Much Ado
 
About Nothing


by William Shakespeare

Presented by Paul W. Collins



© Copyright 2005 by Paul W. Collins



Much Ado About Nothing

By William Shakespeare

  Presented by Paul W. Collins


All rights reserved under the International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this work may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database
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Contact: paul@wsrightnow.com


Note: Spoken lines from Shakespeare’s drama are in the public domain, as is the Globe (1864) edition of his plays, which provided the basic text of the speeches in this new version
of the play. But Much Ado About Nothing, by William Shakespeare: Presented by Paul W. Collins, is a copyrighted work, and is made available for your personal use only, in reading and study.


Student, beware: This is a presentation, not a scholarly work, so you should be sure your teacher, instructor or professor considers it acceptable as a reference before quoting characters’ comments or thoughts from it in your report or term paper.



Chapter One

A Royal Visit


A chestnut steed, slowed by having to negotiate busy streets of the old seaport, now trots steadily up toward the estate from which Governor Leonato presides, here at the capital, overlooking Messina, a prosperous province in northeastern Sicily at the close of the 16th century. The rider, a soldier, bears tidings from the prince.

Leading his mount, which glistens with sweat in the late-afternoon sun, the messenger finds the gray-haired governor strolling down a wide lawn in front of his home. He is accompanied on the stone path by two beautiful gentlewomen—his daughter, Hero, just turned twenty-two, and his niece, Beatrice, alleged to be around thirty.

The governor pauses to read his message, and the ladies look out over the city, glimpsing the tops of tall wooden masts and the sails of ships that line the teeming docks.

“I learn in this letter that Don Pedro of Aragon comes this night to Messina!” Leonato tells his finely dressed companions.

“He is very near by now,” says the messenger. “He was not three leagues off when I left him.”

“How many gentlemen have you lost in this action?” the governor asks, as they walk toward the gate. The illegitimate half-brother of Prince Don Pedro, lord of Sicily, had recently stirred a civil uprising, and the ruler responded forcefully, leading his troops from Italy, also controlled by Aragon, across the strait and into battle against the rebels.

“But few of any sort—and none of name.”

Leonato is relieved. “A victory is twice itself when the achiever brings home full numbers!” He looks through the letter. “I find here that Don Pedro hath bestowed much honour on a young Florentine called Claudio.”

“Much deservèd on his part,” says the soldier, “and equally remembered by Don Pedro! He hath borne himself beyond the promise of his age, doing, in the figure of a lamb, the feats of a lion! He hath indeed better bettered expectation than you must expect of me to tell you how!”

Governor Leonato knows many of his subjects. “He hath an uncle here in Messina will be very glad of it.”

“I have already delivered him letters, and there appears much joy in him!” the messenger confirms. “But even such joy could not show itself modestly enough without a badge of bitterness….”

“Did he break out into tears?”

“In great measure.”

Leonato smiles. “A kindly overflow of kindness; there are no faces truer than those that are so washèd. How much better is it to weep at joy than to joy at weeping!”

Lady Beatrice asks the rider: “I pray you, is Signior Mountanto returned from the wars, or no?”

“I know none of that name, lady; there was none such in the army of any sort.”

Nor does Leonato know of any Signior Sword-Thrust. “Who is he that you ask for, Niece?”

His daughter answers—with a knowing smile. “My cousin means Signior Benedick of Padua,” says Lady Hero.

“Oh, he’s returned!” says the messenger, “and as pleasant as he ever was!”

Beatrice’s eyebrows rise and her lips purse—sure signs of coming derision. “He set up his bills”—posted notice, as it were—“here in Messina, and challenged Cupid to a flight!”—targeting women’s hearts. She is mocking the gallant unmarried officer, who presented a highly attractive—and equally slippery—figure of romance in the city. “And my uncle’s fool,”—the lady means herself, “reading the challenge, sided with Cupid, and challenged the man at the bird-bolt!”—at shooting with short arrows. Their contentious flirting, a struggle steeped in sarcasm, was inconclusive.

“I pray you, how many hath he ‘killed and eaten’”—a warrior’s brag—“in these wars?” she asks, glibly. She amends: “But how many hath he killed?—for indeed I promised to eat all of his killing!”

“’Faith, Niece,” laughs Leonato, “you tax Signior Benedick too much! But he’ll be meet with you, I doubt it not!”

“He hath done good service, lady, in these wars,” the soldier reports.

Beatrice decides to take that as table service; she shrugs. “You had musty victual, and he hath holp to eat it; he is a very valiant platter man—he hath an excellent stomach!”—sarcasm: stomach can be a term for courage.

“And a good soldier, too, lady!”

“And a good soldier to a lady—but what is he to a lord?

“A lord to a lord, a man to a man—stuffed with all honourable virtues!”

“It is so; indeed: he is no less than a stuffèd man!”—a scarecrow, Beatrice counters. “But as for the stuffing—well, we are all mortal.” Straw is dead stalks.

Leonato reassures the soldier: “You must not, sir, mistake my niece. There is a kind of merry war betwixt Signior Benedick and her: they never meet but there’s a skirmish of wit between them!”

“Alas, he wins nothing by that,” she asserts. “In our last conflict, four of his five wits went halting off,”—limped away, “and now is the whole man governed by one! So if he have wit enough to keep himself warm,”—the saying is that a fool has barely enough sense to stay warm, “let him bear it as the difference between himself and his horse—for it is all the wealth that he hath left to be known as a reasoning creature!

“Who is his companion now?” she asks, wondering about Benedick’s women. She adds, as a cover, “He hath every month a new sworn brother!

The soldier finds that doubtful. “Is’t possible?”

“Very easily possible,” Beatrice tells him. “He wears his loyalty but as the fashion of his hat: it ever changes with the next blocking!”—brushing and shaping.

“I see, lady, the gentleman is not in your books!”—diaries.

No—if he were I would burn my study! But, I pray you, who is his companion? Is there no young battler, now, that will make a voyage with him to the devil?”

“He is most in the company of the right-noble Claudio….”

“Oh, Lord!” moans Beatrice. “He will hang upon him like a disease!—he is sooner caught than the pestilence, and the taker presently runs mad! God help the noble Claudio! If he have caught the Benedick, it will cost him a thousand pound ere he be cured!”

The messenger, laughing, shakes his head: “I will remain friends with you, lady!”

“Do, good friend.”

You will never run mad, Niece!” Leonato has witnessed the lady’s caustic exchanges with Count Benedick.

She concurs: “No—not till a hot January!”

They hear the dull pounding of hoof beats; looking out to the road, they can see that visitors are coming. They move to the fence as the governor calls for servants.

“Don Pedro is approaching.” The military messenger salutes as the prince and his party ride to the gate, halting a dozen yards away to stall the cloud of ocher dust stirred up by their horses.

Among those with the prince are Count Don John, his defeated but newly reconciled half-brother; Count Claudio of Florence and Count Benedick of Padua; and one Balthasar, a singer who entertains the prince and, at home, his court.

As Leonato’s attendants gather the horses’ reins, he strides forward to Don Pedro.

The prince beams at his host. “Good Signior Leonato, you are come to meet your trouble! The fashion of the world is to avoid cost, and you encounter it!”

The governor bows, and smiles. “Never came trouble to my house in the likeness of Your Grace! For, trouble being gone, comfort should remain—but when you depart from me, sorrow abides, and happiness takes its leave.”

“You embrace your charge too willingly!” laughs Don Pedro. He turns to Hero. “I think this is your daughter….”

Dainty and demure, she curtseys.

“Her mother hath many times told me so,” says Leonato.

Count Benedick grins. “Were you in doubt, sir, that you asked her?”

“Signior Benedick, no; for then were you a child!” Leonato replies.

The prince laughs. “You have it full, Benedick! Being a man, I may guess by that what you are!” He regards Hero. “Truly, the lady fathers herself!”—is sui generis, unique. “Be happy, lady; for you are like an honourable father!”

The messenger, dismissed by the prince with a smart salute, goes to rejoin his company of troops. The prince and his brother move onto the porch to confer with the governor about the outcome of the recent conflict; the others stand and chat.

Benedick leans to slap road dust from a boot with his leather gloves. “If Signior Leonato be her father, she would not have his head on her shoulders for all Messina, even as like him as she is!”—she would not want the gray hair.

“I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior Benedick,” says Beatrice tartly. “Nobody marks you.”

“What?” Benedick glances up, apparently in mild surprise. “My dear Lady Disdain, are you yet living?”

“Is it possible disdain should die while it hath such meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick? Courtesy itself must convert to disdain if you come into its presence!”

“Then is courtesy a turncoat!” the officer retorts. “But it is certain I am belovèd by all ladies—only you excepted.” He sighs in mock sadness. “And I would I could find in my heart that I had not a hard heart—for, truly, I love none.”

“A dear happiness to women!—they would else have been troubled with a pernicious suitor!” says Beatrice. “I thank God and my cold blood I am of your humour for that!—I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me!”

“God keep Your Ladyship ever in that mind; thus some gentleman or other shall ’scape a predestinate scratchèd face!” says Benedick, smoothing his glossy beard, which matches dark hairs on the back of the strong, tanned hand.

“Scratching could not make it worse, if ’twere such a face as yours!”

“Well, you are a rare parrot-teacher,” he answers—a dig at her brief retorts.

“The bird of my tongue is better than the beast of yours!

“I would my horse had the speed of your tongue—and was so good a continuer! But keep your way, i’ God’s name; I have done!” Benedick turns to join the nobles.

“You always end with a jade’s trick!”—bolting, Beatrice complains, not yet finished with him. “I know you of old!

Prince Don Pedro and the governor, still talking, walk forward on the portico, to which they have summoned the others.

“… That is the sum of all, Leonato,” the prince concludes. “Signior Claudio and Signior Benedick, my dear friend Leonato hath invited you,” he informs them. “I tell him we all shall stay here at the least a month—and he heartily prays some occasion may detain us longer! I dare swear he is no hypocrite, but prays from his heart!”

“If you so swear, my lord, you shall not be forsworn!” the courtly Leonato assures him. He turns to Don John. “Let me bid you welcome, my lord!—being reconciled to the prince your brother, I owe you all duty.”

“I thank you. I am not of many words,” says Don John gruffly, “but I thank you.”

“Please it Your Grace lead on?” the governor asks the prince.

“Your hand, Leonato; we will go together!” says Don Pedro. The noble party goes into house—except for two; Count Claudio has asked Benedick to talk with him.


Chapter Two

Claudio and Benedick


The officers walk beneath a trellised arbor, laden with white-and-yellow honeysuckle, near the estate’s old orchard.

“Benedick, didst thou note the daughter of Signior Leonato?”

“I noted her not; but I looked on her.”

“Is she not a modest young lady?”

His older friend raises an eyebrow.. “Do you question me, as an honest man should do, for my simple true judgment?” asks Benedick, “or would you have me speak after my custom—as being a professèd tyrant to their sex!”

“No, I pray thee speak in sober judgment.”

“Well, i’ faith methinks she’s too low”—short—“for a high praise, too brown for a fair praise, and too little for a great praise. Only this commendation I can afford her: that were she other than she is, she were unhandsome; and being no other but as she is, I do not like her.”

Claudio is amused; before seeing Hero he, too, had reveled in the posture of a resolute bachelor. “Thou thinkest I am in sport! I pray thee, tell me truly how thou likest her.”

“Would you buy her, that you inquire after her?”

“Can the world buy such a jewel?” ask the smitten count.

Yes—and a case to put it into!” says Benedick. “But speak you this with a serious brow? Or do you play the flouting Jack, telling us Cupid is a good hare-finder and Vulcan a rare carpenter!”—mocking those gods. “Come—in what key shall a man take you, to join in the song?”

“In mine eye she is the sweetest lady that ever I looked on!”

Benedick shrugs. “I can see yet without spectacles, and I see no such matter! There’s her cousin, who, if she were not possessed by a Fury, exceeds her as much in beauty as the first of May doth the last of December….

“But I hope you have no intent to turn husband, have you?”

Claudio is beyond denial. “I would scarce trust myself though I had sworn the contrary, if Hero would be my wife!”

“Is’t come to this?” cries Benedick, sounding scandalized. “In faith, hath not the world one man who will wear his cap without suspicion?”—of husbands’ cuckolding. “Shall I never see a bachelor of three-score again? Go to, i’ faith, if thou wilt needs thrust thy neck into a yoke, wear the print of it, and sigh away Sundays!” He shakes his head in comical pity.

He spots movement back at the doors. “Look, Don Pedro is returned to seek you.”

The prince comes from the house in a most cheerful mood. “What secret hath held you here, that you followed not to Leonato’s?”

Benedick pretends to have learned a secret. “I would Your Grace would constrain me to tell…” he says, invitingly.

Don Pedro complies: “I charge thee on thy allegiance!”

“You hear, Count Claudio,” says Benedick. “I can be secret as a speechless man—”

Claudio laughs at the idea of a silent Benedick.

“Well, I would have you think so. But—on my allegiance, mark you this, on my allegiance: he is in love! With whom?’—now that is Your Grace’s part. Mark how short his answer is—‘With Hero!”—Leonato’s short daughter!”

“If this were so, so were it not uttered!” protests Claudio; he would say diminutive.

“Like the old tale, my lord,” replies Benedick. “‘It is not so nor ’twas not so—and, indeed, God forbid it should be so!’”—a specious denial.

Claudio is not denying: “If my passion change not shortly, God forbid it should be otherwise!”

Amen, if you love her!” says Don Pedro heartily, “for the lady is very well worthy!”

Claudio is surprised by another older bachelor’s enthusiasm. “You speak this to fetch me in, my lord,” he says, suspiciously.

“By my troth, I speak my thought!” says the prince.

“And, in faith, my lord, I spoke mine!”

Adds Benedick, “And by thy two faiths and troths, my lords, I spoke mine!

“That I love her, I feel,” says Claudio.

“That she is worthy, I know,” declares Don Pedro.

“That I neither know how she should be loved, nor feel how she should be worthy is the opinion that fire cannot melt out of me!” claims Benedick. “I will die in it at the stake!”

Don Pedro laughs. “Thou wast ever an obstinate heretic in the despite of beauty!

Adds newly devout Claudio, “But never could maintain his part but by the force of his will!

Benedick is obstinate. “That a woman conceived me, I thank her. That she brought me up, I likewise give her most humble thanks.

“But that I will not have a retreat sounded from my forehead,”—by horns, cuckoldry’s emblem, “nor hang my bugle in an invisible baldrick,”—be emasculated into silence, “all women shall pardon me! Because I will not do any the wrong of mistrusting them, I will do myself the right to trust none!

“And the fine is,”—to finish, “so that I may go the finer, I will live a bachelor!

Don Pedro has observed many young officers. “I shall see thee, ere I die, look pale with love!”

Benedick laughs. “With anger, with sickness, or with hunger, my lord, not with love! If it prove that ever I lose more blood with love than I will get again with drinking, pick out mine eyes with a ballad-maker’s pen, and hang me up at the door of a brothel-house as the sign of blind Cupid!

“Well, if ever thou dost fall from this faith,” says the prince, “thou wilt prove a notable argument!”—example.

“If I do, hang me in a basket like a stuffed cat and shoot at me—and he that hits me, let him be clapped on the shoulder and called Adam!”—first among men.

The prince only smiles. “Well, as Time shall try! ‘In time, the savage bull doth bear the yoke!’”

“The savage bull may—but if ever the sensible Benedick bear it, pluck off the bull’s horns and set them in my forehead! Then let me be vilely painted, and with such great letters as write ‘Here is good horse to hire,’ let them signify, under my sign, ‘Here you may see Benedick, the married man!’”

“If that should ever happen,” laughs Claudio, “thou wouldst be horn-mad!”

Still, Don Pedro foresees romance for the adamantly single soldier. “Nay, if Cupid have not spent all his quiver in Venice, thou wilt shake for this shortly!”

“I look for an earthquake, too, then!”

“Well, you temporize with the hours,” laughs the prince. “In the meantime, good Signior Benedick, repair to Leonato’s. Commend me to him, and tell him I will not fail him at supper; for indeed he hath made great preparation.”

The count bows, saying, dryly, “I have almost mater enough”—pia mater, brains—“in me for such an embassage; ‘and so I commend you—’”

Claudio supplies more of a stock phrase for closing a polite letter: “‘—to the tuition of God. From my house, if I had one—’”

“‘—the sixth of July. Your loving friend, Benedick,’” laughs the prince, concluding the jape.

Nay, mock not, mock not!” cries Benedick, laughing as well. “The body of your discourse is sometimes guarded by fragments,”—incomplete sentences, “and regards are but slightly sewn on nether! Ere you flout old endings any further, examine your conscience!

“And so I leave you.” He bows, and goes in to find Lord Leonato.


“My liege,” says Claudio, after a moment’s pause in the quiet arbor, “Your Highness now may do me good….” Don Pedro has already made clear his intention to reward the young officer’s performance in their recent military adventure.

“My love is thine to teach!” the prince tells him. “Teach it but how, and thou shalt see how apt it is to learn any hard lesson that may do thee good!”

“Hath Leonato any son, my lord?”

“No child but Hero; she’s his only heir. Dost thou affect her, Claudio?”

“Oh, my lord, when you went onward in this ended action, I looked upon her with a soldier’s eye—that liked, but had a rougher task in hand than to drive liking to the name of love. But now that I am returned, and war thoughts have left their places vacant, in their rooms come thronging soft and delicate desires—all prompting me how fair young Hero is—saying I liked her ere I went to wars….”

Don Pedro, an eager proponent of romance, teases the shy, cautious lad: “Thou wilt be like a lover presently, and tire the hearer with a book of words!”

The prince knows both of the attractive young people, and he approves of the match; the middle-aged soldier decides to intervene on behalf of his rising officer. “If thou dost love fair Hero, cherish it, and I will break with her and with her father,”—broach the subject with them, “and thou shalt have her!

“Was’t not to this end that thou began’st to twist so careful a story?” he asks.

Claudio is relieved. “How sweetly you do minister to love, who know love’s grief by its complexion! But lest my liking might too sudden seem, I would have it salved with a longer treatise….”

“What needs the bridge be much broader than the river? The fairest grant is the necessary; look you—what will serve is fit.” The general immediately takes command of the project. “’Tis at once thou lovest—and I will so fit thee with the remedy!

