Much Ado About Nothing (1598, published 1600)

Act 1

Scene i. Messenger announces to Leonato (Governor of Messina) the arrival of Don Pedro (Prince of Aragon) with a troop of soldiers, returning from some kind of successful expedition. Claudio specially mentioned. Beatrice asks about Benedick from Padua and mocks him at length. They all arrive, including Don Pedro's brother John. There is a long exchange between B&B, all but Benedick and Claudio leave, Claudio reveals his love for Hero. He is not sure of her response, or her family's. They tell Don Pedro: more joking. Don Pedro suggests a trick to make things easier for Claudio: he will pretend to be Claudio (masked at a party) and will woo Hero in Claudio's name.
Scene ii. Hero's uncle learns of the plan, and intends to warn Hero so that she will know what is happening. Scene iii. Don John reveals his envious nature, his pleasure in causing pain to others. Borachio tells of Claudio's love for Hero, which John plans to cross.

Act 2

Scene i. Leonato, Hero, Beatrice talking: Parallels drawn between Benedick and John. Leonato instructs Hero. The party begins, all identities hidden under masks. Pedro addresses Hero. Other couples form including B&B. John tells Claudio that Pedro is going to marry Hero tonight. Claudio (foolish) believes him. Benedick tells Claudio that Pedro has been successful but is hurt by what Beatrice said about him, and does not bother to correct Claudio's error. More joking about and between B&B. Pedro gives Hero to Claudio, overjoyed. Pedro asks Beatrice if she would marry him. Pedro and Leonato decide to get B&B to marry.
Scene ii. John and Borachio plot to prevent Claudio's marriage to Hero by using Margaret.
Scene iii. Benedick ponders on Claudio's madness in wanting to marry. Sees Pedro, Leonato, Claudio coming so hides. Song 'Sigh no more ladies' then trick conversation about how Beatrice loves Benedick, aware of Benedick listening. Benedick decides to accept her love. She comes to call him to dinner: short comic dialogue.

Act 3

Scene i. Hero and her companion talk about Benedick's love for Beatrice, Beatrice overhearing. Beatrice decides to accept his love.
Scene ii. Comic dialogue between Pedro, Claudio, Benedick. John tells them that Hero is unfaithful, to watch her window tonight.
Scene iii. First appearance of clowns Dogberry and Verges with guards. Comic dialogues making fun of law-keeping. The guards overhear Borachio boasting to Conrade of the trick John has played on Pedro, Claudio, using him with Margaret. The guards understand and arrest them.
Scene iv. Hero, her women, Beatrice talking about love and marriage, unaware though Hero feels odd.
Scene v. Dogberry comes to fetch Leonato to question the prisoners but is so incoherent (he mixes up words) that Leonato drives him away, telling him to interrogate them and thus not learning of the trick.

Act 4

Scene i. The marriage ceremony. Claudio returns Hero to Leonato, accusing her. Walks out. Hero faints. Leonato questions his paternity (theme of nature). Friar reckons there is some error, suggests reporting Hero dead, to see what impact that has on Claudio. B&B talk, confess their love. Beatrice asks Benedick to kill Claudio, he hesitates, then accepts.
Scene ii. Dogberry continues his verbal confusions in questioning the prisoners, but the Sexton who is taking notes with the watchmen arrives at the truth and realizes that Leonato must hear the story.

Act 5

Scene i. Leonato and his brother, Leonato laments. They meet Pedro and Claudio, with whom they quarrel about Hero's guilt. Benedick challenges Claudio, tells Pedro that John has fled. Dogberry brings in the prisoners who fortunately tell their own tale to Pedro and Claudio. The Sexton brings in Leonato after telling him. Claudio overcome with guilt, still believing Hero dead, asks Leonato to decide on his punishment: he is to mourn Hero publicly then marry a niece. Borachio declares Margaret ignorant. Dogberry continues to use mistaken words to the end.
Scene ii. Benedick tries to write love-poetry but cannot. Beatrice comes, their sparring continues. Ursula announces the discovery.
Scene iii. Claudio's ritual of repentance at the tomb with verse and song.
Scene iv. All is now clear. Claudio will receive Hero disguised as Leonato's niece. Benedick says he wants to marry Beatrice. Pedro and Claudio come and Claudio accepts the hidden 'niece' who at once unveils as Hero. B&B discover that they have been 'misinformed' about the other's love, but both are confronted with love- poems they have written and decide to marry after all, in true B&B style. Only the prince remains unmarried. News comes that John has been captured.