On the morning of her wedding to Claudio, Hero wakes up early and tells her servant Ursula to wake Beatrice. Meanwhile, Hero’s maid Margaret argues affectionately with Hero about what she ought to wear for her wedding. Hero is excited, but she is also uneasy for reasons she cannot name; she has a strange foreboding of disaster. Beatrice arrives, and Margaret, in high spirits, teases her about her changed personality, saying that now Beatrice too desires a husband. Beatrice expresses annoyance, but Margaret is sure that she is right, and so she continues to tease Beatrice about Benedick—but in a manner subtle enough that Beatrice cannot accuse Margaret of knowing anything completely. Soon enough, Claudio arrives with his friends, accompanied by the large wedding party, apparently ready to take Hero to the church. They all set off together.Read a translation of Act III, scene iv →
Just as Leonato prepares to enter the church for his daughter’s wedding, Dogberry and Verges catch up with Leonato and try to talk to him. They explain that they have caught two criminals and want to interrogate them in front of him. However, their attempts to communicate their message are so long-winded, foolish, and generally mixed up that they fail to convey how urgent the matter is—and, in fact, they may not understand its importance themselves. Leonato defers their business, explaining that he is busy this day, and orders Dogberry and Verges to question the men themselves and tell him about it later. Dogberry and Verges head off to question the prisoners on their own, and Leonato enters the church in order to participate in the wedding ceremony about to take place.Read a translation of Act III, scene v →
The scene in Hero’s bedchamber, as Hero prepares for her wedding day, provides an example of some of Much Ado About Nothing’s strongest features: the scene combines nonstop jokes with a sense of affection. It means a great deal to Hero to have her cousin and her beloved maids with her on her wedding morning, even amid all the raunchy joking surrounding Hero’s impending marriage—for instance, Margaret’s statement that Hero’s heart will “be heavier soon by the weight of a man” (III.iv.23). Hero’s unexpected sense of foreboding sets off warning bells in the minds of the audience. Hero asks God to “give me joy to wear [my wedding dress], for my heart is exceeding heavy” (III.iv.21–22). There is no clear reason for her to feel this way, except perhaps that she must sadly bid her innocent childhood adieu; we interpret her heaviness of heart as a foreshadowing of something bad to come.
Margaret, in high spirits after a night with Borachio, shows remarkable wit in this scene, jesting about Beatrice’s conversion to the ways of love. When Beatrice, far more subdued then usual, says that she feels sick, Margaret teasingly offers her a cure—distillation of carduus benedictus, or “holy thistle,” a plant thought to have medicinal powers in the Renaissance. Beatrice, of course, quite rightly thinks that Margaret is trying to make a point—“Why Benedictus?” she cries. “You have some moral in this Benedictus” (III.iv.10.). Margaret gaily avoids saying concretely what she means, but the gist of the joke is clear: Beatrice is sick with love, and only benedictus—that is, Benedick—can cure her. This scene juxtaposes Margaret’s dirty punning and overt sexuality with Hero’s fearful innocence and utter ignorance of all things carnal. We thus learn how different Hero is from Margaret, and how wrong Claudio is to doubt Hero and mistake Margaret for his untainted beloved.
Act III, scene v, in which Dogberry and Verges try to speak with Leonato outside the church, heightens the tension and our anticipation of an approaching disaster. The two constables entertain us with their foibles as always. In this conversation, Dogberry actually starts pitying Verges and making excuses for his friend’s supposed foolishness, although Dogberry himself, as usual, gets many of his words wrong. He calls Verges “an old man,” and says, “his wits are not so blunt as, God help, I would desire they were”; he means, of course, “sharp” instead of “blunt” (III.v.9–10). To Verges’s response, saying he thinks that he is honest, Dogberry makes the oft-quoted reply, “Comparisons are odorous” (III.v.14). He means to quote the proverb “comparisons are odious.” The men that the two constables have caught, of course, are Conrad and Borachio—and Borachio is the one who has helped Don John deceive Claudio and Don Pedro the night before. But because Dogberry and Verges are such poor communicators, they are unable to convey to Leonato how important it is that he hear Borachio’s testimony;because they are so foolish, they do not seem to realize how important it is themselves. Thus, Leonato enters the church, and Dogberry and Verges go off without Don John’s scheme having been exposed.