“Know we shall have reveling tonight. I will assume thy part, in some disguise, and tell fair Hero I am Claudio—and into her bosom I’ll unclasp my heart, and take her hearing prisoner with the force and strong encounter of my amorous tale! Then, after, to her father will I break it. And the conclusion is, she shall be thine!

“In practise let us put it immediately!” says the prince, a soldier decisive in action.

As they go into Leonato’s house to change into clean clothes for lunch, young Claudio savors the prospect, held in this evening’s masked ball, of growing good fortune.


Governor Leonato has taken some time this afternoon to work in his study before the festive supper and dancing; but he has a visitor. “How now, Brother! Where is my cousin, your son? Hath he provided that music?” Antonio has promised that the lad’s fellow musicians will perform. But the unsteady old man’s poor hearing sometimes leads to unfortunate results.

“He is very busy about it,” Antonio replies. “But, Brother, I can tell you strange news that you’ve yet dreamt not of!”

“Are they good?”

Antonio shrugs. “As the event stamps them.” He eases himself into a sturdy chair beside the desk and rolls his cane between his thin, bony hands. “But they have a good cover—they show well outward.

“The prince and Count Claudio, walking in a thick-pleachèd alley by mine orchard, were thus much overheard by a man of mine: the prince discovered to Claudio that he loved my niece your daughter, and meant to acknowledge it this night during the dance!

“And if he found her accordant, he meant to take the present time by the top and instantly break with you of it!”

Leonato is surprised, but pleasantly. “Hath the fellow any wit that told you this?”

“A good, sharp fellow,” the old man says of Borachio. “I will send for him; then question him yourself….”

“No, no,” says Leonato, “we will hold it as a dream, till it appear itself.

“But I would acquaint my daughter withal, that she may be the better prepared with an answer, if peradventure this be true! Go you and tell her of it.” The white-haired man nods agreement, and shuffles away to speak with Lady Hero.

Antonio’s son has arrived; he and the musicians crowd into the room, and position themselves before the governor.

“Cousins, you know what you have to do,” says Leonato doubtfully. But they play quite well, and sweetly.

The music-loving governor is contrite. “Oh, I cry you mercy, friends!” he says happily, approving the brief audition. He rises. “Go you with me, and I will use your skill.” As they all leave together, he urges the leader, “Good cousin, have a care this busy time!”

He wants to make the best possible impression on the visiting Prince of Aragon.


His defeat still rankles Don John, despite the prince’s magnanimous acceptance of surrender and readiness to forgive. In his rooms at the governor’s home in Messina, the visiting count mopes, resenting reconciliation.

His lieutenant, Conrad, comes in to find him scowling. “What the good year, my lord! Why are you thus out of measure sad?”

“There is no measure in the occasion that breeds,” complains Don John. “Therefore the sadness is without limit.” Whatever the prospects, though, his view is chronically bleak.

“You should hear reason—”

“And when I have heard it, what blessing brings it?”

“If not a present remedy, at least a patient sufferance.”

“I wonder that thou, being, as thou sayest thou art, born under Saturn, goest about to apply a moral medicine to a mortifying mischief!

“I cannot hide what I am! I must be sad when I have cause, and smile at no man’s jests; eat when I have stomach, and wait for no man’s leisure; sleep when I am drowsy, and tend on no man’s business; laugh when I am merry, and join no man in his humour!”

“Yea, but you must not make the full show of this till you may do it without controlment,” Conrad cautions. “You have of late stood out against your brother, and he hath ta’en you newly into his grace—where it is impossible you should take root but by the fair weather that you make yourself! It is needful that you frame the season for your own harvest.”

Don John is determinedly dour. “I had rather be a canker in a hedge than a rose in his grace, and it better fits my blood to be disdained by all than to fashion a carriage to rob love from any! In this, though I cannot be said to be a flattering honest man, it must not be denied that I am a plain-dealing villain!

“I am trusted—with a muzzle, and enfranchisèd—with a clog! Therefore I have decreed not to sing in my cage. If I had my mouth, I would bite; if I had my liberty, I would do my liking. In the meantime, let me be what I am, and seek not to alter me.”

“Can you make no use of your discontent?”

“I make all use of it, for I use it only.” He hears a knock. “Who comes here?” A man employed in Governor Leonato’s household enters. “What news, Borachio?”

“I came from the great supper, yonder; the prince your brother is royally entertained by Leonato,” says Borachio, who during the rebellion served Don John as a spy. As he moves closer, his eyes widen. “And I can give you intelligence of an intended marriage!

“Will it serve for any model to build mischief on? Who is the fool that betroths himself to unquietness?”

“Marry, it is your brother’s right hand!”

“Who?—the most exquisite Claudio?”

“Even he.”

Don John sneers. “A proper squire! And who, and who?—which way looks he?”

“Marry, on Hero—the daughter and heir of Leonato!” says Borachio.

“A very forward March-chick!” Claudio’s youth makes humiliation at his hands even harder to bear. “How came you to this?”

Borachio had been sleeping off the effects of too much drink in the shade of an arbor when he awoke in time to overhear the prince’s conversation with Claudio; but he invents a more dutiful-sounding explanation. “Being employed as a perfumer, as I was smoking a musty room with incense, came the prince and Claudio, hand in hand in serious conference. I whipt me behind the arras, and there heard it agreed upon that the prince should woo Hero for himself—and having obtained her, give her to Count Claudio!”

Don John has regained his appetite. “Come, come, let us thither! This may prove food to my displeasure! That young start-up hath all the glory of my overthrow; if I can cross him any way, I bless myself every way! You are both sure, and will assist me?”

“To the death, my lord!” pledges Conrad.

“Let us to the great supper,” says the count—encouraged, now that trouble can be caused.

“Their cheer is the greater that I am subdued,” he grumbles. “Would the cook were of my mind!

“Shall we go find out what’s to be done?”

“We’ll wait upon Your Lordship,” says Borachio as they go.


Chapter Three

‘Dance out the answer’


After a sumptuous meal, Leonato and his brother emerge from the stately dining hall of the governor’s mansion with Hero and Beatrice. “Was not Count John here at supper?” asks Leonato.

“I saw him not,” says Antonio.

Beatrice does not mourn the count’s absence. “How tartly that gentleman looks! I never can see him but I am heartburned an hour after!”

Hero nods. “He is of a very melancholy disposition.”

“He were an excellent man that were made just in the midway between him and Benedick,” opines Beatrice. “The one is too like an image, and says nothing; and the other too like my lady’s eldest boy,”—a forward child, “evermore tattling!”

Leonato grins. “Then half Signior Benedick’s tongue in Count John’s mouth—and half Count John’s melancholy on Signior Benedick’s face?”

Beatrice laughs. “With a good leg and a good foot, Uncle, and money enough in his purse, such a man would win any woman in the world!” She adds, “If he could get her good will!

The governor laughs, but he warns, and not for the first time, “By my troth, Niece, thou wilt never get thee a husband if thou be so shrewd with thy tongue!”

Old Antonio nods. “In faith, she’s too curst.”

“Too curst is more than curst, so I shall lessen God’s sending in that way. For it is said, ‘God sends a cursèd cow short horns’”—a poor mate. “But to a cow too curst he sends none.”

Leonato is puzzled: “So, by being too curst, God will send you no horns…”

Exactly,” she crows, “if he send me no husband!”—cuckold. “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 woolens!’”

“You may light on a husband that hath no beard,” notes Leonato.

“What should I do with him? Dress him in my apparel and make him my waiting-gentlewoman? He that hath a beard is no more than a youth, but he that hath no beard is less than a man!

“And he that is no more than a youth is not for me—and he that is less than a man, I am not for him!

“Therefore,” she adds blithely, “I will take sixpence in earnest money from the Beroarer”—the Devil—“and lead his apes!” Custom holds that driving horny men’s souls down to perdition is the final fate of unmarried virgins.

Leonato chuckles. “Why, then go you into Hell!”

“No, only to the gate,” replies Beatrice. “And there will the Devil meet me, like an old cuckold with horns on his head, and say, ‘Get you to Heaven, Beatrice, get you to Heaven!—here’s no place for you maids!’

“So deliver I up my apes and away to Saint Peter!” She hears the laugh at peter. “To the heavens! He shows me where the bachelors sit—and there live we as merry as the day is long!”

Antonio’s disapproval is apparent. “Well, Niece, I trust you will be ruled by your father!” Hero nods compliantly.

Beatrice seems to concur: “Yes, ’faith, it is my cousin’s duty to make curtsy, and say, ‘Father, as it please you.’” She turns to Hero. “But yet for all that, Cousin, let him be a handsome fellow—or else make another curtsy, and say, ‘Father, as it please me!’”

“Well, Niece,” says Leonato, buoyantly, “I hope to see you one day fitted with a husband!”

Beatrice shakes her head. “Not till God make men of some other metal than earth. Would it not grieve a woman to be overmastered by a piece of valiant dust?—to make an account of her life to a clod of wayward marl?”—clay. “No, Uncle, I’ll none. Adam’s sons are my brethren—and, truly, I hold it a sin to match in my kindred!”

The governor looks at docile Hero. “Daughter, remember what I told you; if the prince do solicit you in that kind, you know your answer!”

“The fault will be in the music, Cousin, if you be not wooed in good time,” Beatrice assures the younger lady. “If the prince be too demanding, tell him there is measure”—in music, a term about timing—“in everything—and so dance out the answer!

“For, hear me, Hero: wooing, wedding, and repenting are like a Scottish jig, a measure, and a cinque-pace”—three dance moves. “The first suit is hot and hasty, like a jig, and fully as fantastical; the wedding mannerly, modest as a measure, full of state and ancientry—and then comes repentance, and with its bad legs falls into the cinque-pace, faster and faster, till it sink into its grave!”

Leonato laughs. “Cousin, you apprehend surpassingly harsh!”

“Uncle, I have a good eye: I can see a church by daylight!”—spot the obvious.

Soft pink clouds float above, gilt-edged in the dimming sunset, and long blue shadows now stretch across the ground below. Leonato grasps old Antonio’s elbow and edges him aside from the white double doors of the hall’s entrance. “The revelers are entering, Brother; make good room.”

Attendants bring colorfully decorated masks to the nobles, and after a moment for tying, the governor’s party have their disguises fixed in place. They move into the spacious hall just as more guests arrive, some having changed from dining attire into clothes for dancing; they, too, are masked.

Inside, candles around the spacious room impart a warm glow to the ladies’ gowns, adding sheen to the silken fashions and carefully styled hair, depth to the amplitude of glimpsed bosoms. From the affluent assembly’s considerable display of jewelry, reflections sparkle.

The music begins softly, and the dancers pair in preparation for a slow and stately pavane, linking hands at arms’ length; then, as the music requires, they turn and glide, moving forward and back, all in graceful symmetry.

Prince Don Pedro—elegant in disguise as a foppish Florentine lord—has no trouble recognizing diminutive Hero despite her white-kitten mask. “Lady, will you walk about with your friend?”

She teases: “If you walk softly, look sweetly, and say nothing, I am yours for a walk—and especially when I walk away.”

“With me in your company!” He takes her hand.

“I may say so—when I please,” says Hero coyly.

“And when please you to say so?”

“When I like your favour,”—face, “for God defend the lute should be like the case!” she gibes, looking at his extravagant mask.

“My visor is Philemon’s roof,” says Don Pedro. “Within the house is Jove!

“Why, then your visor should be thatched!” In the tale, the god’s earthly host seemed poor.

“Speak low, if you speak love!” he says warmly, as they move away toward a corner.

Borachio (for it is he behind the mask) dances with Margaret, one of Hero’s waiting-gentlewomen. “Well, I would you did like me!” he says—having courted her long, and with ardor.

“So would not I, for your own sake,” she sighs coquettishly, “for I have many ill qualities.”

“Which is one?”

She smiles at him with a ribald slyness. “I say my prayers aloud.”

He grins. “I love you the better: the hearer may cry, Amen!

“God match me with a good dancer—” prays lusty Margaret.

Amen!” says Borachio confidently.

“—and God keep him out of my sight when the dance is done!” She eyes him imperiously. “Answer, clerk!”

Borachio says, pulling her very close, “No more words. The clerk is answered”—the request has been fulfilled.

As they glide away, enjoying the music, she feels that he is indeed a promising partner.


“I know you well enough: you are Signior Antonio!” says another of Hero’s ladies, blonde Ursula.

The ancient denies it: “In a word, I am not.”

“I know you by the waggling of your head!”

“To tell you true, I counterfeit him,” says Antonio.

“You could never do him so ill-well, unless you were the very man! Here’s his dry hand up and down! You are he, you are he!” she giggles.

Antonio insists, “At a word, I am not.”

“Come, come,” Ursula insists, “do you think I do not know you by your excellent wit? Can virtue hide itself? Go to, man!—you are he; graces will appear, and there’s an end!”

He is, of course, quite pleased.

Masked, Beatrice has partnered with a well disguised stranger. “Will you not tell me who told you so?”

“No, you shall pardon me,” says Benedick—who, in addition to wearing a large mask, has shaved off his dark beard. And, for this evening, he deepens his baritone.

“Nor will you not tell me who you are?”

“Not now.”

Beatrice frowns. “That I was ‘disdainful,’ and that I had my good wit out of The Hundred Merry Tales— Well, that was Signior Benedick who said so!”

“Who’s he?”

“I am sure you know him well enough!”

“Not I, believe me.”

“Did he never make you laugh?”

“I pray you, what is he?”

“Why, he is the prince’s jester, a very dull fool; his only gift is in devising impossible slanders! None but libertines delight in him, and their commendation is not in his wit but in his crudeness—for he both pleases men and angers them—and then they laugh at him and beat him!” She looks, crossly, around the dance floor. “I am sure he is in the fleet; I would he had boarded me!

“When I know the gentleman; I’ll tell him what you say,” he laughs; he has taken her remark differently.

“Do, do! He’ll but break a comparison or two on me; which, peradventure not markèd, or not laughed at, strikes him into melancholy—and then there’s a partridge-wing saved, for the fool will eat no supper that night!” She sees a line of dancers forming. “We must follow the leaders.”

“In every good thing.”

“But if they lead to any ill, I will leave them at the next turning!”


The candles have burned down, the night air drifting at the door in is cooler, and the music draws to an end. The tired, happy dancers—some grateful for their anonymity after too much mask-induced candor—bow and curtsey, bid each other good evening, and depart. For those still unsated, wine and cheese await them on a table.

Standing outside, now, are Don John and Borachio. “It’s sure: my brother is amorous with Hero,” the count confirms to his man, “and hath withdrawn her father to break with him about it. The ladies follow her, and but one visor remains.”

“And that is Claudio,” says Borachio. “I know him by his bearing.”

Don John, who is not in disguise, approaches masked Claudio as he leaves the hall. “Are not you Signior Benedick?”

“You know me well; I am he.”

“Signior, you are very near my brother, in his love. He is enamoured of Hero! I pray you, dissuade him from her!—she is no equal for his birth! You may do the part of an honest man in it….”

“How know you he loves her?” asks Claudio calmly. But he is taken aback.

“I heard him swear his affection!”

“So did I too,” claims Borachio. “And tonight he swore he would marry her!”

Claudio shrugs.

Don John shakes his head, apparently in sad resignation. He says to Borachio, “Come, let us to the banquet.” They head back inside.

Claudio is stunned. Thinks the young officer, Thus answer I in the name of Benedick, but hear these ill news with the ears of Claudio! ’Tis certainly so!—the prince woos for himself! Friendship is constant in all other things save in the office and affairs of love!

Therefore let all hearts in love use their own tongues!—every eye negotiate for itself, and trust no agent, for beauty is a witch against whose charms faith melteth into the blood! This is an occurrence of hourly proof—which I did not expect!

He stares glumly into the night sky. Farewell, therefore, Hero!

Benedick, now unmasked, has come looking for his comrade in arms. “Count Claudio?”

“Yea, the same.”

“Come, will you go with me?”

“Whither?”

“Even to the next willow!—about your own business, count!” Its leaves, stems tied together, are the emblem of rejected suitors. “What fashion will you wear the garland in? About your neck, like an usurer’s chain?—or under your arm, like a lieutenant’s sash? You must wear it some way—for the prince hath got your Hero!” In the love-wary officer’s view, his friend has had a lucky escape.

“I wish him joy of her,” mumbles Claudio.

Benedick laughs. “Why, that’s spoken like an honest drover!—so they sell bullocks!”—young bulls. “But did you think the prince would have served you thus?”—done this favor.

Claudio waves him away. “I pray you, leave me!”

Ho!—now you strike like a blind man! ’Twas a boy that stole your meat, yet you’ll beat the messenger!

“If it will not be, I’ll leave you,” mutters Claudio, stalking away.

Care-free Benedick watches him go, amused by the youth’s sensitive response. Alas, poor hurt fowl! Now will he creep into sedges.

He reflects on his own evening’s encounter. But that my Lady Beatrice should not know me, and know me! ‘The prince’s fool!

Huh! It may be I go under that title because I am merry

Nay, thus I am apt to do myself wrong: I am not so reputed! It is the base thoughts, bitter disposition of Beatrice that put the world into her person, and so give me out!

Well, I’ll be revenged as I may!

Prince Don Pedro emerges. “Now, signior, where’s the count? Did you see him?”

“Troth, my lord, I have played the part of Lady Fame! I found him here as melancholy as a badger in a warren! I told him, and I think I told him true, that Your Grace had got the good will of his young lady. And I offered him my company to a willow-tree, either to make him a garland, as being forsaken, or to find him up a rod, as being worthy to be whipped!”

“To be whipped?” The prince frowns. “What’s his fault?

“The flat transgression of a schoolboy who, being overjoyed with finding a bird’s nest, shows it to his companion—who steals it!”

Don Pedro is puzzled. “Wilt thou make a trust a transgression? The transgression is in the stealer.”

“Yet it had not been amiss had the rod been made, and the garland, too: for the garland he might have worn himself—and the rod he might have bestowed on you, who, as I take it, have stolen into his bird’s nest!”

Don Pedro dismisses the charge: “I will but teach hearts to sing, and restore them to their owners.”

Benedick is pleased. “If the singing answer your saying, by my faith, you say honestly.”

The prince, too, has challenging news. “The Lady Beatrice hath a quarrel with you: the gentleman that danced with her told her she is much wronged by you!”

Benedick is indignant. “Oh, she misusèd me, past the endurance of a block!—an oak with but one green leaf on it would have answered her!—my very visor began to assume life and scold with her!

