In this lesson, our instructor Rebekah Hendershot teaches Much Ado About Nothing. Youll go over the complete background of the play, the setting, and the characters. Rebekah explains each character in detail, including Don Pedro, Benedick, Claudio, Don John, Hero, Beatrice, Antonio, Dogberry, Leonato and everyone in between. Youll learn each element of the plot from when the guests first arrive to the final wedding day. Themes, major passages, and essay topic jumping-off points are also discussed. With Rebekah youll discuss topics such as deception, language, puns, wit, and tragedy. The lesson concludes with a few secrets to make understanding Shakespeare a lot easier.
This lesson will teach you how to read and understand a play by William Shakespeare, one of the greatest playwrights in the history of the English language (and the man who invented quite a lot of it).
These videos are not a substitute for reading Shakespeare, listening to Shakespeare, or watching Shakespeare performed.
Seriously. Don’t be that guy.
Written 1598 – 1599
Taken from various Italian romances
Performed at a court wedding in 1613
Beatrice and Benedick are original to Shakespeare
One of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies
Published in 1600
The palace at Messina
Visitors from Aragon, Padua, Florence
A recent war
Don Pedro—The kind prince of Aragon; he dabbles in matchmaking and practical jokes
Benedick—Nobleman from Padua, companion of Don Pedro, accidental lover of Beatrice, incorrigible wit and smartmouthextroardinaire
Claudio—Count of Florence, lover of Hero, and all-around straight man.
Don John—“Bastard prince” of Aragon; he hates his brother, Don Pedro, and likes to spoil his plans
Borachio and Conrade—Servants of Don John. Borachio romances Margaret.
Leonato—Governor of Messina, father of Hero, host of the action.
Hero—Daughter of Leonato, cousin of Beatrice, ingenue. She falls in love with Claudio.
Beatrice—Cousin of Hero, a witty smartmouth who has a “merry war” of words with Benedick, and later falls in love with him.
Antonio—old man, brother of Leonato.
Ursula and Margaret—Hero’s attendants. Margaret wears Hero’s clothes to impersonate her (though it’s not clear whether she knows about the plot).
Friar Francis—A priest
Dogberry—A self-important night watchman who botches everything he does.
Visitors on the way home from the wars
Beatrice mocks Benedick
The guests arrive
Everyone in a good mood
Claudio and Hero
Beatrice and Benedick
Plans for the masquerade
Don John messes with Claudio
Beatrice messes with Benedick
The wedding is arranged
A game to fill the time
A plot against the lovers
Eavesdropping in the garden
Beatrice and Benedick in love-ish
An accusation and promised proof
The polite watchmen
Borachio, Conrade arrested
The friar’s plot
Beatrice and Benedickconfess their love
Two challenges to a duel
The watchmen reveal all
A public epitaph
Marry a niece
The Bs attempt to flirt
The wedding day
The big reveal(s)
Song and dance
Gender roles and sexual fidelity
Deception and self-deception
Language and social grace
“They say the lady is fair. ‘Tis a truth, I can bear them witness. And virtuous—’tis so, I cannot reprove it. And wise, but for loving me. By my troth, it is no addition to her wit—nor no great argument of her folly, for I will be horribly in love with her.”
-Act II, Scene 3, 204-208
“That what we have, we prize not to the worth Whiles we enjoy it, but, being lacked and lost, . . . then we find The virtue that possession would not show us Whiles it was ours.”
-Act IV Scene 1, 217-221
“Dost thou not suspect my place? Dost thou not suspect my years? O that he were here to write me down an ass! But masters, remember that I am an ass. Though it be not written down, yet forget not that I am an ass. No, thou villain, thou art full of piety, as shall be proved upon thee by good witness. I am a wise fellow, and which is more, an officer, and which is more, a householder, and which is more, as pretty a piece of flesh as any is in Messina, and one that knows the law, go to . . . and one that hath two gowns, and everything handsome about him. Bring him away. O that I had been writ down an ass!”
-Act IV, Scene 2, 67-78
Beatrice and Benedick appear to be largely Shakespeare’s inventions—they do not appear in his source material, and they seem to take over the play. (In some places, this play is called “Beatrice and Benedick”.) Analyze the contributions of these two characters to the play’s plot and themes.
On the surface, Much Ado About Nothing is a comedy, yet it has some very dark elements. In what ways is this play a tragedy?
A play is a work of art in which people pretend to be something they are not in order to tell a story that is not true. Add to that a story about deception and you’ve got a complicated show (or at least a headache). Examine the role of deception and theatricality in this play.
This play monkeys around with language more than any other Shakespeare play. How do the characters use words to wound and to heal? (Remember that even the title is a pun!)
Honor is huge in Much Ado About Nothing—sexual honor and reputation for the women, fidelity and courage for the men. Are these two kinds of honor of equal value? How durable are they? What kinds of insults can be shrugged off, and how must the others be answered?
Beatrice and Benedick can fire off an endless stream of wit in conversation, yet neither one can write a love poem to save his or her life. How do words (or the lack thereof) reveal character in this play?
The Secret of Understanding Shakespeare
Watch it performed (or on film if you can’t get to a theatrical production). All of Shakespeare makes more sense when it’s spoken by actors who have lived his words and know, bone-deep, what he’s talking about. Never underestimate the power of performance. Remember that this is how Shakespeare meant his work to be seen …
Much Ado About Nothing
Lecture Slides are screen-captured images of important points in the lecture. Students can download and print out these lecture slide images to do practice problems as well as take notes while watching the lecture.
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