Much Ado About Nothing

Don Pedro An important nobleman from Aragon, sometimes referred to as “Prince.” Don Pedro is a longtime friend of Leonato, Hero’s father, and is also close to the soldiers who have been fighting under him—the younger Benedick and the very young Claudio. Don Pedro is generous, courteous, intelligent, and loving to his friends, but he is also quick to believe evil of others and hasty to take revenge. He is the most politically and socially powerful character in the play.
Benedick An aristocratic soldier who has recently been fighting under Don Pedro, and a friend of Don Pedro and Claudio. Benedick is very witty, always making jokes and puns. He carries on a “merry war” of wits with Beatrice, but at the beginning of the play he swears he will never fall in love or marry.
Claudio A young soldier who has won great acclaim fighting under Don Pedro during the recent wars. Claudio falls in love with Hero upon his return to Messina. His unfortunately suspicious nature makes him quick to believe evil rumors and hasty to despair and take revenge.
Don John The illegitimate brother of Don Pedro; sometimes called “the Bastard.” Don John is melancholy and sullen by nature, and he creates a dark scheme to ruin the happiness of Hero and Claudio. He is the villain of the play; his evil actions are motivated by his envy of his brother’s social authority.
Conrad One of Don John’s more intimate associates, entirely devoted to Don John. Several recent productions have staged Conrad as Don John’s potential male lover, possibly to intensify Don John’s feelings of being a social outcast and therefore motivate his desire for revenge.
Borachio An associate of Don John. Borachio is the lover of Margaret, Hero’s serving woman. He conspires with Don John to trick Claudio and Don Pedro into thinking that Hero is unfaithful to Claudio. His name means “drunkard” in Italian, which might serve as a subtle direction to the actor playing him.
Leonato A respected, well-to-do, elderly noble at whose home, in Messina, Italy, the action is set. Leonato is the father of Hero and the uncle of Beatrice. As governor of Messina, he is second in social power only to Don Pedro.
Hero The beautiful young daughter of Leonato and the cousin of Beatrice. Hero is lovely, gentle, and kind. She falls in love with Claudio when he falls for her, but when Don John slanders her and Claudio rashly takes revenge, she suffers terribly.
Beatrice Leonato’s niece and Hero’s cousin. Beatrice is “a pleasant-spirited lady” with a very sharp tongue. She is generous and loving, but, like Benedick, continually mocks other people with elaborately tooled jokes and puns. She wages a war of wits against Benedick and often wins the battles. At the outset of the play, she appears content never to marry.
Antonio Leonato’s elderly brother and Hero’s uncle. He is Beatrice’s father.
Ursula One of Hero’s waiting women.
Margaret Hero’s serving woman, who unwittingly helps Borachio and Don John deceive Claudio into thinking that Hero is unfaithful. Unlike Ursula, Hero’s other lady-in-waiting, Margaret is lower class. Though she is honest, she does have some dealings with the villainous world of Don John: her lover is the mistrustful and easily bribed Borachio. Also unlike Ursula, Margaret loves to break decorum, especially with bawdy jokes and teases.
Verges The deputy to Dogberry, chief policeman of Messina.
Dogberry The constable in charge of the Watch, or chief policeman, of Messina. Dogberry is very sincere and takes his job seriously, but he has a habit of using exactly the wrong word to convey his meaning. Dogberry is one of the few “middling sort,” or middle-class characters, in the play, though his desire to speak formally and elaborately like the noblemen becomes an occasion for parody.
Balthasar A waiting man in Leonato’s household and a musician. Balthasar flirts with Margaret at the masked party and helps Leonato, Claudio, and Don Pedro trick Benedick into falling in love with Beatrice. Balthasar sings the song, “Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more” about accepting men’s infidelity as natural.
