Love, villainy, friendship, parent-child relationships, society and customs-Much
Ado About Nothing touches on all of these. It presents a rich, ambiguous
blend of life's relationships, folly, and catastrophe. Shakespeare introduces
us to a group of people who have a past with each other that is immediately
apparent as soon as Beatrice asks the messenger if all the soldiers are
returned from the war. This is not a casual inquiry. Beatrice's question
marks feelings that she does not yet comprehend. She and Benedick are
attracted to each other but do not know how to deal with these feelings.
The relationship of Beatrice and Benedick is counterpoised to the
more traditional relationship of Hero and Claudio. Claudio, having returned
from the war, now has the leisure and desire to marry Hero. He is concerned
about her social (and economic) position and how others perceive her.
He asks Benedick what he thinks. He also allows the Duke to intervene
on his behalf, to approach the lady and her father with his suit. He is
a proper if somewhat distant lover. Meanwhile Hero is cautioned by her
father to obey his will when it comes to the choice of a husband. This
is just the beginning of complications involving two sets of lovers, giving
the audience and the readers a hint of the rich variety of human motives
Much Ado About Nothing is a play that will entertain and challenge
high school and college students. They will enjoy the wonderful comic
elements in the play--the "battle of the sexes" played by Beatrice and
Benedick, the trick played on these two to turn them into lovers, and
the farcical speeches of Dogberry and Verges. They may find mirrored in
the play many of their own dilemmas about love, familial responsibility,
and relationships. And they will have much to think about in weighing
the actions of Claudio and Don Pedro and in analyzing the elements of
tragedy, melodrama, comedy, and farce united in the play. Students will
find in this play a rich source from which to draw in developing their
abilities to read, analyze, discuss, and write. Much Ado About Nothing
is a Shakespearean work accessible to modern students; it is a true classic
and timeless in its appeal.
This teachers' guide presents strategies and activities to use in
presenting the play to high school or college students. It consists of
a detailed synopsis and suggested teaching activities for before students
read, while they read, and after they read the play. More activities are
listed in each section than can be used, therefore teachers should choose
those that match their teaching style and the needs and interests of their
students. Activities that are especially appropriate for advanced students
are marked with a star (*). In addition a bibliography lists works related
to themes and literary genre of the play.
Characters by Relationship
Don Pedro, Prince
Don John, his bastard brother
Antonio, his brother
Borachio, follower of John
Conrade, follower of John
Claudio, young lord
Hero, daughter of Leonato
Benedick, young lord
Beatrice, niece to Leonato
Margaret and Ursula, attendants to Hero
Act I, scene i [pp. 33-44]
A messenger brings word to Leonato that Don Pedro of Aragon is passing
through Messina on his return from a victorious battle. Beatrice asks
if Benedick is part of the company and hides her interest with disparaging
comments. Shortly the company of Don Pedro, Claudio, and Benedick arrives
and Beatrice and Benedick trade witticisms, both professing that love
is only for fools. Meanwhile Claudio, attracted by Hero's beauty, thinks
he is in love. He asks Benedick what he thinks of the lady, but Benedick
only rails against marriage and womankind. Don Pedro, however, supports
Claudio's suit, telling him that he will speak to Hero and her father
during the masked revels that evening.
Act I, scene ii [pp. 44-45]
A complication arises immediately when Antonio reports to Leonato
that he overheard the Prince telling Claudio that he is in love with Hero.
Leonato says that he'll wait to see what will happen.
Act I, scene iii [pp. 45-47]
Meanwhile Don John, Don Pedro's illegitimate brother, hides his malicious
nature, waiting for the right moment to cause problems for his brother
and Claudio, who he thinks has taken his place in his brother's affections.
He hopes Claudio's desire to wed Hero will give him an occasion to cause
Act II, scene i [pp. 48-61]
Leonato and his daughter and niece are ready for the revels to begin.
While Beatrice complains that there is no man who can match her spirit,
Hero obediently assents to her father's counsel to accept the Prince when
he woos. All wear masks for the dance which leads to confusion and fun.
Don Pedro talks to Hero privately while Benedick and Beatrice, behind
their masks, exchange insults. Meanwhile, Don John pricks Claudio's jealousy
saying that Pedro surely plans to wed Hero himself. Claudio thinks he
has lost Hero. However, Pedro comes in to announce that he has completed
the match between Hero and Claudio, and instantly Claudio's jealousy turns
to joy. Now that the wedding is arranged, the Duke decides to find a husband
for Beatrice who is as witty and fun-loving; he thinks the ideal match
would be Benedick. Plans are made among the company to trick Beatrice
and Benedick so that they will fall in love with one another.
Act II, scene ii [pp. 61-63]
Don John and Borachio hatch a scheme to thwart Claudio's marriage
plans by making Hero seem unchaste. Borachio will arrange to meet with
Margaret at Hero's window in the middle of the night. Thereby, he will
fool the Duke and Claudio into believing that Hero is having an affair.
Act II, scene iii [pp. 63-72]
Benedick is in the garden lamenting how love has changed Claudio.
He is no longer a simple, frank, natural soldier but a lover, concerned
about fashion, manners, and poetry. Benedick reconfirms his resolve to
have nothing to do with marriage. The woman he would surrender himself
to must be fair, wise, and virtuous, and he hasn't met any woman like
He hides in an arbor when Don Pedro, Claudio, and Leonato approach.
Having seen him, they begin their scheme to get Benedick and Beatrice
romantically involved. They announce, for Benedick's benefit, that Beatrice
loves Benedick, but they express fear that Benedick will just make fun
of the lady.
Benedick is completely fooled by their trick, and when he sees Beatrice
coming to call him in to dinner, he is enamored of her. Although Beatrice
is sharp in her speech, Benedick now hears declarations of love where
once he heard only her barbs.
