Theatre: Much Ado About Nothing

"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.

Like all of Shakespeare's plays, it is much-adapted. Some of those adaptations include:

Benedick is the source of the word "benedict," for a man who marries after a long bachelorhood.

Tropes from the original play:

  • Badass Boast: "O that I were a man, I would eat his heart in the market place."
  • Bastard Bastard: Don John.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Benedick and Beatrice. Possibly the Ur-Example.
  • Berserk Button: Dogberry reacts this way to being called an ass.
  • Beta Couple: Either Beatrice and Benedick or Claudio and Hero, depending on your view of the play. It's notable that King Charles II referred to the play as "Benedick and Beatrice."
  • Blasphemous Boast: Don Pedro makes two in rapid succession in Act 2, Scene 1, referencing Roman deities:
    "I will in the interim undertake one of Hercules' labours; which is, to bring Signior Benedick and the Lady Beatrice into a mountain of affection the one with the other."
    (a few lines later)
    "If we can do this, Cupid is no longer an archer: his glory shall be ours, for we are the only love-gods."
  • Bluff the Eavesdropper: Used to make Beatrice and Benedick fall in love with each other. Benedict and Beatrice's reactions to what they overhear are prime opportunities for physical comedy.
  • 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". In his defense, he has just that second walked in on it.
  • 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."
  • The Chess Master: Boraccio. Were he not overheard by the watch he would have gotten away with it all.
  • Cool Big Sis: Beatrice to Hero, though they're actually cousins.
  • Counter Zany
  • Counting to Potato: The incompetent constable Dogberry has just caught a pair of criminals, and is trying to tell Don Pedro what they did in a speech that combines this trope with getting stuck in a revolving door at the Department of Redundancy Department:
    Constable Dogberry: Marry, sir, they have committed false report; moreover, they have spoken untruths; secondarily, they are slanders; sixth and lastly, they have belied a lady; thirdly, they have verified unjust things; and, to conclude, they are lying knaves.
    • Made better when Don Pedro hilariously responds in kind:
    Don Pedro: First, I ask you what they’ve done; thirdly, I ask you what offense they’re charged with; sixth and lastly, I ask you why they’ve been committed here; and, in conclusion, I ask what they’re accused of.
  • Coupled Couples
  • Dance Party Ending: "Let’s have a dance ere we are married, that we may lighten our own hearts and our wives’ heels...Strike up, pipers!"
  • Deconfirmed Bachelor: Benedick more or less embodies this trope.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Dogberry's list of his prisoners' offences:
    Dogberry: "Marry, sir, they have committed false report; moreover, they have spoken untruths; secondarily, they are slanders; sixth and lastly, they have belied a lady; thirdly, they have verified unjust things; and, to conclude, they are lying knaves."
  • Disorganized Outline Speech: Dogberry, in the very same quote as noted above.
  • Does Not Like Men: Beatrice, at least at first.
  • 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.
  • Due to the Dead
  • Easily Forgiven: Claudio by Hero. To their credit, the other characters force him to go to some lengths to show he's repentant for what he did to Hero before they forgive him.
    • And the "ShakespeaRe-Told" version has Hero refusing to take him back, even though she forgives him.
  • Everyone Can See It: Beatrice and Benedick. Dear god, Beatrice and Benedick.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Well, sort of.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Benedick and Claudio. Lampshaded by Beatrice when she points out he seems to have a new sworn comrade all the time.
  • 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).
  • The Fool: Messina's entire police force.
  • Foreshadowing: Benedick and Beatrice both have lines that indicate their affections for each other well before the Zany Scheme: Benedick says that Beatrice "exceeds [Hero] as much in beauty as the first of May doth the last of December," and Beatrice confides to someone she thinks is a stranger (actually Benedick in disguise) that she wishes Benedick had "boarded" her. Also noteworthy is that one of Beatrice's very first lines in the play involves asking after Benedict's well-being under the pretense of mocking his military service.
  • 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.
  • Gentleman Ranker: Conrade, who describes himself as a Gentleman when arrested and, like the others, has served under Don Pedro in the military.
  • 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...
  • Good Cannot Comprehend Evil: Don Pedro just doesn't seem to understand that as Don John has betrayed him before that he us untrustworthy and any accusation he makes should be viewed with suspicion.