Basic Plot Summary -Leonato, Governor of Messina, finds out his good friend Don Pedro of Arragon is coming to visit on his way back from battle.-Beatrice, Leonato’s niece, asks the messenger whether Benedick is returning. We learn that Beatrice and Benedick have been engaged in a war of wits for as long as they’ve known each other, and she seems to be full of scorn and mockery for the man. -Don Pedro, Benedick, Claudio, and Don Pedro’s illegitimate brother, Don John, arrive. Benedick and Beatrice exchange some barbs, and the sum of their interaction is that they both hate love and will never get married. -Claudio pulls Benedick aside and reveals that he’s fallen for Leonato’s daughter, Hero. Benedick is full of jokes, and thinks marriage and women are bad news, especially the two combined. -Benedick reveals Claudio’s love to Don Pedro, who’s more sympathetic. Left alone, Claudio confirms to Don Pedro that he’d like to have Hero for his bride. Don Pedro volunteers to pretend to be Claudio and woo Hero on Claudio’s behalf and at the scheduled masquerade ball. He’s certain he’ll be able to secure a marriage for Claudio and Hero. -A servant overhears this conversation and the Leona’s brother, Antonio, is told about it. However, the servant misunderstood and believes Don Pedro intends to woo Hero for himself. Leonato goes off to prepare his daughter, Hero, for what he assumes will be a proposal of marriage from Don Pedro.-The scene moves to Don John. He’s a jerk, and he likes being a jerk. Don John’s attendant, Borachio, enters with a opportunity for Don John to practice some villainy while he’s at Leonato’s house. Borachio correctly heard that Don Pedro plans to woo Hero on Claudio’s behalf. The men all agree that this has great potential for their evil attentions, so they’re off to brainstorm. -Leonato, Hero, Beatrice, and company are getting ready for the masquerade ball after dinner. -Talk turns to how Beatrice will never find a man to suit her. Beatrice teases that she’s happy to be a bachelor for life, and even into death. -Hero is reminded that her father instructed her on how to return Don Pedro’s affections, and we learn that Hero is generally a pliable and obedient girl. -As the men enter in their masks, everyone pairs off with partners. Don Pedro woos Hero privately. Meanwhile, Beatrice rails about Benedick to her disguised partner (who happens to be Benedick). -Don John and his crew are still up to villainy, and they corner Claudio, pretending to think he’s Benedick. They suggest that Don Pedro has wooed Hero for himself. Hearing this news, Claudio declares that he should never have trusted the affairs of love to anyone else. He ditches his love for Hero. -The first part of Don John’s dastardly plan is foiled when Don Pedro announces that Hero and Claudio can now get together, as he’s done his job and wooed Hero on Claudio’s behalf. He’s explained all of this to Benedick, but Benedick is too busy being hurt by Beatrice’s mean words to appreciate that Disaster Part 1 has been averted. -As Beatrice approaches with Leonato, Hero, and Claudio, Benedick runs away to avoid further criticism from the lady. Claudio enters, sulking, and he’s immediately transformed from being a taciturn emo kid into a joyous puppy when he hears the good news: Don Pedro did exactly as he promised, and a marriage is being set up between Hero and Claudio. -Claudio finds out that he won’t be able to marry Hero for a week, and now everyone has to figure out how to have fun during a week with no wedding and no weird courting conflicts. The answer: create weird courting conflicts. -Don Pedro decides he’s going to hatch a plan to get Benedick and Beatrice together, which should be entertaining (or a disaster). -Back to the scheming Don John. Though he couldn’t destroy Hero and Claudio’s courtship, he’s sure he can destroy their wedding. Borachio suggests that Don John convince Claudio and Don Pedro to stand in the orchard outside Hero’s window on the night before the wedding. — -There, Borachio will be making love-talk with Hero’s servant, Margaret, who he’ll have dressed in Hero’s clothes. From far off, the men will think the girl engaged in inappropriate window activity is Hero, and they’ll write Hero off as disloyal. -Later, Benedick is in the orchard, lamenting that one more brave soldier has fallen to the petticoats of love. Benedick notes that Claudio is changed from being a brave, straight-speaking soldier into a milquetoast, concerned with romantic music, fashion, and poetry. Benedick thinks he’ll never undergo such a ridiculous transformation. -Benedick hides when Don Pedro, Claudio, and Leonato approach. They see him hide, so