonato invites them to stay. As Don Pedro updates Leonato on the war, Beatrice and Benedick swap witty insults: ‘What, my dear Lady Disdain! Are you yet living?’ After seeing Leonato’s daughter, Hero, again, Claudio realises he loves her. He tells Benedick who is unimpressed by Hero and appalled that his friend is in love. Benedick swears he’ll never be tempted into marriage: ‘If I do, hang me in a bottle like a cat, and shoot at me’. Claudio tells Don Pedro that his feelings have deepened for Hero since returning from war. The Prince offers to woo Hero on his friend’s behalf. That night at the masked ball, he will pretend to be Claudio and win her heart: ‘I will break it with her and with her father, / And thou shalt have her.'

    What do we learn?

    • Leonato shares his house with his only daughter, Hero, and Beatrice, his unmarried niece.
    • Don Pedro and his men have recently fought a war and won.
    • Beatrice and Benedick know each other from before the war.
    • The soldiers will stay at Leonato's house for at least a month.

    Act 1 Scene 2

    Antonio, the older brother of Leonato, comes to Leonato’s house with news that his servant has overheard Don Pedro and Claudio talking about Hero. However, he confuses the news, telling Leonato that Don Pedro loves Hero and intends to woo her that night; ‘the prince discovered to Claudio that he loved my niece, your daughter, and meant to acknowledge it this night in a dance’. Leonato is thrilled and replies that ‘we will hold it as a dream till it appear itself’ and sends his servants to inform Hero so she is prepared. They exit to get ready for the banquet and dancing.

    What do we learn?

    • Antonio and Leonato have a close relationship.
    • Both Antonio and Leonato believe Don Pedro wants to marry Hero.
    • Hero will be told of the Prince’s interest.

    Act 1 Scene 3

    Don John, the illegitimate brother of Don Pedro, enters, depressed and bitter. His companion, Conrad asks why. Don John says it’s his nature and he won’t change for anyone, claiming ‘I cannot hide what I am.’ Conrad reminds him that he shouldn’t ‘make the full show’ of how upset he is as Don Pedro has only just forgiven him for standing against him. But Don John feels bitter and hates being judged as inferior to his brother, saying ‘it better fits my blood to be disdained of all’. Don John’s servant Borachio then enters with news of Claudio’s love for Hero. Unlike Antonio, Borachio has understood correctly that Don Pedro will woo Hero on Claudio’s behalf. Don John hates Claudio, who is well-loved and respected, because he feels like ‘That young start-up hath all the glory of my overthrow’ and immediately decides to make trouble for him. Conrad and Borachio swear to help.

    What do we learn?

    • Don John is the illegitimate brother of Don Pedro and they have only recently reconciled after fighting against one another.
    • Don John resents Don Pedro and Claudio and also feels trapped.
    • Don John believes himself a ‘villain’ and is looking for an opportunity to get back at Don Pedro.
    • Conrad and Borachio are loyal to Don John.

    Things to Notice in Act 1

    • Notice how quickly Beatrice asks about Benedick in Scene 1 and how much she talks about him. She is also the first to approach him when the men arrive. What does this tell you about her true feelings?

    • Take note of how little we hear from Hero in Act 1. Look at all the things other people say about her. What impression do we get of her from what others say?

    • Notice that Benedick has a lot to say about women and marriage. How does this affect what we think of him?

    • Act 1 is important because it sets up the characters – we are introduced to two sets of lovers, Beatrice and Benedick and Hero and Claudio, as well as Don John who declares himself the ‘plain-dealing villain’. What do you think is the most important detail Shakespeare gives you about each character in this act of the play?