“She told me, not thinking I had been myself, that I was the prince’s jester!—that I was duller than a great thaw!—hurled jest upon jest upon me with such impossible conveyance that I stood like a man at a mark,”—set before a target, “with a whole army shooting at me!

“She speaks daggers, and every word stabs! If her breath were as terrible as her estimations, there were no living near her!—she would infect to the North Star!

“I would not marry her,” he vows, “though she were endowed with all that Adam had left to him before he transgressed! She would have made Hercules to turn a spit!”—reduced him to kitchen work. “Yea, and have cleft his club to make the fire, too!

“Come, talk not of her; you shall find her the infernal Ate in good apparel!”—a well dressed version of the Greek goddess of strife. “I would to God some scholar would conjure her; for certainly while she is here a man may live quietly in Hell as a sanctuary!—and people sin on purpose because they would go thither! So, indeed, do all disquiet, horror and perturbation follow her!”

Don Pedro is struck by the count’s intense—and revealing—vehemence. He points. “Look, here she comes.”

Governor Leonato approaches, accompanied by Beatrice, Hero and, finally, crestfallen Claudio, all leaving after the evening’s final collation of fruit and wine.

Benedick is again smarting. “Will Your Grace command me to any service at the world’s end? I will go now on the slightest errand to the Antipodes that you can devise to send me on! I will fetch you a toothpick from the farthest inch of Asia; now bring you the length of Prester John’s foot; catch you a hair off the great Cham’s beard; do you any embassage to the Pigmies,” he cries, glaring at Beatrice, “rather than hold three words’ conference with this harpy!

“Have you no employment for me?”

Mellow Don Pedro smiles. “None but to desire your good company.”

“Oh, God, sir!” groans Benedick. “Here’s a dish I love not: I cannot endure my lady’s tongue!” He stalks away, fuming.

Says the prince wryly, in mock sympathy, “Come, lady, come—you have lost the heart of Signior Benedick!”

Her face flushes. “Indeed, my lord, he lent it me awhile, and I gave him use”—paid interest—“for it: a doubled heart for his single one! Marry, once before he won it of me with false dice; therefore Your Grace may well say I have lost it!”

“You have put him down, lady,” says Don Pedro, “you have put him down.”

“So I would not he should do me, my lord!—lest I should prove the mother of fools!” Beatrice pulls a sullen companion forward. “I have brought Count Claudio, whom you sent me to seek.”

“Why, how now, count? Wherefore are you sad?” the prince asks him.

“Not sad, my lord.”

“How then? Sick?”

“Neither, my lord.”

Beatrice comments wryly: “The count is neither sad, nor sick, nor merry, nor well, but a civil count—civil as in orange, one of that jealous complexion!” she gibes, in a play on the stale, puckered fruit imported from Seville.

“I’ faith, lady, I think your blazon to be true—though, I’ll be sworn, if he be so, his notion is false!” says Don Pedro. “Hear, Claudio: I have wooed in thy name, and fair Hero is won! I have broke with her father, and his good will obtained! Name the day of marriage, and God give thee joy!”

Governor Leonato steps toward Claudio. “Count, take of me my daughter, and with her my fortunes! His grace hath made the match, and may all grace say Amen to it!”

Claudio’s smile is quite unmilitary.

Speak, count—’tis your cue!” prompts Beatrice.

“Silence is the perfectest herald of joy,” he replies. “I were but little happy if I could say how much.” Claudio kneels before Hero. “Lady,” he says, taking her hand, “as you are mine, I am yours! I give away myself for you, and dote upon the exchange.”

Hero, her eyes sparkling, draws him to his feet.

Speak, Cousin!” insists Beatrice. “Or, if you cannot, stop his mouth with a kiss, and let him not speak either!”

Don Pedro laughs. “In faith, lady, you have a merry heart!”

“Yea, my lord. I thank it, poor fool; it keeps on the windy side of care.” She watches the mild couple kissing and whispering, content with what has been arranged. “My cousin tells him in his ear that he is in her heart….”

Claudio smiles at Beatrice: “And so she doth, Cousin!”

“Good Lord!” she cries. “Fair alliance—thus goes every one to the world but I,” she groans, “and I am sunburnt!”—as opposed to fair. “I may sit in a corner and cry heigh-ho for a husband!”

The prince feigns belief in her pretended plight. “Lady Beatrice, I will get you one!”

“I would rather have one of your father’s getting!”—a play on begetting—she replies. “Hath Your Grace ne’er a brother like you? Your father got excellent husbands, if a maid could come by them!”

Don Pedro flashes an arch grin. “Will you have me, lady?”

No, my lord!—unless I might have another for working-days; Your Grace is too costly to wear every day!” She blushes and curtseys. “But, I beseech Your Grace, pardon me: I was born to speak all mirth and no matter!

Don Pedro kindly reassures her: “Your silence most offends me; and to be merry best becomes you; for, out of question, you were born in a merry hour!”

“No, to be sure, my lord, my mother cried. But then there was a star that danced—and under that was I born!” She smiles at Hero and Claudio. “Cousins, God give you joy!”

As the noble party exchange happy comments on the turn of events, Governor Leonato asks Beatrice, quietly, “Niece, will you look to those things I told you of…?”

“I cry you mercy, Uncle,” she says, apologizing for the delay. “By Your Grace’s pardon.” With a polite curtsy to the prince she leaves the regal party.

Don Pedro watches her go. “By my troth, a pleasant-spirited lady!”

Leonato concurs. “There’s little of the melancholy element in her, my lord. She is never serious but when she sleeps, and not even then—for I have heard my daughter say she hath often dreamed of misfortune—and waked herself with laughing!

“She cannot endure to hear tell of a husband.”

“Oh, by no means! She mocks all her wooers out of suit.”

Don Pedro gives his friend a significant look. “She were an excellent wife for Benedick!”

“Oh, Lord,” laughs Leonato. “My lord, if they were but a week married, they would talk themselves mad!

“Count Claudio, when mean you to go to church?” asks the prince.

Tomorrow, my lord!” the bridegroom replies. “Time goes on crutches till Love have all his rites!” When Cupid’s rites are done, the husband can claim rights.

The father of the bride lifts a palm in polite objection. “Not till Monday, my dear son, which is hence just a seven-night—and that a time too brief, too, to have all things answer my mind.”

“Come, you shake the head at so long a breathing,” says the prince, “but, I warrant thee, Claudio, the time shall not go dully by us!

“I will in the interim undertake one of Hercules’ labours!—which is to bring Signior Benedick and the Lady Beatrice unto the mountain—of affection, the one with the other! I would fain have it a match, and I doubt not but to fashion it, if you three will but minister such assistance as I shall give you direction!”

Leonato beams, rubbing his hands together. “My lord, I am for you, though it cost me ten nights’ watchings!”

“And I, my lord,” says Claudio.

“And you, too, gentle Hero?” Don Pedro asks.

“I will do any modest office, my lord,” she replies, “to help my cousin to a good husband.”

“Then Benedick is not the unhopefullest husband that I know,” says Don Pedro charitably. “Thus far can I praise him: he is of a noble strain, of approvèd valour and confirmèd honesty.

“I will teach you how to humour your cousin so that she shall fall in love with Benedick,” he tells Hero. He turns to the men. “And I, with your two helps, will so practise on Benedick that, in despite of his quick wit and his queasy stomach, he shall fall in love with Beatrice!

“If we can do this, Cupid is no longer an archer: his glory shall be ours, for we are the only love-gods!

“Go in with me, and I will tell you my drift….”


Chapter Four

Hoaxes


With Borachio, Don John broods in his rooms in the governor’s mansion.

His foray foiled, the count fumes. “It is so; the Count Claudio shall marry the daughter of Leonato.”

“Yea, my lord—but I can cross it!” offers rascally Borachio, always eager to please.

Don John is listening. “Any bar, any cross, any impediment will be medicinable to me! I am sick in displeasure toward him, and whatsoever comes athwart his affection ranges evenly with mine. How canst thou cross this marriage?”

“Not honestly, my lord—but so covertly that no dishonesty shall appear in me!”

“Show me briefly how.”

“I think I told Your Lordship, a year since, how much I am in the favour of Margaret, the waiting gentlewoman to Hero….”

“I remember.”

“I can, at any unseasonable instant of the night, appoint her to look out at her lady’s chamber window.”

Don John is impatient. “What life is in that to be the death of this marriage?”

“The poison of that lies in you to temper: go you to the prince your brother; spare not to tell him that he hath wronged his honour in marrying the renownèd Claudio—whose estimation do you mightily hold up—to a contaminated stale, such a one as Hero!”

“What proof shall I make of that?

Borachio, usually genial in wine’s embracing warmth, now grows enthusiastic: “Proof enough to misuse the prince, to vex Claudio, to undo Hero, and kill Leonato! Look you for any other issue?”

“Only to despite them, I will endeavour anything!

“Go, then; find thee a fitting hour to draw Don Pedro and the Count Claudio alone,” Borachio urges. “Tell them that you know that Hero loves me! Portray a kind of zeal to both the prince and Claudio—as if out of love for your brother’s honour, who hath made this match, and for his friend’s reputation, who is thus likely to be cozened with the semblance of a maid,”—fooled by a false virgin, “you have divulgèd thus.

“They will scarcely believe this without trial; offer them instances—which shall bear no less likelihood than seeing me at a chamber-window, hearing me call Margaret Hero! And bring them to see that the very night before the intended wedding!

“For in the meantime I will so fashion the matter that Hero shall be absent—and there shall appear such seeming truth of her disloyalty that jealousy shall be called assurance, and all the preparations overthrown!”

Don John approves the scheme. “Grow this to what adverse issue it can, I will put it in practise! Be cunning in the working of this, and thy fee is a thousand ducats!”

Borachio is confident. “Be you constant in the accusation, and my cunning shall not shame me!”

The count heads for the door. “I will presently go learn their day of marriage.”


Late the following morning, Benedick stands outside the mansion, ruminating near the garden’s long arbor of white-painted trellises. Slowly rotating his hat, held in his hands by the brim, he stares down at flat gray stones paving a path through the soft grass. His dark hair and broad shoulders are rimmed in early sunshine. “Boy!”

The young servant runs up. “Signior?”

“In my chamber-window lies a book; bring it hither to me in the orchard.”

“I am here already, sir!” boasts the pert lad.

“I know that, but I would have thee hence and here again. ” As he trots away, the boy makes a face.

The tall gentleman is perturbed. I do much wonder that one man, seeing how much another man is a fool when he dedicates his behaviors to love, will, after he hath laughed at such shallow follies in others, become the argument of his own scorn by falling in love—and such a man is Claudio!

I have known when there was no music for him but the drum and the fife!—and now had he rather hear the tabour and the pipe! I have known when he would have walked ten mile afoot to see a good armour—and now will he lie ten nights awake craving the fashion of a new doublet! He was wont to speak plain and to the purpose, like an honest man and a soldier; and now is he turned orthography—his very words are a fantastical banquet: just so many unusual dishes!

He smoothes his long hair. May I see with these eyes and be so converted? I cannot tell.

I think not! I’ll not be sworn that love may not transform me to an oyster—but I will take my oath on this: till it have made an oyster of me, it shall never make me such a fool!

He paces beside the delicate, fragrant blooms. One woman is fair; yet I am well. Another is wise; yet I am well. Another virtuous; yet I am well. And till all graces be in one woman, one woman shall not come into my grace!

Rich she shall be, that’s certain; wise, or I’ll none; virtuous, or I’ll never cheapen her; fair, or I’ll never look on her; mild, or come not near me; noble, or not I for an angel! Of good discourse… an excellent musician… and her hair shall be of what colour it please God! Benedick dislikes the effects of bleach and dye.

Humph! His musing is to be interrupted, he sees. The prince and Monsieur Love!

But Benedick is surprised to find himself disturbed by the younger man’s personal progress. I will hide me in the arbour. He slips behind a veritable wall of white-and-yellow honeysuckle flowers.

Don Pedro is strolling happily with Claudio. “Come, shall we hear this music?” They intend to surprise Lady Hero with a song, as Borachio has suggested.

“Yea, my good lord,” says the count, glancing about at the pleasant scene. “How still the evening is—as if hushed on purpose to grace harmony!”

Don Pedro turns aside, apparently examining the blossoms—and lowers his voice. “See you where Benedick hath hid himself?”

“Oh, very well, my lord!” whispers Claudio, enjoying the game. “The music ended, we’ll fit the hid-fox with a pennyworth!”—play a worthy trick on him.

They nod to the court musician as he arrives with a lute. “Come, Balthasar, we’ll hear that song again.”

“O good my lord, tax not so bad a voice to slander music any more than once,” pleads the singer, obsequious as usual.

“It is the witness ever of excellency to put a strange face on its own perfection,” says Don Pedro. “I pray thee, sing, and let me woo no more.”

“Because you talk of wooing, I will sing, since many a wooer doth commence his suit to her he thinks not worthy—yet he woos; yet will he swear he loves.”

The prince is impatient. “Now pray thee come on; if thou wilt hold longer argument, do it in notes!

“Note this before my notes: there’s not a note of mine that’s worth the noting,” replies humble Balthasar.

As the crooner tests the tuning of his instrument, Don Pedro complains quietly to Claudio: “Why, these are very crotchets that he speaks—note, notes, forsooth, and notingair!

- While they listen to Balthasar pluck out the lilting tune on his lute, Benedick watches love-stricken Claudio—sourly. Now divine air! Now is his soul ravished! Is it not strange that sheep’s guts should haul souls out of men’s bodies?

Well, a horn for my money, when all’s done! He means martial music, not desire.

Balthasar sings:

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more!

   Men were deceivers ever!—

One foot in sea and one on shore,

   To one thing constant never!

Then sigh not so, but let them go,

   And be you blithe and bonny,

Converting all your sounds of woe

   Into ‘Hey nonny, nonny!

Sing no more ditties, sing no moe

   Of tunes so dull and heavy!

The fraud of men was ever so

   Since summer first was levied.

Then sigh not so!”

“By my troth, a good song!” says Don Pedro, after the lyrics’ somewhat cynical sentiment is repeated to the melody.

“And an ill singer, my lord,” insists Balthasar.

“No, no, ’faith—thou singest well enough for a shift.”

- If he had been a dog that should have howled thus, thinks Benedick, they would have hanged him! And I pray God his bad voice bode no mischief; I had as lief have heard the night-raven, come what plague could have come after it!

“Yea, marry. Dost thou hear, Balthasar: I pray thee, get us some excellent music; for tomorrow night we would have it at the Lady Hero’s chamber-window!” Borachio has offered to guide the visiting singer there.

“The best I can, my lord.”

“Do so. Farewell.” The singer bows and leaves, already thinking of a ballad better for courtship.

The prince waves to his host, who arrives just now—by chance, it would seem—in the splendidly glowing bower. “Come hither, Leonato! What was it you told me of, today?—that your niece Beatrice was in love with Signior Benedick….”

As the governor approaches, Claudio whispers: “Oh, aye!—stalk on, stalk on!—the fowl sits!” Then, aloud so that the eavesdropper may overhear: “I did never think that lady would have loved any man!”

“No, nor I neither,” says Leonato, “but most wonderful is that she should so dote on Signior Benedick—whom she hath in all outward behaviors seemed ever to abhor!

- Benedick blinks. Is’t possible? Sits the wind in that corner?

“By my troth, my lord,” says the governor, “I cannot tell what to think of it but that she loves him with an enragèd affection!—it is past the infinity of thought!

“May be she doth but counterfeit,” suggests Don Pedro.

“’Faith, likely enough,” says the count.

“Oh, a good counterfeit!” cries Leonato. “There was never counterfeit of passion came so near the life of passion as she reveals it!”

“Why, what effects of passion shows she?” asks Don Pedro.

- Urges Claudio, very softly, “Bait the hook well!—this fish will bite!”

“What effects, my lord?” asks Leonato. “She will sit you heard my daughter tell you how….”

“She did, indeed,” says Claudio.

“How, how, pray you?” demands Don Pedro. “You amaze me! I would have thought her spirit had been invincible against all assaults of affection!”

Leonato nods. “I would have sworn it had, my lord—especially against Benedick!

- That gentleman is perplexed. I should think this a trick, but that the white-bearded fellow speaks it! Knavery cannot, surely, hide itself in such reverence.

- Claudio whispers, “He hath ta’en the infection! Keep it up!

The prince asks, “Hath she made her affection known to Benedick?”

No!” replies Leonato. “And swears she never will! That’s her torment.”

Claudio confirms: “’Tis true, indeed; so your daughter says. ‘Shall I,’ says Beatrice, ‘who have so oft encountered him with scorn, write to him that I love him?’”

Leonato laughs. “Now, this says she when she is beginning to write to him! For she’ll be up twenty times a night—and there will she sit, in her smock, till she have writ a sheet of paper! My daughter tells us all!”

“Now that you talk of a sheet of paper,” says Claudio, “I remember a pretty jest your daughter told us of….”

Leonato chuckles, recalling. “When she had writ and was reading it over, she found ‘Benedick and Beatrice’ between the sheets!

“That!”

Oh, she tore the letter into a thousand half-pieces!—railed at herself, that she should be so immodest as to write to one that she knew would flout her! ‘I measure him,’ says she, ‘by my own spirit; for I should flout him if he writ to me—yea, though I love him, I should!’”

“Then down upon her knees she falls,” claims Claudio, “weeps, sobs, beats her heart, tears her hair, prays, curses! ‘O sweet Benedick! God give me patience!’”

“She doth indeed,” adds Leonato. “My daughter says so. And the ecstasy hath so much overborne her that my daughter is sometime afeared she will do a desperate outrage to herself! It is very true!”

Don Pedro seems alarmed. “It were good that Benedick knew of it by some other, if she will not uncover it!”

“To what end?” asks Claudio. “He would make but a sport of it, and torment the poor lady worse!”

Don Pedro seems severe: “An if he should, it were not amiss to hang him! She’s an excellent, sweet lady!—and out of all doubt she is virtuous.”

“And she is exceeding wise,” adds Claudio.

“In everything but in loving Benedick!” says the prince.

Leonato seems worried. “Oh, my lord, wisdom and blood combating in so tender a body, we have ten proofs to one that blood hath the victory! I am sorry for her, as I have just cause, being her uncle and her guardian.”

“I would she had bestowed this dotage on me!” says Don Pedro. “I would have doffed all other respects and made her half myself!”—married her. “I pray you, tell Benedick of it, and hear what he will say.”

“Were it good, think you?” asks the governor.

