Much Ado About Nothing
Much Ado About Nothing is a play by William Shakespeare and published in 1600. A romantic comedy, it involves two parallel courtships, which go in different directions, but have similar endings. The play is famous for the comedic characters of Benedick and Beatrice.
The play begins with the celebration of the victory of Prince Don Pedro of Arragon over his brother, Don John. The victors arrive for an extended stay in Messina. The Governor of Messina, Leonato, welcomes the victorious forces to Messina. Among the arrivals are Claudio, Benedick and the pardoned Don John. Benedick and Leonato's niece, the witty Beatrice, fall to arguing as they did before the wars. On the other hand, Claudio immediately falls in love with Leonato's daughter, Hero. Don Pedro agrees to try to help Claudio to win Hero as his wife. Don John, embittered by his defeat, tries to cross the match.
During the middle of the play, Claudio and Hero remain betrothed and in preparation for the wedding. While they are waiting, the Prince hatches a scheme to make Benedick and Beatrice fall in love with each other. The Prince, Claudio and Leonato let Benedick overhear that Beatrice is supposedly sick with love for him. While Hero talks with her servant and lets Beatrice overhear that Benedick is supposedly in love with her. While they arrange for Benedick and Beatrice to love each other, Don John executes his plot. He arranges for Claudio to see Hero, at night, kissing and embracing another man. In reality, one of Don John's men, Borachio, arranged to meet with one of Hero's maids, Margaret. Nevertheless, Claudio and the Prince mistake Margaret for Hero and declare that Hero was unfaithful on the very wedding day.
Because of her shame, the Friar recommends they pretend Hero died, in hopes that Claudio's heart would soften in evidence of Hero's innocence. Surprisingly, the play is saved by the stupid and insensible Dogberry, captain of the watch. Dogberry's men capture Don John's henchmen and overhear how the Prince and Claudio were deceived. When the Prince and Claudio hear the news, they immediately ask pardon of Leonato and Leonato requires Claudio to marry one of his nieces. Claudio agrees and leads Hero's funeral. During the confusion, Benedick reluctantly offered to kill Claudio, because of his actions, to win Beatrice's love. However, Claudio's penance stops Benedick's need to take vengeance.
On the wedding day of Claudio, all things are set to rights. Claudio discovers that Hero is not dead and marries her. Benedick and Beatrice are also married. Finally, Don John, who escaped during the confusion, is brought back to Messina to face punishment. The play ends with a dance.
Don Pedro is the Prince of Arragon, who plots both Claudio's and Benedick's happiness. He joins Claudio in his denouncement of Hero, but apologizes to Leonato.
Don John is the bastard brother of Don Pedro, who tries to asunder Claudio and Hero. Nonetheless, he is caught and brought back to Messina guarded.
Claudio is a captain of Don Pedro's army, who desires to marry Hero. Despite his denouncement of her at the wedding, he apologizes and is married to her anyway.
Benedick is another of Don Pedro's captain's, who has many witty quarrels with Beatrice. He eventually is tricked into falling in love with Beatrice and dares even to fight Claudio, before he repented of shaming Hero.
Leonato is the Governor of Messina and father of Hero. After the Prince accuses Hero, he is torn in grief over the possibility that his daughter was unfaithful.
Antonio is the brother of Leonato and probably the father of Beatrice.
Balthazar is the musician attendant upon Don Pedro.
Borachio and Conrade are the henchmen of Don John. Borachio helps craft the plot to shame Hero by deception, but they give away the secret to the watch.
Friar Francis is the friar, who tries to marry Hero to Claudio. He can discern that Hero, despite the accusations, is innocent of unfaithfulness.
Dogberry is the insensible and stupid leader of the watch. He commonly makes verbal mistakes, but catches the henchmen of Don John.
Verges and two watchmen are the assistants of Dogberry, who solve the mystery.
Hero is the daughter of Leonato, who is loved by Claudio. She temporarily "dies" because of the slander, but returns triumphantly to marry Claudio.
Beatrice is the niece of Leonato, who has many verbal spars with Benedick. She is also tricked into loving Benedick and marries him at the end of the play.
Margaret and Ursula are the attendants of Hero. Margaret unwittingly helps the plot of Don John against Hero. 
Much Ado was first published in 1600, and the original Quarto text says that it had already been performed publicly before the publication. It is not known how many times the play was revived before its second printing in the First Folio of 1623. A tribute poem to Shakespeare in 1640 mentions that the play was popular at that time. In the 16 and 1700s, a number of playwrights combined scenes and pieces of Much Ado with other plays to create purportedly new works. The most notable production during the 18th century was David Garrick's at Drury Lane in 1748.
The 19th century saw increasing focus on the spectacular scenes hinted at in the text. Leonato's villa and the cathedral where the weddings take place were visualized as particularly lavish sets by directors of this era. The Victorian era saw some alterations to the text in fitting with the conservative spirit of the time. Many of the overtly sexual jokes, especially those about infidelity, were not included in the productions, notably the most famous production in the 19th century, directed by and starring Henry Irving opposite Ellen Terry, two of the greatest British actors of the age.
In the 20th century, the sexual jokes were again included as the theatrical world took a more liberal slant. In addition, directors after 1900 began to experiment with and alter the traditional visualization of the play. Versions were staged that set Much Ado in such places as Mexico or India. The first televised production in 1971 set the entire play in the Teddy Roosevelt-era United States. It was estimated that more people saw the 1971 production on TV than had seen all previous stage performances combined.
Although it is less adapted than most plays, Kenneth Branagh chose it as his second film adaptation of Shakespeare in 1993. He stars as Benedick opposite Emma Thompson as Beatrice. It co-starred Robert Sean Leonard as Claudio, Kate Beckingsdale as Hero, Denzel Washington as Don Pedro and Keanu Reaves as Don John. It also included Michael Keaton as Dogberry.
- Great Books: Shakespeare, Vol. 1, by William George Clarke and William Aldis Wright, Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., 1952, pp. 503-531.
Open Source Shakespeare - Much Ado About Nothing