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Plot in Much Ado About Nothing

Plot Examples in Much Ado About Nothing:

Act I - Scene I

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"Benedick, didst thou note the daughter of Signior Leonato?..."   (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.

" If this were so, so were it uttered..."   (Act I - Scene I)

Claudio implies that Benedick would have disclosed his secret anyway.

" hath not the world one man but he will wear his cap with suspicion..."   (Act I - Scene I)

Benedick refers to the fact that a married man must be suspicious of becoming a cuckold (i. e., a husband whose wife takes a lover).  The symbol of a cuckhold is a set of horns, which would be underneath the husband's cap.

"That is the sum of all, Leonato..."   (Act I - Scene I)

While Beatrice and Benedick have been exchanging insults, Don Pedro has been explaining to Leonato what he has been doing in the recent weeks.

"Being reconciled to the prince your brother..."   (Act I - Scene I)

Leonato has now turned to Don John, Don Pedro's estranged brother.  This is the first serious dialogue in the opening scene.  Leonato implies that there has been bad blood between Don Pedro and his illegitimate brother, Don John.  As an illegitimate son, Don John has no hope of ruling his brother's kingdom except through usurping Don Pedro's position.  But Leonato acknowledges that because the brothers have reconciled he owes equal hospitality to Don John.

"the lady fathers herself..."   (Act I - Scene I)

That is, the daughter looks like her father, so there is no doubt about her parentage.

"Signior Benedick, no; for then were you a child...."   (Act I - Scene I)

In a polite, self-deprecating joke, Leonato implies that only Benedick could have seduced his wife.

"If he have caught the Benedick..."   (Act I - Scene I)

Beatrice refers not to the plague, which cannot be cured, but to a sexually transmitted disease.

"Where is my cousin, your son?..."   (Act I - Scene II)

In modern terms, this would be Leonato's nephew.  In Elizabethan times, the word cousin is loosely used to mean any relatively close relative.

"hath all the glory of(55) my overthrow..."   (Act I - Scene III)

That is, Claudio was instrumental in Don John's defeat in his battle against Don Pedro.

"Speak low if you speak love...."   (Act II - Scene I)

Don Pedro suggests that there is a romantic element to secrecy in courtship, but pay attention to the ways in which the play illustrates that secrecy can be highly destructive. Claudio worries that his good friend Don Pedro is secretly plotting to court Hero for himself. Throughout the play, secrets lead to jealousy in general.

"my mother cried..."   (Act II - Scene I)

That is, her mother had a painful birth just like every other mother.

"I cry you mercy, uncle..."   (Act II - Scene I)

Beatrice is either saying, "Please, give me a break," or, "God have mercy on you, uncle,' as a way of saying farewell.

"I was born to speak all mirth and no matter...."   (Act II - Scene I)

Beatrice gets away from this awkward exchange by claiming that she speaks lightly not seriously.

"I would rather have one of your father's getting...."   (Act II - Scene I)

This actually opens up an awkward moment between Beatrice and Don Pedro. She is flirting with him but also making it clear she is not interested in him.

"broke..."   (Act II - Scene I)

That is, I have spoken to and brokered your marriage terms with Leonato.

"You have put him down, lady..."   (Act II - Scene I)

The implication is that Beatrice has been too harsh with Benedick.

"he won it of me with false dice..."   (Act II - Scene I)

That is, Benedick tricked Beatrice into falling in love while he was not in love with her.

"If their singing answer your saying, by my faith, you say honestly...."   (Act II - Scene I)

That is, if, as you say, Hero will consent to marry Claudio, then you are correct (true).

"The revellers are entering, brother..."   (Act II - Scene I)

This is a masked ball.  Don Pedro and his retainers, who include Benedick and Claudio, are with him and enter the ball already masked.  Leonato's entourage are also already masked so that, at least in theory, everyone is anonymous and can speak with more freedom than he or she would normally use.  More important, everyone is equal in this setting.

"ruled by your father...."   (Act II - Scene I)

Beatrice's father is either dead or far away. She is under the care of Leonato, her uncle.

