Welcome to the world of Shakespeare’s wit and romantic entanglements in Much Ado About Nothing! Don’t worry if you’re feeling a tad jittery about diving into the Bard’s intricate dialogue. Read this synopsis to get oriented before you attend. It might seem like there is a lot to keep track of, but there is no need to take it all too seriously. This play is a delightful rollercoaster of love, misunderstandings, and clever wordplay, so buckle up for a hilarious ride.
The play opens at the house of Leonato, governor of Messina. (In our production, that’s Messina, North Carolina!) A messenger arrives with news that the Prince of Aragon, Don Pedro, and his soldiers are returning triumphant from war and that a young Count called Claudio has received honors from the Prince. Leonato’s niece, Beatrice, asks about Benedick, a soldier who she knows and makes fun of. The soldiers arrive and Leonato invites them to stay. As Don Pedro updates Leonato on the war, Beatrice and Benedick swap witty insults.
After seeing Leonato’s daughter, Hero, again, Claudio realizes he loves her. When Claudio shares this news, Benedick swears he’ll never be tempted into marriage. Claudio tells Don Pedro that his feelings have deepened for Hero since returning from war. Don Pedro offers to woo Hero on his friend’s behalf. That night at the masked ball, he will pretend to be Claudio and win her heart.
Antonia, the older sister of Leonato, comes to Leonato’s house with news that her servant has overheard Don Pedro and Claudio talking about Hero. However, she confuses the news, telling Leonato that Don Pedro loves Hero and intends to woo her that night. Leonato is pleased and sets off to prepare Hero for the affair.
Don John, the illegitimate brother of Don Pedro, enters, depressed and spiteful. He is resentful of his inferior birth. Don John’s servant Borachio then enters with news of Claudio’s love for Hero. Unlike Antonia, Borachio has understood correctly that Don Pedro will woo Hero on Claudio’s behalf. Don John hates Claudio, who is well-loved and respected, and plots to interfere.
Leonato’s family discusses Don John. Beatrice changes the subject to Benedick and mocks both him and Don John as bad examples of men. Antonia reminds Hero to obey her father and Leonato says she must give the right answer to Don Pedro when he proposes. Hero is silent, but Beatrice tells her to keep her own mind.
Don Pedro and his men enter in masks and the dancing begins. Benedick, hidden by a mask, teases Beatrice, but she gets the better of him and insults him to his face. Don John tells Claudio that Don Pedro is wooing Hero for himself. Claudio believes him and thinks he’s been betrayed by Don Pedro. When Benedick informs Don Pedro, he is quick to put things right and Claudio and Hero are betrothed.
Benedick is furious about Beatrice’s insults. When he leaves to avoid her, Beatrice tells Don Pedro that she and Benedick may have loved each other in the past. For fun, Don Pedro devises a plan to trick them both and bring them together and Hero, Claudio and Leonato agree to help.
Don John’s first attempt to upset Claudio has failed and he is now desperate to spoil the newly arranged wedding. Borachio knows Hero’s maid, Margaret, and can arrange to be seen with her at Hero’s bedroom window. He will get Margaret to call him ‘Claudio’ and he will call her ‘Hero’. If Claudio sees and hears this, he will mistake Margaret for Hero and think Hero is being unfaithful. Don John is delighted by the scheme. Borachio instructs Don John to tell Claudio and Don Pedro that Hero loves him and bring them to Hero’s bedroom window the night before the wedding.
Alone in the garden, Benedick speaks directly to the audience. He wonders about men like Claudio, who say they’ll never fall in love and then suddenly do. He asks if it’ll ever happen to him and talks through a long list of the qualities a wife should have. On seeing Don Pedro, Leonato and Claudio approaching, he hides to avoid Claudio. The men discuss how Beatrice is madly in love with Benedick but is afraid to tell him. The men list Beatrice’s good qualities and a few of Benedick’s, concluding that he is not worthy of her, before going back inside. Benedick, amazed, vows to return Beatrice’s love.
In the orchard, Hero begins the plan to trick Beatrice. She sends Margaret to get Beatrice and tells Ursula what to say when Beatrice arrives. Beatrice finds her cousin and the waiting woman and hides so she can overhear them. Ursula and Hero then talk loudly about Benedick’s love for Beatrice. Beatrice vows to return Benedick’s love and marry him.