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy: Dogberry and his troop.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: Subverted by Benedick, who tells all and sundry how much he hates women and immediately proves the exact opposite by being the only man at the infamous wedding, save for the priest, to immediately believe Hero and defend her from everyone else. He generally affects this trope as a cover for his feelings for Beatrice.
  • Heroic BSOD: All over the place after the slandering. ("Hath no man's dagger here a point for me?")
  • Hidden Depths: Dogberry and his troop, again. A reluctant watch they may be, but they have little hesitation in arresting Borachio and Conrade. Dogberry may be an idiot, but once he knows something is going on, he is dogged, when it comes to finding out what.
  • Hot And Cold: Beatrice.
  • Hurricane of Puns: In scenes with Beatrice and Benedick.
    • Margaret has her moments, as well.
  • Humiliation Conga: Poor Hero endures this ON HER WEDDING DAY. First Claudio humiliates her with his accusations, then Don Pedro backs him up and finally her own father turns on her in front of everyone.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Boraccio to Don John, except when he grabs the idiot ball and reveals his plan where the watch can hear him.
    • Possibly justified as him being drunk, as Boraccio means drunkard.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • Claudio is awfully ready to think the worst of his bride.
    • Also Don Pedro for believing his already proven untrustworthy brother over Hero's dishonour.
  • I Gave My Word: Benedick wrestles with his repeated declaration that he would never marry and whether he should be bound by them. (No, he concludes.)
  • I Kiss Your Hand: Benedick, to Beatrice. Possibly the saddest use of this trope ever in a comedy! After they admit their attraction to one another, Beatrice tells Benedick that she can't be with him until he's sought justice for Hero's insult, on Beatrice's behalf. Benedick kisses her hand, sadly and solemnly, to seal his word.
  • Imagined Innuendo
  • Important Haircut: After they convince Benedick that Beatrice is in love with him, Don Pedro and Claudio run into Benedick and notice that he has shaved. They start teasing him about his sudden clean-shaven appearance, seeing this as proof that their ploy to get him to fall for Beatrice has worked. Not used in many productions, but used to great effect in the Joss Whedon film version. This may also be combined with Beatrice's earlier jabs about not liking men with beards or clean-shaven men, perhaps having Benedict shave his beard into a mustache in a clever nod to that earlier scene (he doesn't have a beard anymore, but neither is he clean shaven!).
  • 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.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Benedick (Played for Laughs) and Claudio (Played for Drama).
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Yes, what Claudio did was horrible, but he thought Hero was cheating on him with another man the night before their wedding, What's more, he thinks he's seen it with his own eyes.
  • Love Informant: Don Pedro to Hero on behalf of Claudio.
    Don Pedro: Here, Claudio, I have wooed in thy name, and fair Hero is won.
  • Love Revelation Epiphany: Beatrice and Benedick are tricked into admitting they are in love with each other because they both believe the other is in love with them.
  • Malaproper: Dogberry.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: Played for laughs, in that Leonato says that his wife has told him that Hero is his daughter.
  • Mandatory Fatherhood: One reason Benedick cites for his change of mind is that the world must be peopled.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Boraccio again. He manipulates Don John into paying him huge amounts of money to cause mischief, he convinces Margaret to pretend to be Hero whilst he seduces her, he convinces Claudio and Don Pedro that he has seduced Hero and at the end of the play he convinces Don Pedro that it was all Don John's fault and that Claudio is as much to blame for Hero's apparent suicide. And he seems to get away with it all too.
  • Masquerade Ball: In which Don Pedro pretends to be Claudio and courts Hero.
  • The Matchmaker: Don Pedro just loves getting other couples together, whether it's courting Hero for the too-shy Claudio, or tricking Benedick and Beatrice into admitting their feelings for each other.
  • Meaningful Funeral: The memorial service (of sorts) given by Claudio and Don Pedro.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: Claudio thinks Hero is cheating, thanks to Don John's plots.
  • 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.
  • Morality Pet: Margaret to Borachio.
  • My Girl Is Not a Slut: Claudio to Hero.
  • Only Sane Man: Beatrice and Benedick are the only ones who don't believe the incredibly flimsy accusations against Hero. This is ironic in Benedick's case, at the beginning of the play he was a self-professed He-Man Woman Hater. Also, Friar Francis only appears briefly, but when he's on stage he's the most reasonable person there.