Act III, scene i [pp. 73-77]
Hero arranges for Beatrice to overhear a conversation about Benedick's
love sickness and desire for Beatrice. Beatrice listens while Hero and
her waiting lady commiserate about how Beatrice would only make fun of
Benedick if she knew. Beatrice is taken in and has a complete change of
heart; she vows to love Benedick if he will have her.
Act III, scene ii [pp. 77-82]
Don Pedro, Claudio, and Leonato tease Benedick saying he doesn't look
like himself; he is pale and melancholy as well as clean and newly shaven.
Finally when he can't stand their teasing anymore, Benedick asks to talk
privately with Leonato.
Don John joins Don Pedro and Claudio and accuses Hero of being unfaithful.
He says he wants to save Claudio from a dishonorable marriage, and he
will take them that night to Hero's bedroom window where they will see
her with a man on the night before her wedding. Claudio swears that if
she is with a man, he will shame her at their wedding before the whole
Act III, scene iii [pp. 82-88]
The night watch assembles and gets muddled instructions from Dogberry
and Verges to be alert for enemies of the prince. They overhear Borachio
brag to Conrade about just earning a thousand ducats from Don John by
fooling Claudio and Don Pedro into believing that Hero met with him at
her window. He had met with Hero's maid Margaret. The watch officers step
forward and arrest Borachio and Conrade for this treachery.
Act III, scene iv [pp. 88-91]
Hero is nervously preparing for the wedding while Beatrice acts lovesick
and melancholy. Margaret teases Beatrice, saying she may be in love, just
Act III, scene v [pp. 91-93]
The Constable Dogberry meets with Leonato to tell him the Watch has
taken two prisoners during the night, and they need to be examined. However,
Leonato is in a hurry to leave for the church with Hero and can't make
sense out of Dogberry's and Verges' foolish speech. He orders them to
conduct the examination.
Act IV, scene i [pp. 94-105]
Everyone convenes at the church for the wedding of Hero and Claudio.
When the friar asks if Claudio is here to marry this lady, he says no.
He tells Leonato to take Hero back; she's a "rotten orange," "the sign
and semblance of her honor." To the shocked questioning of Hero and Leonato,
Claudio says that he knows Hero is unchaste and rejects her. Hero swoons
while her father staggers beneath these accusations.
Beatrice, Benedick, Leonato, and the friar try to understand what
has happened. They begin to suspect that Don John is behind the accusations.
The Friar suggests a strategy: let people think Hero has died. Remorse
will begin to work on Claudio, and they will have time to find out what
Left alone together Benedick confesses his love to Beatrice, who finally
admits that she loves him also. As a sign of his love, Beatrice asks Benedick
to take revenge for the wrong done to Hero. He pledges to challenge Claudio.
Act IV, scene ii [pp. 105-108]
The Constables convene the assembly to interrogate the prisoners,
and after much confusion caused by Dogberry's fractured vocabulary, the
Sexton accuses Borachio and Conrade of plotting against Hero.
Act V, scene i [pp. 109-121]
Leonato is full of anger at the slander against Hero and refuses to
be comforted by his brother. When Don Pedro and Claudio appear, Leonato
challenges him to a duel to regain the honor of his daughter. Antonio,
Leonato's brother, joins in the challenge, but Claudio and Pedro refuse
Benedick meets with Claudio and Pedro and challenges Claudio to a
duel for the honor of Hero. He also tells Don Pedro that his brother has
fled Messina and that they have falsely accused and killed an innocent
The constables find Don Pedro and Claudio and reveal the scheme of
the villain Don John. Pedro and Claudio are shocked, and Claudio thinks
of his first love of Hero. Leonato hears of the revelation, but when he
comes before the company, he proclaims Pedro and Claudio the true villains.
They are the ones who really caused the death of Hero by believing the
accusations against her. When they beg for penance, Leonato charges them
to announce Hero's innocence to the people. Also, Claudio must marry his
niece the next day.
Act V, scene ii [pp. 121-124]
Benedick meets with Beatrice to declare his love again and to tell
her that he has challenged Claudio. Ursula, the lady's gentlewoman, comes
in to tell them the news about Don John's scheme.
Act V, scene iii [pp. 124-126]
At the family monument of Leonato, Claudio recites an epitaph to Hero
and keeps vigil throughout the night.
Act V, scene iv [pp. 126-131]
Leonato awaits Claudio whom he plans to wed to his daughter, Hero.
Benedick asks the friar also to marry him and Beatrice. The women come
forward masked. Claudio declares himself husband to the woman he stands
beside, and Hero reveals herself.
Beatrice and Benedick begin to argue about whether they really love
another, but their friends have proof, poems they have written declaring
their love. They kiss and all are joined together in a dance to celebrate
the marriages about to take place.
These activities are designed to prepare students to read and enjoy the
play and to anticipate some of its key themes.
Genre: Comedy or Tragicomedy
Reading Much Ado About Nothing is not like reading a traditional
comedy; instead it has the potential to turn into a tragedy. Comedy is
made up of complications, but in this play the complications could be
disastrous. Therefore, before reading the play, discuss with the students
the nature of comedy and tragicomedy. Suggest that students think about
contemporary comedies (books, films, videos, or television shows) that
use the standard boy-meets-girl format. Ask them: Which are light and
humorous throughout? Which have a darker side and a potential for disaster?
If students are familiar with Romeo and Juliet, they can discuss what
makes it a tragedy. Ask: What would have to be changed for Romeo and Juliet
to become a comedy? *
As in most of Shakespeare's plays, the characters (on page 32 of the
Signet Classic edition) are listed in the order of importance in the social
hierarchies governing Elizabethan society. Therefore, the Prince of Aragon,
Don Pedro, is listed before Leonato, Governor of Messina. It is interesting
to note that the women are listed after all the male characters, except
for the unnamed messengers and attendants. Students can compare this listing
of characters to the modern convention of listing characters in order
of appearance or importance to the film. They can discuss the implications
of Shakespeare's arrangement. It is also useful for students to diagram
the relationships among the characters from the information contained
in the Dramatis Personae. *
Show students the roster of characters listed by relationship on page
2 of this guide. To stimulate students' thinking prior to reading the
play, ask them: What possibilities are suggested by this roster of characters?
