Act 1 Scene 1
‘I wonder that you will still be talking, nobody marks you’
Leonato and his niece Beatrice learn that Don Pedro of Aragon is on his way to Messina. Don Pedro arrives with Claudio, Benedick, Balthasar and Don John, his bastard brother, and Leonato invites them to stay with him, while Beatrice and Benedick exchange witty banter. Claudio admits that he is in love with Leonato’s daughter, Hero, and Don Pedro offers to disguise himself and woo her on his behalf.
Act 1 Scene 2
‘We will hold it as a dream till it appear itself’
Beatrice’s father, Antonio, tells Leonato of Don Pedro’s offer to Claudio. Leonato decides to tell Hero about it so that she has time to decide how she feels about Claudio.
Act 1 Scene 3
‘It must not be denied but I am a plain-dealing villain’
Don John tells Conrade that he hates his brother, Don Pedro. Borachio enters with the news of Don Pedro’s plan to help Claudio’s wooing of Hero, news which Don John plans to use to his advantage.
Act 2 Scene 1
‘A pleasant-spirited lady’
Leonato, Antonio, Beatrice, and Hero prepare for a celebration. Leonato teases Beatrice about her refusal to consider marriage. Don Pedro, Benedick, Claudio, Don John and his followers enter, masked for the celebration. Beatrice dances with the disguised Benedick, and not recognising him (or pretending not to) she insults him thoroughly. When Don Pedro walks with Hero, Don John tries to convince Claudio that his brother is in fact wooing Hero for himself. Don Pedro confirms that this is untrue, and tells Beatrice that he will find her a husband, plotting to match-make her and Benedick.
Act 2 Scene 2
‘To misuse the prince, to vex Claudio, to undo Hero and kill Leonato’
Don John realises that his plans have been undone, and that Claudio and Hero will marry. Borachio comes up with new a plan to convince Claudio that Hero has been unfaithful. He plans to spend a night with a serving-woman, Margaret, in Hero’s bedroom, all the while calling her Hero. Don John agrees to bring Claudio and Don Pedro to witness it, hoping that this will break up Claudio and Hero.
Act 2 Scene 3
‘The prince and monsieur Love’
Benedick asserts that he will not fall in love unless he meets the perfect woman. Knowing that Benedick can hear them, Don Pedro, Claudio and Leonato stage a conversation about Beatrice’s supposed love for Benedick. After they leave, Benedick realises that he loves Beatrice.
Act 3 Scene 1
‘Taming my wild heart to thy loving hand’
Beatrice overhears a conversation between Hero and a serving woman about Benedick supposedly being in love with her. Beatrice is shocked to discover that she loves Benedick, too.
Act 3 Scene 2
‘Leonato’s Hero, your Hero, every man’s Hero’
Claudio and Don Pedro observe that Benedick has smartened his appearance for Beatrice. Don John enters with news that Hero has been unfaithful to Claudio. Claudio and Don Pedro do not believe him, but agree to go with him that night to see proof of it.
Act 3 Scene 3
‘The devil my master’
Borachio tells Conrade that he used Margaret to trick Don Pedro and Claudio into thinking that Hero was unfaithful. They are overheard and arrested by two members of the watch.
Act 3 Scene 4
‘You have some moral in this Benedictus’
Hero prepares for the wedding, and asks her waiting woman to bring Beatrice to her. When Beatrice enters it is clear that she has been crying over Benedick, and the pair tease her.
Act 3 Scene 5
‘Neighbours, you are tedious’
Dogberry (a constable) delivers Leonato news that he has Don John’s men in custody. Leonato sends him to question the men on his behalf.
Act 4 Scene 1
‘Come, lady, die to live’
At the wedding, Claudio accuses Hero of infidelity, supported by Don Pedro and Don John. Hero tries to defend herself, but when her father also believes the accusations, she faints. Leonato wishes she had died and saved him from such shame, but the Friar reminds them that the accusation of Hero came from Don John, a known villain. They plan to fake Hero’s death and make Don Pedro and Claudio realise Hero’s innocence. Left alone, Beatrice and Benedick confess their love for each other. Beatrice insists that if Benedick loves her, he will kill Claudio on Hero’s behalf, to which Benedick eventually agrees.
Act 4 Scene 2
‘Thou wilt be condemned to everlasting redemption’
Dogberry and his associates question Conrade and Borachio and uncover the plot against Hero. A Sexton records the interview and, after revealing that Don John has fled, leaves to tell Leonato of the plot.
Act 5 Scene 1
‘You have killed a sweet lady’
Antonio and Leonato reveal to Claudio and Don Pedro that Hero has ‘died’ of grief following Claudio’s slander, but the pair maintains that their accusations were true. Claudio and Don Pedro try to talk with Benedick, but he instead challenges Claudio to fight. Dogberry and the rest of the watch enter with Borachio and Conrade, who reveal that the accusations against Hero were made up by Don John. Leonato tells Claudio that he will forgive him on the condition that he agrees to honour Hero’s grave and marry his niece instead. Claudio agrees.
Act 5 Scene 2
‘Serve God, love me and mend’
Benedick asks Margaret to help him write a sonnet to Beatrice. She makes fun of him, but offers to bring Beatrice to him. When Beatrice arrives, she is glad to hear that Benedick challenged Claudio, but remains sad for Hero. A serving woman enters and shares the news that Hero’s innocence has been revealed.
Act 5 Scene 3
‘Done to death by slanderous tongues’
Don Pedro and Claudio mourn beside (what they believe to be) Hero’s grave.
Act 5 Scene 4
‘One hero died defiled, but I do live, and surely as I live, I am a maid’
Leonato and the Friar tell Beatrice, Hero and some serving women to disguise themselves for the wedding. They plan to wed Hero to Claudio, disguising her to ensure that he keeps his promise of marrying the mystery niece. Benedick tells Leonato that he hopes to marry Beatrice. At the wedding, Hero reveals herself, saying she has come back from the dead, and is reunited with Claudio. Beatrice and Benedick also, after some confusion, agree to be married. They plan a dance to celebrate, and a messenger brings news that Don John has been arrested for his crimes.