they put their plan (to coerce him into loving Beatrice) into action. They launch into a loud, supposedly secret conversation about how Beatrice is tearing her hair out over her love for Benedick. They say Beatrice can’t make her love known because she’s certain that Benedick will scorn and mock her. They all leave. Benedick jumps out of the shrubbery, declaring that he can love Beatrice, and he’ll prove it. Beatrice has been sent out to invite Benedick to dinner, and Benedick dotes on her, already exhibiting the dullard signs of love. -Hero is in on the plan to get Beatrice and Benedick together. While Beatrice is within listening range, Hero and her attendant Ursula play the same old trick on Beatrice. They announce that they can’t tell Beatrice of Benedick’s love because no man can ever please Beatrice, she’s such a proud and scornful woman. Once they leave, Beatrice has the same reaction as Benedick, and promises she’ll leave her scorn behind. She’ll love and marry Benedick, if he’ll have her. -Later, Don Pedro and Claudio are with Leonato and Benedick, and they launch into teasing Benedick, who’s seeming much changed by his crush – with a shaven beard, a nice smell, and a dulled wit – he’s already a milquetoast.-Benedick can’t handle the teasing, and scampers off, leaving Don Pedro and Claudio to be approached by Don John. Don John claims Hero is disloyal, and he can show them proof. Claudio says if he finds Hero is disloyal, he’ll disgrace her in front of the whole congregation, which is a tad overly dramatic in our opinion. -Later that night, Dogberry, a constable, and his man Verges give muddled instructions to an incompetent group of watchmen, who plan to sleep through their duties. In spite of their incompetence, they hear Borachio recount to Conrade (another of Don John’s evil cronies) how Don John’s scheme went off without a hitch. Margaret appeared to be Hero and flirted with Borachio, while Don Pedro, Claudio, and Don John witnessed “Hero’s” disloyalty. Claudio has decided that he’ll renounce Hero tomorrow morning at the chapel. The watch then comes forth and arrests Borachio and Conrade for their wickedness.-It’s the morning, and Hero is getting ready for her wedding. Beatrice is helping her, though Beatrice is not acting like her usual jovial self. Margaret teases that Beatrice looks like she’s in love. Just before the wedding can take place, Dogberry comes to Leonato, trying to get him to come to the examination of the captured prisoners, Borachio and Conrade. Leonato is in a rush to get to his daughter’s wedding, so he tells Dogberry to do the examination himself.-Finally, everyone’s ready for the wedding, except Claudio, who proceeds to call Hero a disloyal, deceptive, and faithless ***** in front of the entire group that’s come to watch her get married. Hero denies Claudio’s claims that she was flirting with another man at her window, but Don Pedro says he definitely saw her too, as did Don John. Hero faints. The men stalk out, leaving the girl for dead, and everyone else tries to sort out just what in the world is going on. -Beatrice and the Friar are certain there’s some treachery afoot, and Benedick realizes Don John must be at the bottom of this. The Friar then comes up with a strategy – they’ll let word get out that Hero actually did die. People will then pity the girl, and forget this bad little groomzilla episode. Claudio will once again remember Hero fondly (once she’s dead) and in the meantime, some proof will probably surface that will clear her good name. If nothing shakes out, they can always send Hero off to a convent to be cloistered away. -Everyone leaves except Benedick and Beatrice. Benedick takes advantage of this really awkward moment to profess his love for Beatrice. She’s stoked, and says she loves him too, but she’s pretty preoccupied with her cousin’s ruin. –However, if Benedick wants to prove his love to her, he should kill Claudio for slandering Hero. At first, Benedick tries to backtrack out of it, but Beatrice threatens to leave. Benedick comes around to thinking Claudio really has wronged Hero, and he goes off to challenge Claudio. -Meanwhile, back at the ranch (just kidding, the prison), Dogberry is interrogating Borachio and Conrade. He trips up the investigation, but the Sexton manages to piece together that they’ve found the source of Hero’s ills. The Sexton is off to report the news to Leonato, with the prisoners in tow. -Leonato and Antonio confront Don Pedro and Claudio, saying they’ve killed an innocent girl by wronging Hero. Claudio and Don Pedro, however, stick to their guns; they maintain they’ve done nothing wrong, they only exposed Hero as a