"The poison of that lies in you to temper. Go you to the prince your brother; spare not to tell him that he hath(20) wronged his honour in marrying the renowned Claudio whose estimation do you mightily hold up, to a contaminated stale, such a one as Hero...."   (Act II - Scene II)

In Elizabethan times, it was expected that middle- and upper-class women retain their virginity until they were married. If a women did lose her virginity before marriage, she would be subject to social scorn, ridicule, and would bring shame on her family and future husband. Here, Don John suggests that after his plot Hero will seem “contaminated” to Claudio because she will no longer be a virgin. It would then be shameful for Claudio to marry her.

"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?..."   (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.

"thousand ducats..."   (Act II - Scene II)

A ducat (also, a Venetian ducat) was equal to a Crown or five shillings in Shakespeare's day.  Twenty shillings equaled a Pound Sterling, so a thousand ducats would allow Borachio to live in luxury for at least a couple of years.

"jealousy shall be called assurance..."   (Act II - Scene II)

That is, the suspicion (of jealousy) will be converted to the certainty of Hero's guilt.

"intend a kind of zeal both to the prince and Claudio..."   (Act II - Scene II)

That is, pretend you are doing this only because you want to protect Don Pedro and Claudio.

"Look you for any other issue?..."   (Act II - Scene II)

That is, what more could you ask for?  Note how deception, which is an innocent pastime in the hands of Don Pedro, becomes deadly in Don John's hands—simply to  amuse himself, he is willing to deceive his brother, torment Claudio, ruin an innocent girl's reputation, and perhaps kill her father with shame.

"that he hath(20) wronged his honour..."   (Act II - Scene II)

That is, that Don Pedro has harmed his own honor by encouraging Claudio.

"Note this before my notes; There's not a note of mine that's worth noting...."   (Act II - Scene III)

Balthazar’s off-key singing also hints that there is something that is “off” about this conference, which the audience of course knows to be true. Don Pedro, Claudio, and Leonato, are not fooled by Benedick’s hiding. They know he is there. The entire conversation that occurs is part of their trick.

"An he should, it were an alms to hang him!..."   (Act II - Scene III)

In other words, if Benedick should make fun of Beatrice, it would be a good deed to hang him.

"Knavery cannot, sure, hide himself in such reverence...."   (Act II - Scene III)

Benedick is observing that Leonato looks so honest and respectable that he could not be lying.

"She will sit you—you heard(105) my daughter tell you how. ..."   (Act II - Scene III)

At this point, Leonato is having trouble coming up with a good lie to fool Benedick, so he's looking to either Claudio or Don Pedro to come up with something convincing.

"night raven..."   (Act II - Scene III)

In Renaissance and Elizabethan folklore, the night raven is an omen of disaster—in this case, Benedick mentions the plague.

"sheeps' guts..."   (Act II - Scene III)

Because stringed instruments, such as the lute and guitar, used sheep's intestines for strings, we know that Balthasar is accompanying himself with a lute or guitar.

"For others say thou dost deserve, and I Believe it better than reportingly...."   (Act III - Scene I)

Beatrice claims to believe in Benedick’s worth “better than reportingly.” Her use of the word “reportingly” is intriguing, and suggests that the reports she heard about Benedick are not responsible for her new opinion of him. Either she is mistaken, or she has held affections for Benedick since the beginning of the play’s events.

"Signior Benedick, For shape, for bearing, argument, and valour, Goes foremost in report through Italy. HERO: Indeed he hath an excellent good name...."   (Act III - Scene I)

Ursula and Hero describe Benedick’s reputation, which, according to Ursula’s word, “goes foremost in report through Italy.” Hero, despite holding a higher opinion of Claudio, agrees with Ursula with the intention of tricking Beatrice into loving Benedick.

"There will she hide her To listen our propose. This is thy office...."   (Act III - Scene I)

The events of Act 3, scene 1 closely mirror those of Act 2, scene 3. Just as Don Pedro planned for Benedick to overhear his false account of Beatrice’s love for him, Hero will spin the opposite story to a not-so-hidden Beatrice.

"Some Cupid kills with arrows, some with traps...."   (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.

"His excellence did earn it ere he had it...."   (Act III - Scene I)

In other words, Benedick's virtues deserved a good reputation long before anyone recognized his virtues.

"To wish him wrestle with affection, And never to let Beatrice know of it. ..."   (Act III - Scene I)

In other words, Hero suggests that Benedick loves in silence.  The implication is that Beatrice, because of her proud nature, will reject Benedick's love, so it would be better if Benedick just keeps his love secret.

