Summary and Analysis
Act II: Scene 1
The celebration and dance scene includes several short encounters among many of the characters. Most participants are masked, adding to the confusion.
First, Leonato, Antonio, Hero, and Beatrice appear, commenting on Don John's sad and sour appearance. Beatrice uses the occasion as another opportunity to berate Benedick. Leonato and Antonio warn her she is heading for spinsterhood if she continues her attitudes about Benedick in particular and about men and marriage in general. As usual, Hero says very little. To Beatrice's amusement, Hero is cautioned by both her uncle and her father to be attentive and receptive to Don Pedro when he approaches her this evening. (They believe he is courting her for himself.) As guests arrive, Leonato signals everyone to get masks and to mix with the guests. Soon everyone except for Don John and Borachio is masked.
With sweet words, Don Pedro asks Hero to dance ("walk a bout") with him. Then the musician Balthasar and Margaret are overheard in a flirtatious exchange, followed by a similar flirtation by Antonio with Ursula. When the masked Beatrice and Benedick have a brief encounter, she does not seem to know him with his mask and tells this stranger how upset she is with Benedick.
Borachio points out the masked Claudio to Don John. Pretending that Claudio is Benedick, Don John tells him that Don Pedro has sworn his affection for Hero and swears to marry her. He asks Claudio-as-Benedick to talk Don Pedro out of marriage since Hero is "no equal for his birth." Don John and Borachio leave Claudio lamenting the deception by his Prince. Benedick appears and tries to joke about Claudio's apparent loss of Hero, but Claudio walks away in distress.
Don Pedro appears, and Benedick tells him of Claudio's heartache at the prince's winning of Hero. Surprised, Don Pedro says he has always intended to court Hero only for Claudio. When Beatrice appears with Claudio, Benedick hurriedly leaves.
Claudio returns and Don Pedro makes it clear to him that, just as planned, he has spoken to Hero only for Claudio. He signals for Leonato and Hero to join them. Hero is shy when Claudio expresses his renewed joy, and Beatrice chides her. When Don Pedro jokes with Beatrice about finding her a husband now, even himself, Beatrice quickly leaves. After a date is set for the wedding of Claudio and Hero, Don Pedro proposes a scheme to bring Beatrice and Benedick together. Leonato, Claudio, and Hero all agree to help in the plan.
This long scene may be confusing, because events significant to the forward movement of the story are intermixed with insignificant events. Furthermore, everyone except the villains — Don John and his cohorts — are masked. To make the scene even more confusing, two unrelated plots are hatched — Don John's first plot and Don Pedro's plot for bringing Beatrice and Benedick together. And the scene has many sub-scenes: the opening conversation about Don John and about Beatrice's future; the dance that includes several short conversations; the deception of Claudio by Don John; the clarification by Don Pedro; the blessing of Claudio and Hero for their marriage; and finally Don Pedro's plot for Beatrice and Benedick.
When the dancing starts, it may help readers to imagine couples moving in a large circle around the stage, pausing briefly so the audience overhears parts of their conversations: Don Pedro and Hero, Balthasar and Margaret, Antonio and Ursula, and Beatrice and Benedick. The brief appearances of these characters reveal much about their personalities:
Leonato and his family perceive a dark side to Don John; Claudio is immature and quite suggestible and his emotions are very fragile — important to keep in mind for later; Hero continues to be submissive and shy; Beatrice, who recognizes her own contrariness and directness and their effects on others, especially men, has been hurt by Benedick sometime in the past; Benedick is vulnerable to Beatrice's barbs (by the end of the scene, Benedick is at his most exasperated with Beatrice's insults, referring to her as a Harpy and as Lady Tongue; he asks Don Pedro to send him on any errand, no matter how ridiculous, just to get him away from Beatrice); Don Pedro likes to play the role of a prince, manipulating the lives of others: his nearly misfired wooing of Hero for Claudio; his lighthearted offer of himself as a husband to Beatrice, fully aware she would not accept him; his scheme to bring Beatrice and Benedick together; Margaret is a flirt; and Ursula is sensitive to the feelings of others (realizing Antonio is offended by her mild taunts of him).