Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free

All-in-one learning app

  • Flashcards
  • NotesNotes
  • ExplanationsExplanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions
Start studying

Much Ado About Nothing

Save Save
Print Print
Edit Edit
Sign up to use all features for free. Sign up now
X
Illustration You have already viewed an explanation Register now and access this and thousands of further explanations for free
English Literature

Have you ever felt like someone is paying way too much attention to something that is not that important in the grand scheme of things? You could call this making 'much ado about nothing.' This is also the title of the famous comedy by William Shakespeare! Much Ado About Nothing is a play in five acts that was written between 1598 and 1599.

AuthorWilliam Shakespeare
Written in1598-9
First stage performance1612
GenreComedyRomance
FormProseVerse
Dramatic devicesDramatic ironyMonologue
Literary devicesWordplayMetaphorSimilePersonification

Much Ado About Nothing: Summary

Set in Messina in Italy, Much Ado About Nothing follows two romantic couples - Claudio and Hero, and Benedick and Beatrice.

The Prince of Arragon, Don Pedro, his illegitimate brother, Don John, and the soldiers Claudio and Benedick, return to Messina after they have fought in the war. They visit the Duke of Messina, Leonato. He invites them to stay in his house for a month.

Claudio and the Duke's daughter, Hero, are in love. Benedick and Leonato's niece, Beatrice, say that they can't stand each other but everyone around them can tell that there's something more to their banter.

Claudio and Hero are to be married. Don Pedro and Hero come up with a plan to make Benedick and Beatrice admit their feelings for each other. Benedick overhears a conversation in which Don Pedro and his friends mention that Beatrice is secretly in love with him. Beatrice hears the same thing about Benedick from Hero and her maid Ursula. Both Benedick and Beatrice feel flattered thinking that the other is secretly their admirer.

Don John wants to sabotage Claudio's wedding and to make his brother, Don Pedro, look bad. Don John arranges for Claudio and Don Pedro to find his follower, Borachio, in a compromising position with Hero's maid, Margaret. He intends to trick Claudio into believing this is Hero being unfaithful.

Claudio and Don Pedro see Borachio and Margaret in Hero's bedchamber, but they don't see Margaret's face. They believe Don John's lie that Hero is unfaithful and that she's no longer a maid, or in other words, a virgin. Claudio leaves Hero at the altar, announcing her infidelity in front of everyone. Friar Francis believes that she's innocent so he convinces Leonato to make it seem as though she has died from the humiliation. The Friar is right in his prediction that this would make Claudio feel sorry for his actions. Meanwhile, Beatrice and Benedick admit that they love each other. Beatrice asks Benedick to kill Claudio. Benedick challenges Claudio to a duel.

Constable Dogberry and the watchmen overhear Borachio boasting about taking part in Don John's scheme. Dogberry is not particularly clever but he manages to make Borachio confess. He delivers the news to Leonato. When Claudio learns that he has been tricked, he's deeply ashamed. He tells Leonato to choose how to punish him. Leonato makes him marry a cousin of Hero's. At the wedding, it is revealed that this so-called cousin is Hero herself who is very much alive. Claudio and Hero are happy to be finally married. Benedick and Beatrice also marry. Don John is arrested. Everyone celebrates and dances.

Much Ado About Nothing: meaning

Let's analyse the title, the main themes, and the characters of the play.

The meaning of 'nothing'

The title of the play, Much Ado About Nothing, can be interpreted in two ways. On one hand, there's the literal meaning - so much drama happens over nothing. Maybe, by naming the play in such a way, Shakespeare wanted the audience to know that they'll see a play that's not concerned with serious issues.

On the other hand, 'nothing' sounds almost the same as 'noting'. There are several occasions in the comedy where the characters are noting each other.

Claudio notices Hero and falls in love with her.

Beatrice and Benedick overhear other people talking about them - they note the things they say.

In the Elizabethan era (1558-1603) when Shakespeare wrote the play, the word 'nothing' was also used to refer to the female genitalia. The title of the play could also point to Hero being falsely accused of infidelity.

Much Ado About Nothing: quotes and themes

Let's look at some of the main themes of the play.

Reality vs appearances

Some Cupid kills with arrows, some with traps.

- Hero, Act 3, Scene 1

Hero says this to Ursula after the two of them have spoken of Benedick's secret love for Beatrice, knowing that Beatrice can hear them.