“Hero thinks surely Beatrice will die,” Claudio tells the lords. “For she says she will die if he love her not, and she will die ere she make her love known! And she will die if he woo her, rather than she will abate one breath of her accustomed crossness!”

Don Pedro nods. “She doth well; if she should make a tender of her love, ’tis very possible he’d scorn it; for the man, as you know all, hath a contentious spirit.”

“He is a very proper man….” says Claudio tenuously.

Don Pedro shrugs. “He hath indeed a good outward happiness.” Benedick is handsome.

“Before God. And, in my mind, very wise,” says young Claudio.

“He doth indeed show some sparks that are like wit,” the prince allows.

“And I take him to be valiant,” notes Claudio.

“As Hector, I assure you,” says the prince, their general, as the hidden officer listens. “And in the managing of quarrels, you may say he is wise: for either he avoids them with great discretion, or undertakes them with a most Christian-like fear!”

Leonato approves: “If he do fear God, he must necessarily keep peace; if he break the peace, he ought to enter into a quarrel with fear and trembling.”

“And so will he do,” says Don Pedro, “for the man doth fear God, howsoever it seems not in him, judging by some large jests he will make.

“Well, I am sorry for your niece. Shall we go seek Benedick, and tell him of her love?”

- Silently, Benedick is weighing the shrewd compliments.

“Never tell him, my lord,” urges Claudio. “Let her wear it out, with good counsel.”

Says Leonato sadly, “Nay, that’s impossible: she may wear her heart out first!”

“Well, we will hear further of it by your daughter; let it cool the while,” the prince decides. “I love Benedick well, but I could wish he would modestly examine himself, to see how much he is unworthy of so good a lady.”

“My lord, will you walk?” asks the governor. “Dinner is ready.”

- As they leave the bright arbor, now abuzz with only honeybees, Claudio whispers: “If he do not dote on her after this, I will never trust my expectation!”

- Don Pedro replies, also in a hush: “Let there be the same net spread for her; and that must your daughter and her gentlewomen carry! The sport will be when they both hold an opinion of one another’s dotage—and no such matter! That’s the scene I would see—which will be merely a speechless show!

- “Let us send her to call him in to dinner!” They proceed away, merrily, to find Beatrice before their luncheon is served.

Benedick emerges from behind his floral screen. This can be no trick! The conference was seriously borne. They have the truth of this from Hero.

He frowns, pacing. They seem to pity the lady!

It seems her affections have their full bent! Loves me!

He stops, stricken by an epiphany. Why, it must be requited!

I hear how I am censured: they say I will bear myself proudly, if I perceive that love come from her. They say, too, that she will rather die than give any sign of affection.

I did never think to marry….

Suddenly, he decides. I must not seem proud!. Happy are they that hear their detractions, and can put them to mending!

They say the lady is fair—’tis the truth!—I can bear them witness! And virtuous—’tis so; I cannot reprove it. He had certainly assailed it, in the past. And wise—but for loving me!

By my troth, it is no addition to her wit.

Nor no great argument of her folly—for I will be horribly in love with her! he vows.

He paces again, anticipating teasing. I may perchance have some odd quirks and remnants of wit broken upon me because I have railed so long against marriage… but doth not the appetite alter? A man loves the meat in his youth that he cannot endure in his age. Shall quips and sentences, all these paper bullets of the brain, awe a man from the surge of his humour? No! The world must be peopled!

When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married, he admits. He sees movement at the door. Here comes Beatrice!

By this day, she’s a fair lady! I do spy some marks of love in her!

She marches up to him, cheeks flushed. “Against my will I am sent to bid you come in to dinner!”

“Fair Beatrice, I thank you for your pains.”

She scoffs. “I took no more pains for those thanks than you take pains to thank me! If it had been painful, I would not have come!”

“You take pleasure, then, in the message?”

“Yea—just so much as you may take upon a knife’s point!—can choke a crow withal!” He is gazing at her happily. “You have no appetite, signior?” She frowns and turns away. “Fare you well.” She goes back inside, still piqued by her uncle’s strange request.

Hah! Benedick’s eyes now see in a new way. ‘Against my will I am sent to bid you come in to dinner’—there’s a double meaning in that!

‘I took no more pains for those thanks than you took pains to thank me’—that’s as much as to say, ‘Any pains that I take for you are as easy as thanks!’

If I do not take pity on her, I am a villain! If I do not love her, I am a heathen!

He smiles, the fascination growing, moment by moment.

I will go get her picture!


Chapter Five

Changes of Heart


Among the apple trees with her waiting-gentlewomen, also in their twenties, Hero sees past the tall white arches that Leonato’s exquisite arbor is unoccupied.

“Good Margaret,” says the lady, “run thee to the parlor! There shalt thou find my cousin Beatrice holding forth with the prince and Claudio. Whisper in her ear, and tell her I and Ursula walk in the orchard—and our whole discourse is all of her!

“Say that thou overheard’st us, and bid her steal into the pleachèd bower, where honeysuckles ripened by the sun forbid the sun to enter, like favourites, made proud by princes, who advance their pride against that power that bred it.

“She will hide her there to listen—to our purpose!

“This is thy office; bear thee well in it, then leave us alone.”

I’ll make her come, I warrant you, immediately!” promises Margaret, hurrying away.

“Now, Ursula, when Beatrice doth come, as we do trace this alley up and down our talk must be only of Benedick! When I do name him, let it be thy part to praise him more than ever man did merit! My talk to thee must be of how Benedick is sick in love with Beatrice!

“Of this matter is little Cupid’s crafty arrow made, that only wounds by hearsay!

“Now begin,” says Hero, “for look where Beatrice, like a lapwing,”—a low-swooping bird, “runs close by the ground,”—ducking down—“to hear our conference!”

- Ursula whispers as they begin to walk: “The pleasant’st angling is to see the fish cut the silver stream with her golden oars, and greedily devour the treacherous bait! So angle we for Beatrice—who even now is couchèd in the woodbine coverture. Fear you not my part of the dialogue!”

- “Then go we near her,” says Hero softly, moving forward, “that her ear lose nothing of the false, sweet bait that we lay for it!”

They walk near the hidden lady. “No, truly, Ursula, she is too disdainful!—I know her spirits are as coy and wild as hawks of the rocks!

“But are you sure that Benedick loves Beatrice so entirely?

“So say the prince and my new-trothèd lord.”

“And did they bid you tell her of it, madam?”

“They did entreat me to acquaint her with it! But I persuaded them, if they loved Benedick, to wish him wrestle with the affection, and never to let Beatrice know of it!”

“Why did you so? Doth not the gentleman deserve as full and fortunate a bed as ever Beatrice shall couch upon?”

“O god of love!” cries Hero. “I know he doth deserve as much as may be yielded to a man! But Nature never framed a woman’s heart of prouder stuff than that of Beatrice! Disdain and scorn ride sparking in her eyes, misprising what they look on! And her wit values itself so highly that to her all matter else seems weak! She cannot love, nor take no shape nor prospect of affection, she is so self-endearèd!”

I surely think so,” nods Ursula, “and therefore certainly it were not good she knew his love, lest she make sport at it!”

“Why, you speak truth! I never yet saw man, however wise, how noble, young, how rarely featured, but she would spell him backward!—if fair-faced, she would swear the gentleman should be her sister; if dark, why, Nature, drawing an antique, made a foul blot; if tall, a lance ill-headed; if short, an agate very vilely cut! If speaking, why, a vane blown by all winds; if silent, why, a block movèd by none!

“She turns every man the wrong side out, and never gives to Truth and Virtue that which simpleness and merit purchaseth!”

“Surely, surely, such carping is not commendable.”

“No, not!” says Hero. “To be so odd and from all fashions as Beatrice is cannot be commendable. But who dare tell her? If I should so speak, she would mock me into air!—oh, she would laugh me out of myself, press me to death with wit!

“Therefore let Benedick like covered fire consume away in sighs, waste inwardly; it were a better death than to die with mocks!—which is as bad as to die of tickling!”

Ursula seems to feel sisterly concern. “Yet tell her of it; hear what she will say….”

No!—rather I will go to Benedick, and counsel him to fight against his passion!” says Hero. “And, truly, I’ll devise some honest slanders to stain my cousin with! One doth not know how such an ill word may empoison liking….”

Ursula objects: “Oh, do not do your cousin such a wrong! Having so swift and excellent a wit as she is prized to have, she cannot be so much lacking in true judgment as to refuse so rare a gentleman as Signior Benedick!

“He is the only man of Italy,” sighs Sicilian Hero, “—always excepted my dear Claudio.”

“I pray you, be not angry with me, madam, for speaking my fancy,” says Ursula. “Signior Benedick, for shape, for bearing, argument and valour, goes foremost in report through Italy!”

“Indeed, he hath an excellent good name.”

“His excellence did earn it, ere he had it!”

- As they stroll further down the path, Beatrice follows silently, both hands holding her skirts’ hems above the turf as she crouches low behind the interlacing vines and blossoms.

“When are you married, madam?”

“Why, every day, as of tomorrow!” says Hero happily. “Come, go in. I’ll show thee some attires, and have thy counsel which is the best to furnish me tomorrow.”

- As they head for the house, Ursula whispers gleefully. “She’s snared, I warrant you; we have caught her, madam!”

- Hero whispers back. “If it proves so, then loving goes by haps!—some, Cupid kills with arrows, some with traps!

Their girlish laughter floats back as they run to the mansion,

Alone, Beatrice rises, astonished. What fire is in mine ears!

Can this be true? Stand I condemnèd for pride and scorn so much?

Contempt, farewell! And maiden pride, adieu! No glory lives behind the back of such!

And, Benedick, love on!—I will requite thee, taming my wild heart to thy loving hand!

If thou dost love, my kindness shall incite thee to bind up our loves in a holy band; for others say thou dost deserve—and I believe it better than reportingly!


On sun-warmed benches of carved stone in his garden, Governor Leonato relaxes with the prince and his two Italian officers.

“I do but stay till your marriage be consummate,” Don Pedro tells Claudio, “and then go I toward Aragon”—his home in Spain.

“I’ll take you thither, my lord, if you’ll vouchsafe me.”

“Nay,” says the avuncular ruler, “that would be as greatly soil the new gloss of your marriage as to show a child his new coat and forbid him to wear it!

“I will be bold with only Benedick for his company. For, from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot, he is all mirth!—he hath twice or thrice cut Cupid’s bow-string, and the little hangman dare not shoot at him! He hath a heart as sound as a bell, and his tongue is the clapper: for what his heart thinks, his tongue speaks!”

Not long ago, Benedick would have relished the description, but Cupid’s new dart is still quivering within him. “Gallants, I am not as I have been.”

Leonato regards him. “So say I. Methinks you are sadder.”

Claudio grins mischievously. “I hope he be in love!

Don Pedro scoffs at such a defection. “Hang him as truant!—there’s no drop of true blood in him to be truly touched with love!” He laughs. “If he be sad, he lacks money!

“I have a toothache,” says Benedick.

Draw it!” advises Don Pedro.

Benedick waves away concern. “Hang it.”

Claudio cites the executioner’s cure: hanging, drawing and quartering. “You must hang it first, then draw it afterwards.”

Don Pedro is watching Benedick. “What! Sigh for a toothache?

“Which is but a mood,” says Leonato, “or a worm!

Benedick grumbles, “Well, everyone can master a grief but he that has it.”

Claudio regards his friend closely. “Yet say I, he is in love!

“There is no appearance of fancy in him,” says the prince, eyeing Benedick’s attire up and down, “unless it be a fancy that he hath for strange disguises!—such as to be a Dutchman today, a Frenchman tomorrow, or in the shape of two countries at once—as, a German from the waist downward, all slops,”—short trousers, “and a Spaniard from the hip upward—no doublet!

“Unless he have a fancy for that foolery—as it appears he hath!—he is no fool for fancy, as you would have it appear he is.”

Claudio persists. “If he be not in love with some woman, there is no believing old signs! He brushes his hat o’ mornings—what should that bode?”

“Hath any man seen him at the barber’s?” asks Don Pedro.

“No—but the barber’s man hath been seen with him,” Claudio reports; they have noted Count Benedick’s freshly whiskerless jowls. “And the old ornament of his cheek hath already stuffed tennis-balls!”

“Indeed, he looks younger than he did, by the loss of a beard,” says Leonato.

“Aye, and he rubs himself with civet!”—perfume. “Can you smell him out”—detect the change—“by that?” asks Claudio.

Leonato nods. “That’s as much as to say the sweet youth’s in love.”

“The greatest note of it is his melancholy,” says the prince, starting to concur. “And when was he wont to wash his face?

Claudio adds, “Yea, or to paint himself?—for the which I hear what they say of him!”

Benedick blushes beneath the faint touch of rouge.

“Aye, and his jesting spirit is now crept into a lute-string! And not governed by stops!”—a play on those of a musician’s pipe. “Indeed, that tells a heavy tale for him!” Don Pedro throws up his hands. “Conclude, conclude: he is in love!

Aye—and I know who loves him!” says Claudio.

“That would I know too!” says Don Pedro. “One that knows him not, I warrant!” Benedick’s reputation offers no encouragement to marriage-minded ladies.

Yes,” says Claudio, “or his ill requirements!—but, in despite of all, dies for him!”

The prince laughs knowingly. “She shall be buried with her face upwards!”—lying on her back.

Benedick, though grinning himself at the ribald jape, has had enough. He rises. “Yet is this no charm against toothache!”—known as a symptom of lovesickness. “Signior, walk aside with me,” he asks Leonato. “I have studied eight or nine wise words to speak to you, which these hobby-horses”—gossip riders—“must not hear!” They walk together toward the arbor.

The others, watching them, rise and exchange a glance. “For my life, it’s to break with him about Beatrice!” says Don Pedro.

“’Tis even so. Hero and Margaret have by now played their parts with Beatrice, and so the two bears will not bite one another when they meet!”

But their good cheer soon ends; as if conjured up by the mention of beasts, the dismal Don John now comes to the prince. “My lord and brother, God save you.”

“Good evening, Brother,” says Don Pedro.

“If your leisure serves, I would speak with you.”

“In private?”

“If it so please you; but Count Claudio may hear, for what I would speak of concerns him.”

“Why, what’s the matter?”

“Means Your Lordship to be married tomorrow?” Don John asks Claudio.

“You know he does,” says Don Pedro frowning.

“I know not that!—once he knows what I know!”

“If there be any impediment,” says Claudio, “I pray you disclose it.”

“You may think I love you not,” says Don John. “Let that disappear hereafter, and aim better at me by what I now will manifest! As for my brother, I think he holds you well, and in dearness of heart hath holp to effect your ensuing marriage—surely a suit ill spent and labour ill bestowed!

“What’s the matter?” asks Don Pedro sharply.

“I came hither to tell you! Then to put it briefly, for she has been too long a-talking of—the lady is disloyal!

Claudio pales at the allegation. “Who, Hero?

“Even she—Leonato’s Hero, your Hero—every man’s Hero!”

Claudio struggles with the idea. “Disloyal?”

“The word is too good to paint-out her wickedness!” says Don John harshly. “I could say she were worseyou think of a worse title, and I will fit her to it!” He lifts both palms in defense against their imminent challenge. “Wonder not till further warrant!

“Go but with me tonight—you shall see her chamber-window entered, even the night before her wedding day! If you love her then, tomorrow wed her!—but it would better fit your honour to change your mind!”

Claudio stares, astonished. “May this be so?

“I will not think it!” says Don Pedro.

“If you dare not trust what you’ll see, profess not that you know!” says Don John. “If you follow me, I will show you enough; and when you have seen more, and heard more, proceed accordingly.”

Fearless among men, proud Claudio dreads being dishonored by a woman. “If I see anything tonight why I should not marry, tomorrow in the congregation where I should wed her, there will I shame her!” he vows.

Don Pedro, the veteran commander of men, lays a hand on his shoulder. “And as I wooed for thee to obtain her, I will join with thee to disgrace her!”

Says Don John “I will disparage her no farther till you are my witnesses. Bear it coldly but till midnight, and let the issue show itself.”

“Oh, day untowardly turned!” moans the prince.

“Oh, mischief strangely thwarting!” groans Claudio.

“Oh, plague right well prevented!” says Don John. “So will you say when you have seen the sequel!”


Chapter Six

Clouds Gather


Down in the sprawling town, on a muddy street between an old stone church and a sagging warehouse sided with weathered-gray boards, two municipal officials with lanterns prepare to execute their duty in setting tonight’s watch. They are to inspect and advise the men, most of whom will rove the parish, looking out for trouble.

Master Constable Dogberry is responsible for their effort; his chief deputy for maintaining civil order after the curfew is Headborough Verges.

Beefy, red-faced Dogberry finishes curling the ends of his substantial mustache with thick fingers. He surveys the unkempt constabulary before him, and speaks the formal query with solemn gravity. “Are you good men and true?”

Verges, wizened and gray, comments sourly: “Yea—or else it were pity but they should suffer salvation, body and soul!” He means damnation.

“Nay,” says Dogberry sternly, “that were a punishment too good for them, if they should have any allegiance in them, being chosen for the prince’s watch!”

“Well, give them their charge, neighbour Dogberry.”

“First,” says the master, “who think you the most desertless man to be constable?”—chief for tonight.

One watchman pipes up: “Hugh Oatcake, sir, or George Seacoal—for they can write and read!”

“Come hither, neighbour Seacoal,” commands Dogberry. “God hath blessed you with a good name; to be a well-favoured man is the gift of Fortune; but to write and read,” says he, frowning, “comes by nature”—a dubious personal quality, in his view.

“Both of which, master constable—” Seacoal begins.

“—you have; I knew it would be your answer,” says Dogberry shrewdly. “Well, as for your favour, sir, why, give God thanks, and make no boast of it; and as for your writing and reading, let that not appear when there is no need of such vanity!”—keep skills acquired in vain to yourself.

“You are thought to be the most senseless and fit man here for the constable of the watch; therefore bear you the lantern.” He bestows it.

The master addresses the restless ranks. “This is your charge: you shall comprehend all vagrom men; you are to bid any man stand”—halt—“in the prince’s name.”

There is a question regarding such a vagrant’s apprehension: “How if ’a will not stand?”

“Why, then, take no note of him, but let him go,” the master constable advises, “and presently call the rest of the watch together and thank God you are rid of a knave!”

Verges nods sagely. “If he will not stand when he is bidden, he is none of the prince’s subjects!”