harlot – it’s not their fault that she’s now a dead one. -Next, Don Pedro and Claudio then into Benedick. Benedick challenges Claudio to a duel for causing the wrongful death of an innocent girl. He calls Claudio a young punk, saying he’s waiting for the challenge whenever Claudio is ready. -Claudio and Don Pedro joke about Benedick until Dogberry comes in with Borachio and Conrade in tow. Borachio admits that he and Don John are responsible for framing Hero, and now the innocent girl is dead. Claudio and Don Pedro are shocked, and we’re all “who has egg on their face, now, eggfaces?” -So Claudio and Don Pedro are sorry they killed a girl by calling her a harlot, and Leonato enters having heard the same news. Claudio says he and Don Pedro are to blame as much as Borachio and Don John because they believed the slander against Hero. -Leonato says Claudio can make it up to him by going to Hero’s grave and mourning her with an epitaph (a statement in memory of a deceased person), to be hung on the family tomb. That should clear Hero’s name to the public. After that, Claudio is to meet Leonato at the house, and marry Antonio’s daughter, who is apparently the spitting image of Hero.-During this time, Benedick and Beatrice have been flirting around in the orchard. Beatrice hears that Benedick challenged Claudio and is waiting for an answer, and she won’t make out with Benedick until he’s got some blood on his hands. -Thankfully, before anyone can get their hands into some flesh, Ursula rushes in to announce that Hero’s name has been cleared. -That night, Don Pedro and Claudio go to Hero’s tomb, where they hang an epitaph and mourn. Claudio promises he’ll do this ritual once a year on the anniversary of Hero’s death. Thankfully, it’s a new day, and they can get over all this sadness about Hero and get to Claudio’s new wedding. -At Leonato’s house, everyone’s stoked that things worked out so nicely. The newly exonerated Hero and all the girls are sent off to cover their faces, and Benedick pulls the Friar aside to ask for his services in marrying him to Beatrice after the whole “Hero’s risen from the dead” hubbub.-Don Pedro and Claudio enter. Claudio agrees to marry Leonato’s niece before he’s even seen her. Then, he sees her, and realizes she’s actually Hero! -As everyone is about to head off to the chapel, Benedick makes a big public show of calling out Beatrice, asking if she loves him, maybe. Beatrice, embarrassed, is like, “Um, I love you in a friendly, non-sexual manner. Of course I don’t want to marry you, because that would make me a hypocrite for saying all the time how stupid marriage is.” Benedick is like, “Oh, friends are fun, I like having more friends.” -Then Claudio and Hero blow Beatrice and Benedick’s cover by revealing love notes the two had written to each other, and Benedick and Beatrice are all, “Aw shucks, guess we’ll have to get married after all, but it’s only because we pity each other and don’t want to die old and alone.” -Then Benedick declares he doesn’t mind getting married after all, as people change their minds all the time about who they really are. -Further, Benedick announces that he and Claudio are friends again, and everyone takes to dancing before they’re even married.
“You must not mistake my niece. There is a kind of merry war betwixt Signor Benedick and her.” Leonato to a messenger (Act I Scene I).Leonato assures the messenger that his niece is not a bad person (as her wit is sharper than any knife); Beatrice is just caught up in a “merry war” of wits with the absent Benedick.
“I shall see thee, ere I die, look pale with love.” Don Pedro to Benedick (Act I Scene I). Benedick, Claudio, and Don Pedro are having a conversation. Claudio has just revealed his passion for Leonato’s daughter, Hero. But Benedick is scornful about the whole thing. He is asserting that he will never marry, and Don Pedro is basically calling him on his rash statement–and tells him that before he (Don Pedro) dies, he will have the enjoyment of seeing Benedick “pale with love.” Basically, Don Pedro makes it his mission to find Benedick love.
“I am a plain-dealing villain.” Don John (Act I Scene III).Don John comments that he is melancholy by nature, and lacks the skills to act contrary to how he feels. He knows he is angry and sullen, but he argues, he’s honest in that he never pretends to be something that he is not. He says, “though I cannot be said to be a flattering honest man, it must not be denied but I am a plain-dealing villain.” He is saying that while no one can say that he is a friendly person who will sugar-coat the truth and tell white lies to spare feelings, no one can deny that he is truthful.
