Much Ado About Nothing is a comedy by William Shakespeare. It was most likely first performed in 1598 / 1599. The play's style shares many features of the modern romantic comedy and it remains one of Shakespeare's most enduringly popular plays on stage.
The five acts follow two pairs of lovers. Although the romance between Claudio and Hero ostensibly forms the main plot, the action is in fact mostly concerned with their counterparts, Benedick and Beatrice, whose love-hate relationship develops over the course of the play.
In Messina, the governor Leonato, his daughter Hero, and her cousin Beatrice learn from a messenger that Don Pedro has won a battle against Don John, his bastard half-brother who recently attempted to seize control of the kingdom. Don Pedro arrives shortly after the message is delivered with Claudio, Benedick, and Don John, whom Don Pedro, in his great mercy, has recently forgiven. Claudio falls in love with Hero at first sight. Benedick and Beatrice chide one another and trade witticisms. In private, Claudio tells Benedick of his love, but Benedick only teases him. Don Pedro, however, vows to help Claudio by disguising himself as Claudio and making advances to Hero. Leonato's brother Antonio overhears Don Pedro and Claudio's conversation, but believes Don Pedro is in love with Hero, rather than Claudio. Informing Leonato of this, both rejoice at prince Don Pedro's supposed intentions and plan to tell Hero. Don John's servant Conrade informs Don John of Claudio and Don Pedro's plans to woo Hero for Claudio, but Don John, who is still bitter about his relatively poor social station and losing the battle, plans to foil the relationship.
At dinner, while discussing husbands, Beatrice vows to never marry, echoing Benedick's earlier vow. The men arrive in masks: Don Pedro and Hero dance; Benedick and Beatrice dance, and she makes fun of Benedick in general, possibly not knowing she is in fact dancing with him. Don John appears to Claudio, who identifies himself as Benedick, even though Don John knows he's Claudio. Don John tells him Don Pedro is actually in love with Hero, causing Claudio to become depressed. Benedick carries the ruse further, depressing him more. To his relief, though, Don Pedro unites Hero and Claudio in future marriage. Further, Don Pedro plans to convince Beatrice and Benedick to marry one another, even though both have vowed to never marry. Soon, Don John learns of Claudio's engagement to Hero. Still hoping to foil their marriage, he and his servant Borachio plan to brand Hero as a whore and thus compromise the marriage. In the orchard/garden, Don Pedro, Leonato, and Claudio discuss Beatrice's "love" for Benedick. Although Benedick is hiding, they know he is there and lead him to believe she loves him; Benedick takes the bait.
Similarly, Hero and her servant Ursula discuss how Benedick is "in love" with Beatrice, while Beatrice herself hides in the trees and listens; she too takes the bait. Separately, Don Pedro and Claudio tease Benedick for being quiet. Don John appears and tells Pedro and Claudio that Hero is a whore/prostitute and will give proof of it the evening before the wedding. At nightfall, Dogberry and Verges instruct the night watch to watch over the city. In hiding, they hear Borachio (drunk) tell Conrade how he heath let Margaret woo him from Hero's bedroom, and thus deceive Don Pedro and Claudio into believing Hero is a whore. The next day, at the wedding, Claudio plans to denounce Hero and will not marry her. The watch arrests Borachio and Conrade, then Dogberry and Verges come to Leonato to tell him of the arrest, though he impatiently shrugs them off.
At the wedding, Claudio and Don Pedro accuse Hero of being a whore. Leonato vows to determine if the accusations are true. Further, the Friar suggests they pretend that Hero has died from the accusation, so that if a lie is being propagated, the source may admit the lie out of remorse. Privately, Benedick and Beatrice profess their love for one another. She asks him to prove his love by killing Claudio for wronging Hero. In prison, Dogberry interrogates Borachio and Conrade; the Sexton (recorder) plans to tell Leonato of their crimes.
In a courtyard, Benedick charges Claudio to a duel. Before this can occur, Dogberry brings Borachio, who admits of his wrongdoings to slander Hero. Leonato, still dissembling that Hero is dead, instructs Claudio to come to his house in the morning, so that he can marry a "cousin" of Hero, who is nearly identical to her (and actually is her). Beatrice and Benedick continue to fall in love. At the tomb, Claudio delivers an epitaph to Hero. Then, in the morning, Benedick asks Leonato for Beatrice's hand in marriage. Further, Hero and Claudio are again engaged to be married after Claudio's joyous realisation that Hero has been "resurrected". Lastly, it is reported that Don John has been arrested for his deceit and will be punished.The play ends on an uplifting note as the two respective couples who have been brought together 'by Heaven' start to dance as the musicians begin to play...
The title of Much Ado is at least a triple entendre.
Most obviously there is the perplexity that "much ado", or a great fuss, is being made of something that is of no significance, "nothing".
Secondly, in Shakespeare's time nothing was pronounced the same as noting, or observing. Thus Claudio's line, "Didst thou note the daughter of Signior Leonato?," and Benedick's reply, "I noted her not, but I looked on her," is a playful allusion to the title adding to the play's comedic status (I.1.158-60). Also, the events of the play involve much eavesdropping.
Thirdly, again because nothing was pronounced the same as noting, the title is an allusion to noting, creating musical sound. An example of this "noting" comes when Don Pedro says to Balthasar "Or if thou wilt hold longer argument, Do it in notes," or, loosely translated, stop arguing and sing (II.3.54-5).
There have been several film versions of Much Ado About Nothing, but almost all of them have been made for television. The first theatrical version in English may have been the 1913 silent film directed by Phillips Smalley. The first major non-silent theatrical version in English was the highly acclaimed 1993 film by Kenneth Branagh, filmed in Tuscany.
In 2005 the BBC adapted the story by setting it in the modern-day studios of Wessex Tonight, a fictional regional news programme, as part of the ShakespeaRe-Told season.