Character Analysis in Much Ado About Nothing
Beatrice: Beatrice is Leonato’s niece and Hero’s cousin. She is a clever, witty, and strong-willed character who rejects the idea of love and marriage throughout much of the play. Her character develops as the play progresses, however, and she begins to see love and marriage in a different light.
Benedick: Benedick is a lord of Padua, Italy, who is also witty and initially opposes the concept of marriage and romance like Beatrice does. However, also like Beatrice, Benedick resists the idea of marriage less and less as the play goes on.
Don Pedro: Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon, is a powerful nobleman. While he is constantly meddling in other characters’ affairs, he has good intentions, and his schemes come from a place of compassion.
Don John: Don John is Don Pedro’s illegitimate brother and the villain of the play. Unlike Don Pedro’s well-intentioned scheming, Don John plots to ruin the characters’ social statuses and relationships. Although Don John is a main character, he has relatively few lines and functions mostly as a plot device rather than a complex villain.
Character Analysis Examples in Much Ado About Nothing:
Act I - Scene I
"That I love her, I feel...." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
There is perhaps no piece of dialogue that better demonstrates the differences between Claudio and Benedick. Claudio’s expression of love for Hero is clear, earnest, and spoken from the heart. Benedick’s reply is syntactically convoluted and cloaked in irony and overwrought metaphors.
"she were not possessed with a fury, exceeds her as much in beauty as the first of May doth the last of December...." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
Shakespeare often built metaphors based on the seasons of the year. In this case, the metaphor works on two levels. On one level, the seasons represent different degrees of human beauty, with May indicating a greater amount beauty than December. On another level, the seasons represent different temperaments. May, with its warm weather, stands in for the “fury” of Beatrice’s personality, whereas December might point to a comparatively cooler individual.
"Can the world buy such a jewel?..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
This exchange between Claudio and Benedick displays the vast difference between their personalities and attitudes. Claudio characterizes Hero as “such a jewel,” after which Benedick evokes the image of “a case to put it into.” Claudio is a romantic, crafting flattering metaphors for Hero. Benedick is a misogynist, expressing negative attitudes about women.
"or would you have me speak after my custom, as being a professed tyrant to their sex?..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
Benedick admits to being a “professed tyrant” to women. His attitudes towards women are similar to the attitudes Beatrice holds towards men. Shakespeare creates an intriguing balance between the four central characters of the play. The two pairs of couples—Claudio and Hero, Benedick and Beatrice—are mirrors of one another. It is clear thus far that Shakespeare is creating character doubles, a favorite technique.
"Benedick, didst thou note the daughter of Signior Leonato?..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
This line sparks the central romantic thread of the play: Claudio’s courting of Hero. The line also reveals the significant difference in personality between Claudio and Benedick. Claudio is straightforward, and unafraid to express his interest in Hero.
"I had rather(110) hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me...." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
This line, with its vivid metaphor, reveals a great deal about Beatrice’s character. She is fiercely independent, and has no interest in being courted by a man. As the scene unfolds, it becomes clear that Beatrice and Benedick share this trait in common. Benedick holds a similar scorn for women.
"God help the noble Claudio! If he have caught the Benedick..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
Beatrice jokes that Claudio might catch Benedick as if he were a disease. The suggestion is that Benedick will spread his irritating demeanour to the calmer, more reserved Claudio.
"You had musty victual, and he hath holp to eat it. He is a very valiant trencherman;..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
Beatrice’s comments about Benedick introduce their relationship, defined by mutual teasing. Here Beatrice is calling Benedick gluttonous. The word “victual” is an archaic synonym for “food,” and “trencherman” refers to a big eater.
"Alas! He gets nothing by that. In our last conflict four of his five wits went halting off, and now is the(55) whole man governed with one..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
Leonato’s niece Beatrice hears the news that Don Pedro and his company are visiting. Included in the group is Benedick—Beatrice’s “sworn enemy.” Every time the two meet, they continue their battle of wits. In this passage, Beatrice proclaims her victory from their last encounter and how Benedick is now left with only one wit. Beatrice’s statement implies that Benedick is even less intelligent and witty than a half-wit, or fool.
