Summary and Analysis
Act IV: Scene 1
Leonato suggests that Friar Francis use a short wedding ceremony to marry Claudio and Hero. In answer to the friar's first question, "You come . . . to marry this lady?" Claudio answers "No." Leonato assumes Claudio is joking and explains that the Friar is marrying them, that Claudio is being married to Hero.
The friar proceeds and soon comes to the question about knowing any "impediment why you should not be conjoined." Claudio challenges Hero, Leonato nervously tries to move the ceremony along, but Claudio chooses to delay further, finally denouncing Hero as a "rotten orange," blushing with guilt, a "wanton," "more intemperate than . . . Venus" or animals that "rage in savage sensuality." Don Pedro joins the condemnation, calling her a "common stale" (a whore). Claudio asks Hero who appeared with her in her window last night, and she denies any such appearance. Don Pedro reports that he, Claudio, and Don John all saw her there. Hero faints, and the three accusers leave.
Surprisingly, Leonato immediately accepts the lies and wishes both himself and Hero dead. He rages against her while Beatrice maintains that Hero is innocent. Benedick wants to believe Beatrice. The friar also speaks up for Hero's innocence, suspects that Don Pedro and Claudio are mistaken, and proposes that they hide Hero away and pretend that she is dead from the shock of the accusation while they try to find out what has really happened. Benedick believes that Don John is somehow at the bottom of the false accusation rather than Claudio or Don Pedro. Everyone agrees to carry out this new deception, hoping that Claudio will realize what he has done and return to grieve over her.
Beatrice and Benedick are left alone. Benedick seems as sure of Hero's innocence as Beatrice is. At last they proclaim their love for one another. Benedick then asks how to prove his love for Beatrice, and she asks him to kill Claudio. After his initial protests that he cannot kill his friend, he finally agrees to challenge Claudio for the sake of Beatrice's love.
This pivotal scene contains two contrasting dramatic moments, both of which are climactic turning points in the plot: the denunciation of Hero by Claudio and Don Pedro, which leads to Claudio's abandonment of Hero — a moment of great sorrow for all but Don John; and the admission by both Beatrice and Benedick of their love for each other — a moment of great joy under other circumstances. Following the false denunciation, however, the accusation serves primarily to force Benedick to prove his love by carrying out Beatrice's demand that he challenge and perhaps kill Claudio.
Margaret is not present at the wedding although we would expect her to attend her mistress at the wedding. Because she does not hear the question about who was in the window the preceding night, Margaret cannot protest the accusation against her mistress, admitting it was she, Margaret, at the window with Borachio.
Almost every character in the play reacts in a significant, character-defining manner to the denunciation of Hero — some predictably, some quite surprising:
Hero has her most dramatic moments of the play in this scene but is still quite subdued in her reactions, including a ladylike faint.
As we knew from a preceding scene, Claudio and Don Pedro are prepared to denounce Hero, believing they have seen her infidelity with their own eyes. Although Claudio's vehemence is a little surprising, the behavior of Claudio and Don Pedro at the wedding is predictable.
Don John twists the blade a little further in his pleasure at how well his conniving has worked.
Don Pedro only serves to back up Claudio, never suspecting his brother's sudden loyalty and support. He seems a weaker man for having been so readily taken in by his brother.
Leonato demonstrates how susceptible he is to the opinions of others. He is so eager to have the wedding take place that he first asks for a short ceremony; later he tries to hasten the wedding along by putting words in the mouths of both Claudio and the friar. After Claudio's angry name-calling of Hero, Leonato immediately accepts the accusations about his own daughter and wishes her dead for her disgrace, demonstrating how quickly he ignores all his history as Hero's father to accept the word of a young nobleman. Soon the fickle Leonato changes again, agreeing to follow the friar's scheme to hide Hero and hold Claudio responsible for her "death." Leonato's own words seem to characterize his behavior: ". . . the smallest twine may lead me."
Friar Francis emerges from being a necessary but insignificant character in the play, to being the voice of reason that changes the course of events with his plan for uncovering the truth.
Beatrice emerges as the strongest character of all. Never does she doubt her cousin's innocence. Even in the moment of acknowledging her love for Benedick, her first thought is for justice for Hero — by killing Claudio, the accuser. In the midst of her fury about Hero, it is easy to miss the ardor of her confession of love for Benedick:
Beatrice: I was about to protest [insist] I love you.
Benedick: And do it with all thy heart.
Beatrice: I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest.
Benedick is torn between his loyalties: He wants to support Beatrice, but he is loyal to his friends Claudio and Don Pedro, knowing they cannot have made this accusation without good reason. Thus, he is the first to suggest that "John the Bastard" is somehow behind this false accusation. Then, in the scene alone with Beatrice, he hardly knows how to console her and yet protect his friends. He lets his love lead the way, beginning with his ardent declaration: "I do love nothing in the world so well as you." Although he balks at killing Claudio outright at Beatrice's suggestion, he promises to challenge him and bring him to account. Just as the role of Beatrice meets its emotional peak in this scene, so does the role of Benedick, who must reflect conflicting loyalties and affections in a man who has been openly disdainful of relationships and love.