"the pleached bower..."   (Act III - Scene I)

This is likely the same arbor that Benedick hid in.  An arbor and bower are both an enclosed space in a garden with a roof of vines intertwined to enclose the space.

"So says the prince, and my new-trothed lord. ..."   (Act III - Scene I)

They are, of course, deceived by the Prince's plan to bring Beatrice and Benedick together.

"Proposing with the prince and Claudio...."   (Act III - Scene I)

Considering Beatrice's quick wits, this likely means that she is arguing with the Prince and Claudio.

"Go but with me to-night, you shall see her chamber window(95) ent'red, even the night before her wedding day...."   (Act III - Scene II)

While the other characters have thus far staged fake conversations for their schemes, Don John stages visual deception, relying on the eyes instead of the ears, which would seem even more reliable.

"Well, every one can master a grief, but he that has it. ..."   (Act III - Scene II)

Benedick points out that it is easy for someone to give advice on overcoming anguish when they are not the person affected by it. This line underscores the way in which the characters are entangled in each other’s affairs: Claudio has Don Pedro court Hero for him and the entire group is plotting for Benedick and Beatrice’s engagement. It is easy for everyone to meddle in the romantic lives of others, but the characters’ often have trouble navigating their own affairs.

"O plague right well prevented! ..."   (Act III - Scene II)

Don John is most likely referring to the prevention of a sexually transmitted disease (the plague) from the promiscuous Hero to the chaste Claudio if the marriage is not consummated.

"surely suit ill spent and labour ill bestowed!..."   (Act III - Scene II)

In other words, this effort (to bring about the marriage of Claudio and Hero) has been a waste of your time.

"and then the two bears will not bite(65) one another when they meet...."   (Act III - Scene II)

No one is quite sure that, even with all this preparation, Benedick and Beatrice will meet on friendly terms.

"For my life, to break with him about Beatrice!..."   (Act III - Scene II)

That is, Benedick intends to speak to Leonato, Beatrice's uncle and guardian,  privately about marrying Beatrice.

"You must hang it first and draw it afterwards...."   (Act III - Scene II)

Claudio is making a joke with a horrible reality—people who were executed for treason were first hanged and then drawn and cut up into four pieces.

"We are like to prove a goodly commodity, being taken up of these men's bills...."   (Act III - Scene III)

That is, we are likely to be valuable prisoners after having been caught by these men.

" let us obey you to go with us..."   (Act III - Scene III)

The Watchman, clearly still excited, comes out with a confusing order: he means we order you to obey us and come with us.

"Call up the right master constable...."   (Act III - Scene III)

The Watchman refers to Dogberry with a very exalted title in the excitement of this arrest.

"and I see that the fashion wears out more apparel than the man...."   (Act III - Scene III)

That is, more clothes are thrown away because of being out-of-fashion than because they are worn out.

"You have been always called a merciful man, partner...."   (Act III - Scene III)

Dogberry, of course, has completely subverted the goals of the night watch: their job is to let the guilty go but catch the innocent who pose no threat.

"If he will not stand when he is bidden, he is none of the prince's subjects...."   (Act III - Scene III)

The joke here is based on the night watch's lack of logic: they conclude that if someone ignores them, that person must not be one of the Prince's subjects and therefore not subject to the night watch's jurisdiction, a good way to avoid any unpleasantness such as an arrest.

"Why then, take no note of him, but let him go..."   (Act III - Scene III)

The humor here is that if the night watch challenges someone who then ignores their challenge, they simply let that person go.  The night watch is almost useless, but they do provide comic relief at an otherwise tense part of the play.

"but to write and read comes by nature...."   (Act III - Scene III)

Dogberry most likely means that the ability to read and write is from nature.

"For a hawk, a horse, or a husband?..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

Margaret has interpreted Beatrice's "Heigh-ho" as an expression of anticipation.

"Take their examination yourself and bring it me. I am(45) now in great haste, as it may appear unto you...."   (Act III - Scene V)

Leonato does not take Dogberry seriously because of his demonstrated lack of education and tedious social behaviors. He is “now in great haste” because Dogberry has wasted so much time with idle talk.