They might respond: There are two sets of brothers, Don Pedro-Don John
and Leonato-Antonio potentially allowing Shakespeare to contrast them.
This also could allow for parallel action: what happens between one pair
of brothers may mirror what is happening between the other pair. There
also are two women of aristocratic family and two young lords. The relationship
of one set can be compared to that of the second set. There are two sets
of servants; this could lead to comparisons between the upper and lower
Although not a complicated plot, students may have some difficulty
following the action as they independently read the play.
Explain to the students that the first act reveals background information,
expectations about the characters and their interactions, and the nature
of the conflict or complications of the plot.
Read aloud the first scene. As the students listen, suggest that they
visualize the action. Ask the students: How do the characters look? What
do they do as they speak? After the reading, discuss the students' images
or have them draw a picture of a part of the scene. Suggest that the students
not worry about their drawing skill, but instead attempt to reveal their
personal impressions of the scene. They can compare their drawings in
pairs or small groups and discuss similarities and differences in their
Pair the students and suggest that they imagine the first scene as
a ballet and themselves as choreographers. Have them discuss how the characters
move in relation to each other and diagram a version of the "dance" of
the main characters. With other pairs, allow students to compare their
diagrams and, perhaps "dance" one version for the class. Afterwards ask:
What did you learn about the characters from these activities? What kind
of expectations does Shakespeare establish in this opening scene? What
predictions can you make about how each character will act?
In order for students to discover the play and its richness and themes
for themselves, we do not recommend viewing a film version of the play
before reading and reacting to it. Instead, show the first scene after
students have read and discussed their reading. A recent film version
of the play begins with such delightful energy that it will whet students'
appetites to read, savor, and later see the rest of the play on film.
(Much Ado About Nothing: A Kenneth Branagh Film, adapted for the
screen by Kenneth Branagh. A Renaissance Films Production and Samuel Goldwyn
Company, 1993. Produced by Stephen Evans, David Parfitt, and Kenneth Branagh.
Directed by Kenneth Branagh.)
Alternatively, a film may be shown following the reading of each act
of the play. This sensitizes students to significant details in the play
and interpretations made by the director. Also, this strategy allows less
adept readers to keep up with the action and participate in class discussion.
It may be helpful for some readers to use the detailed synopsis of
the play located at the beginning of this guide. The plot summary contained
in the commentary on pp. 135-137 of the Signet Classic edition is more
appropriate for mature readers. Although written in the eighteenth century,
it can alert students to some of the issues of dealing with plot, characterization,
and theme prior to reading the play.
Even for the most experienced readers, language may be an issue when
reading Shakespeare's plays. Many readers become frustrated because they
do not understand every word in the text and have to refer to footnotes.
Suggest to students that they need not understand every word to experience
the action. You can demonstrate this by giving students a brief passage
from the play in which every third or fourth word is blocked out. Ask
students to read for the main idea and later compare this passage to the
original in the play. Ask: Do you understand what is happening even when
you do not know all the words?
Other elements of language students may miss are puns, innuendo, and
bawdy talk. Select one or two passages from the play. In pairs or small
groups, have students interpret what the words say and/or imply. To help
students identify contemporary double layering of language, you may want
to brainstorm with them a few examples from popular culture: slang, jokes,
and cartoons. Have each group list as many contemporary examples as they
can. These should be shared with the class and explained.
NOTE: An additional benefit of carefully looking at several selected
passages prior to reading the play is that students will see that the
language makes sense. They will also recognize t|he passage and build
on their knowledge of its meaning when they are reading it in context.
After students have shared contemporary examples of double layering
of language and have analyzed an example you selected from the play, they
can either examine more examples you provide or can search for examples
on their own. *
Messenger: And a good soldier too, lady.
Beatrice: And a good soldier to a lady. But what is he to a lord?
Messenger: A lord to a lord, a man to a man; stuffed with all honorable
Beatrice: It is so, indeed; he is no less than a stuffed man. But
for the stuffing-well, we are all mortal. (I, i, 51-57) [p. 35]
Clever word play
Benedick: What, my dear Lady Disdain! Are you yet living?
Beatrice: Is it possible Disdain should die while she hath such meet
food to feed it as Signior Benedick? Courtesy itself must convert to Disdain
if you come in her presence. (I, i, 114-119) [p. 37]
Innuendo and bawdy language
Leonato: By my troth, niece, thou wilt never get thee a husband if
thou be so shrewd of thy tongue.
Antonio: In faith, she's too curst.
Beatrice: Too curst is more than curst. I shall lessen God's sending
that way, for it is said, "God sends a curst cow short horns"; but to
a cow too curst he sends none.
Leonato: So, by being too curst, God will send you no horns.
Beatrice: Just, if he send me no husband; for the which blessing I
am at him upon my knees every morning and evening. Lord, I could not endure
a husband with a beard on his face. I had rather lie in the woolen! (II,
i, 18-31) [p. 49]
["Horns" in this passage is used as a phallus symbol. There are several
other references to horns made by Benedick referring to the horns of a
cuckold (see I, i, 191; 231-233; 253-255). Students may wonder about the
prevalence of this joke about adultery and if it expresses a common behavior
among spouses during Shakespeare's time. One critic suggests that the
cuckold was a metaphor for the changes in social and economic class relationships
of the time. In this view, the worry about becoming a cuckold expresses
indirectly the anxiety the growing merchant class felt about private property.
Because of this economic connection the horns of the cuckold are derived
from beasts of burden, the horns of the ox and the horn-like ears of the
ass (Bruster, D., " The Horn of Plenty: Cuckoldry and Capital in the Age
of Shakespeare," Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 30, No.