  • Act 2

    Act 2 Scene 1

    Leonato’s family discuss Don John. Beatrice changes the subject to Benedick and mocks both him and Don John as bad examples of men. Leonato warns her that such an attitude will not get her a husband but Beatrice replies ‘away to Saint Peter: for the heavens, he shows me where the bachelors sit, and there live we, as merry as the day is long.’ Antonio reminds Hero to obey her father and Leonato says she must give the right answer to the prince when he proposes. Hero is silent but Beatrice tells her to keep her own mind. Don Pedro and his men enter in masks and the dancing begins. Benedick, hidden by a mask, teases Beatrice but she gets the better of him and insults him to his face. Don John tells Claudio that Don Pedro is wooing Hero for himself. Claudio believes him and thinks he’s been betrayed by Don Pedro, saying ‘I wish him joy of her.’ When Benedick informs Don Pedro, the prince is quick to put things right and Claudio and Hero are betrothed. Benedick is furious about Beatrice and tells the prince: ‘Oh she misused me past the endurance of a block’. When he leaves to avoid her, Beatrice tells Don Pedro that she and Benedick may have loved each other in the past. For fun, Don Pedro decides to trick them both and bring them together and Hero, Claudio and Leonato agree to help.

    What do we Learn?

    • Don John has not joined the group for dinner.
    • Beatrice does not want to get married and thinks that single people are much happier.
    • Hero has been told to accept Don Pedro’s proposal.
    • Claudio and Hero’s marriage has been arranged.
    • Don Pedro plans to bring Beatrice and Benedick together.

    Act 2 Scene 2

    Don John’s first attempt to upset Claudio has failed and he is now desperate to spoil the newly arranged wedding, saying ‘I am sick in displeasure to him, and whatsoever comes athwart his affection, ranges evenly with mine.’ His servant Borachio has an idea. Borachio knows Hero’s maid, Margaret, and can arrange to be seen with her at Hero’s bedroom window. He will get Margaret to call him ‘Claudio' and he will call her ‘Hero’. If Claudio sees and hears this, he will mistake Margaret for Hero and think Hero is being unfaithful. Borachio points out how damaging the plan will be, saying it will be ‘Proof enough, to misuse the prince, to vex Claudio, to undo Hero, and kill Leonato’. Don John is quick to accept the idea, claiming ‘Only to spite them I will endeavour anything.’ Borachio instructs Don John to tell Claudio and Don Pedro that Hero loves him and bring them to Hero’s bedroom window the night before the wedding. Don John promises to pay Borachio a thousand ducats for his cunning and leaves to find out the date of the wedding.

    What do we Learn?

    • Don John intends to ruin Claudio’s wedding to Hero.
    • Borachio will use Margaret to deceive Claudio and Don Pedro and make them think Hero is unfaithful.
    • The plan will happen the night before the wedding.

    Act 2 Scene 3

    Alone in the garden, Benedick speaks directly to the audience. He wonders about men like Claudio, who say they’ll never fall in love and then suddenly do. He asks if it’ll ever happen to him and talks through a long list of the qualities a wife should have. On seeing Don Pedro, Leonato and Claudio approaching, he hides to avoid Claudio who he calls ‘Monsieur Love’. The men are amused to see Benedick hide and begin their trick. They discuss how Beatrice is madly in love with Benedick but too afraid to tell him. They enjoy teasing Benedick as he listens, with Don Pedro saying ‘tis very possible he’ll scorn it, for the man, as you know all, hath a contemptible spirit.’ The men list Beatrice’s good qualities and a few of Benedick’s, concluding that he is not worthy of her, before going back inside. Left alone, Benedick is amazed and vows to return Beatrice’s love, declaring ‘When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married.’ When Beatrice is sent out to call him to dinner, he looks for signs of love in her.

    What do we Learn?

    • Don Pedro’s trick has worked on Benedick and he now believes Beatrice loves him.
    • Hero and her maid have a similar trick planned for Beatrice.
    • The wedding between Claudio and Hero will happen in two days time.

    Things to Notice in Act 2

    • Notice how much is happening to and about Hero in Scene 1 but how little she actually says. Compare this to how much Beatrice says. What does this make us think about the two women? How are they different?

    • Consider how Beatrice and Benedick both talk about marriage. What does this reveal about their characters? What effect do these statements and conversations have as Claudio and Hero’s marriage draws closer?

    • Take note of Claudio’s behaviour in Act 2. What things do Don John and Don Pedro say to influence his behaviour. Does Claudio’s response say much about his character?

    • Act 2 is important because it sets up conflict – letting us know that trouble lies ahead for Hero and Claudio. It also sets up the first of two comical scenes where Benedick and Beatrice are tricked into falling in love. What tactics do the men use to convince Benedick? Which of these affect Benedick the most? Would the same approach work successfully on Beatrice?

