Much Ado About Nothing
Much Ado About Nothing is a comedy by William Shakespeare. First published in 1600, it is likely to have been first performed in the autumn or winter of 1598-1599, and it remains one of Shakespeare's most enduring and exhilarating plays on stage. Stylistically, it shares numerous characteristics with modern romantic comedies including the two pairs of lovers, in this case the romantic leads, Claudio and Hero, and their comic counterparts, Benedick and Beatrice. (From feedbooks.com)
The curriculet is being added to your library
Published in 1600, the comedy Much Ado About Nothing is one of Shakespeare's better known plays. Containing multiple love stories, as well as effective scenes of comic relief, the work has entertained audiences for centuries. Pay close attention to what happens when characters are mistaken about what they see and hear, and how this drives the play forward.
Like other plays by Shakespeare, this one too opens in medias res. For a fuller appreciation of this dramatic device, watch the video below. Afterwards, think about how these opening pages draw you into the action and make you want to keep reading. (This annotation contains a video)
What is the Messenger revealing about Claudio in the highlighted text?
Did you know that you can look up any word in the text of the book or the text of the questions and answers? Just click (or press on mobile devices) the word you want to define and hold until the blue text selector pops up. When you release, a define option will appear. Try looking up the word "merry" now and decide which of the definitions makes sense for the context in which it is used here.
What are we learning regarding Beatrice's feelings about Benedick in this early scene?
Played by Kenneth Branagh (pictured below) in the 1993 film version of this play, Benedick prides himself on his wittiness as well as his determination to never marry. It will be interesting to see what happens in his life as the play unfolds. (This annotation contains an image)
What impression of Leonato do Don Pedro's words give us?
In addition to acquainting us with the characters, much of the dialogue in this opening scene serves to introduce the topic of gender roles and the relationship between the sexes. As you read more, take some time to appreciate the insights Shakespeare had more than 400 years ago.
What are your initial impressions of Claudio? How does he compare to Benedick in personality? Jot down a few ideas, and revisit your thinking as you get to know the characters better.
Don Pedro seems to believe that it is inevitable for a man to marry, using the metaphor of a bull being tamed to express this belief. Have you noticed how often images of animals are used in this play?
In the highlighted text, Don Pedro and Benedick use _______________ to describe Benedick's future feelings.
Quiz One - Act I
Pictured below is an artistic rendition of participants at a masquerade ball. Can you see how it would be easy to mistake some people's identity? (This annotation contains an image)
What error does Antonio make here?
What do we learn about Don John here, and what role can we anticipate him playing in the coming scenes?
It is interesting to hear Beatrice's and Hero's complaints about Don John. How do they compare to your impressions of him?
Use the dictionary feature to look up the word "troth." In the highlighted text, Leonato uses this word to mean
While the music is probably different from the tune Shakespeare intended, the sounds in the following video capture the mood being invoked. Also, remember that the dancers are wearing masks. (This annotation contains a video)
Can you think of one or two reasons why Shakespeare inserts a masked dance here? What can people do when masked?
Antonio and Ursula are minor characters. As the play develops, think about what their role is.
What do we learn about Beatrice from the highlighted text?
Can you summarize, in your own words, what Claudio is saying about the relationship between love and friendship? Do you agree or disagree with him?
In the highlighted text, Benedick uses __________ to describe Claudio's emotional state.
Benedick uses hyperbole to make clear his feelings about speaking with Beatrice. For a greater appreciation of this literary device, watch the video below. (This annotation contains a video)
Why has Benedick left the dance?
Do you think Don Pedro is sincere in his proposal to Beatrice, or is he just flirting? What does this reveal about him?
Which of the following words does not capture Beatrice's personality and/or behavior?
As this lengthy scene comes to a close, consider jotting down the names of the characters and their relationships to one another. Can you summarize what the main plot and subplots are?
Earlier in the play, we saw Don John as mischievous. How would you describe him now, as he plans to disrupt the wedding plans of Claudio and Hero?
The names that Shakespeare uses in his plays often hold some symbolic meaning. "Borachio" is related to the word for "drunk," which is "ubriaco" in Italian and "borracho" in Spanish. Does the name suit his character?
Why is this soliloquy so ironic?
Read the following song by Balthasar aloud and decide what mood Shakespeare wants to invoke by including it.
What does Balthasar's song suggest about gender roles? Do you think his views reflect the mainstream views of his time? Explain your thinking.
What and whom do you think Claudio is discussing?
Use the dictionary to look up the word "gull" and decide which of the following best paraphrases what Benedick is saying.
While Claudio's highlighted lines look like jibberish, try discussing them with someone to appreciate their poetic quality.
Don Pedro is _______________ Benedick here in his conversation with Leonato.
How does this final part of Act II mark a shift in Benedick?
Quiz Two - Act II
This negative reference to Jews as unfeeling and villainous reflects the widespread anti-Semitism of Shakespeare's time. For a brief history of anti-Semitism in England, check out this page from the Jewish Virtual Library when you have some time for background reading. (This annotation contains a link)
Which of the following is not one of Hero's intentions in this conversation?
Compare the image of Beatrice below to your own mental image of the character. Does the image resonate with what you have imagined? (This annotation contains an image)
How does Beatrice's reaction to what she overhears compare to Benedick's when he was in the same situation? How does this help move the story forward?
While this scene begins with happy discussion of Claudio's upcoming marriage to Hero, the mood quickly changes as Don John arrives in a few pages. To appreciate this mood shift, as well as to changes in tone, watch the following video. (This annotation contains a video)
Don Pedro and Claudio note many changes in Benedick since he has declared his love for Beatrice. Which of the following is not mentioned by them?