2, Spring 1990.]
After examining Shakespearean language, discuss with the students
attitudes of the seventeenth century towards sexuality, and how and why
these attitudes have changed. *
The main themes of the play grow out of the "game of love"-the nature
of attraction between man and woman, the role of marriage in society,
gender roles, romance, and standards of sexual mores. A related theme,
the nature of truth and reality versus appearance, explores how one lover
constantly tries to determine the other lover's faithfulness through outward
signs and actions. It can be helpful to have students discuss the meaning
of several of these themes prior to reading the play.
Begin a discussion of themes in the play by having students complete
a personal opinion survey.
What's Your Opinion?
Mark the statements as true or false:
1. Men and women should marry persons of a similar social and economic
status as themselves.
2. People choose with whom they will fall in love.
3. It is better not to marry than to marry and risk being cheated
on by your spouse.
4. Most people can be trusted to be faithful in marriage.
5. Men are attracted to women who are assertive and bold.
6. Jealousy in a romantic relationship is usually a sign the relationship
7. Because parents usually know what is best for their children when
it comes to choosing a mate, children should go along with their parents'
wishes in this regard.
Students can discuss their answers in small groups or with the whole
Customs pertaining to courtship and marriage of men and women differ
among cultures. Students can do a mini-research project or conduct interviews
within the school or community asking people from several different cultures
about their customs. Following the research, ask students: What are some
common customs across cultures? What differences exist? Why are customs
an important part of courtship and marriage?
Students can also research the customs for courtship and marriage
during Shakespeare's time, and examine how these differ from customs today.
In small groups or pairs, students can research where the idea of
romantic love originated. They can examine the origins of courtly love
and the medieval courts of love. They can read courtly love poetry or
a courtly love tale, such as Giovanni Boccaccio's "Federigo's Falcon"
(from The Decameron, "Fifth Day, Ninth Story" trans. by Mark Musa and
Peter Bondanella, Mentor Books) or Marie de France's "Guigemar" (from
The Lais of Marie de France, trans. by Glyn S. Burgess and Keith Busby,
Penguin Classics). The tradition of courtly love can be contrasted to
the medieval laws concerning women, their dowry, and property rights.
After the students have shared their research and poetry with the class,
ask them: Does it seem likely that courtly love is a fantasy that does
not fit within the social reality of the time? What might have been the
purpose of such stories? What effect might they have had on people? Are
there still remnants of courtly love literature in popular romances or
in contemporary love songs? *
The old cliche "love is blind" can serve as an introduction to the
theme of appearance versus reality. In small groups, have the students
brainstorm and list some popular sayings about love, lovers, and marriage,
such as "love at first sight," "love is in the eye of the beholder," or
"marry in haste, repent in leisure." After the lists have been shared,
ask the students: Is there a basis for these sayings? What is it about
love that causes people to be "blind," to be "a little mad," to "lose
themselves in love"?
Have students brainstorm individually and in small groups the titles
of songs dealing with love and romance. After the titles have been shared,
ask the students: What types of love are sung about (i.e. young love,
married love, sexual desire, unfulfilled love, unfaithful love, jealous
love)? What do these different kinds of love say about human nature?
Discuss with students the concept of a "double standard." Suggest
that the students think about these questions: To what extent does it
still operate today? Why does it still operate? How does it account for
different gender-specific behaviors?
"Shakespeare's Theater" in the Prefatory Remarks provides students
with useful background information about Elizabethan staging practices
and prepares them to visualize the action of the play more clearly. After
students have read this, teachers can choose among the following activities.
Students can draw a diagram of the theater or look for pictorial representations
in stage histories and explain the main parts and functions of the theater.
Students can list on poster paper the main conventions (e.g.: scenery
and spectacle, the staging of entrances and exits, the way setting is
conveyed in the character's speech) employed by Shakespeare.
Students can read the list of Shakespeare's plays on p. xii of the
Signet Classic edition and discuss themes explored by Shakespeare in other
plays they have read.
In small groups, students can design informal poster reports (a visual
diagram and summary) of the plot and themes of Shakespearean plays with
which they are familiar. These posters can be placed around the classroom
to represent the chronology of plays created by Shakespeare enabling students
to see the place of Much Ado About Nothing in Shakespeare's body
of work. After students have completed the posters, ask: What plays came
before Much Ado or were written at about the same time? What generalizations
about Shakespeare's concerns and the preoccupations of his time can be
made from these plays? *
After students have completed discussing other Shakespearean plays,
review with them the events of Shakespeare's life and discuss the use
of biography in critical literary analysis. This might naturally lead
to a discussion of whether or not the plays were written by Shakespeare.
Through class discussion, generate a running plot line of the material
covered each day. Post the plot line in a prominent place. Use the plot
line to make predictions about what will happen next in the play and to
generate analytical and interpretive questions.
Ensure that students know how to make use of the footnotes explaining
obscure terms or expressions in the text. One way to do this is through
a model-and-practice exercise:
a. Choose a scene from the material assigned to be read.
b. Read at least a page of the scene out loud to the class, just as
you would silently read and study it.
c. Go back over the page and show students how you figure out its
meaning by referring to the footnotes and pausing at difficult parts to
think out loud about these parts. Let them see how you deal with ambiguity
and difficulty and how you arrive at your personal interpretation.
d. Have the class discuss the method you use. List on the board the
strategies they identify. Ask them what they might do differently, making
it clear that different approaches can be effective for different people.
e. Pair students and have them take turns reading and thinking out
loud through alternate pages of text. The readers should be careful to
say all of their thoughts as they are thinking them to the listeners.
The listeners should follow along in the text and ask questions the readers
have not explained.
f. When students have finished working through the scene, or after
a maximum of 20 minutes, discuss with the whole class their understanding
and interpretations of the scene and also identify the efficacy of their
individual strategies in reading and studying the text.