  • Act 3

    Act 3 Scene 1

    In the orchard, Hero begins the plan to trick Beatrice. She sends Margaret to get Beatrice and tells Ursula what to say when Beatrice arrives. Beatrice finds her cousin and the waiting woman and hides so she can overhear them. Ursula and Hero then talk loudly about Benedick’s love for Beatrice. Hero calls Beatrice ‘proud’ and says she would mock him if she knew. They list Beatrice’s bad points and praise Benedick. Hero says she will try and put Benedick off her cousin to save his feelings: ‘Therefore let Benedick like covered fire, / Consume away in sighs, waste inwardly’. Hero and Ursula then leave and Beatrice is left in shock: ‘Stand I condemned for pride and scorn so much?' She vows to change her nature, to return Benedick’s love and marry him.

    What do we Learn?

    • Hero knows her cousin well and is able to manipulate her.
    • Beatrice is willing to change.
    • Beatrice comes to realise she loves Benedick and talks of marrying him.

    Act 3 Scene 2

    Don Pedro praises Benedick’s character to Claudio: ‘he hath a heart as sound as a bell, and his tongue is the clapper’. Benedick arrives, claiming to have toothache. The men tease him for being lovesick and mock the change in his appearance, with Claudio asking ‘And when was he wont to wash his face?’ Benedick can’t bear it and leaves to talk to Leonato. Don John enters and asks to speak to Don Pedro in private. He says that Claudio may hear as it concerns him, especially as he’s to be married tomorrow. Don John says he has proof that Hero is unfaithful: ‘go but with me tonight, you shall see her chamber window entered, even the night before her wedding day’. Claudio and Don Pedro follow him, saying they will shame her publicly if it’s true.

    What do we Learn?

    • Don Pedro respects Benedick.
    • Benedick is in love and has changed his appearance.
    • Don Pedro and Claudio know that Beatrice has also been tricked.
    • Don John and Borachio’s plan has begun.
    • If the plan works, Claudio and Don Pedro will shame Hero at the wedding.

    Act 3 Scene 3

    Near Leonato’s house, a Police Chief called Dogberry and his deputy, Verges, are appointing a constable to take control of the Watch. Dogberry gives very muddled instructions to his men, saying ‘for the watch to babble and talk, is most tolerable and not to be endured.’ He tells them to watch Signor Leonato’s house because it’s busy, due to the wedding.

    Dogberry leaves and the Watchmen settle into position. A drunken Borachio enters with Conrad, bragging about how much money he’s earned by deceiving Don Pedro and Claudio: ‘chiefly, by my villainy, which did confirm any slander that Don John had made’. The Watch overhear everything, they arrest the villains and take them away: ‘we have here recovered the most dangerous piece of lechery, that ever was known in the commonwealth.’

    What do we Learn?

    • Borachio’s plan involving Margaret has worked.
    • Don Pedro and Claudio intend to shame Hero at the wedding.
    • The Watch are not very good at their jobs and are often laughed at.
    • Borachio’s bragging reveals the plan to the police.

    Act 3 Scene 4

    Hero is in her bedchamber, being dressed by Margaret for her wedding. She sends Ursula to wake Beatrice as she needs her. Hero has pre-wedding nerves and says her heart is: ‘exceeding heavy’ but Margaret lightens the mood by teasing her about her wedding night: ’Twill be heavier soon by the weight of a man’. As Hero scolds her, Beatrice enters, claiming to have a bad cold. Margaret hints strongly that she’s lovesick and should use Benedick for the cure: ‘Get you some of this distilled Carduus benedictus, and lay it to your heart’. Beatrice is suspicious and questions her, but Ursula enters with news that the men have arrived to take Hero to the church. Hero calls to the women to finish dressing her.

    What do we learn?

    • Hero is nervous about the wedding.
    • Margaret and Hero’s relationship is close.
    • Beatrice has been physically affected by love.