"And tell fair Hero I am Claudio, And in her bosom I'll unclasp my heart..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
Claudio hasn't yet told Hero he's in love with her and he's afraid she will reject him. Don Pedro has offered his assistance: he will pretend to be Claudio at the ball because everyone will be wearing masks. Don Pedro will tell Hero he is Claudio and that he's in love with her, and then see what she says. Thus, Claudio doesn't have to put himself in such a vulnerable position.
"What, my dear Lady Disdain! are you yet living?..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
Beatrice and Benedick have some of the wittiest dialogue in this romantic comedy. Here, Beatrice starts this round of insults by asking Benedick why he continues to speak if no one is listening to him. She knows how much he loves the attention he gets from others, and so this insult is meant to deflate his ego. His response includes the first of many playful nicknames that Benedick continues to use throughout the play. He calls her “Lady Disdain” to accuse her of disliking everything and to show that her insult did no harm. She responds with just as witty a retort, saying that he provides so much disdain for her to feed on that she'll never die.
Act I - Scene III
"I had rather be a canker in a hedge than a rose in his grace, and it better fits my blood to be disdained of all than to fashion a carriage to rob love from any...." See in text (Act I - Scene III)
In this speech, Don John further expresses his stubborn personality. Through rich images, Don John states that individualism is more important to him than acceptance. He would “rather be a canker in a hedge than a rose.” He would, in a word, rather be disliked for who he is than liked for pretending to be someone else.
"You have of late stood out against your brother, and he hath ta'en you newly into his grace..." See in text (Act I - Scene III)
Conrade begins to reveal the nature of the relationship between Don John and Don Pedro, his older brother. The renowned Don Pedro has recently accepted Don John after a period of estrangement and political rivalry.
"I cannot hide what I am: I must be sad(10) when I have cause, and smile at no man's jests..." See in text (Act I - Scene III)
Don John introduces himself as an earnest and straightforward character. As he puts it, “I cannot hide what I am.” When he is sad, as is the case in this scene, he says that he “must be sad.” One of the play’s central themes is confusion, deceit and miscommunication. Don John establishes himself as a character who speaks directly.
Act II - Scene I
"I can see a church by(70) daylight...." See in text (Act II - Scene I)
Leonato notes that Beatrice is incredibly perceptive, maybe too much so, suggesting that she often reads too much into things. Beatrice jokes that she “can see a church by daylight,” which is to say that she simply sees what should be obvious to all—her vision is not clouded by overly-romanticized notions of love and marriage. However, note that while Beatrice may be observant and scrutinizing, this character trait does not lead to much introspection regarding her own romantic affairs. She is blind to her feelings for Benedick.
"he that hath no(30) 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...." See in text (Act II - Scene I)
Beatrice separates men into two categories: bearded men, who would refuse to put up with her, and beardless men, who are “boyish” and would not be able to handle her. Shakespeare thus uses beards as a symbol of masculinity. Beards (or a lack thereof) are used to characterize the men in the play as either gentle and vulnerable, or rugged and “manly.” Consider too, that Beatrice’s dislike of beards also symbolizes her resistance to men in general at this point in the play.
"The one is too like an image and says nothing, and the other too like my lady's eldest son, evermore tattling...." See in text (Act II - Scene I)
When Beatrice says that “one is too like an image and says nothing,” she means that Don John speaks too little to be a worthy suitor. Beatrice suggests that Don John is more like the “image” of a person—he expresses no opinions, and does not challenge her in the way that she wants or needs. However, she says that Benedick talks too much for her liking, concluding that the best partner would fall somewhere in between these two.
"By my troth, niece, thou wilt never get thee a husband if thou be so shrewd of thy tongue...." See in text (Act II - Scene I)
Leonato suggests that Beatrice scares off potential suitors because she is very blunt and outspoken. His remark reflects the problematic societal ideology during Shakespeare’s time that women needed to be docile and “gentle” in order to attract men. Beatrice is neither of these things; she is witty, candid, and refuses to conform to these confining social expectations.
