Much Ado About Nothing | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Much Ado About Nothing | Act 5, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

Leonato is terribly upset about Hero's slander, and Antonio suggests Leonato, "make those that do offend you suffer too." Leonato intends to do so and beseeches Claudio and Don Pedro to stop for a moment as they pass by. He informs Claudio of Hero's death and states it's all Claudio's fault. Claudio isn't even fazed when Antonio stands up for his brother and challenges Claudio to a duel. Don Pedro finally steps in and says he's sorry to hear Hero died, but "she was charged with nothing but what was true and very full of proof." Angry that they're being ignored, Leonato and Antonio leave.

Benedick arrives much to the delight of Claudio and Don Pedro, who say they could use some cheering up. Don Pedro quickly realizes something is bothering Benedick, but Claudio carries on teasing him in their usual manner. Benedick calls Claudio a villain and challenges him to a duel, which Claudio doesn't take seriously. Don Pedro changes the subject to Beatrice, which sets off another round of jokes at Benedick's expense. Benedick barely listens to them. He tells Don Pedro he can no longer keep his company, says Don John has left town, and reiterates his challenge to "Lord Lackbeard" before leaving. Don Pedro and Claudio finally realize that Benedick is serious about his challenge to Claudio and in his love with Beatrice.

Dogberry, Verges, and the watchmen enter with their prisoners. Don Pedro asks why Conrade and Borachio are under arrest. Dogberry replies with a convoluted list of charges. Since Dogberry is "too cunning to be understood," Don Pedro asks Borachio and Conrade to explain themselves. Borachio confesses how he and Don John conspired to slander Hero. Don Pedro and Claudio are horrified. Dogberry butts in to remind the men "to specify, when time and place shall serve" that he is an ass.

Leonato comes storming out of the house followed by his brother and the sexton, who has just told them the results of the interrogation. Leonato wants to see the villain, but isn't satisfied when only Borachio presents himself, for Don Pedro, Claudio, and Don John are also responsible. Claudio begs for a means of repentance, and Don Pedro says he would "bend under any heavy weight" Leonato will ask of him. Leonato commands them to tell everyone in Messina of Hero's innocence, and then asks Claudio to marry Antonio's daughter, who is "almost the copy of my child that's dead" (and doesn't actually exist). Claudio gratefully accepts the offer.

Leonato pays Dogberry, who has reminded him once again he is an ass, and takes custody of Borachio so they can visit Margaret. Borachio assures Leonato that Margaret was an unwilling participant in the plot to slander Hero and "always hath been just and virtuous in anything that I do know by her." Claudio and Don Pedro vow to be present for the next morning's wedding after spending the night mourning Hero.

Analysis

Claudio's lack of remorse over Hero's death is a stark contrast to the devotion Benedick shows Beatrice in Act 4, Scene 1. Claudio was engaged to be married to Hero but left her humiliated at the first sign of trouble. The friar tries to appeal to Claudio's compassionate side by having Hero pretend to be dead, but Claudio feels no remorse until Borachio explains exactly how he and Don John tricked everyone. Claudio's loyalty only extends as far as himself. Benedick, on the other hand, has been verbally tormented by Beatrice for ages yet still supports her in her time of need. Benedick loves Beatrice despite her faults; Claudio loves Hero because he thinks she doesn't have any. Leonato is right when he says Borachio isn't the only villain. Though the plot to slander Hero was Borachio's idea, Claudio is the one who publicly shamed her in front of the whole town. He is perhaps more responsible than anyone for the damage done to her reputation.

Borachio is also correct when he tells Claudio and Don Pedro, "What your wisdoms could not discover, these shallow fools have brought to light." The "shallow fools" in question are Dogberry, Verges, and the watch. They didn't have to do much to uncover the plot to slander Hero—it was mainly a case of being in the right place at the right time—but they did more to clear her name than the reigning head of state and the young nobleman betrothed to her. Shakespeare is making the point that class is not an indicator of a person's intelligence, morals, or sense of justice. In this instance the members of the lower class are the heroes while those in the upper class do more harm than good.

Though trickery is at the root of the major conflict in Much Ado About Nothing, it's also the main means of resolution. When Claudio breaks down after learning of Hero's innocence, Leonato decides it would be best to add another layer of deception to the already elaborate ruse of Hero's death. For Leonato it's not enough Claudio accepts Hero's innocence; Leonato wants all of Messina to know she was wrongfully shamed. He also wants Claudio to suffer a little more for all of the hurt he has caused Leonato's family. As punishments go it's not very severe. Claudio still ends up marrying Hero, but for a few hours he thinks he's going to have to marry someone he's never met. This suffices for Leonato given he wants to be assured of the depth and breadth of Claudio's regret before allowing him to marry Hero. This also gives Claudio the chance to redeem himself to the audience, thus allowing him to reclaim his status as a sympathetic character while distancing himself from the villainy of Don John and Borachio.

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