    Act 3 Scene 5

    Dogberry and Verges arrive at Leonato’s house with news of the arrest. Leonato is busy with last-minute wedding plans and asks them to be brief. Verges gets close to delivering the news: ‘our watch tonight, excepting your worship’s presence, ha’ ta’en a couple of as arrant knaves as any in Messina’ but Dogberry confuses things by interrupting and not getting to the point: ‘well said i’faith, neighbour Verges, well, God’s a good man, and two men ride of a horse, one must ride behind’. Leonato loses patience. He tells Dogberry to go ahead with the trial, without waiting to hear who the men were or what they were arrested for. Leonato leaves for the wedding and Dogberry and Verges plan to meet at the jail.

    What do we learn?

    • Borachio and Conrad are to be put on trial.
    • Dogberry and Verges don’t realise how important the arrest is.
    • Don John’s plan hasn’t been stopped.

    Things to Notice in Act 3

    • Notice the language that Shakespeare gives the women in Scene 1. How different is it to the scene where Benedick is tricked? Why might Shakespeare have done this?

    • Notice how Shakespeare builds up the tension before the wedding. How does he do this?

    • Take note of how Dogberry talks in scenes 3 and 5. How do the scenes with the Watch feel different to the rest of the play?

    • Act 3 is important because it is packed with suspense – by now, we care about the characters and what happens to them. Beatrice and Benedick have been tricked but it’s been done for good reasons and might actually work. However, Don John’s trick intends to cause a lot of pain. How have our feelings changed towards certain characters? What do we think will happen in the next Act?

  • Act 4

    Act 4 Scene 1

    Everyone is gathered for the wedding. As the ceremony starts, Claudio rejects Hero: ‘She knows the heat of a luxurious bed’. Hero denies being unfaithful but, when Don Pedro confirms Claudio’s words, she faints. Seeing this as a sign of her guilt, Don Pedro, Don John and Claudio leave. Beatrice thinks Hero is dead and calls for help. When Hero comes round, Leonato rejects her in disgust: ‘Death is the fairest cover for her shame / That may be wished for’. The Friar is convinced of Hero’s innocence and suggests they pretend she is dead until she is proved innocent. This might make Claudio regret shaming her: ‘then shall he mourn, / If ever love had interest in his liver’. If not, they will hide her away in a convent. Left alone, Beatrice and Benedick admit their love for each other. Benedick asks what he can do to help and Beatrice has only one request: ’Kill Claudio’. Benedick refuses. Beatrice hates how powerless she is: ‘Oh God that I were a man! I would eat his heart in the market place.’ Convinced of Hero’s innocence, Benedick leaves to challenge Claudio.

    What do we Learn?

    • Claudio publicly shames Hero, telling everyone at the wedding that she has been unfaithful.
    • Leonato would rather Hero was dead than lose her reputation.
    • Beatrice and Benedick have declared their love for each other in private.
    • Benedick is going to challenge Claudio for Beatrice’s sake.

    Act 4 Scene 2

    Borachio and Conrad are brought before the Sexton in a trial. Dogberry clumsily takes evidence from them, saying ‘write God first, for God defend but God should go before such villains’. The Watch enter and confirm that they overheard Borachio confess his crime, ‘accusing the Lady Hero wrongfully.’ The Sexton says that Hero has died and Don John has run away. He orders the prisoners to be taken to Leonato’s where he will present the ‘examination’. Conrad calls Dogberry ‘an ass.’ Insulted, Dogberry wants this recorded but there is no-one around to write it down.

    What do we Learn?

    • Borachio and Conrad are to face Leonato after their trial.
    • Leonato has told everyone that Hero is dead.
    • Don John has run away.

    Things to notice in Act 4

    • Notice what is said about Hero in Scene 1 by Claudio, Leonato and the Friar. Look at the language used by each. What does this tell us about these characters?

    • Notice how the tone changes at the end of Scene 1. How does this affect Beatrice and Benedick’s relationship?

    • Take note of how Shakespeare presents his female characters in this act. How do they respond to what happens? What does he want us to feel about them?

    • Act 4 is important because it is dramatic – the characters that we know and care about go through a terrible event. How do we feel about the trial scene that follows? Does the comedy relieve the tension or make it worse?