. “True,” says Dogberry. “And they are to meddle with none but the prince’s subjects.” He looks to the men. “You shall also make no noise in the streets; for for the watch to babble and to talk is most tolerable, and not to be endured.”

“We will rather sleep than talk,” mutters one of the men. “We know what belongs to a watch.” They have seen—occasionally—others.

Says the master, approvingly, “Why, you speak like an ancient and most quiet watchman! For I cannot see how sleeping could offend. Only,” he adds, “have a care that your halberds be not stolen.” The conscripted citizens, duly warned, grip more firmly the worn handles of their tarnished weapons, issued for carrying during the watch.

The master continues: “Well. You are to call at all the ale-houses, and bid those that are drunk get them to bed.”

“How if they will not?”

“Why, then let them alone till they are sober; if they make you not then a better answer, you may say they are not the men you took them for!”

The questioner nods, satisfied. “Well, sir.”

“If you meet a thief, you may suspect him, by virtue of your office, to be no true man; and with such kind of men, the less you ‘meddle or make’ with them, why the more it does for your honesty,” says Dogberry.

“If we know him to be a thief, shall we not lay hands on him?”

“Truly, by your office, you may,” Dogberry admits. “But I think they that touch pitch will be defiled! The most peaceable way for you, if you do take a thief, is to let him show himself to be what he is, and steal out of your company!”

Verges smiles at the master constable. “You have been always called a merciful man, partner.”

“Truly, I would not hang a dog by my will, much more a man who hath any honesty in him!”

Verges warns the men, “If you hear a child cry in the night, you must call to the nurse and bid her still it.”

“How if the nurse be asleep, and will not hear us?”

Dogberry answers: “Why then depart in peace, and let the child wake her with crying; for the ewe that will not hear her lamb when it baas will never answer a calf when it bleats!” Mooncalf is term for fool.

“’Tis very true,” says Verges, watching as the men yawn and shift from foot to foot.

“This is the end of thy charge,” says Dogberry. He turns to Seacoal: “You, constable, are to represent the prince’s own person”—act with full authority. “If you meet the prince in the night, you may stay him!

Verges frowns; arrest the sovereign? “Nay, by’r our lady, that I think he cannot….”

Five shillings to one on’t, with any man that knows the statutes! He may stay him,” says Dogberry—implying that the watchman also may not. “Marry, not unless the prince be willing,” he adds, reasonably, in case any dullard missed the obvious. “For, indeed, the watch ought to offend no man; and it is an offence to stay a man against his will.”

Verges can support that. “By’r lady, I think it be so.”

Dogberry smiles contentedly; his business is now concluded. “Well, masters, good night. If there be any matter of weight that chances, call up me. Keep your fellows’ counsels and your own; and good night! Come, neighbour.”

Seacoal tells his fellows, “Well, masters, we hear our charge; let us go sit here upon the church-bench till two, and then all to bed.”

Dogberry turns back, briefly. “One word more, honest neighbours: I pray you watch about Signior Leonato’s door; for, a wedding being there tomorrow, there is a great coil tonight!

“Adieu! Be vigitant, I beseech you!”

Seacoal and two others settle in on the churchside bench. The rest of the watchmen disperse.


Borachio staggers down the dark street, slowed significantly by the accrued effects of much imbibing. He peers around, looking for his straggling companion. “What, Conrad!

- Across the way at the churchyard, a watchman is alerted. “Peace!” he whispers to his mates. “Stir not….”

Conrad, I say!”

Here, man!” calls his wine-besotted friend, hurrying clumsily to catch up. “I am at thy elbow!”

“’Mass! My elbow itched—I thought there would follow a scab!” gibes Borachio.

“I will owe thee an answer for that!” laughs Conrad. “And now, forward with thy tale….”

“Stand thee close, then, under this shed, for it drizzles rain,” says Borachio, “and I will, like a true drunkard, utter all to thee.”

- In the dim church grounds, Seacoal quietly warns his men as they rise: “Some treason, masters! Yet stand close!”

Borachio boasts: “Therefore know I have earned of Don John a thousand ducats!

Conrad is wide-eyed. “Is it possible that any villainy should be so dear?”—so highly rewarded.

“Thou shouldst rather ask if it were possible any villainy should be so rich!—for when rich villains have need of poor ones, poor ones may take what price they will!”

Conrad is impressed with the fat fee that Borachio has exacted: “I wonder at it!”

“That shows thou art unconfirmèd,” Borachio tells the acolyte villain.

He begins the story of his exploit: “Thou knowest that the fashion of a doublet, or a hat, or a cloak, is nothing to a man—”

Conrad frowns. “Yes it is—apparel.”

“I mean, the fashion.”

“Yes, a fashion is the fashion,”—craze, Conrad observes, trying to be agreeable.

Pah! I may as well say the fool’s the fool!” mutters Borachio. “But seest thou not what a deformèd thief this ‘fashion’ is?”

- One of the listening watchmen’s eyes narrow as he harkens to Borachio’s voice: “I know that ‘deformèd,’” he whispers. “He has been a vile thief this seven-year; ’a goes up and down like a gentleman! I remember his name!”

Borachio looks up. “Didst thou not hear somebody?”

“No; ’twas the vane on the house”—weathercock.

Borachio continues. “Seest thou not, I say, what a deformèd thief this fashion is?—how giddily it turns about all the hot bloods between fourteen and five-and-thirty: sometimes fashioning them like Pharaoh’s soldiers in the reeky painting, sometime like the god Bel’s priests in the old church-window, sometime like the shaven Hercules in the smirchèd, worm-eaten tapestry, where his codpiece seems as massive as his club!

“All this I see,” says Conrad, “and I see that the fashion wears out more apparel than the man! But art not thou thyself giddy with the fashion, too—thou that hast shifted out of thy tale into telling me of the fashion?”

“Not so, neither.” Borachio moves closer. “But know that I have tonight wooed Margaret, the Lady Hero’s gentlewoman, by the name of ‘Hero!’ She leans out at her chamber-window, bids me a thousand times good night!—”

He belches. “I tell this tale vilely!—I should first tell thee how the prince, Claudio, and my master, planted and placèd—and possessed!—by my master Don John, saw, from afar off in the orchard, this amiable encounter!”

“And thought they Margaret was Hero?

Two of them did—the prince and Claudio. But that devil my master knew she was Margaret!

“And partly by his oaths, which first possessèd them, partly by the dark night, which did deceive them, but chiefly by my villainy, which did confirm any slander that Don John had made, away went Claudio enragèd!—swore he would meet her as he was appointed, next morning at the temple, and there, before the whole congregation, shame her with what he saw o’er night, and send her home again without a husband!

Deputy Seacoal has heard enough. He and his fellows rush across the dark street, brandishing their halberds and confronting Borachio and Conrad: “We charge you, in the prince’s name, stand!

“Call up the right master constable!” says a watchman, much pleased with the apprehension. “We have here recovered the most dangerous piece of lechery”—he means treachery—“that ever was known in the commonwealth!” The third man goes to find Dogberry.

Seacoal’s doubts about the fashionable Borachio are confirmed. “And our ‘deformèd’ is one of them! I know him: ’a wears a lock!” He points, disgusted, at the lovelock, a ribbon-tied twist of hair dangling from under Borachio’s hat brim.

Conrad is upset. “Masters, masters….

The second watchman sneers: “You’ll be made to bring your ‘deformèd’ forth, I warrant you!” Conrad’s laugh is crude, but the citizen means only testify against him.

Masters—”

“Never speak! We charge you: let us obey you to go with us!” demands Seacoal, Dogberry’s surrogate bungler.

Borachio is blearily blithe. “We are likely to prove a goodly commodity, being taken up under these men’s bills!” he jests, on a term for the weapons.

“A commodity in question, I warrant you!” quips queasy Conrad. But, already beginning to sober as a menacing blades are pushed closer, he will not challenge this billing. “Come, we’ll obey you,” he tells the officers.

Seacoal leads the crestfallen villains to face Master Constable Dogberry.


Under the starlight very early this new morning, the governor’s mansion is a dark, massive form; but the tall window of Lady Hero’s chamber is aglow with candle light, and the other rooms are already stirring with busy preparations for a joyous wedding.

“Good Ursula, wake my cousin Beatrice, and desire her to rise!”

“I will, lady!”

“And bid her come hither!”

“Will!” Ursula hurries away.

Margaret looks askance at the high, ruffled collar selected by Hero. “’Troth, I think your other rebato were better.”

“No, pray thee, good Meg, I’ll wear this.”

“By my troth, it’s not as good—and I warrant your cousin will say so!” She anticipates Beatrice’s reliable rebuking.

“My cousin’s a fool, and thou art another,” laughs the playful, happy bride-to-be. “I’ll wear none but this!”

“I’d like the new tire, within, excellently,” says Margaret, of the periwig, “if the hair were a thought browner. And your gown’s a most rare fashion, i’ faith. I saw the Duchess of Milan’s gown that they praise so….”

“Oh, that exceeds, they say!”

“By my troth, ’s but a night-gown in respect of yours,” says the urbane Margaret. She describes the famous frock: “Cloth o’ gold, and cuts, and laced with silver, set with pearls, down sleeves, side sleeves, and skirts, round underborne, with a bluish tinsel!

“But for a fine, quaint, graceful and excellent fashion, yours is worth ten of ’t.”

Hero, who has had no time to order an elaborate wedding gown, is undaunted. “God give me joy to wear it, for my heart is excelling heavy!”—full.

Margaret grins. “’Twill be heavier soon—by the weight of a man!

Hero blushes. “Fie upon thee! Art not ashamed?”

“Of what, lady? Of speaking honourably? Is not marriage honourable, even in a beggar; is not your lord honourable?”

She adds, mischievously, “Saving Your Reverence, I think you would not have me say, ‘A husband even without marriage.’ If bad thinking do not arrest true speaking, I’ll offend nobody!

“Is there any harm in ‘the heavier by a husband?’ None, I think—if it be the right husband with the right wife; otherwise ’tis light,”—wanton, “not heavy!”

“For else, ask my Lady Beatrice,” says Margaret, laughing. “Here she comes!”

Hero smiles. “Good morrow, coz!”

“Good morrow, sweet Hero,” moans Beatrice, holding a handkerchief to her nose.

“Why, how now? Do you speak in a sick tune?”

“I am out of all other tune, methinks!”

“Clap us into ‘Light o’ Love’—that goes without a burden!” jests Margaret cheerfully; the song requires no bass part—no male voice. “Do you sing it, and I’ll dance it!”

Beatrice grins. “Ye’ll be light o’ love with your heels!”—held above her. “Then, if your husband have stables enough, you’ll see he shall lack no barns!”—playing on bairns, sons.

“Oh, illegitimate construction!” laughs Margaret. “I’d scorn that with my heels!”—run away.

Beatrice goes to Hero. “’Tis almost five o’clock, Cousin. ’Tis time you were ready!” She blows her nose. “By my troth, I am exceedingly ill!” She sighs, in annoyance, “Heigh-ho!

Margaret pursues that sporting term: “For a hawk, a horse, or a husband?

“For the letter that begins them allH,” groans Beatrice, her “aitch” suggesting “ache.”

The conspirators share a meaningful glance. “Well, if you be turnèd Turk, there’s no more sailing by the star!” says Margaret. If Beatrice’s aversion to marriage softens, nothing can be relied upon.

Beatrice frowns. “What means the fool, trow?” she asks the others.

Nothing, I,” claims Margaret, all innocence. “But God send every one her heart’s desire!”

“These gloves the count sent me,” murmurs Hero fondly, touching them to her cheek. “They are in excellent perfume!” She offers a sniff.

Beatrice scowls. “I am stuffed, Cousin; I cannot smell!”

Margaret laughs lustily: “A maid,”—virgin—“and stuffed! There’s goodly catching of cold!”

“Oh, God help me! God, help me!—how long have you professed to apprehend?” demands Beatrice, surprised by the display of drollery.

“Ever since you left off!” retorts Margaret. “Doth not my wit become me rarely?” she smirks.

“It is not enough seen! You should wear it in your cap!” But Beatrice wags her head in pain. “By my troth, I am sick!

With an arch smile, Margaret prescribes: “Get you some of this distilled carduus benedictus,”—holy thistle, but the liniment’s name suggests arduous Benedick, “and lay it to your heart—it is the only thing for a qualm!”

Hero laughs. “There thou prickest her with a thistle!”

Benedictus! Why benedictus?” demands Beatrice sharply. “You have some moral in this benedictus?”

“Moral? No, by my troth, I have no moral meaning!” says Margaret wryly. “I meant plain, holy thistle!” Her chin tips up in girlish defiance. “You may think, perchance, that I think you are in love,” she declares. “Nay, by’r lady!—I am not such a fool as to think what I wish; nor do I wish to think whatever I can.

“But indeed I cannot think, even if I would think my heart out in thinking, that you are in love!—or that you will be in love, or that you can be in love!

Benedick was ever such another”—a similar case, “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!”

Margaret regards Beatrice. “And how you may be converted I know not—but methinks you look with your eyes as other women do!”

Despite her aching head, the lady can’t keep from smiling. “What a pace is this that thy tongue keeps!”

“Not a false gallop!”—a runaway notion, insists Margaret.

Ursula, smiling in happy anticipation, has returned to the room. “Madam, withdraw! The prince, the count, Signior Benedick, Don John—and all the gallants of the town!—are come to fetch you to church!”

Hero, her slender hands trembling, her young heart fluttering, looks to her friends. “Help to dress me, good coz, good Meg, good Ursula!”


Beams of the bright sunrise are just now touching the mansion overlooking Messina, but the governor—although his daughter’s wedding is imminent—already has visitors: Master Constable Dogberry and Headborough Verges. “What would you with me, honest neighbour?” asks Leonato.

“Marry, sir,” says Dogberry, “I would have some confidence with you that discerns you nearly!”

Briefly, I pray you; for you see it is a busy time with me.”

“Marry, that it is, sir!” Dogberry has seen the household’s frenzy, on his way in.

Verges concurs: “Yes, in truth it is, sir!”

“What is it, my good friends?”

Dogberry steps closer, to confide. “Goodman Verges, sir, speaks a little off the matter—an old man, sir, and his wits are not so blunt as, God help us, I would desire they were! But, in faith, honest as the shine between his brows!”

“Yes, I thank God I am as honest as any man living—any who is an old man, and no honester than I,” declares Verges.

“Comparisons are odorous,” says Dogberry. “Palabras, neighbour Verges!” Pocas palabras means speak briefly.

Leonato feels precious minutes slipping by. “Neighbours, you are tedious.”

Dogberry hears a compliment. “It pleases Your Worship to say so, but we are poor duty’s officers. But truly, for mine own part, if I were as tedious as a king, I could find it in my heart to bestow it all on Your Worship!”

“All thy tediousness on me, eh?

“Yea, an ’twere a thousand pound more than ’tis!” says Dogberry, “for I hear as good exclamation on Your Worship as of any man in the city; and though I be but a poor man, I am glad to hear it!”

“And so am I!” adds Verges.

Leonato strives to be pleasant, but to speed the officers on their way. “I would fain know what you have to say.”

Verges blurts it out: “Marry, sir, our watch tonight, ha’ ta’en a couple of as arrant knaves as any in Messina, excepting Your Worship’s presence!”

Dogberry quietly apologizes for that brusque effort. “A good old man, sir; he will be talking—as they say, when the age is in, the wit is out! God help us! It is a world to see!

“Well said, i’ faith, neighbour Verges!” he says charitably. “Well, he’s a good man. If two men ride of a horse, one must ride behind; as honest a soul, i’ faith, sir, by my troth he is, as ever broke bread! God is to be worshipped; but all men are not alike, alas, good neighbour!”

Leonato tells the verbose visitor, dryly, “Indeed, neighbour, he comes too short of you.”

Dogberry shrugs modestly. “Gifts that God gives.”

Leonato moves to the door. “I must leave you.”

“One word, sir!” says Dogberry. “Our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two auspicious persons, and we would have them examined this morning before Your Worship.”

“Take their examination yourself, and bring it me,” says Leonato, still moving. “I am now in great haste, as it may appear unto you!”

That is sufficient for Dogberry. “It shall be sufferance.”

“Drink some wine ere you go; fare you well!” says Leonato graciously, at the door—where he meets a breathless messenger.

“My lord, they stay for you to give your daughter to her husband!”

“I’ll wait upon them!—I am ready!” cries the governor, hurrying away.

Dogberry tells Verges, “Go, good partner, go, get you to the town clerk. Bid him bring his pen and inkhorn to the jail; we are now to examination these men.”

Verges nods. “And we must do it wisely.”

“We will spare for no wit, I warrant you!” Dogberry tells his partner. “Here’s that which shall drive some of them to a non-come!”—leave them without reply, he means, having once heard non compos mentis, distracted.

“Only get the learnèd writer, to set down our excommunication, and meet me at the jail!”


Chapter Seven

Avowed in the Church


Dawn is glorious this clear morning, and at the church a noble assembly has gathered to bear witness to the vows of Count Claudio, the gallant young officer from Florence, and of Hero, the charming daughter of Messina’s esteemed governor.

“Come, Friar Francis,” urges Leonato, quietly, at the alter, aware of the distinguished guests—including the Prince of Aragon. “Be brief! Only do the plain form of marriage, and you shall recount their particular duties afterwards.”

The priest nods. As the smiling congregation looks on, he turns to Claudio and formally begins the ceremony. “You come hither, my lord, to marry this lady?”

“No,” says Claudio.

“To be married to her, friar—you come to marry her!” amends Leonato jovially.

Friar Francis looks to Hero. “Lady, you come hither to be married to this count?”

Hero smiles shyly. “I do.”

The priest nods. “If either of you know any inward impediment why you should not be conjoined, I charge you, on your souls, to utter it.”

“Know you any, Hero?” demands Claudio.

“None, my lord.”

Friar Francis asks Claudio, “Know you any, count?”

Leonato smiles. “I dare make his answer: none!”

Claudio bursts out angrily: “Oh, what men dare do! What men may do! What men daily do, not knowing what they do!”

Thinks Benedick, surprised—and alarmed, as are all the other onlookers, How now? Interjections!

“Stand thee by, friar,” says Claudio. “Father, by your leave,” he says to Leonato, “will you with free and unconstrainèd soul give me this maid, your daughter?”

“As freely, son, as God did give her to me,” says the governor.

Claudio glances toward the hushed pews. “And what have I to give you back, whose worth may counterpoise this rich and precious gift?”

Prince Don Pedro stands and replies from the front row: “Nothing—unless you render her again!”