Assign short parts (100-130 lines) of significant scenes in each act
of the play for students to act out in small groups using a form of reader's
a. Divide students into groups according to the number of characters
in the scene with an extra person as narrator.
b. Allow time in class for students to discuss their scene and to
plan how they will perform it.
c. Give a copy of these guidelines to each group.
1. Use simple props, costumes, and background music if appropriate.
2. You can retain the original setting or change it to modern day
if you wish.
3. Make sure you all understand and agree on a single interpretation
of your scene.
4. Choose a narrator to give the background of the scene and to explain
5. Rehearse your parts ensuring clear and fluent reading. You can
use simple action or remain stationary revealing your emotions through
gestures and facial expressions.
6. (optional) At the end of your performance, be ready to discuss
the significance of your scene to the rest of the play read thus far.
d. Use clear evaluation criteria making individual students and the
group accountable for the success of the group's planning process and
performance. Students can be graded as a group for being on task and working
cooperatively. Individually, students can be graded on how well they carried
out their parts in the performance. Also, have each student write a brief
description of how he or she contributed to preparing for the group performance
and the significance of the scene the group presented.
e. The following scenes are appropriate for reader's theater:
I, iii, 1-72 [pp. 45-46] (3 characters) Don John reveals his villainous
II, i, 260-336 [pp. 57-59] (5 characters) Beatrice, Benedick, and
Claudio interact. Claudio is jealous.
III, i, 1-116 [pp. 73-77] (3 characters) Beatrice is tricked into
thinking Benedick loves her.
III, ii, 76-130 [pp. 80-82] (3 characters) Claudio is duped into suspecting
IV, i, 1-111 [pp. 94-98] (5 characters) Claudio rejects Hero at the
V, i, 1-108 [pp. 109-113] (4 characters) Leonato tells Claudio that
Hero has died.
V, ii, 42-102 [pp. 122-144] (3 characters) Benedick and Beatrice mock
fight; they learn that Hero's innocence is proved.
V, iv, 33-123 [pp. 127-131] (7 characters) Claudio and Hero, Benedick
and Beatrice agree to marry.
STUDENT RESPONSE PROMPTS
The following activities are designed to prompt student response at
the knowledge, comprehension, and application levels.
At the beginning of each class, give students a list of quotes from
which to choose one quote and write their personal response for five to
seven minutes. After writing, students can share their responses in pairs,
small groups, or with the class. Or, one day each week can be set aside
for students to choose their best response and share it in small groups
or with the class. Their responses can take many forms.
Write a three part response: 1) indicate the meaning of the quote,
2) connect the quote with other parts of the play, other literature, or
personal experiences, and 3) discuss your personal feelings about the
quote, the character, or the action. *
Write a purely personal expression. Take off from the quote and freewrite
wherever your thoughts may take you-into fantasy, reflections on your
day, problems you are experiencing, or people you care about.
Write a poetic response. Write your own rejoinder or rebuttal to the
quote or continue the dialog using Shakespeare's style. Or, write a poem
reflecting a theme or idea suggested by the quote.
Copy the quote and illustrate it. In lieu of writing, draw the characters
or illustrate the action in whatever detail you like from symbolic representation
to realistic characterization.
Reply to the character. Write a letter to the character, either from
your point of view or from the point of view of another character in the
The following quotations provide rich possibilities for student response:
1. "There is a kind of merry war betwixt Signior Benedick and her.
They never meet but there's a skirmish of wit between them." (I, i, 58-61)
2. "Because I will not do them the wrong to mistrust any, I will do
myself the right to trust none; and the fine is (for the which I may go
the finer), I will live a bachelor." (I, i. 233-237) [p. 41]
3. "It must not be denied but I am a plain-dealing villain." (I, iii,
29-30) [p. 46]
1. "I have a good eye, uncle; I can see a church by daylight." (II,
i, 81-82) [p. 51]
"Friendship is constant in all other things
Save in the office and affairs of love.
Therefore all hearts in love use their own tongues;
Let every eye negotiate for itself
And trust no agent; for beauty is a witch
Against whose charms faith melteth into blood." (II, i, 173-178) [p.
3. "I have known when there was no music with him but the drum and
the fife; and now had he rather hear the tabor and the pipe." (II, iii,
12-15) [p. 64]
1. "I'll devise some honest slanders/ To stain my cousin with. One
doth not know/ How much an ill word may empoison liking." (III, i, 84-86)
2. "If I see anything tonight why I should not marry her tomorrow,
in the congregation where I should wed, there will I shame her." (III,
ii, 119-121) [p. 81]
3. "Yet Benedick was such another, and now is he become a man. He
swore he would never marry; and yet now in despite of his heart he eats
his meat without grudging. And how you may be converted I know not; but
methinks you look with your eyes as other women do." (III, v, 84-89) [p.
"You seem to me as Dian in her orb, As chaste as is the bud ere it
But you are more intemperate in your blood
Than Venus, or those pamp'red animals
That rage in savage sensuality." (IV, i, 56-60) [p. 96]
2. "I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest."
(IV, i, 284-285) [p. 103]
3. "I cannot be a man with wishing; therefore I will die a woman with
grieving." (IV, i, 320-321) [p. 105] Act V
Can counsel and speak comfort to that grief
Which they themselves not feel; but, tasting it,
Their counsel turns to passion" (V, i, 20-23) [p. 110]
2. "No, I was not born under a rhyming planet, nor I cannot woo in
festival turns." (V, ii, 40-41) [p. 122]
Benedick: "Your niece regards me with an eye of favor."
Leonato: "That eye my daughter lent her; 'tis most true."
Benedick: "And I do with an eye of love requite her."