  • Pet the Dog: Boraccio may have come up with the plan that framed Hero, but he vehemently defends his Unwitting Pawn lover Margaret when Don Pedro asks if she was aware of the plot.
  • Playing Cyrano: Not only does the Prince provide the words for Claudio to woo Hero, the Prince actually does the wooing—pretending to be Claudio while talking to Hero at a masquerade. Naturally, the villainous Don John convinces Claudio that the Prince has actually fallen in love with, and become engaged to, Hero. Unusually, this plot twist lasts only one scene, until the next time Claudio sees the Prince—and the Prince assures him that he did, indeed, woo Hero on Claudio's behalf. (In fact, since the Prince gives this reassurance in Hero's presence, it's likely that she knew all along that (a) she was really talking to the Prince, and (b) he was pretending to be Claudio as a favor.)
  • 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.
  • Poor Communication Kills: The whole debacle at the wedding, and a lot of heartache, could have been averted if Leonato had actually taken some time to listen to Dogberry's and Verges' report of the arrest of Borrachio and Conrad.
  • 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.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: "YOU! ARE! AN! ASS!"
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Claudio and Don Pedro get a ton of these, not without reason. First Beatrice calls them out in absentia, then Benedick calls Claudio out in person, then Leonato and Antonio call them out, then they call them out again when the truth of the matter is revealed.
  • Shipper on Deck: Don Pedro thinks Benedick and Beatrice would make a great couple, and sets out to make it happen. Most of the characters, in fact, ship both Claudio/Hero and Benedick/Beatrice.
  • Shipping Torpedo: The major conflict comes from Don John's attempt to wreck Claudio and Hero's relationship. Partly to embarrass his Shipper on Deck brother, but mostly For the Evulz.
  • "Shut Up" Kiss: Benedick to Beatrice
    Peace! I will stop your mouth.
    • Invoked by Beatrice (for the other couple) even earlier in a bit of foreshadowing:
    Speak, cousin, or if you cannot, stop his mouth with a kiss and let him not speak neither.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Beatrice and Benedick. As with Belligerent Sexual Tension above, possibly the Ur-Example.
  • Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace
  • Spirited Young Lady: An early example: Beatrice is independent, intelligent and has quite the rapier wit.
  • Stupid Evil: Don John isn't the smartest villain in town. He's already known for his wrongdoings, so what does he do? Get involved in two schemes to frame Hero For the Evulz.
    • Boraccio pretty much does all his thinking, and ultimately turns on him when he believes Hero to be dead.
  • Stupid Good: Don Pedro. He knows Don John is untrustworthy, yet he still brings him to Leonato's house and believes the rumours spread about Hero.
  • 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.
  • That Liar Lies: Dogberry gives five different charges, all of which amount to Those Liars Lie.
  • They Do: Beatrice and Benedick, Claudio and Hero.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Claudio goes from a sweet, naive Nice Guy to an abusive fiancee after he believes Hero has cheated on him, giving her no opportunity to defend herself. Again, in all fairness he thinks he's seen her cheating with his own eyes. And frankly he's not all that bright anyway.
  • 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. However, he's also quick to clear Margaret of blame when his and Don John's plan is discovered.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Margaret to Boraccio.
  • Vile Villain, Saccharine Show: Initially, the bubbly atmosphere seems oddly at variance with Don John's dark and humourless character, although this changes with the play's Mood Whiplash.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Benedick and Beatrice. "There's a double meaning in that!"
  • Volleying Insults: It's implied that this is the favored mode of communication for Beatrice and Benedick. Leonato mentions their "skirmish of wit" from the beginning. They each get quite a few zingers in there, too.
    Beatrice: Scratching could not make it worse, an 'twere such a face as yours were.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Literally, as the one being called out is actually named Hero.
    • 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.

Tropes from the Berlioz operatic adaptation:

  • Adaptational Heroism: Claudio does not make the rash and unfair decision to shame Hero on flimsy evidence in this version; the wedding goes as planned.
  • Beta Couple: In this version, it is unambiguously Claudio and Hero, to Benedick and Beatrice's "Alpha couple".
  • Compressed Adaptation: This adaptation is focused only on the development of Benedick and Beatrice's relationship.
  • Lighter and Softer: The dark and dramatic subplot involving the slander of Hero is omitted.
  • Name and Name: This adaptation is called Béatrice et Bénédict.