Most Shakespearean comedies revolve around deception and Much Ado About Nothing is no exception. Things appear to be in a certain way when the reality is different. Beatrice and Benedick seem to hate each other but it doesn't take them long to realise that they are actually in love. They are tricked by the others to admit it but, in the end, false appearances lead to real feelings. Don John deceives Claudio and convinces him that his beloved Hero is unfaithful to him. In turn, Leonato makes Claudio believe that Hero is dead. This deception results in Claudio's remorse and in great joy when he finds out that Hero is alive. The false appearances in the play are all revealed by the end. The reality makes for a happy ending.

Love

I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest.

- Beatrice, Act 4, Scene 1

Beatrice confesses her love to Benedick after he has told her he loves her.

If Much Ado About Nothing were written today, we would probably call the play a romantic comedy. The play follows two couples as they find love and happiness. What Claudio feels for Hero is love at first sight. He is immediately taken by her and she returns his affections. However, when Claudio is told of Hero's infidelity, he believes Don John's lie over Hero's truth. Claudio has to go through hell, thinking Hero's dead, to realise his mistake and to redeem himself so that he can be worthy to marry her.

Benedick and Beatrice have almost the opposite journey to Claudio and Hero. In the beginning of the play, they constantly quarrel and only see each other's flaws. When they fall into their friends' trap and believe that the other secretly loves them, they are both surprised to discover how this makes them feel. Eventually, they admit their feelings to themselves and confess their love for each other. Benedick's and Beatrice's love is deeper because they fall in love fully aware of each other's faults.

Gender roles

When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married.

- Benedick, Act 2, Scene 3

Benedick speaks to himself after he has overheard Don Pedro, Claudio, and Leonato talk about how Beatrice secretly loves him. Benedick used to be opposed to marriage, but the prospect of being with Beatrice changes his mind.

The gender roles in the play are clearly defined. Men have a public as well as a private life, whereas women are defined by their private lives alone. Claudio and Benedick return from the war as winners and are praised as heroes. Hero and Beatrice don't have the opportunity to grow outside of the confinements of what is expected of them – marriage. Hero and Claudio both want to marry. Hero adheres to what is expected of her as a woman – she is quiet and obedient. However, although she fits her gender role perfectly, she is wrongfully accused of being the opposite of what she is, her virtue is questioned.

Do you think that by including the injustice that is done to Hero, Shakespeare criticises gender roles? Does he show us that even when a woman conforms to what is expected of her, she is not safe from wrongful assumptions and accusations?

Benedick and Beatrice, on the other hand, don't want to marry. At the beginning of the play, Benedick doesn't approve of the idea of marriage and he even tries to convince Claudio not to marry. Beatrice is also openly against marriage and, because she's a woman, this raises some concerns. Her uncle, Leonato, urges her to marry someone because he cares for her and knows that this is what's expected of a woman her age. Because Beatrice doesn't conform to her gender role, she speaks to Benedick openly and with no shame. The two of them insult each other in a way that breaches the social norms of the time. Their conversations make them more equal, and soon the animosity between them turns into love.

Much Ado About Nothing: characters

Let's now look at the characters in the play.

Claudio

Claudio is a Lord of Florence and a soldier in Don Pedro's army. He is Benedick's friend. Claudio falls in love with Hero and wants to marry her. He doesn't fully trust her and he's made to believe that she's unfaithful to him. Claudio insults Hero and leaves her at the altar. When he thinks she's dead because of him and when he learns that she was faithful, he asks her father for forgiveness and lets him punish him as he sees fit. Claudio learns to appreciate Hero and marries her in the end.

Hero

Hero is Leonato's daughter and Beatrice's cousin. She falls in love with Claudio and wants to marry him. Hero is humble, gentle and obedient. When Claudio questions her virtue, and insults her on what was supposed to be their wedding day, Hero can't take it and she faints. She agrees to go with the plan and pretend that she has died of sorrow and shame. In the end, Hero marries the remorseful Claudio. Hero also has a more cunning side to her. She makes Beatrice believe that Benedick has feelings for her because she wants to see her cousin happy and married as well.

Beatrice

Beatrice is Leonato's niece and Hero's cousin. She is outspoken and witty. Beatrice exchanges insults with Benedick and says that she deeply dislikes him. She is also openly opposed to marriage. As the play progresses, Beatrice realises she's in love with Benedick and she agrees to marry him. Beatrice is also very protective of her cousin. When Claudio dishonours Hero, Beatrice wants Benedick to kill him.