“She speaks poniards, and every word stabs: if her breath were as terrible as her terminations, there were no living near her; she would infect to the north star.” Benedick, complaining about Beatrice (Act II Scene I).Benedick is complaining about Beatrice’s previous insult rampage when every word felt like a dagger stab; Benedick further declares if her breathe were as deadly as her words, there would be “no living near her”; infection could occur all the way to the North Star.
It is my cousin’s duty to make curtsy and say, “Father, as it please you.” But yet for all that, cousin, let him be a handsome fellow, or else make another curtsy, and say, “Father, as it please me.” Beatrice to Hero (Act II Scene I). Familial love is another form of love in the play, and in this instance it’s expressed as duty. Hero’s subservience to her father’s will is not because she’s a girl, but because she’s a daughter, and she obeys her father out of love. Beatrice, also out of love for her cousin, reminds Hero that there’s some wiggle room in familial obedience.
O, my lord, wisdom and blood combating in so tender a body, we have ten proofs to one that blood hath the victory. Leonato, tricking Benedick into thinking Beatrice is in love with him, to Don Pedro (Act II Scene III).Oh, my lord, when wisdom and passion are in one body, it’s ten to one that the passion will win. I am sorry for her, as I should be, since I am both her uncle and her guardian.
Shall quips and sentences and these paper bullets of the brain awe a man from the career of his humour? No, the world must be peopled. When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married. Benedick to audience (Act II Scene III).Benedick is reconsidering his attitude toward marriage in light of Beatrice’s alleged love for him; he reconsiders the very bent of his witticisms—the “quips” which have “railed so long against marriage,” and asks himself if his ‘history’ should keep him from pursuing his current inclinations (“career of his humour”). Then Benedick thinks of the necessity to people the world as a reason to marry, and adds that when he said that he “would die a bachelor,” he did not think he would live to marry: thus Benedick abandons bachelorhood as a lifestyle choice almost immediately after his friends set him up by fooling him into thinking Beatrice loves him—Claudio was right when he said that Benedick would “bite” the baited hook.
One doth not know how much an ill word may empoison liking. Hero to Ursula ( Act III Scene I). Foreshadows her own upcoming situation. One does not know what a white lie can lead to.
What fire is in mine ears? Can this be true?Stand I condemned for pride and scorn so much?Contempt, farewell! And maiden pride, adieu!No glory lives behind the back of such.And, Benedick, love on; I will requite thee,Taming my wild heart to thy loving hand. Beatrice to audience (Act III Scene I).Up to now, we could’ve believed that Beatrice loved Benedick and just wouldn’t admit it. However, what moves Beatrice about the “secret” conversation she’s just heard is the accusation that she’s scornful and prideful. Her pride is hurt at being called prideful (just like Benedick). Beatrice’s pride moves her more than any latent love for Benedick; she’s humbly willing to attempt to improve herself, which is way more cool than changing herself for a guy.
Out on the, seeming! I will write against it.You seem to me as Dian in her orb,As chaste as is the bud ere it be blown.But you are more intemperate in your bloodThan Venus, or those pampered animalsThat rage in savage sensuality. Claudio to Hero (Act IV Scene 1). It’s interesting here that Hero, instead of simply stating that she is completely innocent, asks Claudio how she “seemed” to him. However, Claudio’s entire point is that she seemed innocent, and was not. Unlike Claudio, Hero implies that her reputation should be based on her actions, rather than on accusations and other peoples’ opinions.
If I know more of any man aliveThan that which maiden modesty doth warrant,Let all my sins lack mercy! Hero to Friar Francis (Act IV Scene I).If she has been with a man in any impure way, let her be punished. This is said following Claudio’s accusation.
Being that I flow in grief,The smallest twine may lead me. Leonato to Benedick (Act IV Scene I).Because I’m drowning in my grief, I’ll grab onto the smallest piece of string dangled in front of me.
Is a not approved in the height a villain, that hath slandered, scorned, dishonored my kinswoman? O that I were a man! Beatrice to Benedick (Act IV Scene I).Hasn’t he proven himself to be a great villain—slandering, scorning, and dishonoring my cousin? Oh, I wish I were a man! He pretended that everything was fine until the moment they were exchanging vows, and then—with public accusation, blatant slander, pure hatred—Oh God, if only I were a man! I would rip his heart out in public and eat it. Basically, she would take revenge herself on Claudio.
