Much Ado About Nothing | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Much Ado About Nothing | Act 4, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

All of the nobles are gathered at the church. The ceremony gets off to a rocky start when Claudio denies he has come to marry Hero. When Friar Francis asks whether anyone knows of a reason why they shouldn't be wed, Claudio pointedly asks Hero if she has anything she wants to say. A tense conversation follows, and Claudio finally explodes, accusing Hero of knowing "the heat of a luxurious bed." Leonato says if Claudio is the man who has taken Hero's virginity, it is only because she thought of him as her husband. Claudio insists it wasn't he, as he has behaved no more sexually toward Hero than would a brother to a sister. Leonato looks to Don Pedro for help, but Don Pedro supports Claudio, saying, "I stand dishonored that have gone about/To link my dear friend to a common stale."

Claudio demands to know to whom Hero was speaking at her window the night before. She swears she was with no one. Don Pedro tells Leonato he and Don John saw and heard a man at Hero's window talking about "the vile encounters they have had/A thousand times in secret." Claudio denounces Hero once and for all, prompting Leonato to pronounce "Hath no man's dagger here a point for me?" Hero faints. Beatrice runs to her aid as Don John, Claudio, and Don Pedro exit. Benedick stays and asks Beatrice if she had been with Hero the night before. It turns out the evening in question was the only time in the past 12 months the two cousins did not share a bed. Leonato, who has already declared "death is the fairest cover for her shame," takes this as confirmation of Hero's misdeeds.

Friar Francis finally steps in. He is sure Hero is innocent and "the princes" must have misunderstood the situation. Benedick says two of the men in question "have the very bent of honor," but Don John is not to be trusted. Friar Francis suggests they hide Hero and pretend she has died from Claudio's slanderous words. Claudio's rage will turn into remorse, and Hero's memory will become more precious to him than when they were first betrothed. If it turns out Hero is lying, she can live the rest of her life in seclusion. Leonato and Benedick agree to the plan.

Hero, Leonato, and Friar Francis exit, leaving Benedict and Beatrice alone. Benedick tells a weeping Beatrice he thinks Hero has been wronged, and Beatrice wishes a man loved her enough to avenge Hero's honor. Benedick says he's such a man, and they confess their love to one another. He tells Beatrice to name something, anything he can do for her. She replies "Kill Claudio." Benedick laughs, intending to do no such thing to his friend, and Beatrice questions Benedick's love. She rants, stating she wishes she were a man, for if she were she would "eat [Claudio's] heart in the marketplace." Instead, all she can do is die of grief. This is too much for Benedick. He reaffirms his love for Beatrice and vows to challenge Claudio.

Analysis

Claudio's public humiliation of Hero is the climax of Much Ado About Nothing, and the accompanying scene addresses several of the themes present throughout the play:

  • Honor: Though Hero is questioned about her fidelity, the conflict at hand is not so much about her as it is about how her alleged actions reflect upon the men connected to her. Claudio and Leonato are furious with her not only for supposedly losing her virginity, but how the loss of said virginity makes them look. This mindset was the norm in Elizabethan England. A woman's father was thought to be the protector of her virginity, and if it was lost, he was considered to be the party responsible, sometimes even literally. Once the woman is married, her "faults," including previous sexual encounters, become the responsibility of her husband. Learning about his wife's lack of virtue after the wedding ceremony could be potentially ruinous for a new husband.
  • Gender Politics: Hero is essentially put on trial in front of her friends and family at the church. Claudio brings forth the accusation, and Don Pedro provides the evidence. Hero is hardly given a chance to defend herself or provide any evidence of her own. When she does protest, even her own father disregards what she has to say. He believes the word of three men—one of whom, Don John, he doesn't even like—over the word of his own daughter. Even Hero's status as a blood relative doesn't endear her to Leonato, who is more than ready to see his daughter die than endure more shame. Beatrice, too, feels constrained by her gender. She wishes she were a man so she could kill Claudio herself. As a woman her only chance of relief from such sorrow is death.
  • Language: The marriage ceremony begins in prose, then switches to verse as Claudio begins to accuse Hero of wrongdoing, then switches back to prose when Benedick and Beatrice are left alone in the church. This happens throughout the play, and it's done for a specific reason. Prose is used for conversations veering toward the lighthearted, while verse is used for serious or formal situations and occasions. Claudio and Hero mostly speak in verse, while Beatrice and Benedick squabble in prose. They speak in prose even as they declare their love for one another. Beatrice, in particular, clings to her usual verbal tricks as she hesitantly tells Benedick how she feels. "It were as possible for me to say I loved nothing so well as you, but believe me not, and yet I lie not," she hedges, fearful of Benedick's reaction. He, however, isn't afraid and tells her over and over, in no uncertain terms, he loves her.

Act 4, Scene 1 is a pivotal moment for Benedick. Instead of leaving the church with Don Pedro and Claudio, he stays behind with Beatrice and her family. This small act symbolizes his transformation from soldier into lover. It also illustrates the differences between his relationship with Beatrice and Claudio's relationship with Hero. Though Beatrice and Benedick have spent years squabbling, each knows the other is a good and honest person. The trust between them is implicit. Benedick takes Beatrice's word Claudio has slandered Hero, which is enough to make him discount his friendship with the young man. Claudio, on the other hand, has absolutely no faith or trust in the woman he was supposed to marry. Their relationship is based solely on physical attraction and reputation. Beatrice and Benedick look past each other's prickly exteriors to see the real person inside.

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