"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(30) 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. Therefore I will even take sixpence in earnest of the bear-ward and lead his apes into hell...." See in text (Act II - Scene I)
Leonato is holding a masquerade ball as entertainment for his household guests. He and Beatrice converse about the men who will be there, and they discuss Beatrice’s possibly marrying a bearded, or a beardless, man. Beatrice claims that she would rather sleep with a sheep than marry a bearded man, who would be too old for her. On the other hand, she finds beardless men useless because they are “less than a man” or immature. Therefore, Beatrice believes no man is suitable for her and sarcastically states that she is ready to live up the supposed punishment for unmarried women: leading a bunch of apes into hell.
"Would it not grieve a woman to be overmastered with a piece of valiant dust? ..." See in text (Act II - Scene I)
Once again, the readers witness Beatrice’s sharp tongue at work and her wittiness, which is specifically used to mock the idea of falling in love or getting married in this context. She believes that it will “grieve,” or be miserable for, a woman to be “overmaster’d” or committed to a man, who she calls a “piece of valiant dust,” or, in other words, a handful of dust. This metaphor implies that men are unreliable, and as a result, Beatrice despises the idea that women must be subservient to men.
"let every eye negotiate for itself,..." See in text (Act II - Scene I)
Claudio has just been duped into believing his beloved Hero is unfaithful. He is quick to believe the lies of others; Don John and Borachio have only pretended not to recognize Claudio's disguise and lied about Hero's plans to run away with another man. "Let every eye negotiate for itself" means that people in love only act for themselves. Friendship, which is "constant in all other things," becomes irrelevant.
Act II - Scene II
"Any bar, any cross, any impediment will be medicinable to me. I am sick in displeasure to him, and(5) whatsoever comes athwart his affection ranges evenly with mine. How canst thou cross this marriage?..." See in text (Act II - Scene II)
When Don John asks Borachio “How canst thou cross this marriage?”, he is asking how the marriage can be prevented. Notice that this scene opens with Don John deciding to destroy a marriage while the previous scene ended with Don Pedro designing a plan to spark one. By placing these two plots in contrast to one another, Shakespeare emphasizes how vastly different Don John and Don Pedro are in character. Don Pedro’s well-intentioned scheme shows his benevolent nature, whereas Don John’s plot shows his destructive and malevolent character.
"nd there shall appear such seeming truth of Hero's disloyalty that jealousy shall be called assurance and all the preparation overthrown...." See in text (Act II - Scene II)
Don John, who is Don Pedro's illegitimate brother, hates both Don John and Claudio. Borachio, his friend and confidante, devises a plan to destroy them: he will pretend to make love to Hero (who will be impersonated by Margaret, who is in love with Borachio) in a window where Claudio and Don Pedro can see them. Claudio will be devastated once he thinks Hero has betrayed him, and Don Pedro will presumably fall out of favor with Claudio because he was the one who brought Claudio and Hero together in the first place.
Act II - Scene III
"Ha! ‘Against my will I am sent to bid you come in to dinner.’ There's a double meaning in that. ‘I took no more pains for those thanks than you took pains to thank me.’(235) That's as much as to say, ‘Any pains that I take for you is as easy as thanks.’..." See in text (Act II - Scene III)
Benedick takes the rumors he has just heard to be true on faith, despite Beatrice’s continued icy manner towards him. He interprets reality differently based entirely on hearsay, wholeheartedly believing that she loves him. Keep in mind, however, that the true nature of Beatrice’s feelings for Benedick are still unclear. Regardless, language and deception both continue to shape characters’ perceptions of reality.
"One woman is fair, yet I am well; another is wise, yet I am well; another virtuous, yet I am well; but till all graces be(25) in one woman, one woman shall not come in my grace...." See in text (Act II - Scene III)
Before hearing of Claudio’s engagement, Benedick refused to even to think about getting married. However, now that Benedick feels more pressure to get married, he lists traits that he finds preferable in a potential partner. He constructs a perfect romantic partner who could not possibly exist outside of the imagination. By doing so, Benedick continues to avoid the possibility of marriage by waiting indefinitely for an idealized partner.