Marry, sir, they have committed false report; moreover, they have spoken untruths; secondarily, they are slanders; sixth and lastly, they have belied a lady; thirdly, they have verified unjust things; and to conclude, they are lying knaves. Dogberry to Don Pedro/Claudio(Act V Scene I). Reveals the truth of Don John’s plan.
The savage bull may, but if ever the sensible Benedick bear it, pluck off the bull’s horns and set them in my forehead, and let me be vilely painted, and in such great letters as they write ‘Here is good horse to hire’ let them signify under my sign ‘Here you may see Benedick, the married man.’ Benedick to Claudio/Don Pedro (Act I Scene I).Don Pedro has just quoted an old adage about even the wildest of people eventually calming down enough to submit to love and marriage, suggesting that in time even a savage bull will bear the yoke of a woman’s will. Benedick adamantly refuses to believe this commonplace and decides to mock it. The “sensible” Benedick means the rational Benedick, a person too intelligent to yield to the irrational ways of love. Benedick imagines a fantastical scene here, with horns clapped on his head and writing practically branded into his forehead. It was traditional in the Renaissance to imagine that cuckolds—men whose wives committed adultery—had horns on their heads. Benedick’s evocation of this image suggests that any woman he marries is sure to cheat on him. Claudio and Don Pedro continue to tease Benedick about the bull imagery throughout the play.
What should I do with him—dress him in my apparel and make him my waiting gentlewoman? He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man; and he that is more than a youth is not for me, and he that is less than a man, I am not for him. Beatrice to Leonato (Act II, Scene I). These lines constitute Beatrice’s witty explanation for why she must remain an unmarried woman and eventually an old maid: there is no man who would be a perfect match for her. Those who possess no facial hair are not manly enough to satisfy her desires, whereas those who do possess beards are not youthful enough for her. This conundrum is not particular to Beatrice. In Renaissance literature and culture, particularly in Shakespeare, youths on the cusp of manhood are often the most coveted objects of sexual desire.Although Beatrice jokes that she would dress up a beardless youth as a woman, there is a hidden double meaning here: in Shakespeare’s time, the actor playing Beatrice would have been doing exactly that, since all female roles were played by prepubescent boys until the late seventeenth century. Indeed, the beardless adolescent had a special allure that provoked the desires of both men and woman on the Elizabethan stage. Beatrice’s desire for a man who is caught between youth and maturity was in fact the sexual ideal at the time. The plot of the play eventually toys with her paradoxical sentiments for a man both with and without a beard: during the course of the play, Benedick will shave his beard once he falls in love with her.
They say the lady is fair. ‘Tis a truth, I can bear them witness. And virtuous—’tis so, I cannot reprove it. And wise, but for loving me. By my troth, it is no addition to her wit—nor no great argument of her folly, for I will be horribly in love with her. Benedick to himself (Act II Scene III).Benedick has just overheard Claudio, Leonato, and Don Pedro discussing Beatrice’s fabricated love for him. Alone on the stage, he ponders this news and concludes that the best thing for him to do is to return this love: “for I will be horribly in love with her” (II.iii.208). This line produces a comical effect, as it seems preposterous that someone would fall “horribly” in love with another person after simply weighing that person’s virtues. The choice of the word “horribly” accentuates the comic aspects of Benedick’s decision. Not only does he return her love, but he does so to the point of overthrowing her, and all others in his midst, with love. The choice of “horribly” could also echo a bit of the merry war Beatrice and Benedick have been fighting with their wits. There has always existed an element of competition between them. It is not enough for Benedick to reciprocate Beatrice’s passions; he must outdo them, perhaps in order to unseat her and win the competition. The actor playing Benedick has a number of choices in performing this soliloquy: he can reveal that he has always been in love with Beatrice but is in denial about his true feelings and therefore must go through the motions of weighing the pros and cons of loving her in a rational manner. Or he can simply treat this moment as one more parry in the thrusts and blows of their “merry war” and conclude that the only way to win is to surpass her, even in love.