The lute is an instrument often associated with love and romance. By following the link below, you can listen to some lute music from Shakespeare's era. (This annotation contains a link)
What is Don John's purpose in speaking with Don Pedro and Claudio?
Do you notice how readily Claudio and Don Pedro believe Don John's malicious accusations of Hero? What does this suggest about them? What does this suggest about gender roles?
The following video clip, from the 1993 film version of this play, gives us an idea of how ridiculous Dogberry and his cohorts are. (This annotation contains a video)
Which of the following best explains why Shakespeare inserts these silly characters at this point?
Since the job of a watchman is, after all, to watch, why might Shakespeare have this character planning to go to sleep on the job? Might it reflect the author's opinions of the authorities?
This seems to imply that although Borachio was hired by Don John, he shares the responsibility for the evil trick played. Do you agree?
Rather than write a scene with the love-making, Shakespeare tells us it happens through Borachio's drunken tale. What do you think of this narrative decision?
Which word best describes the mood invoked by the Watchmen's final conversation?
Margaret begins by teasing Hero about her clothing, but ends up backing off and complimenting her on her choices. To what do you attribute this shift?
What does the light-hearted banter among the women suggest?
Margaret is suggesting that Beatrice cure her illness with an herbal remedy, Carduus Benedictus, whose flower is pictured below. Beatrice recognizes the pun on Benedick's name, and pushes back. (This annotation contains an image)
Why have Dogberry and Verges shown up to speak with Leonato?
To fully appreciate this scene, watch the following video about irony, and be prepared to answer the question about this device in a few pages. (This annotation contains a video)
Quiz Three - Act III
Thinking about the video you just watched, consider how Shakespeare uses irony in this scene (and others). Can you identify some other uses of irony so far?
Try to notice how Claudio paces his response, eventually accusing Hero of being a whore. It is also worth noticing how readily Leonato believes these lies about his daughter.
What is Leonato's initial response to Claudio's accusations of Hero?
By telling Hero she is more like Venus (the goddess of love, pictured below) than like the virginal Diane, Claudio intends to insult Hero. What do you think of Shakespeare's frequent use of references from mythology? (This annotation contains an image)
What do you make of Claudio's willingness to accept Don John's accusations of Hero? Is this consistent with his character or does it mark a difference?
Compare Beatrice's reaction to Hero's situation with Leonato's. How does this impact your thinking about Beatrice?
What is the Friar's position in all of this?
Leonato seems to be wavering between believing the lies about Hero and accepting that she has been the victim of false accusations. Does this affect your view of him, and if so, how?
What does Leonato mean by using this metaphor of being lead by twine?
If Benedick and Beatrice are dynamic (changing) characters, who are the more static ones in this play? Watch the following video to help you think about this question. (This annotation contains a video)
What do you think of Beatrice's request of Benedick to kill Claudio? What does it say about her loyalty to her cousin Hero?
Beatrice and Benedick are motivated by different factors in this conversation. Can you summarize what motivates each of them?
Based on previous scenes with these characters, we can expect that this scene will be
How does Shakespeare use the scenes with Dogberry and his cohorts to affect the pacing of the play? Write down a couple of ideas and compare them with a classmate.
Think about how Dogberry uses the word "redemption." Which of the following options explains the meaning of the term as it is used in this context?
Quiz Four - Act IV
Read this closing monologue of Dogberry's and consider if he is perhaps smarter than he has let on prior to this.
Which of the following best paraphrases Leonato's words to Antonio as the latter tries to comfort him?
How likely is it that Claudio truly does not know that he has done something wrong? Do you imagine him somehow making restitution to Hero's family?
How does the tone of this conversation impact the overall mood of the scene? What adjectives would you use to describe both?
As you read the next few pages, consider how Shakespeare uses different kinds of irony to advance the story.
We know why Benedick is so serious, but Don Pedro and Claudio do not. This is an example of
Once again we see the motif of capturing wild animals (this time to eat) in the play. Below is a photo of a woodcock, with its own prey, common to Europe and the Americas. (This annotation contains an image)
What or whom are Don Pedro and Claudio discussing?
Notice how Borachio takes responsibility for his part in Hero's misfortunes. Compare this to other characters who were involved in the deception.
Leonato uses _________________ to show his feelings towards Claudio and Don Pedro.
Leonato not only readily forgives Claudio, but he decides that the latter will marry Antonio's daughter. Is this consistent with what you have learned about the value of women's lives during this period?
What do you think of Leonato's plan to confront Margaret about her role in Hero's betrayal? Does she need to be accountable for her part, even if she behaved unknowingly?
Like many servants in Shakespeare's plays, Margaret provides comic relief through her jokes with sexual innuendos.
Beatrice and Benedick return to their teasing of one another. How is it different from their earlier exchanges?
Some real wisdom emerges from Beatrice and Benedick's bickering. Can you paraphrase the highlighted text and decide if you agree or disagree with it?
When you finish reading Claudio's verses eulogizing Hero, evaluate his sincerity (or lack of it). What influences your thinking about this? Jot down a few ideas.
Phoebus refers to Phoebus Apollo, the ancient sun god. This is a poetic way of talking about the dawning of a new day. Below he is depicted on his chariot. (This annotation contains an image)
What is Benedick asking of the Friar?
By reading the play aloud, you can really appreciate the poetry of lines like the highlighted one.
What is Hero saying here?
Did you know that Shakespeare wrote sonnets as well as plays? If you would like to explore some of his sonnets when you finish reading the play, follow the link below. (This annotation contains a link)
Compare the end of the play with the beginning. How has Shakespeare ensured that this is a classic comedy?
Now that you have completed the play, watch the trailer to Kenneth Branaugh's 1993 film version, and decide if you think it will be faithful to the play. (This annotation contains a video)
Quiz Five - Act V