"I have known when he would have walked ten mile afoot to see a good armour; and now will he lie ten nights awake..." See in text (Act II - Scene III)
The drum and fife are military instruments that symbolize warfare. The tabor and pipe are more sweet and gentle, associated with fun and dancing. Benedick continues to contrast courtship with warfare. He suggests that love has softened Claudio, a soldier by trade, and is upset by his engagement. Benedick’s annoyance at Claudio may indicate that Benedick himself feels pressured to get engaged.
Act III - Scene I
"I never yet saw man, How wise, how noble, young, how rarely featured, But she would spell him backward...." See in text (Act III - Scene I)
Before discussing Benedick, Hero describes Beatrice’s proud nature. As Hero sees it, Beatrice is so critical that she would find fault with any man. Issuing a list of characteristics, Hero imagines the problem Beatrice would complain of: “if tall, a lance ill-headed;/If low, an agate very vilely cut.”
"What fire is in mine ears? Can this be true? Stand I condemned for pride and scorn so much?(110) 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...." See in text (Act III - Scene I)
After learning that she has a reputation for being overly prideful and scornful, making her “unlovable” to Benedick, Beatrice expresses disbelief and shock. Suddenly, the character who defies societal expectations regarding women and marriage manages to abandon her contempt and “maiden pride.” She acknowledges that she has a “wild heart,” yet here she wants Benedick to “love on” as she will love him in return. However, it appears that Beatrice allows Benedict to pursue her more as a reaction against the reputation she has gained.
"Some Cupid kills with arrows, some with traps...." See in text (Act III - Scene I)
Hero and her attendant Ursula have planned to have Beatrice overhear their staged conversation, which will trick her into believing that Benedict loves her (as he does in reality). Hero and Ursula’s plan represents a Cupid’s trap. Moreover, the execution of this plan indirectly shows how Beatrice and Benedick are both stubborn and in self-denial regarding love and matrimony.
Act III - Scene II
"clapper..." See in text (Act III - Scene II)
A “clapper” is the tongue of a bell, which strikes it and causes it to sound. Claudio says that Benedick’s heart is the bell and his tongue is the clapper, suggesting he speaks everything that his heart thinks.
Act III - Scene V
"examination..." See in text (Act III - Scene V)
Dogberry uses the noun “examination” rather than the verb “examine” because he is repeating Leonato’s earlier command to “take their examination.” This suggests that Dogberry does not actually know the meaning of this word.
"comprehended..." See in text (Act III - Scene V)
“Comprehended,” to understand, is a malapropism for “apprehended,” a verb meaning to arrest in the name of the law. Because these malapropisms are close in sound but not meaning, they could signify that Dogberry is illiterate: he is simply repeating what he has heard.
"As they say,..." See in text (Act III - Scene V)
Dogberry frequently speaks in proverbs and platitudes. Although he uses these references in order to demonstrate his “wisdom,” these sayings ironically demonstrate his lack of wit and thought because he does not have his own words to express these ideas.
"my lord..." See in text (Act III - Scene V)
Dogberry’s overly polite speech inserts delay into his speech and draws out his point. Rather than directly getting to what he needs to tell Leonato, he prolongs this conversation because he does not pick up on the social cues that should show him that Leonato does not want to talk to him. This indicates his naivety in social situations.
"decerns..." See in text (Act III - Scene V)
Throughout the scene, Dogberry says multiple malapropisms, or the mispronunciation or mistaken use of a word in place of the right word. These mistakes show that he is of the uneducated lower class. They give Leonato a reason to dismiss his concerns and the audience a reason to laugh at him.
Act IV - Scene I
"Her blush is guiltiness, not modesty...." See in text (Act IV - Scene I)
Virgins were thought to be very modest and easily embarrassed by even the mention of sex. Claudio indignantly says that Hero’s blushing indicates her “guiltiness,” not her virginity. Rather than simply cancelling the wedding in private for her supposed adultery, Claudio humiliates Hero in front of the entire wedding ceremony. Claudio’s extreme reaction and awful allegations here indicate his fear of being shamed and made a cuckold.
