This comedy written by William Shakespeare circa 1600 is considered one of his best comedic plays. “Much Ado About Nothing” shares some traits with other comedies of the writer, e.g. a double wedding, similar to the one in the end of “Twelfth Night”. Also the climax of the story lightheartedly mirrors the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, though this time everything ends well.
The play starts from showing us the house and family life of a cheerful and courteous Italian nobleman named Leonato living in peaceful and idyllic town of Messina and being the governor of the town. Leonato has the beautiful and innocent daughter named Hero. He also shares his house with his older brother Antonio and his daughter (and Leonato’s niece) named Beatrice. The personalities of the girls are deliberately in sharp contrast. Hero is tender and romantic, though not indecisive, while Beatrice likes to laugh loudly, joke and is usually very straight while telling people her opinion of them, but this bravado hides her inner hesitations and shyness. Both girls are kind and sweet and both aren't engaged yet, though they are of appropriate age.
We see that Leonato is preparing his house for accepting guests. His duty as a governor of Messina is to welcome such a honorary person, but it is a pleasant duty. He awaits for his old friend returning from the war, Don Pedro, a prince of Aragon roughly of Leonato’s age, his former companion. Don Pedro is accompanied by two young trusted soldiers: noble, knightley and deadly serious romantic named Claudio and a seemingly airhead Benedick, who is clever enough to crack some wise jokes, but isn’t clever enough to not to do that in expense of others’ reputation and pissing off the current victim of the joke. We think you have already guessed who is destined for which girl… But there is also the fourth guest who is also clearly destined to be a villain of the story. Don John, an illegitimate brother of Don Pedro who is more of a honorary prisoner than a guest. He was the commander of the army Don Pedro fought, was defeated and half-voluntarily agreed to join his royal brother. The power was so close to Don John, but he didn’t manage to take it. He is sullen, bitter and generally grumpy for obvious reasons.
Finally the guests arrive and Leonato throws a fancy feast to greet them. He calls his family to greet the guests and - surprise! - Hero and Claudio fall in love with each other from the first sight (or, actually, Claudio finally realised he loved her all along). Considering Beatrice and Benedick it is more of a hate from the first sight. The first sight was long ago and the two have big grudges to each other. Everything goes as it always does when they meet: Benedick tells another joke, offended Beatrice parries and a fierce wordplay duel for the title of the Wisecracker of the House begins. They both sum up that they hate each other, the very concept of love and will never get married to anyone (You go, guys, we believe in you!). The two seemingly can't stand one another, but clearly seek each other's company to exchange insults a bit more. Everyone sees their mutual affection through the paper-thin disguise of rivalry. Except Benedick and Beatrice themselves.
Claudio tries to talk to Benedick about his feelings towards Hero, but what he gets is a new bunch of jokes and the advice to stay aside marriage and women in general, because that stuff smells like big troubles. Don Pedro is more sympathetic though and agrees to do the negotiation part with Hero. He says that soon it will be the big masquerade and he will come to the girl pretending to be Claudio and will woo her into marriage. But one of Leonato's servants accidentally mishears the conversation and reports to his master that Don Pedro himself is going to ask Hero's hand on the ball. Leonato starts preparing his daughter for this marriage, but Hero loves Claudio, not Don Pedro who is as old as her own father. Still she is a very obedient daughter and agrees to follow every instruction of her father and return the affection of Don Pedro properly.
But there was another servant who heard the conversation right. Borachio, the henchman of Don John, also reports to his master about what happening. Embittered, Don John is ready to disrupt everyone’s happiness just for the evulz and to take a petty revenge on Don Pedro and Claudio. He and Borachio think how they can use that information to make any other person as miserable as possible.
Everyone is waiting for the ball and when they come, Don Pedro, masked and pretending to be Claudio, talks to Hero in private, confessing “his” love to her in the most courteous way. Poor unlucky Beatrice, who boasted before that she loved the life of a bachelor, immediately starts to complain to her masked partner that Benedick is a huge jerk… guess who appears to be her masked partner? In the meanwhile Don John and Borachio come to talk to Claudio (thinking that he is Benedick) and “secretly” tell him that Don Pedro uses his charm to woo Hero for himself. This news strike poor Claudio like a thunderbolt. He understands that he can do nothing with his treacherous commander and is ready to give up Hero, his belief in humanity in general and in Don Pedro in particular. But the mistake of Don John ruins his evil plan. He wanted Benedick to wreak havoc to avenge his friend, but real Benedick is on the other side of the room, too busy listening to Beatrice’s offences. Soon Don Pedro comes to Claudio and says that his job is done here and Claudio can go and spend time with his beloved. The disaster is seemingly prevented.
