Plot Summary of Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing"

A plot summary and scene breakdown

Beatrice and Benedick
John Gielgud as Benedick and Diana Wynard as Beatrice in a scene from the Phoenix Theatre's 1952 production of "Much Ado About Nothing".

 Hulton Deutsch/Getty Images

As the title of this Shakespeare play suggests, there’s a lot of fuss over nothing! Claudio and Hero fall in love and plan to get married, but the villainous Don John slanders Hero with false evidence. The wedding is ruined and Hero faints. Her family soon suspect slander and decide to pretend that Hero died from shock. Don John’s evil plan is soon revealed and Claudio mourns Hero’s death. Eventually, Hero is revealed to be alive and the marriage goes ahead as planned. In the play’s closing moments, it is reported that Don John has been captured for his crime.

The following is the plot summary by scene:

Scene Breakdown of the Play

Act 1

Scene 1: Don Pedro, the Prince of Aragon, returns triumphantly from battle and seeks refuge in Messina. Leonato, the Governor of Messina, welcomes Pedro and his soldiers with open arms, and the sudden influx of men into the town soon stirs up some romance. Claudio instantly falls in love with Hero, and Beatrice is reunited with her old flame, Benedick—the man she loves to hate.

Scene 2: Leonato is busily preparing a great supper to welcome the war heroes to Messina when his brother brings him the news. Antonio explains that he overheard Claudio confessing his love for Hero.

Scene 3: The villainous Don John has also learned of Claudio’s love for Hero and vows to thwart their happiness. Don John is the “bastard” brother of Don Pedro—and he wants revenge for being defeated in battle.

Act 2

Scene 1: After supper, Leonato invites his guests to a great masked ball where Beatrice and Benedick continue to provide some light comedy—although they love each other, they can’t stop mocking each other long enough to admit it. Leonato gives permission for his daughter to marry Claudio in seven days time. Don Pedro and Hero decide to play cupid and plan to finally get Beatrice and Benedick to declare their love for each other.

Scene 2: Hearing that they only have one week to ruin the wedding, Don John and his henchmen soon devise a plan—they intend to trick Claudio with false evidence into thinking that Hero has been unfaithful to him the night before their wedding.

Scene 3: Meanwhile, Don Pedro tricks Benedick into thinking that Beatrice is head-over-heels in love with him, but dare not admit it in case Benedick mocks her. Benedick, who overhears this staged conversation, is completely fooled and starts musing on his love for Beatrice.

Act 3

Scene 1: Hero keeps her end of the bargain and manages to fool Beatrice into thinking that Benedick loves her, but dare not admit it to her. She, too, overhears Hero’s staged conversation and starts musing on her love for Benedick.

Scene 2: It is the night before the wedding and Don John prepares to execute his plan. He finds Claudio and tells him of Hero’s impurity. At first disbelieving, Claudio eventually agrees to go with Don John and see for himself.

Scene 3: Dogberry, a bumbling constable, instructs his watchmen to be extra vigilant because of the important wedding in the morning. The watchmen later overhear Don John’s henchmen drunkenly bragging about how they successfully tricked Claudio—they are promptly arrested.

Scene 4: It is the morning of the wedding and Hero is nervously preparing before the wedding party arrive and take her to church.

Scene 5: Leonato is hastily making his way to the wedding when he is stopped by Dogberry. Dogberry is a bumbling idiot and fails to communicate what his watch have discovered. Frustrated, Leonato tells him to interview the suspects and speak to him after the wedding ceremony.

Act 4

Scene 1: Claudio publicly reveals Hero’s infidelity halfway through the marriage ceremony. Hero is stunned by the accusation and soon faints in the chaos that follows. Once the wedding party disbands, the Friar becomes suspicious and convinces Leonato, Beatrice, and Benedick to pretend that Hero died from shock until they discover who has slandered her—Benedick immediately suspects Don John. Left alone, Beatrice and Benedick finally declare their love for each other. Beatrice asks Benedick to kill Claudio to avenge the shame he has brought on her family.

Scene 2: The trail of Don John’s henchmen happens after the wedding—too late to save the day. By now, the whole town thinks that Hero has died and they go to inform Leonato that his daughter died in vain.

Act 5

Scene 1: People are beginning to turn against Claudio; both Leonato and Benedick accuse him of wronging Hero, and then Dogberry reveals Don John’s henchmen. Claudio realizes that he was tricked by Don John and tries to apologize to Leonato. Leonato is surprisingly forgiving (because he knows that his daughter didn’t actually die). He says that he will forgive Claudio if he marries his cousin the following day.

Scene 2: Beatrice and Benedick still can’t stop insulting each other. They soon talk themselves out of having ever admitted love for one another at all.

Scene 3: By night, Claudio visits Hero’s tomb to mourn and hangs an epitaph—as Leonato requested.

Scene 4: At the wedding, Claudio is amazed when Hero is revealed to be alive and as virtuous as ever. Benedick and Beatrice finally admit their love for each other in public. Moments before the celebrations begin, a messenger arrives and reports that Don John has been captured.

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Jamieson, Lee. "Plot Summary of Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing"." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Jamieson, Lee. (2020, August 28). Plot Summary of Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing". Retrieved from Jamieson, Lee. "Plot Summary of Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing"." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 22, 2023).