Leonato Governor of Messina, a city in Renaissance Italy. Most of the play takes place in and around Leonato's home and estate. He is father to Hero, uncle and guardian to Beatrice, and host to Don Pedro and his entourage. Friendly and unsophisticated, influenced by appearances and opinions of others, Leonato is a unifying figure, linking the play's plot lines to one another from first scene to last.
Hero Daughter of Leonato and Claudio's intended wife-to-be. Quiet, traditional, obedient, and naive, she becomes the unwitting victim of Don John's plot to cause mischief for Don Pedro and Claudio. Her loyalties shift easily: first willing to accept Don Pedro's apparent proposal, then readily shifting to Claudio. Later, even after her humiliation by him, she is quite prepared to marry a repentant Claudio.
Beatrice Orphaned niece of Leonato, raised in his household as a second daughter. Strong-willed, opinionated, and outspoken, she has been emotionally wounded by Benedick in earlier encounters and has built a defense system against him with sarcasm, wit, disparagement, and apparent indifference. She is protective of Hero, her cousin.
Antonio Brother of Leonato and a member of his household.
Margaret One of two gentlewomen (maidservants) to Hero. Margaret's remarks often include sexual innuendoes. She is innocently misled by Borachio into the plot to deceive Claudio and Don Pedro.
Ursula The second of Hero's maidservants. Ursula plays a small role in deceiving Beatrice about Benedick's love.
Friar Francis The good friar who is to perform the marriage of Hero and Claudio. Friar Francis proposes the scheme to hide Hero after her denunciation, pretending she is dead.
Don Pedro's Company
Don Pedro A prince of Aragon (spelled Arragon in some editions), a region of northeast Spain (which helps explain why he carries the Spanish title of respect, Don). Like Leonato, Don Pedro is a linking character, playing key roles first in the wooing of Hero for Claudio, then in the deceptions of both Beatrice and Benedick, and finally as an unwitting eyewitness to Don John's staging of Hero's unfaithfulness. He apparently likes to control events around him but in fact becomes a victim of them and seems the lesser for being deceived.
Claudio A young count from the city of Florence (he has an uncle in Messina) who is a companion to Don Pedro and has played a heroic part in the fight against Don John. Having admired Hero before going off to war, on his return he is much taken with her — and perhaps with her future inheritance. He seems immature and easily misled by the suggestions and actions of others, including Don Pedro, Don John, and Leonato. His affections are mercurial — back and forth between infatuation and rejection. He is committed to a personal code of ethics that prevents him from accepting a "tarnished" bride.
Benedick Another soldier in Don Pedro's company, not a count like Claudio, but referred to respectfully as "signor." Benedick enjoyed the company of Beatrice at some earlier time but went away without any commitment, causing her to harden her attitudes about men and marriage — an appropriate match for Benedick's own attitudes about women and marriage. He is witty and often sarcastic, independent in spirit, loyal to friends — and not really the misogynist (woman hater) he appears to be. He is quite ready to believe that Beatrice loves him and is not afraid of changing his mind, even publicly.
Don John Brother to Don Pedro. Because he was born outside of marriage, he has no official claim to any of his family's wealth or position. He tried to overthrow his brother in battle but lost. Now his brother's generosity in accepting him as part of his company grates on Don John's unaccommodating personality, and he longs to get back at his brother.
Borachio One of Don John's personal followers. Borachio has had a personal relationship with Margaret, one of Hero's attendants. He uses this relationship for Don John's mischief and his own personal profit by devising the deceptive "window scene." His later repentance seems to stem at least partly from a recognition that the deception went too far.
Conrade (spelled Conrad in some editions) Another of Don John's personal followers.
Balthasar A musician in Don Pedro's company.
Dogberry The constable of Messina, in charge of the night watch — a wonderfully comic figure. Dogberry may be a man of "low station" and rough habits, especially as demonstrated in his garbled speech, but his pride and his wit suggest that some of his actions and expressions may be intentionally ambiguous and provocative.
Verges The deputy constable ("headborough") of Messina and Dogberry's constant companion.
George Seacoal and Other Watchmen The words and actions of the watchmen make them seem more alert and intelligent than Dogberry and Verges. After all, they overhear Don John's plot with Borachio, report the misdeed, and provide testimony that convicts Borachio and ultimately Don John.
Sexton A public official who records the testimony in a trial.