"Neighbours, you are tedious...."   (Act III - Scene V)

This exclamation by Leonato demonstrates his growing frustration with these two simpletons. This foreshadows that he will not take their information seriously when they finally get around to saying it.

"There is not chastity, enough in language(100)..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

When Don Pedro starts to describe what he witnessed, Don John interrupts and says not to speak of it, since there "is not chastity enough in language.” Don John is essentially suggesting that Hero’s villainy is too terrible to be articulated, but this is actually a ploy to prevent Don Pedro from revealing details that would lead to Hero’s acquittal. Don John’s strategies once again involve performance and manipulation of language, underscoring the theme that language can determine one’s perception of reality.

"Think you in your soul the Count Claudio hath wronged Hero?..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

Benedick now asks if Beatrice really believes that Claudio has knowingly wronged Hero.

"Use it for my love some other way than swearing by it...."   (Act IV - Scene I)

Beatrice is subtly telling Benedick to use his hand to kill Claudio rather than merely using it to swear by his love for Beatrice.

"Talk with a man out at a window! — A proper saying!..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

Beatrice is talking to herself here—she is no longer paying attention to Benedick.  Her mind has gone back to the accusation that Hero talked to someone from a window, something that a woman like Hero would not do.

"Ha! not for the wide world! ..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

Benedick cannot bring himself to believe that Beatrice is serious, so he treats her comment as a joke.  He doesn't connect the discussion of his oath, sworn on his sword, with Beatrice's request that he kill his best friend, Claudio.

"By my sword, Beatrice, thou lovest me...."   (Act IV - Scene I)

Benedick, because he is a soldier first, swears on his most precious object, his sword.

"A very even way, but no such friend..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

Beatrice is saying that there is a very straightforward way for Benedick to prove his friendship but that he is not the friend to perform the deed.

"Is that she will not add to her damnation(180) A sin of perjury: she not denies it...."   (Act IV - Scene I)

Leonato mistakes Hero's silence for her shame at being guilty.

"My lord, they are spoken, and these things are(65) true...."   (Act IV - Scene I)

This is an important statement by Don John because he states affirmatively that Hero is unfaithful when he knows that she is not.  Later, this statement will seal his fate.

"Stand thee by, friar...."   (Act IV - Scene I)

This is a serious challenge by Claudio, who is literally telling the priest to stand aside while he questions Leonato, Hero's father, a very unorthodox move to make during a wedding ceremony.

"How now? interjections? ..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

Benedick is clearly trying to defuse the intent of Claudio's interjections, which are supposed to be of a positive nature.  Benedick recognizes very quickly that Claudio's cries are not just from the excitement of the occasion.

"Only to the plain form of marriage..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

Leonato is instructing the friar to perform a basic and short wedding ceremony.

"two gowns..."   (Act IV - Scene II)

By this, Dogberry most likely means that he has two gowns for official wear, something like a formal uniform for a constable.

"O that he were here to write me down an ass!..."   (Act IV - Scene II)

Dogberry wishes that the Sexton were there to record the fact that Conrade called him an ass so that Conrade is punished for such an offense.

"Flat burglary as ever was committed...."   (Act IV - Scene II)

Dogberry has either forgotten the real problem here—that Don John's men have accused Hero wrongfully—and thinks a thousand ducats is too much to pay for such deeds or he mistakes *burglary *for slander.

"Why, this is flat perjury, to call a prince's brother villain. ..."   (Act IV - Scene II)

Dogberry, always confused, doesn't seem to understand that Don John's own men have called him a villain, which undoubtedly means that Don John is a villain.

"sirrah..."   (Act IV - Scene II)

Now that Dogberry knows Conrade is a gentleman, he is deliberately insulting him by using the term sirrah.

"My soul doth tell me Hero is belied;..."   (Act V - Scene I)

By saying that “Hero is belied,” Leonato here reveals that he believes that Hero has been wrongly accused of being unfaithful. His emphasis on what his “soul” tells him illustrates a rare moment in the play in which a character trust’s their feelings over the words and perceptions of others.

"God save the foundation!..."   (Act V - Scene I)

Dogberry thanks Leonato as if Leonato represents a group of people (the foundation).

"There's for thy pains...."   (Act V - Scene I)

At this point, Leonato is handing some money to Dogberry to compensate him and the night watch for their efforts.