Benedick

Benedick is a lord of Padua and a soldier in Don Pedro's army. In the beginning of the play, he's a sworn bachelor. He has witty quarrels with Beatrice. Soon, their mutual insults turn to mutual love. He is ready to marry Beatrice. Benedick is also good friends with Claudio and he hesitates when Beatrice asks him to kill Claudio.

Don Pedro

Don Pedro is the Prince of Arragon. He's Don John's brother. Don Pedro is friends with Leonato, Benedick and Claudio. Don Pedro is a good and kind friend but he's also suspicious and quick to judge others. This leads to him believing Don John's lies about Hero.

Don John

Don John is Don Pedro's illegitimate brother. Don John is the comic villain of the play. He is jealous of his brother, so he almost ruins Don Pedro's reputation as well as Claudio and Hero's marriage. At the end of the play, Don John is captured by the watchmen and is no longer a threat.

Leonato

Leonato is the Governor of Messina. He's Hero's father and Beatrice's uncle. Leonato is a good friend of Don Pedro's. When Don Pedro and his soldiers return from war, Leonato invites them to stay at his house. Leonato approves of Claudio marrying his daughter. When Claudio accuses Hero of infidelity, Leonato trusts Friar Francis and he deceives Claudio that Hero is dead. Leonato forgives Claudio when he sees his remorse, and he gives him his blessing to marry Hero.

How has Much Ado About Nothing influenced culture today?

Much Ado About Nothing is one of the most famous Shakespearean comedies. The play is frequently performed in theatres around the world. Nowadays, the expression 'Much ado about nothing' is still used to describe a lot of fuss over something that is not so important.

The comedy is still relevant and entertaining today, because it depicts characters and situations from ordinary life that we can identify with. There have been many adaptations of the play, including films, web series, operas, a musical and a rock opera.

Did you know that there are also book adaptations of the play? Most of them are modern young adult retellings but there's also a novel set in 1920s America - Speak Easy, Speak Love (2017) by Mckelle George.

Much Ado About Nothing (1598-9) - Key takeaways

  • Much Ado About Nothing is a five-act comedy by William Shakespeare. It was written in 1598-9.
  • The play follows two romantic couples – Claudio and Hero, and Benedick and Beatrice.
  • The meaning of 'nothing' in the title refers to the non-serious subject of the play and to characters noting each other.
  • The main themes in the play are: Reality vs Appearance, Love, and Gender Roles.
  • The main characters are: Claudio, Hero, Beatrice, Benedick, Don Pedro, Don John, and Leonato.

Much Ado About Nothing

The main message of Much Ado About Nothing is that we should be careful what and who we trust because we can be easily deceived by others.

The meaning of 'nothing' in the title refers to the non-serious subject of the play. The expression 'Much ado about nothing' means a lot of fuss over something that is not important. Additionally, 'nothing' sounds almost the same as 'noting' which refers to the characters in the play noting (noticing) each other.

The main themes of Much Ado About Nothing are: Reality vs Appearance, Love, and Gender Roles.

Set in Messina in Italy, Much Ado About Nothing follows two romantic couples - Claudio and Hero, and Benedick and Beatrice.

Final Much Ado About Nothing Quiz

Question

Where is Much Ado About Nothing set?

Show answer

Answer

Messina 

Show question

Question

Who is Don Pedro's illegitimate brother?

Show answer

Answer

Don John

Show question

Question

Which of these is NOT one of the possible meanings of 'nothing'?

Show answer

Answer

 An important issue

Show question

Question

True or false: Beatrice and Benedick admit their feelings for each other on their own, with no help from anyone else.

Show answer

Answer

False.

Show question

Question

Which character best adheres to her gender role as a woman?

Show answer

Answer

Hero

Show question

Question

How would you describe Beatrice?

Show answer

Answer

Witty

Show question

Question

True or false: Hero is wrongfully accused of being unfaithful to Claudio.

Show answer

Answer

True.

Show question

Question

True or false: Claudio deceives Leonato that Hero is dead.

Show answer

Answer

False.

Show question

Question

Which charcater is opposed to marriage in the beginning of the play?

Show answer

Answer

Benedick

Show question

Question

True or false: Don John is the Prince of Arragon.

Show answer

Answer

False.

Show question

Question

What does the expression 'Much ado about nothing' mean today?

Show answer

Answer

Making a lot of fuss over something that is not so important. 


Show question

Question

Which two characters exchange witty insults?

Show answer

Answer

Beatrice and Benedick

Show question

Question

Beatrice is Hero's...?

Show answer

Answer

 cousin

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Much Ado About Nothing quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.