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Much Ado About Nothing | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 1, Scene 3

Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 1, Scene 3 of William Shakespeare's play Much Ado About Nothing.

Much Ado About Nothing | Act 1, Scene 3 | Summary



Don John, Don Pedro's illegitimate half brother, is in a foul mood. Conrade thinks he should be happy, but Don John doesn't feel he has much to be happy about. He and his brother the prince have recently reconciled after a falling out, yet Don John refuses to play the grateful underling: "I had rather be a canker in a hedge than a rose in his grace," he tells Conrade.

Borachio enters and announces he has gossip to share. Don John wants to hear about it only if it will "serve for any model to build mischief on." It does for Borachio, who's hiding behind a tapestry where he overhears Don Pedro and Claudio's discussion about Hero. Unlike Leonato's servant, however, Borachio understands the prince intends to woo Hero for Claudio.

Don John thinks this is great news because it "may prove food to my displeasure." He decides to use this information for malevolent purposes and secures Conrad's and Borachio's promises to help him.


Once again eavesdropping doesn't give the listener a full picture of what's happening. Borachio is under the impression Don John will woo Hero in his own name, then give her to Claudio as a gift. This misunderstanding provides Don John with an opportunity to cause trouble for Claudio, whom he refers to as "that young start-up."

Some productions of Much Ado About Nothing portray Don John as a rival for Hero's affections, but nothing in the text itself indicates romantic longing motivates him to cause trouble. The real root of his villainy is his intense hatred for Claudio. The reader never learns the exact reason for this hatred, but it probably has something to do with Claudio's friendship with Don Pedro. Don John swears Claudio "hath all the glory of my overthrow," meaning he has somehow taken Don John's place in the prince's life.

Shakespeare doesn't explicitly say what caused the quarrel between Don John and Don Pedro, nor does he indicate the impetus for their fragile reconciliation. It may have something to do with Don John's birth status. In a stage direction of Act 1, Scene 1 he is referred to as "John the Bastard." This isn't a comment on his disposition—though it seems rather fitting—but an indication of his parentage. A bastard is someone who is born illegitimately, or outside of marriage. Don John and Don Pedro are technically half brothers, but because of Don John's illegitimate status, he is not a prince. He receives none of the acclaim or adoration bestowed upon his brother.
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