Leonato: "The sight whereof I think you had from me,
From Claudio, and the Prince." (V, iv, 22-26) [p. 127]
4. "One Hero died defiled; but I do live, And surely as I live, I
am a maid." (V, iv, 63-64) [p. 128]
5. "Since I do purpose to marry, I will think nothing to any purpose
that the world can say against it; and therefore never flout at me for
what I have said against it; for man is a giddy thing, and this is my
conclusion." (V, iv, 104-108) [p. 130]
Students can be guided to deeper levels of understanding of the play
through small group or class discussion. Once the plot is understood by
the students, their responses can focus on analysis and evaluation. The
oral response questions suggested below can also be used as student writing
What is Shakespeare telling us about ourselves-about what we want
or need to be happy, about how men and women need to interact? What is
Shakespeare's understanding of human nature?
Is the play true?
Was the play realistic in terms of how people lived in Shakespeare's
Is it realistic in terms of the way people behave today?
Why is it significant that Don Pedro and his men are returning from
Why does Beatrice ask about Benedick? What is the "real" reason?
Beatrice and Benedick say that lovers are fools, and they want nothing
to do with love. Why do you think they say this?
How does Benedick react to Claudio's declaration that Hero is "the
sweetest lady that ever I looked on"?
Why does Claudio send Don Pedro as his emissary to Hero to declare
Why does Don John want to cause trouble? Why is he so morose?
What are Beatrice's reasons for not wanting to have anything to do
What are Leonato's instruction to his daughter, Hero, and what do
these show about traditional attitudes?
According to the stage directions for the dance, Don John is not masked
during the revels? Why?
Do you think Beatrice and Benedick know each other when they speak
behind their masks? Why? Why not?
Why does Don John pretend that he does not recognize Claudio?
How does Benedick feel about his conversation with Beatrice?
What does Beatrice mean when she says, "once before he [Benedick]
won it [my heart] of me with false dice"? (II, i, 277-278) [p. 57]
Why is Claudio unable to speak when Don Pedro tells him that the Lady
Hero is his?
Why does Don Pedro's plan work so well?
How does Benedick rationalize himself into loving Beatrice?
Why do the women praise Benedick so highly when they describe how
he loves Beatrice?
Why does Hero say that she will not tell Beatrice about Benedick's
How fair are the women in their description of Beatrice's behavior?
Is she too hard on men? (Think back to her description of Don John.) Why
are they devoting so much time to her reputation for "disdain"?
What is Beatrice's reaction to the women's speech?
Why do the men make fun of Benedick?
How does Don John plan to deceive Claudio and Don Pedro?
Why does the Watch arrest Borachio and Conrade? Act IV
How does Claudio judge Hero's behavior when he accuses her?
How do the rest of the company react? How can you explain in relationship
to their other behavior in the play Leonato's denunciation, Benedick's
confusion, and Beatrice's conviction that Hero has been slandered?
How does the Friar propose to judge the situation?
What does the Friar hope will happen as a result of his plan to have
it published that Hero is dead? What kind of change does he think will
come about in Claudio?
What happens between Benedick and Beatrice?
Why does Beatrice want to kill Claudio?
How does the confusion in the speech of Dogberry fit the theme of
appearance versus reality?
What does Antonio say that gets Leonato to think again about his passionate
denunciation of Hero?
Does Leonato think Hero is guilty of being unvirtuous? Why? Why not?
Do you think Claudio makes a move to draw his sword against Leonato?
Why or why not?
What is the purpose of this scene in which Leonato and his brother
Antonio challenge Claudio for slandering Hero?
What is Claudio's attitude? What does this show about his character?
Does it fit with your sense of his character?
How does Don Pedro act when Benedick meets them? What is your reaction
to the exchange of the three men? Why do you think they are acting as
To what extent is the punishment Leonato places on Claudio fitting?
Why does he want Claudio to believe that he has killed Hero?
Why do Beatrice and Benedick talk about loving each other only according
to "reason"? How do they really feel about each other?
After reading the play, conduct follow up activities extending students'
learning and enriching their understanding of the play and its themes.
Show a complete film version of Much Ado About Nothing. In
five groups, have the students discuss how each act of the film differs
from the same act of the play.
Use writing response assignments to get students to deepen their understanding.
Organize writing response groups to provide an audience and feedback for
rough drafts and sharing of finished pieces. Suggest the following topics:
a. Now that you have read the play, how do you judge it as a comedy?
Mood is the feeling of a piece of literature. Is the mood of this play
light and humorous or serious and weighty? First freewrite about your
reaction to these questions and then look back to the play for quotes
and scenes used to establish the dominant mood. *
b. Draw a diagram of the play showing the movement of the mood (mood
shifts) occurring during the action. Write an explanation of your diagram.
c. Write a comic scene modeled on Much Ado About Nothing. Think
about an episode that could happen at school between a boy and girl. What
things might lead to complications? Create a dialogue and some stage action.
Try out the scene with several other students and then revise your scene
according to their directions.
d. A lot of the humor involving Dogberry and Verges arises from their
fractured sense of word meanings. Examine several of their speeches and
write some of your own malapropisms.
e. Compare one section of the film version of Much Ado to the text
of one act of the play. What did the screenplay leave out or change? What
is the effect of such changes? Review the act you have chosen. Describe
what changes or adaptations you might make in your film version of this
f. Who would you rather be-Beatrice or Hero; Claudio or Benedick?
Compare and contrast the two female or male characters. Why do you think
Shakespeare created the pairs of characters?
g. Study a map of Italy. Pinpoint the places mentioned in the play.
Do some research about the historical situation in Italy in the sixteenth
century. Explain historically the wars which Don Pedro and his men have
been fighting. *
h. Select one character and write a letter describing the events in
Leonato's house from that character's point of view.
i. Write a dramatic monologue patterned after the monologues of Robert
Browning (for example, "My Last Duchess" in Selected Poems of Robert Browning,
edited by Daniel Karlin, Penguin Poetry Library, 1990), which you will
recite orally to your group. *
j. Choose a passage in the play which best represents one of the themes.
Explain what the passage means and what it reveals about the theme.