  • Act 5

    Act 5 Scene 1

    Antonio tries to comfort Leonato who is devastated by the loss of Hero’s reputation: ‘My soul doth tell me, Hero is belied’. Claudio enters with Don Pedro and Leonato accuses him of killing his child. Claudio refuses to be sorry and Antonio challenges him so fiercely that even Leonato is surprised. As the old men leave, Benedick enters. Claudio and Don Pedro joke around with him but Benedick refuses to join in, he cuts all ties of friendship with them and challenges Claudio to a duel: ‘for my Lord Lack-beard there, he and I shall meet’. After Benedick leaves, the Watch enter with Borachio who confesses everything, adding that Margaret was innocent. Claudio is full of guilt at the speech: ‘I have drunk poison while he uttered it’ and begs Leonato for forgiveness. Leonato orders Claudio to mourn Hero at her funeral. Claudio promises to do so and to marry a niece of Leonato's who looks like Hero.

    What do we learn?

    • Hero’s innocence is confirmed.
    • Margaret knew nothing of the plot.
    • Don John’s villainy is revealed to everyone.
    • Claudio agrees to mourn Hero and marry her cousin.

    Act 5 Scene 2

    Benedick asks for Margaret’s help to arrange a meeting with Beatrice. He and Margaret exchange rude puns before she leaves. Left alone, Benedick starts a love song but stops to talk directly to the audience. He admits how bad he is at writing love poetry: ‘I can find no rhyme to lady but baby’. When Beatrice arrives, he tells her he has challenged Claudio and is waiting for a response. Changing the subject, he asks Beatrice which of ‘his bad parts’ she first fell in love with. In turn, Beatrice asks which of her ‘good parts’ he first fell for. They tease each other a bit but Benedick stops to ask how she and her cousin are. Beatrice tells him they are both ‘Very ill’. As they talk, Ursula rushes in with news of Don John’s plot and all three of them leave for Leonato’s house.

    What do we Learn?

    • Benedick has been trying to write poetry to impress Beatrice but is really bad at expressing himself.
    • Benedick has challenged Claudio to a duel and he tells Beatrice this.
    • Benedick and Beatrice learn about Don John’s plot.

    Act 5 Scene 3

    At Hero’s monument, Claudio keeps the first part of his promise to Leonato and mourns Hero’s death. An epitaph to Hero is read out: ‘Done to death by slanderous tongues, / Was the Hero that here lies’, a hymn is sung: ‘For the which with songs of woe, / Round about her time they go’ and a vow made for Claudio to remember the anniversary of her death: ‘Yearly will I do this rite.’ Then Don Pedro and Claudio leave to dress for Claudio’s wedding to Hero’s cousin.

    What do we learn?

    • There is a monument for Hero and an epitaph has been written for her.
    • Claudio will repeat this ceremony to Hero every year.
    • Leonato has prepared a second wedding ceremony.

    Act 5 Scene 4

    Back at Leonato’s house, Margaret’s innocence is established. Leonato tells Hero, Beatrice, Margaret and Ursula to put on veils. In private, Benedick asks Leonato for Beatrice’s hand in marriage. He also asks the Friar to marry them and ‘To bind me, or undo me, one of them’. Don Pedro arrives with Claudio and the veiled women enter. Claudio obediently accepts his unknown bride: ‘Which is the lady I must seize upon?’ Hero is unmasked and declares her innocence: ‘surely as I live, I am a maid.’ She and Claudio are reunited. Beatrice and Benedick realise they have been tricked into loving each other but refuse to admit it in public until Claudio and Hero produce the love sonnets that the two have written to each other. News arrives that Don John has been arrested and dancing begins to celebrate a double wedding.

    What do we Learn?

    • Claudio and Hero will be married, as will Beatrice and Benedick.
    • Don John has been arrested.

    Things to Notice in Act 5

    • Notice how Shakespeare switches between verse and prose in Scene 1. Why do you think this is? What effect does it have?

    • Notice the word play between Beatrice and Benedick in Scene 2. How often do they repeat each other or pick up each other’s images? How has this changed from when they first met?

    • Take note of how Claudio behaves in this act. How convinced are you of his guilt and remorse?

    • Act 5 is important because it resolves the drama – Hero’s honour is restored and the two sets of lovers are brought together. Does Shakespeare deal with everything? Are we left with any questions? In particular, look at Hero. Does she get the opportunity to reflect on what has happened to her? How does she feel about Claudio’s willingness to marry her ‘cousin’ and the way she was treated at the church?