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Much Ado About Nothing

William Shakespeare

Study Questions & Essay Topics

Key Facts

Quiz

Study Questions

1.

Why might it be hard to believe that Hero and Claudio really love each other?

Many readers have difficulty accepting the romantic relationship between Hero and Claudio. After all, they have barely met before they fall in love and decide to get married, and then Claudio betrays Hero viciously. But the idea of love at first sight was popular in Shakespeare’s day. Romeo and Juliet, for instance, fall in love at first sight. Moreover, Claudio’s methods of courting Hero through other people would have been an accepted tactic among Elizabethan nobility.

Claudio’s belief that Don John’s trick is reality is a much bigger problem. Some readers feel that it is impossible to sympathize with Claudio after he rejects Hero in the church. One fact that defends Claudio is that he is young and inexperienced. Also, Don John is very clever—even the older, more experienced Don Pedro is deceived by his ruse. Hero’s willingness to forgive Claudio is just as disturbing as Claudio’s rejection of Hero. She does not challenge his behavior toward her but instead marries him willingly. In the end, though, Claudio is awestruck and delighted by Hero’s unexpected reappearance.

2.

Speech and conversation are important in the play, and many of the characters have distinctive ways of speaking. How do the characters’ speech patterns differ?

The speech patterns of the play’s characters vary widely. Some speak with elegance and passion. Two examples of particular eloquence are Leonato’s speech after Hero is betrayed and Beatrice’s expression of her anger at Claudio. But Benedick and Beatrice also share a special way of speaking all their own, in which they are constantly making jokes and puns; this verbal sparring highlights their special gift of wit. Other characters have no such skill with words. Dogberry is always getting his words wrong to very humorous effect. However, his mistakes hinder communication, as in Act III, scene v, when Dogberry and the Watch try to tell Leonato that they have caught Borachio but cannot make themselves understood. Finally, some characters seldom speak at all, like the sullen and bitter Don John or the gentle but usually shy Hero and Claudio.

3.

How do gossip, conversation, and overhearing function in the play?

Much of the plot is moved along by characters eavesdropping on a conversation and either misunderstanding what they overhear or being deceived by gossip or by a trick. Hero, Claudio, and the rest trick Benedick and Beatrice by setting them up to overhear conversations in which their friends deliberately mislead them. Don John’s spiteful gossip makes Claudio and Don Pedro suspicious that Hero is disloyal. The window trick, in which Borachio and the disguised Margaret make love at Hero’s window, is itself a sort of overhearing. In this case, two people spying on the scene, Claudio and Don Pedro, misunderstand what they see, because Don John has set it up to deceive them. The window scene restages the trick played upon Beatrice and Benedick, but with the opposite effect. Instead of causing two people to fall in love, it causes Claudio to abandon Hero. Finally, at the end of the play, overhearing restores order. The men of the Watch, hearing Borachio brag about his crime to Conrad, arrest him and bring him to justice (III.iii).

4. What does the play say about relationships between women and men?

Much Ado About Nothing features one of Shakespeare’s most admired and well-loved heroines, Beatrice. Her strength of spirit, sense of independence, and fierce wit place her among the most powerful female characters Shakespeare ever created. But her self-sufficiency does not prevent her from accepting love. Although both she and Benedick have vowed that they will never marry, they change their minds quickly, and both decide that marriage is better than being single. However, Claudio and Hero do not enjoy the strong and egalitarian relationship that Benedick and Beatrice do. Hero’s plight reminds us that a woman in the Renaissance was vulnerable to the accusations or bad treatment of men—including her own male relatives. Leonato, in his grief, gives orders to let his daughter die after Claudio abandons her in Act IV, scene i. If not for the intervention of Beatrice and the friar, it is not clear what might have happened to Hero.

Suggested Essay Topics

1. Much Ado About Nothing is supposedly a comedy: Beatrice and Benedick trade insults for professions of love, and Claudio and Hero fall in love, out of love, and back in love again. But the play contains many darker, more tragic elements than a typical comedy. In what ways is this play tragic?

2. A central theme in the play is trickery or deceit, whether for good or evil purposes. Counterfeiting, or concealing one’s true feelings, is part of this theme. Good characters as well as evil ones engage in deceit as they attempt to conceal their feelings: Beatrice and Benedick mask their feelings for one another with bitter insults, Don John spies on Claudio and Hero. Who hides and what is hidden? How does deceit function in the world of the play, and how does it help the play comment on theater in general?

3. Language in Much Ado About Nothing often takes the form of brutality and violence. “She speaks poniards, and every word stabs,” complains Benedick of Beatrice (II.i.216). Find examples of speech and words representing wounds and battles in the play. What do Shakespeare and his cast of characters accomplish by metaphorically turning words into weapons? What does the proliferation of all this violent language signify in the play and the world outside it?

4. In some ways, Don Pedro is the most elusive character in the play. He never explains his motivations—for wooing Hero for Claudio, for believing Don John’s lie, even for setting up Beatrice and Benedick. He also seems to have no romantic interest of his own, though, at the end of the play, without a future wife, he is melancholy. Investigate Don Pedro’s character, imagine the different ways in which he could be portrayed, and ascribe to him the motivations that you believe make him act as he does. Why is he so melancholy? Why does he woo Hero for Claudio? Is he joking when he proposes to Beatrice, or is he sincere? Why would Shakespeare create a character like Don Pedro for his comedy about romantic misunderstandings?

5. In this play, accusations of unchaste and untrustworthy behavior can be just as damaging to a woman’s honor as such behavior itself. Is the same true for the males in the play? How is a man’s honor affected by accusations of untrustworthiness or unfaithfulness? Do sexual fidelity and innocence fit into the picture in the same way for men as it does for women? Examine the question of honor and fidelity as it relates to four male characters in the play: Benedick, Leonato, Claudio, and Don Pedro. What could Shakespeare be saying about the difference between male and female honor?

More Help

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Don Pedro's Romantic Feelings

by CDGirvin, December 06, 2012

In this SparkNote, it mentions that Don Pedro "seems to have no romantic interest of his own," although in Act 2, Scene 1 (beginning around line 275) Don Pedro is talking with Beatrice about her views on marriage after the masquerade. Beatrice makes a joke, saying, "I would rather have one of your father’s getting. / Hath your grace ne'er a brother like you? / Your father got excellent husbands, if a maid could come by them." Don Pedro responds, "Will you have me, lady?" which is potentially another joke, although it may also be quite a se... Read more

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153 out of 184 people found this helpful

Don Pedro-infatuated with Beatrice?

by GoblinMaiden, April 23, 2013

I think that at the end of the day, Don Pedro is more inclined to try be of any help and see his friends happy. Don Pedro offers himself to Beatrice lightly, but with the obvious intent of wanting to secure her own happiness, especially since she is so fickle about men in the first place. He doesn't seek her hand with his own interest so much as in the interest of her own well being. It illustrates just how selfless his character is.

1 Comments

7 out of 11 people found this helpful

Mistake - Antonio is not the father of Beatrice

by ---VeVe---, June 16, 2013

There is a mistake in the summary: at the very beginning, it says Antonio would be the father of Beatrice. Actually, he is most likely only her uncle, just as Leonato. Why else is Leonato the first who concerns of her marriage instead of Antonio? (He tries to convince her (2.1) and Don Pedro addresses him with this issue (2.1).) It is because he is her closest male relative (in the printed edition I have this is even written within an annotation) and therefore responsible for her.
These are only evidences but I could not find any indic... Read more

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29 out of 33 people found this helpful

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