Many students will enjoy and benefit from more physical responses
to the play.
a. Directors often make changes in a play to express a particular
point of view, interpretation of character, or illustration of theme.
Small groups of students can work together on a scene or part of a scene.
Decide who will be the director, assistant director, and actors. Plan
your interpretation of the scene, rehearse your scene, and act it out
for the class. Be ready to explain your interpretation of the scene.
b. Critics make a distinction between low comedy and high comedy.
Low comedy is the boisterous, rowdy play of characters who often come
from lower social classes; the language of these social classes often
includes dialect, lots of bawdy language, innuendo, and word play. High
comedy is more sophisticated and involves the characters of the upper
class. High comedy is more intellectual and arises from the pleasure of
seeing complications resolved. Brainstorm high and low comedy you have
seen on television, video, or film. Pick a situation between a boy and
a girl that might occur at school. Write the scene as high or low comedy.
Present it to the class and ask them to identify the type of comedy you
Or, choose a high comedy and a low comedy scene in Much Ado About
Nothing. Act out each scene including as much action as possible.
Discuss how each type of comedy affects the viewer and how we derive pleasure
from viewing comedy.*
c. Practice a key speech that helps develop the character who is speaking.
Recite the speech to a small group and describe why you chose it.
d. Select one or several pieces of music (or compose one) that you
think reflects the mood of a scene or several scenes. In a small group,
practice reading the scene(s) with the music as a background. Record your
reading on an audio recorder.
e. Select a scene. Design the set for the scene. Be sure to include
both scenery and props.
f. Select a character. Go through the play and draw designs for costumes
for that character.
The Introduction and Commentaries in the Signet Classic edition can
be explored profitably by students after their own reading of Much Ado.
The Introduction is especially helpful in comparing the relationship of
Claudio and Hero with that of Benedick and Beatrice. The various essays
in the Commentaries section can give students an historical sense of changing
responses to the play. In addition, the essay by Carol Thomas Neely gives
insight into the various gender-related issues raised in the play. One
use of these essays would be to have students first freewrite about their
personal views, read an appropriate essay, and then compare their view
to that of the essay's author. *
With a small group or as a class, read Keeping Christina by Sue Ellen
Bridgers (Harper, 1993). In the book, the teenage students debate whether
or not Shakespeare was actually the author of the plays. Discuss the points
raised by the teenagers in Bridgers' book. Research the controversy over
the authorship of the plays and hold a class debate.
Other Literature Dealing with the Themes of Much Ado About Nothing
Bridgers, Sue Ellen. All Together Now. Knopf, 1979.
Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. Signet Classic, 1960.
Bronte, Emily. Wuthering Heights. Signet Classic, 1959.
Dumas, Alexandre. The Count of Monte Cristo. Signet Classic, 1988.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. Tender is the Night. Scribner's, 1962.
Gingher, Marianne. Teen Angel And Other Stories of Young Love. Macmillan,
Greene, Bette. Summer of My German Soldier. Dial, 1973.
Hemingway, Ernest. A Farewell to Arms. Scribner Classics Series, 1987.
Hunt, Irene. Up a Road Slowly. Follett, 1966.
Leroux, Gaston. The Phantom of the Opera. Signet Classic, 1987.
Rosenthal, Lucy. Great American Love Stories. Little, 1988.
Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. Signet Classic, 1964.
Appearance versus Reality
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Signet Classic, 1950.
Hamilton, Virginia. M. C. Higgins, the Great. Macmillan, 1974.
Hamilton, Virginia. Zeely. Macmillan, 1967.
Melville, Herman. Billy Budd, Sailor. Signet Classic, 1961.
Wharton, Edith. The Age of Innocence. Collier, 1993.
Williams, Tennessee. The Glass Menagerie. Signet, 1987.
Cooney, Caroline. I'm Not Your Other Half. Pacer, 1984.
Greene, Bette. Philip Hall Like Me. I Reckon Maybe. Dial, 1974.
Levitin, Sonia. Smile Like a Plastic Daisy. Atheneum, 1984.
PENGUIN USA's Signet Classic Shakespeare series never grows old. We
offer the best of everything-unforgettable works edited by eminent Shakespeare
scholars, comprehensive notes on the text, an essay on Shakespeare's life
and times, source material, critical commentaries, extensive bibliographies,
and footnotes. And there's more-
THE SIGNET CLASSIC SHAKESPEARE SERIES is the ONLY paperback series
•To grow with the times by including both historical and thoroughly
contemporary critical commentary on such issues as feminist, political,
and theatrical interpretations of the plays-with recent full-length essays
by such respected scholars as Frank Kermode, Carolyn Heilbrun, Michael
Goldman, Linda Bamber, and many others.
•To provide more bibliographic listings and more up-to-date
and relevant listings of pertinent books and articles in the Suggested
Reference Section than the competition offers.
•To feature essays on the Performance or Stage History of each
play, written by Sylvan Barnet.