"O, what men dare do..." See in text (Act IV - Scene I)
Once again, Claudio has been duped into believing that Hero is unfaithful. He picks up on Leonato's "I dare" from the previous line and begins (loudly) questioning the very nature of agency and mistakes—particularly the mistake he believes Hero has made.
Act IV - Scene II
"suspect..." See in text (Act IV - Scene II)
Here, Dogberry mistakes “suspect,” a verb meaning to regard someone with suspicion or distrust, with “respect,” a verb meaning to value or esteem. Notice that throughout the scene, Dogberry’s malapropisms tend to convey the opposite meaning of what he intends. They make him not only look like a fool, but they also make him sound culpable in the crimes he is prosecuting. If anyone were taking him seriously, these malapropisms could have dire consequences.
"Write down Prince Don John a villain. Why, this is flat perjury, to call a prince's brother villain...." See in text (Act IV - Scene II)
Notice that Dogberry asks the Sexton to write down that the prince is a villain before he realizes what has been said. This makes Dogberry into a type of puppet who is performing his role as constable.
"eftest..." See in text (Act IV - Scene II)
“Eftest” is an adjective that means best or most convenient. Dogberry gives up “questioning” these rogues when he discovers that there is a more convenient way to accuse them. This should cause the audience to laugh because the constable does not know the procedure after arresting criminals.
"Sir, I say to you, it is thought you are false knaves...." See in text (Act IV - Scene II)
Notice that Dogberry’s questions take the form of accusations. He is not “examining them” and therefore he does not learn any details about their crime. This demonstrates that Dogberry is an inept constable.
"Write down that they hope they serve God; and write God first, for God defend but God should go before such villains!..." See in text (Act IV - Scene II)
Dogberry again wastes everyone’s time by attempting to adhere to the proper order of things. He is inefficient and foolish because he cares more about these formalities than he does about getting to the bottom of the case. In this way, Shakespeare mocks bureaucracy and the police.
"Pray write down Borachio...." See in text (Act IV - Scene II)
Notice that Dogberry tells the Sexton to write down everything that happens in this scene. He micromanages the Sexton and therefore does a poor job with his own duties. His dictation to the sexton could also suggest that he cannot write himself.
"Marry, that am I and my partner...." See in text (Act IV - Scene II)
Dogberry mistakes “malefactors” for “accusers.” Notice that in this mistake, the constable confesses to the crime. His lack of education is comical here; however, if he were a character in a tragic play it could cause his downfall.
Act V - Scene I
"And so dies my revenge...." See in text (Act V - Scene I)
Leonato seeks revenge for the alleged death of Hero, who he says died from the shame of being charged with infidelity. He is particularly interested in punishing Don Pedro and Claudio because, though they didn't lie about Hero's virtue, they readily believed in her loss of virginity.
"For there was never yet philosopher That could endure the toothache patiently,..." See in text (Act V - Scene I)
With the morning of his daughter’s wedding ruined and his honor indirectly affected, Leonato is upset. When Antonio tells Leonato that indulging in grief and self-pity is childish, Leonato responds that even philosophers, who appear godlike and immune to human suffering, will fail to “endure” a “toothache.” Essentially, Leonato is using this example to defend his emotional vulnerability, which is part of human nature.
Act V - Scene II
"rheum..." See in text (Act V - Scene II)
“Rheum” means tears and snot. Benedick claims that a widow will only mourn and produce rheum for an hour before she forgets about her diseased lover. He uses this hyperbole in order to justify his boastful nature.
Act V - Scene IV
"Friar, I must entreat your pains, I think. ..." See in text (Act V - Scene IV)
Though Benedick is in love with Beatrice and soon to be married, he again jokes about marriage, saying that he is still unsure about whether or not marriage will prove to be his downfall. Shakespeare here makes Benedick seem like a more realistic character. Benedick has been critical of marriage throughout the entire play, and his opinions would not simply vanish altogether once he fell in love if he were a real person.