“Sweet prince, you teach me noble thankfulness,” says Claudio. “There, Leonato!” he cries dramatically, “take her back again!

“Give not this rotten orange to your friend!—she’s but the sign and semblance of her honour!”

Hero, stunned, her face flushed, stares with disbelief.

“Behold how like a maid she blushes here!” cries Claudio. “Oh, what authority and show of truth can cunning sin cover itself withal!

“Comes not that blood as modest evidence to witness simple virtue! Would you not swear, all you that see her, that she were a maid by these exterior shows? But she is none!—she knows the heat of a luxurious bed! Her blush is guiltiness, not modesty!”

Leonato is baffled: “What do you mean, my lord?”

Not to be married!” cries Claudio. “Not to knit my soul to a proven wanton!

Leonato frowns: “Dear my lord, if you, by your own proof, have vanquished the resistance of her youth, and made defeat of her virginity—”

“I knew what you would say!” mutters Claudio, livid with contempt. “If I have known her, you will say, she did embrace me as a husband, and so extenuate the ’forehand sin! No, Leonato!—I never tempted her with word too large, but, as a brother to his sister, showed bashful sincerity and comely love!”

“And seemèd I ever otherwise to you?” asks Hero, shocked and perplexed.

Out on thee!” shouts Claudio, tears lining his cheeks. “Seeming! I will write against it: you seem to me as Dian in her orb, as chaste as is the bud ere it be blown!—but you are more intemperate in your blood than Venus, or those pampered animals that rage in savage sensuality!

Hero, clutching her pink bouquet, looks at him, aghast. “Is my lord well, he that doth speak so wildly?

Leonato, struggling with the indictment, turns in desperation to Don Pedro. “Sweet prince, why speak not you?” he pleads.

“What should I speak?” asks the general, coldly. “I stand dishonoured, who have gone about to link my dear friend to a common stale!

Leonato pales. “Are these things spoken, or do I but dream?

The lugubrious voice of Count Don John replies. “Sir, they are spoken, and these things are true.”

Poor Hero can only stare. “True?” she gasps. “Oh, God!

Benedick moves to the prince. “This looks not like a nuptial,” he says dryly.

Claudio demands attention. “Leonato, stand I here? Is this the prince? Is this the prince’s brother? Is this face Hero’s? Are our eyes our own?

Leonato, dismayed, nods. “All this is so; but what of this, my lord?”

“Let me but move one question to your daughter, and, by that fatherly and kindly power that you have in her, bid her answer truly!

Leonato turns to Hero. “I charge thee do so, as thou art my child!”

“O God, defend me!” she cries. “How am I beset! What kind of catechising call you this?

Claudio glares. “To make you answer truly to your name!

“Is it not Hero?” She wipes away tears. “Who can blot that name with any just reproach?”

“Marry, that can ‘Hero,’” says Claudio sternly. “‘Hero’ itself can blot out Hero’s virtue!—what man was he that talked with you yesternight out at your window betwixt twelve and one? Now, if you are a maid, answer to this!”

She is nearly numb; but her voice is clear: “I talked with no man at that hour, my lord!”

The prince bursts out in anger: “Why then you are no maiden!

“Leonato, I am sorry you must hear: upon mine honour, myself, my brother and this grievèd count did see her, hear her, at that hour last night, at her chamber-window talk with a ruffian!—who hath indeed, most like a liberal villain, boasted of the vile encounters they have had a thousand times in secret!”

Benedick immediately frowns. Shy little Hero? Vile encounters?—a thousand?

Fie, fie! They are not to be named, my lord, not to be spoken of!” declaims Don John, his righteousness apparently wounded by mere mention of such sins. “There is not chastity enough in language to utter them without offence! Thus, pretty lady, I am sorry for thy”—he strains for words—“much misgovernment!”

O Hero,” cries Claudio, “what a Hero hadst thou been, if half thy outward graces had been placed about the thoughts and counsels of thy heart!” He wipes his eyes with the heel of a hand. “But fare thee well, most foul, most fair! Farewell, thou pure impiety and impious purity! For thee I’ll lock up all the gates of love; and on my eyelids shall conjecture hang, turning all beauty, though it shall never be more gracious, into thoughts of harm!

Hero looks upward briefly—and faints. Tiny flowers lie strewn on the stone floor beside her delicate, white-gloved fingers.



Beatrice rushes to Hero. “Why, how now, Cousin! Wherefore sink you down?”

Benedick stands beside them. “How doth the lady?”

Beatrice kneels to touch Hero’s ashen face, clasps the cold hands in her own. “Dead, I think! Help, Uncle!” she calls to Leonato. “Hero! Hero!” She looks to the men nearby. “Uncle! Signior Benedick! Friar!

“Come, let us go,” says Don John grimly, at the doors. “These things, come thus to light, smother her spirits up.” The prince and his brother stalk from the house of worship, already starting to console Count Claudio. Soon the church has nearly emptied.

The governor is limp, devastated. “Hath no man’s dagger here a point for me?” he moans. Leonato glares down at his daughter. “O Fate, take not away thy heavy hand!—death is the fairest cover for her shame that may be wished for!”

Beatrice rubs the bride’s hands. “How now, cousin Hero?”

Friar Francis, kneels beside them. He sees Hero’s eyes flutter and open. “Have comfort, lady,” he says kindly.

Leonato asks Hero angrily, “Dost thou look up?

The monk is surprised. “Yea—wherefore should she not?”

Wherefore?—why, doth not every earthly thing cry shame upon her? Could she here deny the story that is printed in her blood?”—apparent in blushing. “Do not live, Hero!—do not ope thine eyes! For did I think thou wouldst not quickly die—thought I thy spirits were stronger than thy shames!myself would, on the rearward of reproaches, strike at thy life!”

The old man bewails his own misery. “Grievèd I that I had but one child?—chided I for that at frugal Nature’s frame? Oh, one too much, by thee! Why had I one?

“Why ever wast thou lovely in my eyes? Why had I not with charitable hand took up a beggar’s issue at my gates?—of whom, smirchèd thus, and mired with infamy, I might have said, ‘No part of it is mine!—this shame derives itself from unknown loins!’

“But mine!—and mine I loved, mine I praised, mine that I was proud of, mine so much that I myself was to myself not mine, valuing of her!—why, she, oh she, is fallen into a pit of such ink that the wide sea hath drops too few to wash her clean again, and too little salt which may season give to her foul-tainted flesh!”

During the stream of execration, Benedick has tried to account for what else he has heard. “Sir, sir, be patient! For my part, I am so attired in wonder I know not what to say.”

Beatrice has no doubt: “Oh, on my soul, my cousin is belied!

“Lady, were you her bedfellow last night?” asks Benedick.

“No, truly not—although, until last night, I have this twelvemonth been her bedfellow!”

Confirmed,” cries Leonato, not hearing the implication of a year, “confirmed! Oh, that is stronger made which was before barred up with ribs of iron!

“Would the two princes lie?—and Claudio lie, who loved her so, that, speaking of her foulness, he washed it with tears?

“Hence—from her! Let her die!

With that the wise and gentle priest reaches his limit: this holy place is not to be the venue for demands of death. And he has observed carefully. He rises. “Hear me a little! I have only been silent so long, and given way unto this course of fortune, for noting of the lady!

“I have marked the thousand blushing shames starting into her face—and a thousand innocent apparitions in angels’ whiteness beat away those blushes! And in her eye there hath appeared a fire, to burn the errors that these princes hold against her maiden truth!

“Call me a fool—trust not my reading nor my observations, which with experiential seal doth warrant the tenor of my book; trust not my age, my reverence, calling, nor divinity!—if this sweet lady lie not guiltless here under some biting error!

But her father is obdurate. “Friar, it cannot be! Thou seest that all the grace she hath left is that she will not add to her damnation the sin of perjury!—she denies it not! Why seek’st thou then to cover with excuse that which appears in proper nakedness?”

Beatrice and Benedick help Hero to stand.

Friar Francis has questions. “Lady, what man is he you are accused of?”

Hero shakes her head. “They know that do accuse me; I know none!” She tells her confessor, “If I know more of any man alive than that which maiden modesty doth warrant, let all my sins lack mercy!” She looks at Leonato. “Oh, my father, find you that any man with me conversèd at hours unmeet, or that I yesternight maintained exchange of words with any creature, then refuse me, hate me, torture me to death!”

Father Francis’s conviction is confirmed. “There is some strange misprision in the princes!”

Two of them have the very bent of honour,” says Benedick. “And if their wisdoms be misled in this, the practise of it lives in John the bastard, whose spirit toils in framing of villainies!”

Leonato’s anger runs on; he shakes his head. “I know not; if they speak but truth of her, these hands shall tear her! If they wrong her honour, the proudest of them shall well hear of it!

“Time hath not yet so dried this blood of mine, nor age so eaten up my invention, nor fortune made such havoc of my means, nor my bad life reft me so much of friends, but that they shall find, awakened in such a kind, both strength of limb and policy of mind, ability in means and choice of friends, to repay them thoroughly!

The monk interrupts his new blustering. “Pause awhile!—and let my counsel sway you in this case!

“Your daughter the princes left here for dead; let her be secretly kept in, and publish it that she is dead indeed. Maintain a mourning ostentation, and on your family’s old monument hang mournful epitaphs, and do all rites that appertain unto a burial.”

Leonato frowns. “What shall become of this? What will this do?

“Marry, well carried out on her behalf, this shall change slander to remorse,” says Friar Francis. “That is some good. But not for that do I dream of this strange course, but from this travail look for greater birth: her dying—as it must so be maintained—upon the instant that she was accused shall be lamented—pitied and excusèd by every hearer! For it so falls out that we prize not what we have to the worth whiles we enjoy; but it being lost and lacked, why then we stretch out the value—then we find the virtue that possession would not show us whiles it was ours.

“So will it fare with Claudio: when he shall hear she died upon his words, the idea of her life shall sweetly creep into his realm of imagination, and every lovely aspect of her life shall come appareled in more precious habit—more moving, delicate, and full of life—into the eye and prospect of his soul, than when she lived indeed!

“Then shall he mourn, if ever love had interest within him, and wish he had not so accusèd her!—not though he thought his accusation true!

“Let this be so, and doubt not but that success will fashion the event in a better shape than I can lay it down as likelihood. If all false aim be revealed by this as supposition, the lady’s death will quench the wonder at her ‘infamy,’” the priest argues. “And if it sort not well, you may conceal her, as best befits her wounded reputation, in some reclusive and religious life, out of all eyes, tongues, minds and injuries.”

Benedick appeals to the governor. “Signior Leonato, let the friar advise you. And though you know my inwardness of love is very much unto the prince and Claudio, yet, by mine honour, I will deal in this as secretly and justly as your soul should with your body!”

Leonato, his fury spent, is exhausted. He nods tearful agreement. “Being that I flow in grief, the smallest twine may lead me.”

“’Tis well consented,” Friar Francis tells him. “Presently away! Forget strange sores; strangely, they retain the cure!

“Come, lady, die to live! This wedding-day is perhaps but protracted; have patience and endure.”

With Leonato following, he guides the gentlewoman through a side door—and into a secret, sheltered seclusion.

The last of the wedding party come out into the sunshine. Benedick asks, kindly, “Lady Beatrice, have you wept all this while?”

Still clutching a wrinkled handkerchief, she returns his smile. “Yea, and I will weep a while longer!”

“I will not desire that,” he says softly.

“You have no reason to; I do it freely.”

Benedick rubs his newly shaven chin. “I do surely believe your fair cousin is wronged!

Ah, how much might the man deserve of me that would right her!”

“Is there any way to show such friendship?”

“A very even way—but no such friend.”

“May a man do it?”—is it feasible.

“It is a man’s office, but not yours,” she taunts.

Benedick regards her thoughtfully. “I do love nothing in the world so well as you.” His eyes search her face. “Is not that strange?”

Beatrice looks down. “As strange a thing I know now,” she admits.

Her reddened eyes sparkle. “It were as possible for me to say I loved nothing so well as you!” she teases. Then she faces his earnest gaze. “But believe me not. And yet I lie not—I confess nothing, nor deny I nothing!” she says, distraught. “I am sorry for my cousin….”

He beams at her. “By my sword, Beatrice, thou lovest me!”

“Do not swear—and then eat it!”—retract.

“I will swear by it that you love me!—and I will make him eat it that says I love not you!

“Will you not eat your word?

“With no sauce that can be devised for it!” he exclaims. “I protest I love thee!

“Why, then, God forgive me….”

“What offence, sweet Beatrice?”

“You have stayed me just in time—I was about to protest I love you!”

“Then do it with all thy heart!”

She studies his strong, familiar features. “I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest!”

Benedick takes her hands in his. “Come, bid me do anything for thee!”

“Kill Claudio.”

Ha! Not for the wide world!”

“You kill me, denying it! Farewell.”

Benedick still has her hands. “Tarry, sweet Beatrice…”

“I am gone, though I am here. There is no love in you!” She pulls away. “Nay, I pray you, let me go.”

“Beatrice—”

“In faith, I will go!”

“We’ll be friends first!” he pleads.

“You easier dare be friends with me than fight with mine enemy!” she says scornfully.

“Is Claudio thine enemy?”

Her tears expended, rage bursts forth: “Is he not proven the height of villainy, that hath slandered, scorned, dishonourèd my kinswoman?

“Oh, that I were a man!

What? To bear her in hand”—deceive her—“until they come to take hands, and then, with public accusation, uncoverèd slander, unmitigated rancour!—

Oh, God, that I were a man!” she shouts. “I would eat his heart in the market-place!”

“Hear me, Beatrice—”

“‘Talk with a man out at a window!’”—a waste of breath. “A proper saying!”

“Nay, but, Beatrice—”

“Sweet Hero! She is wronged!—she is slandered!—she is undone!

“Beat—”

Princes and counts! Surely, a princely testimony, a goodly count!” she cries bitterly. “Count Confection!—a sweet gallant, surely!

“Oh, that I were a man for his sake!—or that I had any friend who would be a man for my sake!

“But manhood is melted into curtsies, valour into compliments, and men are turned into tongues!—and trim ones, too: he is now as valiant as Hercules that no more than tells a lie, then swears to it!

“I cannot be a man by wishing; therefore I will die a woman with grieving!

“Tarry, good Beatrice!—by this hand, I love thee!”

Use it for my love some other way than swearing by it!”

Benedick releases her. “Think you in your soul the Count Claudio hath wrongèd Hero?”

Yea, as sure as I have a thought or a soul!”

He nods slowly. “Enough. I am engagèd. I will challenge him.

“I will kiss your hand; and so I leave you.

“By this hand, Claudio shall render me a dear accounting. As you hear of me, so think of me.

“Go, comfort your cousin; I must say she is dead.

“And so, farewell.”


Chapter Eight

Examination, Recrimination


Dogberry, Verges and, recently returned from the church, the sexton who also serves as city clerk, have met in the dim, dreary arraignment chamber at the jail—a bleak building of moldy, eroding stone, dark-stained oak and rusting iron. Dogberry wears a threadbare juridical gown, black but dusty.

Borachio and Conrad stand, in custody, with Seacoal and his men.

“Is our whole dissembly appeared?” asks Dogberry, heading to the bench.

Verges motions to Seacoal. “Go—a stool and a cushion for the sexton.”

Soon seated with his book, pen and ink arrayed on the stand before him, the clerk asks, “Which be the malefactors?”

“Marry, that am I and my partner,” Dogberry testifies.

“Nay, that’s certain; we have the exhibition to examine,” Verges confirms, given the governor’s authorization.

“But which are the offenders that are to be examined?” asks the clerk. “Let them come before the master constable.”

“Yea, marry, let them come before me!” says Dogberry. “What is your name, friend?”

“Borachio.”

Dogberry instructs the clerk: “Pray, write down, ‘Borachio.’” He turns to Conrad. “Yours, sirrah?”

The man resents sirrah: “I am a gentleman, sir; and my name is Conrad.”

“Write down, ‘Master Gentleman Conrad.’ Masters, do you serve God?”

“Yea, sir, we hope,” says Borachio, his head still aching. Conrad nods sullenly.

Dogberry: “Write down that they hope they serve God—but write God first; for God defend that God should go before such villains!

“Masters, it is proved already that you are little better than false knaves; and it will go near to be thought so shortly! How answer you for yourselves?”

Conrad says, testily: “Marry, sir, we say we are none!

Dogberry spots a cunning dodge: denial of existence. He pulls Verges aside to confide: “A marvelous witty fellow, I assure you! But I will go about with him!

“Come you hither, sirrah,” he tells Borachio, waving Conrad away. “A word in your ear, sir.” He whispers, “I say to you, it is thought you are false knaves….”

“Sir, I say to you we are none!” Borachio replies.

“Well, stand aside,” says Dogberry, annoyed. “’Fore God, they are both in the tale!” he says, seeing collusion. He frowns in frustration. “Have you writ down that they are none?”

“Master Constable, you go not the way to examine,” protests the clerk. “You must call first the watch that are their accusers.”

“Yea, marry, that’s the eftest way,” Dogberry rules. “Let the watch come forth.

“Masters, I charge you, in the prince’s name, accuse these men!

Seacoal complies eagerly. “This man said, sir, that Don John, the prince’s brother, was a villain!”

“Write down, ‘Prince John a villain,’” Dogberry tells the clerk. “Why, this is flat perjury, to call a prince’s brother villain!”—city commoner.

Borachio begins, “Master Constable—”

Dogberry cuts him off. “Pray thee, fellow, peace!” His eyes narrow. “I do not like thy look, I promise thee!”

“What heard you him say else?” the clerk asks the watchmen.

“Marry, that he had received a thousand ducats of Don John for accusing the Lady Hero wrongfully!” reports one of Seacoal’s men.

“Flat burglary as ever was committed!” cries Dogberry.

“Yea, by the Mass, that it is!” affirms Verges.

“What else, fellow?” asks the clerk/sexton—now very much interested.

“And, upon his words, that Count Claudio did mean to disgrace Hero before the whole assembly, and not marry her!”

Dogberry is outraged at the idea. “Oh, villain!—thou wilt be condemned into everlasting redemption for this!”

“What else?” asks the sexton.

“This is all.”

The clerk closes the record book decisively. He glares at the defendants. “And this is more, masters, than you can deny: Prince John is this morning secretly stolen away; Hero was in this manner accusèd, in this very manner refusèd—and upon the grief of this, suddenly died!