HENRY IV, PART I Edited by Maynard Mack
HENRY IV, PART II Edited by Norman Holland
HENRY V Edited by John Russell Brown
HENRY VI, PARTS I, II, & III Edited by Lawrence V. Ryan, Arthur
Freeman, and Milton Crane respectively
KING JOHN and HENRY VIII Edited by William Matchett and Samuel Schoenbaum
RICHARD II Edited by Kenneth Muir
RICHARD III Edited by Mark Eccles
ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA Edited by Barbara Everett
CORIOLANUS Edited by Reuben Brower
FOUR GREAT TRAGEDIES (Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, Othello)
HAMLET Edited by Edward Hubler
JULIUS CAESAR Edited by William and Barbara Rosen
KING LEAR Edited by Russell Fraser
MACBETH Edited by Sylvan Barnet
THE MERCHANT OF VENICE Edited by Kenneth O. Myrick
OTHELLO Edited by Alvin Kernan
ROMEO AND JULIET Edited by Joseph Bryant
TITUS ANDRONICUS and TIMON OF ATHENS Edited by Sylvan Barnet and Maurice
TROILUS AND CRESSIDA Edited by Daniel Seltzer
ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL Edited by Sylvan Barnet
AS YOU LIKE IT Edited by Albert Gilman
THE COMEDY OF ERRORS Edited by Harry Levin
FOUR GREAT COMEDIES (The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night's
Dream, Twelfth Night, The Tempest)
LOVE'S LABOR'S LOST Edited by John Arthos
LOVE'S LABOR'S LOST, TWO GENTLEMAN OF VERONA, and THE MERRY WIVES
OF WINSDOR Edited by John Arthos, Bertrand Evans, and William Green respectively
MEASURE FOR MEASURE Edited by S. Nagarajan
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM Edited by Wolfgang Clemen
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING Edited by David Stevenson
PERICLES, CYMBELINE, and THE TWO NOBLE KINSMEN Edited by Ernest Schanzer,
Richard Hosley, and Clifford Leach respectively
THE TAMING OF THE SHREW Edited by Robert Heilman
THE TEMPEST Edited by Robert Langbaum
TWELFTH NIGHT Edited by Herschel Clay Baker
THE WINTER'S TALE Edited by Frank Kermode
POETRY AND TITLES OF RELATED INTEREST
THE SONNETS Edited by William Burto
THE SONNETS AND NARRATIVE POEMS The Complete Non-Dramatic Poetry Edited
by William Burto and William Empson
STORIES FROM SHAKESPEARE Marchette Chute (Meridian)
TALES FROM SHAKESPEARE Charles Lamb and Mary Lamb
A DICTIONARY OF QUOTATIONS FROM SHAKESPEARE Edited by Margaret Miner
and Hugh Rawson (Signet)
SHAKESPEARE His Life, His Language, His Theater S. Schoenbaum
TEACHER'S GUIDES FOR THE SIGNET CLASSIC SHAKESPEARE
HAMLET Patti McWhorter
JULIUS CAESAR James R. Cope
MACBETH Linda N. Underwood
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM Hazel Davis
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING Jeanne M. McGlinn, Ph.D. and James E. McGlinn,
ROMEO AND JULIET Arthea J. S. Reed, Ph.D.
TAMING OF THE SHREW Carol J. Luttner and Lauren McCammon.
There are many works of fiction that explore the themes of Shakespeare's
Macbeth. The books suggested below represent a variety of reading and
1. Things Are Not What They Seem
Bograd, Larry. Travelers.+# Lippincott, 1986.
Bridgers, Sue Ellen. Permanent Connections.#% Harper & Row, 1987.
Brooks, Bruce. Midnight Hour Encores. #% Harper & Row, 1984.
Cormier, Robert. The Bumblebee Flies Anyway. #% Knopf, 1983. Dell, paper.
Cormier, Robert. I Am the Cheese. #% Pantheon, 1977. Dell, paper.
Duncan, Lois. Killing Mr. Griffin.+# Little, Brown, 1978. Dell, paper.
Hamilton, Virginia. M.C. Higgins, the Great.# Macmillan, 1974. Dell, paper.
Irwin, Hadley. Abby, My Love.* Macmillan, 1985. NAL, paper
Kerr, M.E. Gentlehands.+# Harper & Row, 1978. Bantam, paper.
Lasky, Kathryn. Prank.# Macmillan, 1984. Dell, paper.
Major, Kevin. Far from Shore.# Delacorte, 1981. Dell, paper.
Paterson, Katherine. Jacob Have I Loved.* Crowell, 1980. Avon, paper.
Peck, Richard. Remembering the Good Times.* Delacorte, 1985. Dell, paper.
Voight, Cynthia. A Solitary Blue. +# Atheneum, 1983.
2. The Corruption of Power
Cormier, Robert. The Chocolate War.#% Pantheon, 1986. Dell, paper.
Cormier, Robert. Beyond the Chocolate War.#% Pantheon, 1986. Dell, paper.
Duncan, Lois. Down a Dark Hall.+ Little, Brown, 1974. Dell, paper.
Golding, William. Lord of the Flies.#% Putnam, 1954.
Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World.#% Harper & Row, 1932
L'Engle, Madeleine. The Young Unicorns.+# Farrar, Straus & Giroux,
1968. Dell, paper.
Rhue, Morton. The Wave.+# Dutton, 1984. Bantam, paper.
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings.#% Allen, 1954.
3. Blind Ambition
Dean, John. Blind Ambition: The White Years.% Simon and Schuster, 1976.
Warren, Robert Penn. All The King's Men.% Harcourt, Brace and World, 1946.
4. Superstition and its Effects on Human Behavior
Hamilton, Virginia. Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush.# Putnam, 1982. Avon,
Miller, Arthur. The Crucible.#% Viking, 1954.
Myers, Walter Dean. Mojo and the Russians.+ Viking, 1977.
Peck, Richard. Ghosts I Have Been.+ Viking, 1987. Dell, paper.
Speare, Elizabeth George. The Witch of Blackbird Pond.+# Houghton Mifflin,
1958. Dell, paper.
Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.#% 1884. Available from
a variety of publishers.
About the Guide Author
Jeanne M. McGlinn, Lecturer in the Department of Education at the University
of North Carolina at Asheville, has a Ph.D. in Literature from the University
of Kansas, where she taught courses in composition and literature. Currently
she is director of the Reading and Critical Thinking Center at UNC-A and
teaches Children's Literature and Humanities. Her research interests include
multicultural literature, gender issues in children's literature, and
James E. McGlinn, Associate Professor of Education at the University
of North Carolina at Asheville, has a B.A. and an M.A. in English and
an Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Kansas.
He has taught high school English and has directed developmental reading
programs at Ottawa University in Ottawa, Kansas, and at UNC-A. He currently
is teaching methods of teaching courses for grades 6-12 at UNC-A. His
research interests include multicultural education, telecomputing, and