Much Ado About Nothing

William Shakespeare
Summary

Act IV, scenes i–ii

Summary Act IV, scenes i–ii

Although the usually quiet Hero speaks up in her own defense, Claudio does not allow her even the possibility of defending herself. When she blushes in shock and humiliation, he cries:

. . . Would you not swear,
All you that see her, that she were a maid,
By these exterior shows? But she is none.
She knows the heat of a luxurious bed.
Her blush is guiltiness, not modesty.
         (V.i.36–40)

Hero’s reactions of horror become, in Claudio’s description of her face, evidence of her guilt, making it impossible for her to offer any defense. Claudio similarly discards Hero’s denial of the accusation when she says, “I talked with no man at that hour, my lord” (IV.i.85). Claudio is convinced—by his eyes, by his own suspicious nature, and by his certainty that he cannot have been mistaken—that he knows the truth. He has already tried and convicted Hero in his mind, and she is afforded no chance to prove her virtue.

Following immediately upon these moments of betrayal and pain, however, seeds are sown for resolution and redemption. The trick that the friar plans is ingenious, and it seems to be a good one. It also plays cunningly upon a simple fact of human nature:

That what we have, we prize not to the worth
Whiles we enjoy it, but, being lacked and lost,
. . .
         then we find
The virtue that possession would not show us
Whiles it was ours.
         (IV.i.217–221)

As soon as Hero’s accusers think her dead, the friar realizes, much of the anger driving Claudio and the others will dissipate, and they will start to remember her good qualities and regret their poor treatment of her. The “greater birth” that the friar envisions will transform Hero from an object of scorn and slander into someone mourned and better beloved than when she was alive (IV.i.212). In order to wash away her alleged sin, then, Hero will have to die and be symbolically reborn.

The scene also marks a critical turning point in the relationship between Benedick and Beatrice. Benedick seems to make an important decision when he stays behind in the church with Beatrice and her family instead of leaving with Claudio, Don Pedro, and Don John. His loyalty, which lies with his soldier friends when he arrives in Messina, now draws him to stay with Beatrice. In their elliptical ways, Beatrice and Benedick confess their love to one another after everyone else has left the church. Beatrice’s confused answer to Benedick’s blurting out that he loves her reveals that she is hiding something. Indeed, when Benedick exultantly exclaims that she loves him, she finally admits it: “I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest” (IV.i.284–285).

Lost in his newfound love, Benedick apparently converts himself to Beatrice’s way of thinking. Soberly he asks her whether she truly believes that Claudio has slandered Hero. When Beatrice answers yes, Benedick says, “Enough, I am engaged, I will challenge him. I will kiss your hand, and so I leave you” (IV.i.325–326). Spurred by his own conscience, his love for Beatrice, and his trust in Beatrice’s judgment, Benedick makes the radical decision to challenge Claudio to a duel to the death for what he has done to Hero. The lines of loyalty in the play have changed considerably.