Much Ado About Nothing

Love, villainy, friendship, parent-child relationships, society, and customs – Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing touches on all of these themes. This teacher's guide presents strategies and activities to use in presenting the play to your students.
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Teaching Strategies:
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Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing
Through class discussion, generate a running plot line of the material covered each day. Post the plot line in a prominent place. Use the plot line to make predictions about what will happen next in the play and to generate analytical and interpretive questions.

Ensure that students know how to make use of the footnotes explaining obscure terms or expressions in the text. One way to do this is through a model-and-practice exercise:

a. Choose a scene from the material assigned to be read.

b. Read at least a page of the scene out loud to the class, just as you would silently read and study it.

c. Go back over the page and show students how you figure out its meaning by referring to the footnotes and pausing at difficult parts to think out loud about these parts. Let them see how you deal with ambiguity and difficulty and how you arrive at your personal interpretation.

d. Have the class discuss the method you use. List on the board the strategies they identify. Ask them what they might do differently, making it clear that different approaches can be effective for different people.

e. Pair students and have them take turns reading and thinking out loud through alternate pages of text. The readers should be careful to say all of their thoughts as they are thinking them to the listeners. The listeners should follow along in the text and ask questions the readers have not explained.

f. When students have finished working through the scene, or after a maximum of 20 minutes, discuss with the whole class their understanding and interpretations of the scene and also identify the efficacy of their individual strategies in reading and studying the text.

Assign short parts (100-130 lines) of significant scenes in each act of the play for students to act out in small groups using a form of readers theatre.

a. Divide students into groups according to the number of characters in the scene with an extra person as narrator.

b. Allow time in class for students to discuss their scene and to plan how they will perform it.

c. Give a copy of these guidelines to each group.

Performance Guidelines

1. Use simple props, costumes, and background music if appropriate.
2. You can retain the original setting or change it to modern day if you wish.
3. Make sure you all understand and agree on a single interpretation of your scene.
4. Choose a narrator to give the background of the scene and to explain transitions.
5. Rehearse your parts ensuring clear and fluent reading. You can use simple action or remain stationary revealing your emotions through gestures and facial expressions.
6. (optional) At the end of your performance, be ready to discuss the significance of your scene to the rest of the play read thus far.

d. Use clear evaluation criteria making individual students and the group accountable for the success of the group's planning process and performance. Students can be graded as a group for being on task and working cooperatively. Individually, students can be graded on how well they carried out their parts in the performance. Also, have each student write a brief description of how he or she contributed to preparing for the group performance and the significance of the scene the group presented.

e. The following scenes are appropriate for readers theatre:

I, iii, 1-72 [pp. 45-46] (3 characters) Don John reveals his villainous character.
II, i, 260-336 [pp. 57-59] (5 characters) Beatrice, Benedick, and Claudio interact. Claudio is jealous.
III, i, 1-116 [pp. 73-77] (3 characters) Beatrice is tricked into thinking Benedick loves her.
III, ii, 76-130 [pp. 80-82] (3 characters) Claudio is duped into suspecting Hero's virtue.
IV, i, 1-111 [pp. 94-98] (5 characters) Claudio rejects Hero at the church.
V, i, 1-108 [pp. 109-113] (4 characters) Leonato tells Claudio that Hero has died.
V, ii, 42-102 [pp. 122-144] (3 characters) Benedick and Beatrice mock fight; they learn that Hero's innocence is proved.
V, iv, 33-123 [pp. 127-131] (7 characters) Claudio and Hero, Benedick and Beatrice agree to marry.

Student Response Prompts

The following activities are designed to prompt student response at the knowledge, comprehension, and application levels.

Journal writing

At the beginning of each class, give students a list of quotes from which to choose one quote and write their personal response for five to seven minutes. After writing, students can share their responses in pairs, small groups, or with the class. Or, one day each week can be set aside for students to choose their best response and share it in small groups or with the class. Their responses can take many forms.

Write a three-part response: 1) indicate the meaning of the quote, 2) connect the quote with other parts of the play, other literature, or personal experiences, and 3) discuss your personal feelings about the quote, the character, or the action. *

Write a purely personal expression. Take off from the quote and freewrite wherever your thoughts may take you-into fantasy, reflections on your day, problems you are experiencing, or people you care about.

Write a poetic response. Write your own rejoinder or rebuttal to the quote or continue the dialog using Shakespeare's style. Or, write a poem reflecting a theme or idea suggested by the quote.

Copy the quote and illustrate it. In lieu of writing, draw the characters or illustrate the action in whatever detail you like from symbolic representation to realistic characterization.

Reply to the character. Write a letter to the character, either from your point of view or from the point of view of another character in the play.

