"You must not, sir, mistake my niece. There is a kind of merry war betwixt Signor Benedick and her; they never meet but there's a skirmish of wit between them." — Leonato, Much Ado About Nothing
A forerunner to the Romantic Comedy genre by William Shakespeare, the plot of Much Ado About Nothing centers on two couples: Hero and Claudio, whom the villain Don John spends the play trying to drive apart, and Beatrice and Benedick, whom most of the other characters spend the play trying to bring together.The most well-known adaptation is probably the 1993 film featuring Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson as Benedick and Beatrice. In 2011, on vacation from filming The Avengers, Joss Whedon shot a shoestring-budget adaptation of his own in his house, which premiered at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival and will be released in theaters on June 7 2013.Benedick is the source of the word "benedict," for a man who marries after a long bachelorhood.
Tropes from the original play:
Actor Allusion: The part of Dogberry was written for Will Kemp, the actor who played Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream, which adds a whole new level to the "I am an ass" rant.
Badass Boast: "O THAT I WERE A MAN, I WOULD EAT HIS HEART IN THE MARKET PLACE.”
Bride and Switch: Inverted. Claudio has been led to believe that Hero has died of grief over his accusations of sluttery, and to atone he has promised to marry her cousin sight unseen. But it turns out that it really is Hero.
Captain Obvious: Benedick helpfully tells us that Claudio rejecting Hero and calling her a slut "looks not like a nuptial".
Card-Carrying Villain: Don John even admits by way of his dialogue that he's the villain of the play, because that's the role in which he has been cast.
Don John: "It must not be denied but I am a plain-dealing villain. If I had my mouth, I would bite; if I had my liberty, I would do my liking: in the meantime let me be that I am and seek not to alter me."
Double Entendre: Even in the title, which is possibly a sextuple entendre. As noted under Get Thee to a Nunnery, "nothing" was Elizabethan slang for the female genitalia, and noting (a homophone with nothing in the Elizabethan period) was Elizabethan slang for sex. Noting was also used to refer to singing (especially sight-reading). Shakespeare also used noting as a synonym for noticing in multiple passages (1.1.131-132 and 4.1.154-157), and the meaning of a note as a written message is referred to at various points in the play as well.
The Dragon: Borachio, whose antics with Hero's lady-in-waiting give credence to Don John's claims of Hero's infidelity.
Expy: Friar Francis is Friar Laurence all over again. He's the one who suggests that a girl faking her own death will make everything better (although his Zany Scheme fares better than that of his counterpart).
For the Evulz: Don John is pretty one-dimensional for a Shakespeare villain. Biding his time to re-consolidate his power would probably have been a better move than petty vindictiveness.
Geeky Turn-On: It's all but outright stated that Benedick and Beatrice fell so hard for each other at least partly because they're the only people who can keep up with their verbal fencing matches.
Get Thee to a Nunnery: The title itself has an obsoleted Double Entendre, "nothing" being a sixteenth-century euphemism for "lady parts". And "noting" being a sixteenth-century euphemism for "doing the deed". So it's "much ado about noting" as well...
I Need to Go Iron My Dog: Benedick trying to escape a conversation with Beatrice, by means of a series of insane quests. Later in the same scene, and even more obvious, Leonato sends Beatrice to "look to those things I told you of" to get her out of an awkward conversation with Don Pedro.
Mood Whiplash: Goes from zany romantic comedy to drama in a matter of seconds when Claudio jilts Hero at the altar, and then bounces about from sweet romance (Beatrice and Benedick) to comedy (Dogberry's interrogations) to tragedy (Claudio mourning what he thinks is Hero's death) until everything is finally resolved.
Plot Hole: It's mentioned in Act I that Antonio has a son, yet in 5.1, Leonato speaks of Antonio's daughter as the latter's only child and heir in a crucial plot point. It's debated whether it's a legit mistake by Shakespeare or an intended mistake for Leonato.
Police Are Useless: Interestingly played. Dogberry and his crew are useless, but purely by accident they manage to save the day.
Pun-Based Title: Believe it or not, among the many possible meanings of the word "nothing" in Shakespeare's day, the word was sometimes a reference to female genitalia. Making this seemingly harmless title possibly an, erm, quite colorful one, to say the least. "Nothing/Noting" can also refer to music (songs play a decently large part, and the play ends by striking up the pipers), eavesdropping (the heart of both the matchmaking plot and the evil plot), actual physical notes (the play opens with a letter, and right at the end Benedick and Beatrice are shown their own love letters to stop their playful bickering), and noticing or understanding (which the Friar, Benedick, and Beatrice are good at, thank God). It is also important to note that, according to the script, the audience never sees the pivot point in the play: the observation of Borachio and Margaret (dressed as Hero) that leads to the accusations of adultery. It happens right in the middle and everything else grows from it, but it is not actually shown. So the play literally revolves around nothing. Basically, the title contains a Hurricane of Puns in one word.
Spirited Young Lady: An early example: Beatrice is independent, intelligent and has quite the rapier wit.
Taking The Veil: It is suggested that Hero can do this, to escape the slander.
Tempting Fate: Near the climax, Don Pedro defends his and Claudio's actions at the first wedding by insisting their accusations were "full of proof". Cue the guards bring Borachio to them and confessing what really happened.
The Trickster: One can certainly interpret Borachio this way. Notice he's the one who comes up with all the evil ideas, yet he's willing to be second fiddle to Don John, and is quick to claim he's only acting on his orders.
Don Pedro and Claudio were the ones doing it, but under false information. Then immediately after they are told that Hero has died and don't really care. It's their turn to get called out on for this, by both Hero's father and Benedick.
You Meddling Kids: "What your wisdoms could not discover, these shallow fools have brought to light."
Zany Scheme: The plan to convince Beatrice and Benedick that they're in love certainly qualifies; arguably, having Don Pedro court Hero for Claudio does as well.
And faking Hero's death, just because... just because.
Green-Eyed Monster: Other than envy towards his half-brother Don Pedro and towards Claudio being in Don Pedro's favor, it seems that Don John may had or have an interest in Hero, Claudio's love interest, possibly adding to another reason for Don John's attempts breaking apart Claudio and Hero.
Happy Dance: In celebration of Beatrice's supposed "love" for him, Benedick splashes around in the pond.
Insult Backfire: Dogberry is called an ass by one of the conspirators. He seems very pleased and flattered to be addressed so.
The Oner: The tracking shot at the end of the film doesn't add anything to the plot, but it sure is festive. Lasting a good 2 and a half minutes, the camera zooms between all of the principal characters as they sing and dance, finally ending on an aerial shot of the entire villa.