"And also the watch heard them talk of one Deformed. They say he wears a key in his ear, and a lock(300) hanging by it, and borrows money in God's name..."   (Act V - Scene I)

Dogberry is, in his completely confused way, recounting an earlier comment by Borachio in which he said "fashion" was like a deformed thief.  Dogberry and his fellow night-watch members did not understand the metaphorical nature of the comment and assumed Borachio was talking about a deformed person who wore a lock in his hair. Dogberry continually provides comic-relief to an otherwise fairly grim episode.

"there's one meaning well suited...."   (Act V - Scene I)

Claudio is making a joke about the number of charges Dogberry made and the number of questions Don Pedro asked, but he concludes that the charges and questions result in one important meaning.  Claudio doesn't say what that meaning is, but the implication is that Hero has been accused on the basis of false testimony.

"Pluck up, my heart, and be sad!..."   (Act V - Scene I)

That is, be cheerful, my heart, and seriously consider what he said. Don Pedro is beginning to realize that something important has occurred to change matters.

"the savage bull's horns ..."   (Act V - Scene I)

This is a joke on Benedick, who in Act 1 Scene 1, lines 262-68, swore he would never allow the bull's horns (symbolizing marriage)  to be attached to his head. Unlike Claudio, Don Pedro is still not aware that Benedick has challenged Claudio to a duel for having "killed" Hero's reputation.

"I will make it good how you dare..."   (Act V - Scene I)

That is, I am going to prove your villainy (his accusations against Hero) in a duel.

"Shall I speak a word in your ear?..."   (Act V - Scene I)

Because Benedick does not want to offend his patron, Don Pedro, he must issue his challenge privately to Claudio.  At this point, neither Don Pedro nor Claudio understand that Benedick is now opposed to them because of his relationship with Beatrice.

"was broke(140) cross...."   (Act V - Scene I)

That is, Benedick's lance was shattered on his opponent's shield as their lances crossed.

"And shall, or some of us will smart for it...."   (Act V - Scene I)

Antonio says that Leonato's complaint will be heard by everyone or that "some of us," by which he means Don Pedro and Claudio, are going to be hurt (presumably, in a duel.)

"How they might hurt their enemies, if they durst;..."   (Act V - Scene I)

Antonio implies that men like Claudio, who say that they will defeat their enemies, are merely cowards.

"sir boy..."   (Act V - Scene I)

By calling Claudio sir boy, Antonio is trying very hard to goad Claudio into a fight.  Under other circumstances, Claudio would not let this insult go unanswered.

"Nay, never lay thy hand upon thy sword;..."   (Act V - Scene I)

Claudio has reacted to Leonato's speech by reflexively grabbing the hilt of his sword, as any soldier might do when insulted.

"thou dissembler, thou!..."   (Act V - Scene I)

That is, you incredible liar!  Leonato's use of thou rather than the more polite* you* indicates his disgust with Claudio.

"Some of us would lie low...."   (Act V - Scene I)

When Antonio sarcastically refers to "some of us" he refers to Claudio and Don Pedro, the accusers of Hero.  The implication is that if Leonato started a fight, he would kill Claudio and Don Pedro.

"Nay, do not quarrel with us, good old man...."   (Act V - Scene I)

Don Pedro, who understands the meaning of Leonato's "all is one," warns him not to start a fight.

"Well, all is one...."   (Act V - Scene I)

Leonato, still expressing the grief he feels, tells Don Pedro that nothing matters anymore.

"monument..."   (Act V - Scene III)

A “monument” in this context is the family’s tomb. In Elizabethan England, rich families would be buried together in a single tomb or mausoleum. Claudio and the Prince are here because they believe Hero is dead.

"Think not on him till tomorrow...."   (Act V - Scene IV)

Despite the happy ending, the play ends in this strange moment of uncertainty. Don Jon has fled and is returning with an army of men, presumably to take his revenge on these characters. Though the play ends happily it also hints at future drama or strife for these characters. Strife the audience will never see because we are at the end of the play.

"Nothing certainer. One Hero died defiled; but I do live,(65) And surely as I live, I am a maid...."   (Act V - Scene IV)

“Maid” in this context means virgin. In order to rid herself of slander, Hero died a metaphorical death. This marriage to Claudio marks her rebirth as a chaste wife to a nobleman.

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