Elsewhere, Benedick overhears Don Pedro praising his character to Claudio. Don John enters and asks to speak to Don Pedro in private. He says that Claudio may hear as it concerns him, especially as he’s to be married tomorrow. Don John says he has proof that Hero is unfaithful. Don Pedro and Claudio follow, determined to publicly shame Hero if she is proved untrue.
Near Leonato’s house, a Police Chief called Dogberry and his deputy, Verges, are appointing a constable to take control of the Watch. Dogberry gives very muddled instructions to his men. He tells them to watch Leonato’s house because it’s busy, due to the wedding. Dogberry leaves and the Watchmen settle into position.
A drunken Borachio enters with Conrad, bragging about how much money he’s earned by deceiving Don Pedro and Claudio. The Watch overhears everything, then arrests the villains and takes them away.
Hero is in her bedchamber, being dressed by Margaret for her wedding. She sends Ursula to wake Beatrice as she needs her. Hero has pre-wedding nerves, but Ursula re-enters with news that the men have arrived, and it is time for the ceremony to begin.
Dogberry and Verges arrive at Leonato’s house with news of the arrest. Leonato is busy with last-minute wedding plans and asks them to be brief. Leonato leaves for the wedding and Dogberry and Verges plan to meet at the jail.
Everyone is gathered for the wedding. As the ceremony starts, Claudio rejects Hero, believing that she has been unfaithful. Hero denies being unfaithful but, when Don Pedro confirms Claudio’s words, she faints. Seeing this as a sign of her guilt, Don Pedro, Don John and Claudio leave. Beatrice thinks Hero is dead and calls for help. When Hero comes round, Leonato rejects her. The Friar is convinced of Hero’s innocence and suggests they pretend she is dead until she is proved innocent.
Left alone, Beatrice and Benedick admit their love for each other. Benedick asks what he can do to help and Beatrice requests he kills Claudio. Benedick refuses and Beatrice laments her powerlessness in the situation.
Borachio and Conrad are brought before the Sexton in a trial. The Watch enter and confirm that they overheard Borachio confess to framing Hero. The Sexton (a church official) says that Hero has died, and Don John has run away. He orders the prisoners to be taken to Leonato’s where he will present these findings.
Antonia tries to comfort Leonato who is devastated by the loss of Hero’s reputation. Claudio refuses to apologize and Antonia challenges him. As the old men leave, Benedick enters. Claudio and Don Pedro joke around with him but Benedick refuses to join in, he cuts all ties of friendship with them and challenges Claudio to a duel.
After Benedick leaves, the Watch enter with Borachio who confesses everything, adding that Margaret was innocent. Claudio is full of guilt and begs Leonato for forgiveness. Leonato orders Claudio to mourn Hero at her funeral. Claudio promises to do so and to marry a niece of Leonato’s who looks like Hero.
Benedick asks for Margaret’s help to arrange a meeting with Beatrice. He and Margaret exchange rude puns before she leaves. Left alone, Benedick struggles to write a love song. When Beatrice arrives, he tells her he has challenged Claudio and is waiting for a response. They tease each other a bit but Benedick stops to ask how she and her cousin are. Beatrice tells him they are both very ill.
As they talk, Ursula rushes in with news of Don John’s plot and all three of them leave for Leonato’s house. At Hero’s monument, Claudio keeps the first part of his promise to Leonato and mourns Hero’s death. Then Don Pedro and Claudio leave to dress for Claudio’s wedding to Hero’s cousin.
Back at Leonato’s house, Margaret’s innocence is established. Leonato tells Hero, Beatrice, Margaret and Ursula to put on veils. In private, Benedick asks Leonato for Beatrice’s hand in marriage. Don Pedro arrives with Claudio and the veiled women enter. Claudio obediently accepts his unknown bride, but then Hero is unmasked and declares her innocence. She and Claudio are reunited. Beatrice and Benedick realize they have been tricked into loving each other but refuse to admit it in public until Claudio and Hero produce the love sonnets that the two have written to each other. News arrives that Don John has been arrested and dancing begins to celebrate a double wedding.