After getting the blessing from Leonato, Claudio and Hero start to prepare for the wedding. The preparation takes a full week, so to spend the time the couple proposes everyone else to play a game: make Beatrice and Benedick stop fighting and fall in love finally. The rest of the characters is gladly involved and they start to create situations for them to be together. They succeed and Benedick and Beatrice secretly fall in love, but still don’t have the courage to confess. Still, each of them, while alone, can say how much they love each other. Claudio and Hero make Beatrice hear the monologue of Benedick and vice versa. They also mock Benedick for suddenly becoming extremely tidy, shaved, washed and polite and Beatrice for being equally suddenly dreamy and romantic.
Everyone is adoring the innocent romantic love of Hero and Claudio, making fun of Beatrice and Benedick bickering and generally having a good time. Only Don John sits in his corner thinking about the new round of evil deeds. He commands Borachio to seduce Hero’s handmaid Margaret (who looks a lot like her mistress) and make love with her in Hero’s bedroom, “accidentally” bringing Don Pedro and Claudio to watch. Claudio is devastated with “infidelity” of his fiancée right on the eve of their wedding. Next day he disgraces Hero publicly, shaming her for being promiscuous and leaves her right before the altar. Humiliated Hero doesn’t even know what happened. She faints, overwhelmed with emotions and Leonato and the friar who had to conduct the ceremony decide to temporarily hide her in the country house until they investigate the case and prove her innocence.
Leonato publicly announces that his disgraced daughter was innocent and died of grief. Everyone is horrified with what happened, but Beatrice and Benedick are completely shocked. This shock makes them to stand together to protect Hero and defend her against the false accusations. Benedick even challenges Claudio for a duel, claiming that Claudio framed the innocent girl. Working together makes them reconcile and finally admit that they truly love each other. The wedding is disrupted and everyone is going home.
Luckily for everyone, the night guards are patrolling the town tonight and suddenly hear Borachio boasting about what he had done. The two heads of local guards named Verges and Dogberries immediately arrest both Borachio and Conrad - another servant of Don John and interrogate them. Turns out that it was all planned and Hero was completely innocent all along. Now Claudio is devastated with grief and guilt. He mourns his beloved and pleas to forgive him, thinking that his life is ruined. Don Pedro is equally shocked and he admits that he is guilty no less than Don John, because it was his cruel speech that killed Hero.
Leonato replies that the punishment for what Claudio has done will be his announcement of Hero’s innocence, as public as was her disgrace before the wedding - by writing an epitaph and putting it to Hero’s grave, so that anyone will be able to read this. Another thing that Claudio will be obliged to do is to marry another Leonato’s “niece” - the girl who, as Leonato says, looks very similar to deceased Hero. Claudio obeys, even despite he still mourns his beloved he wants to do anything to earn forgiveness from Leonato’s family. Before the wedding Benedick comes to the friar and asks him if he can conduct another wedding later, just in case.
Leonato brings a mysterious veiled woman to the altar. Claudio takes off her thick veil and sees Hero underneath. His joy is unmeasurable and he is eager to marry Hero immediately, but the girl isn’t ready to forgive him on the spot. After some apologizing and arguing Hero finally agrees and confesses her love to Claudio. Beatrice and Benedick clumsily try to express their love to one another, by saying that they are best buddies… and they hate each other, but it is fun to hate someone… sometimes… At that moment Claudio and the rest of the cast just give them their own love notes, Beatrice and Benedick wrote but never sent to each other. Surprisingly, Beatrice and Benedick don’t beat them on the spot for stealing their personal diaries. They are totally embarrassed and finally agree to marry, just not to die alone in the old age.
Both of the couples dance a cheerful dance with the rest of the cast before finally proceeding to the weddings and living happily ever after.