Much Ado about Nothing

Questions on Shakespeare’s Comedies

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Shakespeare, William. Much Ado About Nothing. (Norton Comedies, 2nd ed. 557-620).


1. In Act 1, Scene 1, Leonato says, “There is a kind / of merry war betwixt Signor Benedick and {Beatrice}” (1.1.49-50). How do they conduct this war? That is, what do they say to and about each other, in what settings, and in whose presence? To what extent do others believe their insults and quips to be sincere indicators of dislike and constancy in opposition to romance?

2. In Act 1, Scene 1, why, in your view, do Beatrice and Benedick carry on as they do? What expectations about the opposite sex and about love do they appear to have? What makes them unable just to act like so many other perfectly happy individuals who do not avoid romance?

3. In Act 1, Scene 1, how does Claudio describe the manner in which he has fallen in love with Hero? Why does Don Pedro offer to woo Hero for Claudio — why doesn’t he do his own wooing? In general, how well does Claudio seem to know Hero, and how can you tell?

4. In Act 1, Scene 3, what seems to be the reason for Don John’s sadness? What grievance, for example, does he have against Don Pedro? How does he react when he hears that the Prince is going to help out Claudio in his suit with Hero? What else besides any objective grievances might be at the root of Don John’s misery?


5. In Act 2, Scene 1, how does Beatrice explain her general objection to pairing off with a man? When she meets Benedick in his carnival disguise, what does she say to him, and what effect do her comments have? Why, in your view, do they have such a strong effect, and why is the fact that he was disguised significant?

6. In Act 2, Scene 1, what is Don John’s opening move in his bid to bring sorrow to Claudio? What does he say to Claudio, and why exactly does Claudio believe him? How is this initial problem resolved?

7. In Act 2, Scene 1, what plan does Don Pedro conceive to bring Beatrice and Benedick together? Why does he want to do so — what principle seems to animate Don Pedro’s actions in this regard? And why does he come up with this particular scheme — what makes it so appropriate with regard to the two characters to be tricked?

8. In Act 2, Scene 2, what further scheme do Borachio and Don John devise to ruin things for Hero and Claudio? What is the underlying rationale for this scheme — why would such a plan be likely to succeed, based on what you already have inferred about those who are to be duped?

9. In Act 2, Scene 3, what more do we hear from Benedick about his reason for being so standoffish about women? But how, after he is duly tricked to perfection by Don Pedro, Claudio, and Leonato, does Benedick’s attitude change when he “learns” that Beatrice is in love with him? What insight about the nature of romantic desire and ritual might we infer from his transformed attitude and his words at the end of Scene 3?

10. In Act 2, Scene 3, what might be inferred from Balthazar’s song beginning “Sigh no more” (2.3.56ff) about the real cause that might be attributed for the contrariness of both Benedick and Beatrice regarding love relations? And what counsel does the song give women who pine over men — how are they to cure themselves of such unhappiness? How, that is, do you interpret the advice, “be you blithe and bonny, / Converting all your sounds of woe / Into hey nonny, nonny” (2.3.69-70)?


11. In Act 3, Scene 1, how does Beatrice react to the trick that Hero and her assistants play on her to convince her that Benedick is in love with her? Is her reaction surprising in any way? If so, why? If not, why not?

12. In Act 3, Scene 2, when Don John makes his scandalous claim about Hero’s disloyalty, why does Claudio find it plausible? What does he insist he will do if the claim turns out to be true, and what does that insistence say about him?

13. In Act 3, Scene 3, Constable Dogberry enters with Verges and we find him again in Act 3, Scene 5. Part of Dogberry’s role in the play is, of course, just to make us laugh. What exactly is funny about him? In addition, what might be said about his further significance, both in terms of the plot and any major themes to which you can connect his views and actions?


14. In Act 4, Scene 1, Claudio cruelly shames Hero in front of the entire wedding party, and Leonato nearly goes mad when he finds that what should have been a happy occasion has brought only dishonor. But what do Beatrice and Benedick say that shows they have better judgment — how do they interpret the charges brought against Hero and the way Claudio has behaved?

15. In Act 4, Scene 1, how does Friar Francis understand what has happened? What is his plan to make things right, and what reasoning underlies that plan?

16. In Act 4, Scene 1, Beatrice and Benedick at last admit their love for each other face-to-face. By what emotional and verbal process do they each work up to their own separate admission, and how exactly do they state the fact itself? What “extra mile” must Benedick go to convince Beatrice that he really is in love with her? How does he react to this new demand, and why so?

17. In Act 4, Scene 2, Dogberry is determined to make known the villainy his watchmen have found out about when they arrested Borachio and Conrad. What most upsets Dogberry about the whole affair, and why? What self-appraisal does he offer us in this scene? Again, how might we connect Dogberry’s views here with the broader thematic interests of the play?


18. In Act 5, Scene 1, how does Leonato at first claim he will deal with the humiliation of his daughter at the hands of Claudio? What resolution does he then propose? How is it received, most particularly by Claudio?

19. In Act 5, Scene 2, Benedick, after briefly conversing with Margaret and admitting that he “cannot woo in festival terms” at (5.2.35), is back to his battle of wits with Beatrice. But how has their manner of addressing and dealing with each other changed, now that they have confessed their affection for each other? What remains the same, and what is different?

20. In Act 5, Scenes 3-4, what penance must Claudio still do for his treatment of Hero? What must he say and do to redeem himself, both at the supposed tomb of Hero and then during the wedding scene? How does Hero herself assist in imparting the lesson Claudio must learn? What is that lesson, as you understand it?

21. In Act 5, Scene 4, how do Benedick and Beatrice respond to the news that they have both been fooled into their present amorous state? How do they justify to each other their reason for giving in, and how do they affirm that they are still committed to a permanent relationship in spite of the trickery practiced on them?

22. In Act 5, Scene 4, Benedick now insists he cares nothing “for / a satire or an epigram” (5.4.99-100). He is determined to be married. How does he sum up what he has learned about himself and, to put it generally, the human condition, especially with regard to romance? What advice does he have for Don Pedro, and why?

23. General Question: what is the “nothing” about which there has been so “much ado” in this play? What have the characters — and presumably the audience — learned about the concerns referenced by the term “nothing” in this comedy of manners?

Edition. Greenblatt, Stephen et al., eds. The Norton Shakespeare. 2nd edition. Four-Volume Genre Paperback Set. Norton, 2008. ISBN-13: 978-0-393-93152-5.

Copyright © 2012 Alfred J. Drake