Borachio is appalled; he blinks, gaping; no one was supposed to die.

“Master Constable, let these men be bound and brought to Leonato’s! I will go before, and show him their examination.” He gathers up his book and implements and leaves the jail.

Dogberry motions for the watchmen to pinion the prisoners’ arms. “Come, let them be opinioned!”

Verges consigns them to the governor’s justice: “Let them be in the hands—”

But Conrad resists restraint: “Off, coxcomb!”—fool.

“God’s my life, where’s the sexton?” demands Dogberry. “Let him write down, ‘The prince’s officer, coxcomb!’ Come, bind them!

“Thou wicked varlet!

Conrad shoves the deputy. “Away! You are an ass,” he shouts at Dogberry, “you are an ass!

The master constable’s indignation is immediate—high and vociferous: “Dost thou not suspect my place? Dost thou not suspect my years? Oh, that he were here to write me down an ass!

“But, masters,” he tells the deputies, bent on retribution, “remember that I am an ass!—though it be not written down, yet forget not that I am an ass!

Dogberry, deeply affronted, glares at Conrad. “Oh, thou villain! Thou art full of piety, as shall be proved upon thee by good witness!” he thunders, as the man is securely bound with cord. The deputies bind Borachio, who is stunned and pale, as well.

“I am a wise fellow,” insists Dogberry, “and, which is more, an officer; and, which is more, a householder; and, which is more, as pretty a piece of flesh as any is in Messina!” he cries, his deep voice rising.

“And one that knows the law, go to!—

“And a rich fellow enough, go to!

“And a fellow that hath had lasses!—and one that hath two gowns, and every thing handsome about him!

“Bring him away!” the magistrate commands with an imperious wave.

But he bemoans the incomplete record: “Oh, that I had been writ down an ass!”


On the wide portico of the governor’s house, old Antonio attempts to stem his brother’s insistently loud lamentation. “If you go on thus, you will kill yourself!—and ’tis not wisdom thus to second Grief against yourself!

“I pray thee, cease thy counsel, which falls into mine ears as profitless as water in a sieve!” wails Leonato. “Give not me counsel!

“And let no comforter delight mine ear but such a one whose wrongs do suit with mine! Bring me a father that so loved his child, whose joy in her is overwhelmed like mine, and bid him speak of patience! Measure his woe by the length and breadth of mine, and let it answer every strain for strain as thus for thus, and such a grief for such, in every lineament, branch, shape, and form!

“If such a one will smile and stroke his beard, bid Sorrow wag, cry ‘Amen!’ when he should groan, patch grief with proverbs, make misfortune drunk with candle-wax—bring him yet to me, and I from him will gather patience!

“But there is no such man!

“For, Brother, men can counsel and speak comfort to that grief which they themselves do not feel! But, tasting it, their counsel turns to passion who before would give preceptive medicine to rage, fetter strong madness in a silken threads, charm ache with air, and agony with words!

No, no!—’tis all men’s office to speak patience to those that wring under the load of sorrow, but no man’s virtue nor sufficiency to be so moral when he shall endure the like himself!

“Therefore give me no counsel! My griefs cry louder than advising!”

Indeed, thinks Antonio, frowning at the protracted petulance. “Therein do men from children nothing differ.”

“I pray thee, peace!” groans Leonato. “I will be flesh and blood!—for there was never yet philosopher that could endure a toothache patiently, however they have writ in the style of gods, and claimed to accept chance by sufferance!”

“Yet bend not all the harm upon yourself!” urges Antonio. “Make those that do offend you suffer, too!”

Leonato looks over at the older man. “There thou speak’st reason. Aye, I will do so! My soul doth tell me Hero is belièd—and that shall Claudio know! So shall the prince—and all of them that thus dishonour her!”

Antonio points. “Here come the prince and Claudio—hastily,” he notes, as the two noblemen ride up.

“Good den, good den,” says Don Pedro stiffly as he dismounts.

“Good day to both of you,” says Claudio, with formal courtesy. The military officers are accustomed to the judgments made in war—sudden, harsh and often irreversible. When a conflict is done, they must leave it behind, whatever it has cost.

The governor glares at them. “Hear you, my lords—”

The prince interrupts: “We have some haste, Leonato.” They are eager to find Benedick, and take up again their pleasant, manly diversions.

“Some haste, my lord? Well, fare you well, my lord!” says Leonato scornfully. “Are you so hasty now?” He shakes his head in disgust. “Well, all is one.”

“Nay, do not quarrel with us, good old man,” says the prince, with the dignity of his rank.

“If he could right himself with quarreling,” cries Antonio angrily, “some of ‘us’ would lie low!”—die.

“Who wrongs him?” demands Claudio.

“Marry, thou dost wrong me!” cries Leonato, “thou dissembler, thou!” He moves back quickly, pointing: “Nay, never lay thy hand upon thy sword! I fear thee not!”

Claudio denies the notion: “Marry, beshrew my hand if it should give your age such cause of fear! In faith, my hand meant nothing with my sword.

Leonato scowls, his face red with rage. “Never fleer and jest at me! I speak not like a dotard nor a fool, as if under privilege of age to brag what I have done being young, or what would do were I not old!” He steps boldly toward the count.

Know, Claudio, to thy face: thou hast so wronged mine innocent child and me that I am forcèd to lay my reverence by!—and, with gray hair and bruises of many days, do challenge thee to trial of a man!

“I say thou hast belied mine innocent child! Thy slander hath gone through and through her heart, and she lies buried with her ancestors!oh, in a tomb where scandal never slept, save this of hers!—framèd by thy villainy!

“My villainy?

Thine, Claudio!—thine, I say!”

Don Pedro shakes his head. “You say not right, old man.”

Leonato’s anger rises further. “My lord, my lord, I’ll prove it on his body, if he dare, despite his fine fencing and his active practise, his May of youth and bloom of lustihood!”

Away! “ says Claudio. The warrior is a foot taller and thirty years younger. “I will not have to do with you!”

Canst thou so doff me?” demands Leonato. “Thou hast killed my child! If thou kill’st me, boy, thou shalt kill a man!” he cries, in hot defiance.

Old Antonio’s ire has now swollen, too, and he hobbles over to confront. “He shall kill two of us!—and men indeed! But that’s no matter. Let him kill one first! Win me and wear me!”—boast of it afterward. “Let him answer me!

“Come, follow me, boy! Come, Sir Boy, come! Follow me, Sir Boy!I’ll whip you from your foining fencing!—aye, as I am a gentleman, I will!” his reedy voice avers.

Leonato resists being supplanted in fury. “Brother—”

Content yourself!” demands the white-bearded nobleman. “God knows I loved my niece!—and she is dead, slandered to death by villains that dare as well answer a man in deed as I dare take a serpent by the tongue!” He hurls abuse at the prince and count: “Boys, apes, braggarts, Jacks, milksops!

“Brother Antony—”

“Hold you content!” insists the elderly battler. “What, man? I know them—yea, and what they weigh, even to the utmost scruple!—scrambling, out-facing, fashion-mongering boys, that lie and cog and flout, deprave and slander!—go anticly, show outward hideousness!” he cries, his dry voice rasping, “and speak, in half-a-dozen dangerous words, of how they might hurt their enemies, if they durst! Yet that is all!

“But, brother Antony—”

“Come, ’tis no matter!” says Antonio, steaming. “Do not you meddle!—let me deal in this!”

Don Pedro, secure in his actions; dismisses their complaint. “Gentlemen both, we will not await your patience.

“My heart is sorry for your daughter’s death,” he tells Leonato, “but, on my honour, she was charged with nothing but what was true, and very full of proof.”

“My lord, my lord!—” says Leonato, pushing forward with further issues yet unaired.

Don Pedro shakes his head, and he waves the brothers away. “I will not hear you.”

No?” says the governor, livid. “Come, Brother; away! I will be heard!” he vows.

“And shall, or some of us will smart for it!” adds Antonio, as a parting shot.

The old men withdraw into the sorrowful mansion.

Don Pedro and Claudio are left to muse about their furious reception and the lords’ powerful indignation—responses they consider patently unwarranted.


The prince nods toward town as Count Benedick rides in their direction. “See, here comes the man we went to seek!”

“Now, signior, what news?” asks Claudio brightly.

Benedick addresses the prince as he ties the reins to an iron post. “Good day, my lord.”

Welcome, signior—you are almost come to part a fray!

“We had like to have had our two noses snapped off by two old men without teeth!” laughs Claudio.

“Leonato and his brother!” says the general. “What thinkest thou?—had we fought, I suspect we should have been too young for them!”

Benedick speaks gravely. “In a false quarrel there is no true valour. I came to seek you both.”

“We have been up and down seeking thee!” says Claudio, smiling, “for we are in high-proof melancholy, and would fain have it beaten away! Wilt thou use thy wit?”

“It is in my scabbard,” says Benedick coldly. “Shall I draw it?” The others fail to perceive the menace in his voice.

Don Pedro smiles. “Dost thou wear thy wit by thy side?

“Never did any so—though very many have been beside their wits!” jests Claudio. “I will bid thee draw as we do the minstrels: draw it to pleasure us!”—use wit for amusement.

A young woman’s supposed death has apparently had little effect on the other soldiers. Benedick finds himself increasingly disturbed by his comrades’ callous indifference.

The prince now looks more closely at Benedick’s stony countenance. “As I am an honest man, he looks pale! Art thou sick, or angry?”

“What?—courage, man!” urges Claudio jovially. “What? Though care killed the cat, thou hast mettle enough in thee to kill care!

Glibness is a hardly the posture to adopt before Benedick today. His silent stare should be warning enough, but he cautions Claudio: “Sir, I shall meet your wit on the rise, if you aim it against me. I pray you choose another subject.”

Claudio, still jousting amiably, chuckles. “Nay, then, give him another staff,” he tells the prince, “this last was broken across!

But Don Pedro frowns, now concerned. “By this light, he changes more and more; I think he be angry indeed!”

But still Claudio gibes at the usually sprightly officer: “If he be, he knows how to turn his buckler!”—parry a thrust with his shield,.

“Shall I speak a word in your ear?” says Benedick; motioning for the count to step aside with him.

Claudio expects to hear a wry confidence. “God bless me from a challenge!” he laughs.

Benedick says, intensely, to Claudio alone: “You are a villain!

“I jest not; I will make it good however you dare, with what you dare, and when you dare.

“Do me the right, or I will proclaim your cowardice.

“You have killed a sweet lady, and her death shall fall heavily on you. Let me hear from you.”

Claudio frowns, his reply seems confident: “Well, I will meet you—so that I may have good cheer.”

Don Pedro hears only that response. “What?—a feast, a feast!

“I’ faith, I thank him,” says Claudio, affecting to be lighthearted despite the demand to duel. “He hath bid me to a calf’s head and a capon,”—tender meats, “the which if I do not carve most curiously, say my knife’s naught!

“Shall I not find a woodcock, too?”—a fool. He looks at Benedick, still hoping he has spoken in jest.

“Sir, your wit ambles well,” says Benedick. “It goes easily”—soon disappears.

Don Pedro, sensing the tension, speaks to lessen it; he lays a hand on Benedick’s shoulder. “I’ll tell thee how Beatrice praised thy wit the other day!” he offers. “I said thou hadst a fine wit. ‘True,’ said she, ‘a fine little one!’

“‘No,’ said I, ‘a great wit.’ ‘Right,’ says she, ‘a great gross one!’

“‘Nay,’ said I, ‘a good wit.’ ‘Just,’ said she, ‘—it hurts nobody!

“‘Nay,’ said I, ‘the gentleman is wise.’ ‘Certainly,’ said she, ‘a wiseacre!

“‘Nay,’ said I, ‘he hath two tongues!’—another language. ‘That I believe,’ said she, ‘for he swore a thing to me on Monday night which he forswore on Tuesday morning—there’s a double tongue!—there’s two tongues!’”

The prince laughs. “Thus did she, an hour altogether, transshape thy particular virtues! Yet at last she concluded, with a sigh, thou wast the properest man in Italy!

Claudio laughs, trying to enter into the happier mood. “For the which she wept heartily—then said she carèd not!”

“Yea, that she did! But yet, for all that, an if she did not hate him deadly, she would love him dearly!” chuckles Don Pedro. “The old man’s daughter told us all!”

Benedick’s jaws tighten at the careless mention of Hero.

“All, all!” laughs Claudio, “And, moreover, God saw him when he was hid in the garden!” he tells the prince, remembering the trick they had played.

Benedick flushes, realizing he had been taken in.

Don Pedro laughs. “But when shall we set the savage bull’s horns on the sensible Benedick’s head?”

“Yea, and text underneath: ‘Here dwells Benedick the married man!’” laughs Claudio.

Benedick goes to his horse. “Fare you well, boy. You know my mind.

“I will leave you now to your housewife humour; you break jests as braggarts do their blades,”—nicking them to simulate battle wear, “which, God be thanked, hurt not.”

He addresses the prince: “My lord, for your many courtesies, I thank you. I must discontinue your company.

“Your brother the bastard is fled from Messina! You have, between you, killed a sweet and innocent lady!

“As for my Lord Lackbeard there, he and I shall meet; but till then, peace be with him.”

Benedick unties his steed from the post, and leads it away toward the stable.

Don Pedro watches, all merriment gone. “He is in earnest!”

“In most profound earnest—and, I’ll warrant you, for the love of Beatrice.”

“And hath challenged thee?”

“Most sincerely.”

The inexplicable changes he has met exasperate the prince. “What a pretty thing man is when he puts on his doublet and hose, but leaves off his wit!

“He then seems a giant—compared to an ape,” says Claudio. “But then an ape is as a doctor to such a man!”

Yet again, the soldiers find themselves in complete, silent accord. Concerns associated with women have been chronic disrupters of men’s peace, but in that regard, Benedick has always been the exemplar of resistance.

As Claudio starts to speak, Don Pedro stops him. “But, soft you, let me be.” He needs to do some thinking. “Did he not say my brother was fled?

Claudio nods, frowning as he watches Benedick, down at the stable doors.

The prince feels uneasy. Something is very wrong.


Chapter Nine

Revelations and Regrets


Don Pedro has been pacing, silently reviewing the indisputable evidence against the late Lady Hero which he himself witnessed, when Claudio brings the master constable to the governor’s porch; with them are the deputy and several men of the watch, guarding two prisoners.

They stop. “Come, you, sir!” says Dogberry, prodding the sullen Conrad forward. “If Justice cannot tame you, she shall ne’er weigh more raisins”—he means reasons—“in her balance! Nay, as you be a-cursing ‘Hypocrite!’ once, you must be looked to.”

How now?” says the prince, surprised. “One of my brother’s men, boundBorachio, too!”

“Hearken after their offences, my lord,” urges Claudio grimly.

“Officers, what offence have these men done?” asks Don Pedro.

Dogberry replies. “Marry, sir, they have committed false report; moreover, they have spoken untruths! Secondarily, they are slanders; sixth and lastly, they have belied a lady! Thirdly, they have verified unjust things—and, to conclude: they are lying knaves!

The prince tries again, with his own enumeration. “First,” he says, “I ask thee what they have done; thirdly, I ask thee what’s their offence; sixth and lastly, why they are committed—and, to conclude, what you lay to their charge.

Claudio laughs. “Rightly reasoned, and in his own division!—and, by my troth, there’s even one meaning well suited!

Don Pedro asks the prisoners: “Whom have you offended, masters, that you are thus bound to your answer? This learnèd constable is too cunning to be understood. What’s your offence?”

Borachio is sober at last, and after painful, guilty reflection upon the outcome of his scheme, deeply repentant and remorseful. “Sweet prince, let me go no further to mine answer: do you hear me, and let this count kill me!” He stares at the ground, unable to face them. “I have deceivèd even your very eyes!

“What your wisdoms could not discover, these shallow fools”—he glances at the deputies—“have brought to light—who in the night overheard me confessing to this man how Don John your brother was incited by me to slander the Lady Hero; how you were brought into the orchard, and saw me court Margaret in Hero’s garments!

“Now, when you should marry her, you disgraced her!

“My villainy they have upon record—which I had rather seal with my death than repeat, even to my shame!” he says, eyes brimming. “The lady is dead,” he sobs, “upon mine and my master’s false accusation! And, briefly, I desire nothing but the reward of a villain!

Don Pedro, pale, looks at Claudio. “Runs not this speech like iron through your body?”

“I have drunk poison whiles he uttered it!”

“But did my brother set thee on to this?” the prince asks Borachio.

“Yea, and paid me richly for the practise of it.”

“He is composèd and framed of treachery!” growls the prince. “And fled he is, upon this villainy!”

Claudio, miserable, closes his eyes. “Sweet Hero! Now thine image doth appear, in the rare semblance that I loved at first!”

Dogberry rouses the constable to movement. “Come, bring away the plaintiffs; by this time our sexton hath reformed Signior Leonato of the matter.

“And, masters, do not forget to specify, when time and place shall serve, that I am an ass!

“Here,” says Verges, pointing, “here comes Master Signior Leonato, and the sexton, too.”

The churchman-clerk follows the governor and his brother.

Which is the villain?” snarls Leonato. “Let me see his eyes—so that, when I note another man like him, I may avoid him! Which of these is he?”

“If you would know your wronger, look on me,” says Borachio, stepping forward.

“Art thou the slave that with thy breath hast killed mine innocent child?”

Borachio weeps. “Yea, even I alone!”

No, not so, villain!” cries Leonato, “thou beliest thyself!” He motions toward the prince and the count. “Here stand a pair of honourable men!—a third is fled—that had a hand in it!

“I thank you princes for my daughter’s death!” he cries, with scalding irony. “Record it with your high and worthy deeds! ’Twas bravely done, if you’ll bethink you of it!”

“I know not how to pray your patience,” says Claudio—stunned, chastised, defeated—“yet I must speak! Choose your revenge yourself!—impose upon me what penance your invention can lay upon my sin!

“Yet, sinned I not but in mistaking,” he protests weakly.

“By my soul, nor I,” says Don Pedro. “And yet, to satisfy this good old man, I would bend under any heavy weight that he’ll enjoin me to!”

The governor speaks slowly, solemnly. “I cannot bid you bid my daughter live,” says Leonato. “That were impossible.

“But, I pray you both: make known to the people in Messina here how innocently she died!

“And if your love can labour aught in sad invention, hang an epitaph upon her tomb, and sing it to her bones!—sing it tonight!