O Hero! What a Hero hadst thou beenIf half thy outward graces had been placedAbout thy thoughts and counsels of thy heart!But fare thee well, most foul, most fair, farewellThou pure impiety and impious purity.For thee I’ll lock up all the gates of love,And on my eyelids shall conjecture hang To turn all beauty into thoughts of harm,And never shall it more be gracious. Claudio to Hero (Act IV Scene I). Claudio has just openly rebuked Hero at their wedding ceremony, throwing her back to Leonato, her father. He believes that she has not only been unfaithful to him but has lost her virginity, and therefore her purity and innocence, to someone else before her marriage. Claudio’s belief is the result of Don John’s evil plot to deceive him and make him lose Don Pedro’s goodwill. These lines demonstrate Shakespeare’s ability to fill a speech with double meanings and wordplay through repetition. For instance, “Hero” appears twice in the first line, changing meaning the second time. The first time, Claudio addresses his former beloved directly. The second time, Claudio compares “Hero” to an ideal conqueror of his heart, as classical heroes conquered and won great battles. Yet Hero has lost her heroic qualities. “Fare thee well most foul, most fair, farewell” plays with repetition and opposites: the sound of the word “fair” is repeated three times in the space of one line, underscoring Claudio’s despair at discovering that Hero’s outward beauty or fairness conceals a “foul” spirit, as he thinks.There might also be some play on the double meanings of “fair”—as beautiful, and as balanced and true. In Claudio’s eyes, Hero is not only no longer “fair,” meaning beautiful (she is “foul”), but she is also no longer “fair,” meaning truthful, but is its opposite, false or dissembling. Both the combination of “fair” and “foul” in the same line and “pure impiety and impious purity” in the following line demonstrate a rhetorical technique Shakespeare is famous for using in his plays: antithesis, or the combining of paradoxical opposites in one line for emphasis. Moments in which characters spout antitheses usually occur at the height of passion. For Claudio to use these particular opposites to describe his frustration with Hero’s seemingly fair exterior and false and foul interior reveals that he is livid with rage and driven to despair.
Dost thou not suspect my place? Dost thou not suspect my years? O that he were here to write me down an ass! But masters, remember that I am an ass. Though it be not written down, yet forget not that I am an ass. No, thou villain, thou art full of piety, as shall be proved upon thee by good witness. I am a wise fellow, and which is more, an officer, and which is more, a householder, and which is more, as pretty a piece of flesh as any is in Messina, and one that knows the law, go to . . . and one that hath two gowns, and everything handsome about him. Bring him away. O that I had been writ down an ass! Dogberry to Conrade (Act IV Scene II). Dogberry is the constable and leader of the town night watch in Messina, the town where the action of the play takes place. Despite his comedic substitutions of incorrect words for similar-sounding correct words, Dogberry does succeed in apprehending Conrad and Borachio and unraveling Don John’s plot to deceive Claudio and ruin Hero. At this moment, he has caught Borachio and brought him before the sexton to record the events of the evening. Binding the villains together, Dogberry calls Conrad a “naughty varlet” (IV.ii.65). Conrad has angrily responded to Dogberry with “Away, you are an ass, you are an ass” (IV.ii.66). Dogberry, infuriated that anyone should insult him, delivers this indignant comic speech filled with verbal misuse, saying “suspect” instead of “respect” and “piety” instead of “impiety.” Dogberry’s determined insistence that he be “writ down an ass” is comical, because instead of asking that the sexton note that Conrad has insulted Dogberry, Dogberry contributes to his own slander by insisting that the sexton put in writing that Dogberry is “an ass.” Dogberry is most offended by Conrad’s accusation because the constable interprets Conrad’s rudeness as a class criticism, which it most likely is. Dogberry may not be a nobleman, but he is a good, law-abiding citizen, he owns his own house, and he possesses two costly pieces of apparel (two gowns), which signifies that though he does not belong to the court, he is part of the emergent bourgeoisie. He is right to feel insulted by the ill-behaved noble Conrad’s invective. Though Dogberry’s poor command of the English language results in hilarity, there is nothing poor or evil about him