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In Messina, the governor Leonato, his daughter Hero, and her cousin Beatrice (Antonio's daughter) learn from a messenger that Don Pedro has won victory in a battle and is returning home. He arrives with Claudio, Benedick, and Pedro's bastard brother, Don John. Claudio falls in love with Hero at first sight. Benedick and Beatrice chide one another and trade witticisms. In private, Claudio tells Benedick of his love, but Benedick only teases him. Don Pedro, however, vows to help Claudio by disguising himself as Claudio and making advances to Hero. Leonato's brother Antonio overhears Don Pedro and Claudio's conversation, but believes Don Pedro is in love with Hero, rather than Claudio. Informing Leonato of this, both rejoice at prince Don Pedro's supposed intentions and plan to tell Hero. Don John's servant Conrade informs Don John of Claudio and Pedro's plans to woo Hero for Claudio, but John, who enjoys being grouchy and spreading gloom, plans to attempt to foil the plans.
At dinner, while discussing husbands, Beatrice vows to never marry, echoing Benedick's earlier vow. The men arrive in masks: Don Pedro and Hero dance; Benedick and Beatrice dance, and she makes fun of Benedick in general, possibly not knowing she is in fact dancing with him. Don John appears to Claudio, who identifies himself as Benedick, even though Don John knows he's Claudio. Don John tells him Don Pedro is actually in love with Hero, causing Claudio to become depressed. Benedick carries the ruse further, depressing him more. To his relief, though, Don Pedro unites Hero and Claudio in future marriage. Further, Don Pedro plans to convince Beatrice and Benedick to marry one another, even though both has vowed to never marry. Soon, Don John learns of Claudio's engagement to Hero. Still hoping to foil their marriage, he and his servant Borachio plan to brand Hero as a prostitute and thus compromise the marriage. In the orchard/garden, Don Pedro, Leonato, and Claudio discuss Beatrice's "love" for Benedick. Although Benedick is hiding, they know he is there and lead him to believe she loves him; Benedick takes the bait.
Similarly, Hero and her servant Ursula Discuss how Benedick is "in love" with Beatrice, while Beatrice herself hides in the trees and listens; she too takes the bait. Separately, Don Pedro and Claudio tease Benedick for being quiet. Don John appears and tells Pedro and Claudio that Hero is a whore/prostitute and will give proof of it the evening before the wedding. At nightfall, Dogberry and Verges instruct the night watch to watch over the city. In hiding, they hear Borachio (drunk) tell Conrade how he heath let Margaret woo him from Hero's bedroom, and thus deceive Don Pedro and Claudio into believing Hero is a whore. The next day, at the wedding, Claudio plans to denounce Hero and will not marry her. The watch arrests Borachio and Conrade, then Dogberry and Verges come to Leonato to tell him of the arrest, though he impatiently shrugs them off.
At the wedding, Claudio and Don Pedro accuse Hero of being a whore. Leonato vows to determine if the accusations are true. Further, the Friar suggest they pretend that Hero has died from the accusation, so that if a lie is being propagated, the source may admit the lie out of remorse. Privately, Benedick and Beatrice profess their love for one another. She asks him to prove his love by killing Claudio for wronging Hero. In prison, Dogberry interrogates Borachio and Conrade; the Sexton (recorder) plans to tell Leonato of their crimes.
In a courtyard, Benedick charges Claudio to a duel. Before this can occur, Dogberry brings Borachio who admits of his wrongdoings to slander Hero. Leonato, still dissembling that Hero is dead, instructs Claudio to come to his house in the morning, so that he can marry a "cousin" of Hero, who is nearly identical to her (and actually is her). Beatrice and Benedick continue to fall in love. At the tomb, Claudio delivers and epitaph to Hero. Then, in the morning, Benedick asks Leonato for Beatrice's hand in marriage. Further, Hero and Claudio are again engaged to be married. Lastly, it is reported that Don John has been arrested for his deceit and will be punished.
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