“Tomorrow morning, come you to my house, and, since you could not be my son-in-law, be yet my nephew. My brother hath a daughter, almost the copy of my child that’s dead, and she alone is now heir to both of us”—an untruth; Antonio has only a son. “Give her the right you should have given her cousin—and so dies my revenge.”

Claudio, crushed by guilt, anguished in loss, is eager to comply. “O noble sir, your over-kindness doth wring tears from me! I do embrace your offer!—and henceforth dispose to you poor Claudio!”

Says Leonato, “Tomorrow, then, I will expect your coming; tonight I take my leave.” Pointing to Borachio, he tells Don Pedro, “This wicked man shall face-to-face be brought to Margaret, who I believe was packed in all this wrong, hired to it by your brother!”

No, by my soul, she was not!” cries Borachio, “nor knew what she did when she spoke to me, but always hath been just and virtuous in anything that I do know of her!”

Despite his anger, the old man is cheered; his daughter has loved Margaret as she would a sister; and Borachio, expecting—wanting—only death, likely speaks the truth. Leonato decides he will find out.

Dogberry has been silent, but he would draw the governor’s attention to a further crime—an egregious one. “Moreover, sir—which indeed is not under white and black,” he admits, “this plaintiff here, the offender”—he shakes Conrad by the collar—“did call me ass! I beseech you, let it be remembered in his punishment!”

He notes a puzzling loose end in the case: a missing accomplice. “And also, the watch heard them talk of one deformèd. They say he wears a key in his ear, the lock hanging by it!—and he ‘borrows money, for God’s sake!’—the which he hath used so long, but never repaid, that now men grow hard-hearted, and will lend nothing in God’s name!

“Pray you, examine him upon that point.”

Leonato—who can see Borachio’s lovelock—only nods to the master constable. “I thank thee for thy care and honest pains.”

“Your Worship speaks like a most thankful and reverend youth, and I praise God for you!”

Gold ducats clink as they are passed to the official. “There’s for thy pains.”

Dogberry bows. “God save the foundation!” he says gratefully—although the phrase usually commends an almshouse.

“Go; I discharge thee of thy prisoner,” says Leonato, “and I thank thee.”

“I leave an arrant knave with Your Worship!—which I beseech Your Worship to correct yourself, for the example of others. God keep Your Worship! I wish Your Worship well; God restore you to health! I humbly give you leave to depart; and if a merry meeting may be wished, God prohibit it!”

He waves Verges along. “Come, neighbour.” Together they head back down into the city.

Leonato bows curtly to the prince and Count Claudio. “Until tomorrow morning, lords, farewell.”

“Farewell, my lords,” says old Antonio gruffly. “We look for you tomorrow!”

“We will not fail,” Don Pedro pledges.

Claudio is subdued, deep in sorrowful remembrance and regret. “Tonight I’ll mourn with Hero,” he says, very softly.

Leonato addresses the watchmen guarding Borachio and Conrad. “Bring you these fellows on.

“We’ll talk with Margaret as to how her acquaintance grew with this crude fellow!”

Behind the governor’s mansion, at the entrance to the elaborate formal garden, Count Benedick encounters one of Hero’s waiting-gentlewomen.

“Pray thee, sweet Mistress Margaret, deserve well at my hands by helping me to the speech of Beatrice.”

Meg craves attention; she was upset by the wedding’s dreadful outcome, and she chafes at having heard nothing from her inamorato since, after some wine, she accommodated his nighttime whimsy—styling themselves as the upright lady and her young count in a playful parody. “Will you then write me a sonnet in praise of my beauty?” she asks dryly.

“In so high a style, Margaret, that no man living shall come over it!—for, in most comely truth, thou deservest it!”

She grins. “To have no man come over me!” She offers a more polite jest: “Why, shall I always keep below stairs?

Benedick laughs. “Thy wit is as quick as the greyhound’s mouth: it catches!”

“And yours as blunt as the fencers’ foils, which hit but hurt not!”

He says, thoughtfully, “A most manly wit, Margaret; it will not hurt a woman.” He smiles. “And so, I pray thee, call Beatrice; I’ll give thee these bucklers,” he tells her, offering coins; a buckler is actually a small, convex shield with a spike at the center.

The buxom gentlewoman laughs. “Give us the swords; we have bucklers of our own!

Now Benedick grins. “If you use them, Margaret, you must put in the pikes with a vice! And they are dangerous weapons for maids!”—virgins.

She laughs at the play on vice—and makes another. “Well, I will call Beatrice to you—who I think hath legs!” she laughs, heading into the house.

Murmurs Benedick, “And thereby will come!”


He composes a bit of ballad about wooing:

“The god of love,

That sits above,

And knows me,

And knows me,

How plentifully I deserve—”

He makes a face. I mean in singing.

But in loving…. He paces, worried about achieving, now, more than seduction.

Benedick considers famous lovers. Leander the good swimmer, Troilus the first employer of panders, and the whole bookful of these quondam carpet-mongers, whose names yet run smoothly in the even road of a blank verse—why, they were never so truly turned over and over in love as my poor self!

Marry, I cannot show it in rhyme—I have tried! I can find out no rhyme to ‘lady’ but ‘baby,’ an innocent rhyme; for ‘scorn,’ ‘horn,’ a hard rhyme; for, ‘school,’ ‘fool,’ a babbling rhyme—very ominous endings! No, I was not born under a rhyming planet, for I cannot woo in festival terms.

The lady interrupts his musing. “Sweet Beatrice! Wouldst thou come when I call thee?” he teases—although quite pleased to find it so.

“Yea, signior—and depart when you bid me!”—ask for anything.

He smiles sweetly. “Oh, stay but till then.”

A request. “‘And it is spoken!—fare you well now!

“And yet, ere I go, let me go with that I came for—which is with knowing what hath passed between you and Claudio.”

“Only foul words,” says Benedick, leaning toward her, “but thereupon, I will kiss thee!”

She backs away. “Foul words is but foul breath, and foul breath is but foul wind, and foul wind”—farting—“is noisome! Therefore I will depart unkissed!

“Thou hast frighted the word out of its right sense, so forcible is thy wit!” says the count. “But I’ll tell thee plainly: Claudio undergoes my challenge; and either I must shortly hear from him or I will declare him a coward.

“And, I pray thee now, tell me: for which of my bad parts didst thou first fall in love with me?”

“For them all together—which maintain, as policy, a state so evil that they will not admit any good part to intermingle with them! But for which of my good parts did you first suffer love for me?”

Benedick laughs. “Suffer love!—a good epithet! I do suffer love, indeed, for I love thee against my will!”

“In spite of your heart, I think! Alas, poor heart! If you spite it for my sake, I will spite it for yours!—for I will never love that which my friend hates!”

They stroll into the garden. “Thou and I are too wise to woo peaceably,” he admits, mindful of their chronically contentious reflexes.

“It appears not in that confession!” laughs Beatrice. “There’s not one wise man among twenty that will praise himself!”—a maxim on modesty.

“An old, old instance, Beatrice, that lived back in the time of good neighbours. In this age if a man do not erect his own tomb ere he dies, he shall live no longer in monument than the bell rings and the widow weeps!”

“And how long is that, think you?”

“It’s in question,” he says, as they walk. “Why, at most an hour in clamour, then a quarter in rheum”—nose-blowing. “Therefore is it expedient for the wise man, if his conscience, Don Worm, find no impediment to the contrary, to be the trumpet of his own virtues—as I am!

“So much for praising my self—which, I myself will bear witness, is praiseworthy!” He stops. “And now tell me: how doth your cousin?”

“Very ill.”

“And how do you?”

“Very ill, too.”

Benedick touches her hand tenderly. “Serve God, love me, and mend.

“There will I leave you—for here comes one in haste….”

Ursula is running into the garden, wide-eyed.“ Madam, you must come to your uncle! Yonder’s all coil at home! It is proven my Lady Hero hath been falsely accused!—the prince and Claudio mightily abused!—and Don John, who is the author of all, is fled and gone!

She starts to hurry away, then turns back to Beatrice, “Will you come immediately?

“Will you go hear this news, signior?” asks the lady.

“I will live in thy heart, die in thy lap, and be burièd”—he sees her eyebrow rise anticipating a rude implication—“in thine eyes!

“And moreover, I will go with thee to thine uncle’s.”

In the chill darkness of the Messina churchyard just before dawn, Don Pedro and Claudio watch as four monks, each carrying a lantern, come to stand before the stone pillars of a wide, stately tomb.

“Is this the monument of Leonato?” Claudio asks an old lord, one of the many black-clad nobles summoned to the mausoleum by the Prince of Aragon to hear about the cruel injustice done to the governor’s late daughter.

“It is, my lord.”

Another priest, the cowl of a dark cloak keeping his face in shadow, unties the ribbon on a scroll, and reads aloud: “Done to death by slanderous tongues was the Hero that here lies. Death, in guerdon of her wrongs, gives her fame which never dies!—so the life that died with shame lives, in death, with glorious fame!

He carries the scroll, a cord at each end of its rod, to the crypt’s black iron gate. “Hang thou there upon the tomb, praising her when I am silent.” Friar Francis turns to the visitors. “Now, sound music, and sing your solemn hymn.”

Balthasar is cloaked in black—and without a ballad, a different singer, his voice deep and strong. The prince and Claudio slowly circle the burial chamber as he intones, mournfully:

Pardon, goddess of the night,

Those that slew thy virgin slight;

For the which, with songs of woe,

Round about her tomb they go.

Middle night, assist our moan!

Help us now to sigh and groan,

Heavily, heavily!

Grave, yawn, and yield your dead,

Till her death be utterèd

Heavenly, heavenly!”

The noblemen stop before the witnesses at the entrance to the monument.

“Now, unto thy bones, good night!” sobs Claudio. “Yearly will I do this rite!”

Don Pedro speaks. “Good morrow, masters; put your torches out.

“The wolves have preyed; and look, the gentle day before the wheels of Phoebus round about dapples the drowsy east with spots of gray.

“Thanks to you all, and leave us. Fare you well!”

“Good morrow, masters. Each his several way,” Claudio tells the throng, wiping his eyes.

The prince lays a hand on Claudio’s shoulder. “Come, let us hence, and put on other attire; and then to Leonato’s we will go.

“And may Hymen”—the ancient Greeks’ god of marriage—“now with luckier issue speed us than she for whom we rendered up this woe!”


Chapter Ten

Commitments


Sunlight, slanting through rows of tall windows, illuminates the high state chamber of the governor’s mansion, where Leonato and Antonio have been conferring with Benedick and Beatrice, Margaret and Ursula, Friar Francis—and Lady Hero.

“Did I not tell you she was innocent?” demands the monk, his judgment now confirmed.

“So are the prince and Claudio, who accused her upon the error that you heard detailèd,” Leonato allows. “But Margaret was in some fault for this, although against her will, as it appears in the true course of all the question.”

Meg flushes, but Hero takes her hand and smiles kindly.

“Well, I am glad that all things sort so well!” says Antonio.

“And so am I,” says Benedick, “being else by honour enforcèd to call young Claudio to a reckoning for it!”

Leonato knows that the time of retribution is approaching. “Well, daughter, and you, gentle-women, all withdraw into a chamber by yourselves; and when I send for you, come hither, masked.”

The ladies know what he intends to do, and they go to prepare.

“The prince and Claudio promised by this hour to visit me,” says the governor. “You know your office, Brother,” he tells Antonio. “You must be ‘father’ to your brother’s daughter, and give her to young Claudio.”

Antonio nods. “Which I will do with a conformèd countenance!”

Count Benedick speaks to the priest. “Friar, I must entreat your pains, I think.”

“To do what, signior?”

“To bind me—or undo me—one of them,” says Benedick, turning to the governor. “Signior Leonato, truth it is, good signior, your niece regards me with an eye of favour.”

The governor knows just how Beatrice’s change was induced. “That eye my daughter lent her!—’tis most true!”

“And I do with an eye of love requite her,” Benedick tells him.

“The sight whereof I think you had from me, from Claudio and the prince,” chuckles Leonato, remembering the count’s gulling at the arbor. “But what is your will?”

Benedick pretends, wryly, he’s being asked to define will. “Your answer, sir, is enigmatical. As for my will, my will is that your good will may stand with ours: this day to be conjoinèd in the state of honourable marriage!

“In which, good friar, I shall desire your help.”

Leonato smiles happily. “My heart is with your liking!”

“As is my help!” says Friar Francis. But he points. “Here come the prince and Claudio.”

Don Pedro and the count solemnly enter the long room, and walk to the front. “Good morrow to this fair assembly,” the sovereign pronounces, with careful decorum.

Leonato greets him with a bow. “Good morrow, prince.

“Good morrow, Claudio. We here attend you. Are you yet determined today to marry with my brother’s daughter?”

“I’ll hold my mind,” Claudio affirms; he will fulfill the pledge of penance—marry a lady he has never seen.

“Call her forth, Brother,” says Leonato. Antonio nods silently and walks to the side room. “Here’s the friar, ready.”

Don Pedro, if unusually submissive, is content. “Good morrow, Benedick,” he says, quietly, as they wait. “Why, what’s the matter that you have such a February face, so full of frost, of storm and cloudiness?”

Claudio regards his erstwhile comrade; his voice is hushed, but his smile friendly. “I think he thinks upon ‘the savage bull!’” He reassures the proud bachelor who has been led into love: “Fear not, man!—we’ll tip thy horns with gold, and all Europe shall rejoice at thee, as once Europa did at lusty Jove when he would play the noble beast in love!”

Benedick’s grin is wide; he has prepared for teasing, with this:

“Bull Jove, sir, had an amiable low!”—moo.

“Some such strange bull leaped your father’s cow,

And begot a calf in that same noble feat—

Much like to you! You have just his bleat!”—sound of a sheep.

“For that I owe you!” laughs Claudio. But then he sees Antonio returning, followed by several masked gentlewomen. He gulps, and surreptitiously wipes his palms dry on his coat. “Here come other reckonings.

“Which is the lady I must seize upon?” he asks, as Antonio approaches—with his daughter.

“This same is she, and I do give you her,” says the ancient, releasing her hand.

Claudio is gracious in his acceptance. “Why, then she’s mine. Sweet, let me see your face.”

But Leonato shakes his head. “No, that you shall not, till you take her hand before this friar and swear to marry her!”

“Give me your hand,” says Claudio, kneeling before the lady. “Before this holy friar, I am your husband, if you like of me.”

Hero removes her mask. “When I lived, I was your other wife. And when you loved, you were my other husband.”

Claudio, thunderstruck, stares up at her. “Another Hero!

“Nothing is certainer,” says she. “One Hero died defiled; but I do live! And as surely as I live, I am a maid!”—a virgin, she adds pointedly.

Don Pedro, stunned, and feeling sharply renewed pangs of guilt, murmurs, “The former Hero; Hero that is dead—”

“She died, my lord, only whiles her slander lived,” says Leonato kindly.

Friar Francis raises his palms. “All this amazement can I qualify! When after that the holy rites are ended, I’ll tell you largely of fair Hero’s ‘death.’

“Meantime let wonder seem familiar, and to the chapel let us go immediately!”

“As for ‘soft and fair,’” says Benedick, touching the monk’s sleeve, “friar, which is Beatrice?”

“I answer to that name,” says she, unmasking. “What is your will?” she asks casually.

He frowns. “Do not you love me?”

“Why, no… no more than reason.”

“Well then your uncle and the prince and Claudio have been deceived!—they swore you did.”

“Do not you love me?” counters Beatrice.

Benedick shrugs. “Troth, no—no more than reason.”

“Why then my cousins Margaret and Ursula are much deceivèd!—for they did swear you did.”

“They swore that you were almost sick for me!” says Benedick.

“They swore that you were well-nigh dead for me!” says indignant Beatrice.

Benedick looks at her. “’Tis no such matter. Then you do not love me?”

“No, truly, but in friendly recompense,” claims Beatrice.

Governor Leonato must now laugh. “Come, Cousin, I am sure you love the gentleman!”

Claudio has risen to his feet and regained his composure. “And I’ll be sworn upon’t that he loves her!—for here’s a paper written in his hand—a halting sonnet of his own pure brain, fashioned to Beatrice!”

“And here’s another writ in my cousin’s hand, stolen from her pocket, containing her affection unto Benedick!” says Hero.

Benedick concedes—happily, in fact. “A miracle!” he cries. “Here’s our own hands against our hearts!” He reaches for Beatrice’s hand. “Come, I will have thee! But, by this light, I take thee for pity….”

“I would deny you; but, on this good day, I yield unto great persuasion,” says Beatrice—adding, “and partly to save your life—for I was told you were in a consumption.”

Benedick laughs. “Peace! I will stop your mouth!”—upon which he kisses her soundly.

Hero, Margaret and Ursula applaud vigorously with their white-gloved hands.

Don Pedro teases:. “How dost thou, Benedick?—the married man!

But no mockery will diminish Count Benedick’s full smile—nor the sparkle in his eyes. “I’ll tell thee what, prince—a college of wit-crackers cannot flout me out of my humour! Dost thou think I care about a satire or an epigram? No! If a man will let himself be beaten with brains, he shall hear nothing attractive about him!

“In brief, since I do propose 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!—that is my conclusion!

“And as for thy part, Claudio, I did think to have beaten thee; but in that thou art likely to be my kinsman, live unbruisèd, and love my cousin!

Claudio replies in kind: “I had well hoped thou wouldst have denied Beatrice, so that I might have cudgelled thee out of thy single life—made thee a double-dealer! Which, out of question, thou wilt be, if my cousin do not look exceedingly narrowly to thee!”—watch him closely.

Benedick motions to him. “Come, come, we are friends! Let’s have a dance ere we are married, that we may lighten our own hearts, and our wives’ heels!

Leonato, the father of one bride, uncle of the other, nods. “We’ll have dancing afterward.”

First, upon my word!” insists Benedick. “Therefore play, music!” Antonio’s son and the other musicians, brought for the occasion, emerge from the side chamber and takes seats, preparing to play.

“Prince, thou art sad,” Benedick tell Don Pedro. “Get thee a wife, get thee a wife!—there is no staff more venerable than one tipped with horn!

A messenger arrives with news for the prince. “My lord, your brother John is ta’en in flight, and brought by armèd men back to Messina!”

But Benedick, finally a wholly happy man, is elated beyond such concerns. “Think not on him till tomorrow!” he urges Don Pedro. “I’ll devise thee brave punishments for him.”

He claps his hands joyfully above his head. “Strike up, pipers!”

Joining the others, he and his lady dance—together, and beautifully.