The following quotations provide rich possibilities for student response:

Act I

1. "There is a kind of merry war betwixt Signior Benedick and her. They never meet but there's a skirmish of wit between them." (I, i, 58-61) [p. 35]

2. "Because I will not do them the wrong to mistrust any, I will do myself the right to trust none; and the fine is (for the which I may go the finer), I will live a bachelor." (I, i. 233-237) [p. 41]

3. "It must not be denied but I am a plain-dealing villain." (I, iii, 29-30) [p. 46]

Act II

1. "I have a good eye, uncle; I can see a church by daylight." (II, i, 81-82) [p. 51]

2. "Friendship is constant in all other things
Save in the office and affairs of love.
Therefore all hearts in love use their own tongues;
Let every eye negotiate for itself
And trust no agent; for beauty is a witch
Against whose charms faith melteth into blood." (II, i, 173-178) [p. 54]

3. "I have known when there was no music with him but the drum and the fife; and now had he rather hear the tabor and the pipe." (II, iii, 12-15) [p. 64]


1. "I'll devise some honest slanders/ To stain my cousin with. One doth not know/ How much an ill word may empoison liking." (III, i, 84-86) [p. 76]

2. "If I see anything tonight why I should not marry her tomorrow, in the congregation where I should wed, there will I shame her." (III, ii, 119-121) [p. 81]

3. "Yet Benedick was such another, and now is he become a man. He swore he would never marry; and yet now in despite of his heart he eats his meat without grudging. And how you may be converted I know not; but methinks you look with your eyes as other women do." (III, v, 84-89) [p. 91]

Act IV

1."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 pamp'red animals
That rage in savage sensuality." (IV, i, 56-60) [p. 96]

2. "I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest." (IV, i, 284-285) [p. 103]

3. "I cannot be a man with wishing; therefore I will die a woman with grieving." (IV, i, 320-321) [p. 105] Act V

Act V

1. "Men
Can counsel and speak comfort to that grief
Which they themselves not feel; but, tasting it,
Their counsel turns to passion" (V, i, 20-23) [p. 110]

2. "No, I was not born under a rhyming planet, nor I cannot woo in festival turns." (V, ii, 40-41) [p. 122]

3. Benedick: "Your niece regards me with an eye of favor."
Leonato: "That eye my daughter lent her; 'tis most true."
Benedick: "And I do with an eye of love requite her."
Leonato: "The sight whereof I think you had from me,
From Claudio, and the Prince." (V, iv, 22-26) [p. 127]

4. "One Hero died defiled; but I do live, And surely as I live, I am a maid." (V, iv, 63-64) [p. 128]

5. "Since I do purpose to marry, I will think nothing to any purpose that the world can say against it; and therefore never flout at me for what I have said against it; for man is a giddy thing, and this is my conclusion." (V, iv, 104-108) [p. 130]

Oral Response

Students can be guided to deeper levels of understanding of the play through small group or class discussion. Once the plot is understood by the students, their responses can focus on analysis and evaluation. The oral response questions suggested below can also be used as student writing prompts.

General Questions

1. What is Shakespeare telling us about ourselves-about what we want or need to be happy, about how men and women need to interact? What is Shakespeare's understanding of human nature?

2. Is the play true?

3. Was the play realistic in terms of how people lived in Shakespeare's time?

4. Is it realistic in terms of the way people behave today?

Act I

1. Why is it significant that Don Pedro and his men are returning from the wars?

2. Why does Beatrice ask about Benedick? What is the "real" reason?

3. Beatrice and Benedick say that lovers are fools, and they want nothing to do with love. Why do you think they say this?

4. How does Benedick react to Claudio's declaration that Hero is "the sweetest lady that ever I looked on"?

5. Why does Claudio send Don Pedro as his emissary to Hero to declare his love?

6. Why does Don John want to cause trouble? Why is he so morose?

Act II

1. What are Beatrice's reasons for not wanting to have anything to do with men?

2. What are Leonato's instruction to his daughter, Hero, and what do these show about traditional attitudes?

3. According to the stage directions for the dance, Don John is not masked during the revels? Why?

4. Do you think Beatrice and Benedick know each other when they speak behind their masks? Why? Why not?

5. Why does Don John pretend that he does not recognize Claudio?

6. How does Benedick feel about his conversation with Beatrice?

7. What does Beatrice mean when she says, "once before he [Benedick] won it [my heart] of me with false dice"? (II, i, 277-278) [p. 57]

8. Why is Claudio unable to speak when Don Pedro tells him that the Lady Hero is his?

9. Why does Don Pedro's plan work so well?

10. How does Benedick rationalize himself into loving Beatrice?


1. Why do the women praise Benedick so highly when they describe how he loves Beatrice?

2. Why does Hero say that she will not tell Beatrice about Benedick's love?

3. How fair are the women in their description of Beatrice's behavior? Is she too hard on men? (Think back to her description of Don John.) Why are they devoting so much time to her reputation for "disdain"?

4. What is Beatrice's reaction to the women's speech?

5. Why do the men make fun of Benedick?

6. How does Don John plan to deceive Claudio and Don Pedro?

7. Why does the Watch arrest Borachio and Conrade?

Act IV

1. How does Claudio judge Hero's behavior when he accuses her?

2. How do the rest of the company react? How can you explain in relationship to their other behavior in the play Leonato's denunciation, Benedick's confusion, and Beatrice's conviction that Hero has been slandered?

3. How does the Friar propose to judge the situation?

4. What does the Friar hope will happen as a result of his plan to have it published that Hero is dead? What kind of change does he think will come about in Claudio?

5. What happens between Benedick and Beatrice?

6. Why does Beatrice want to kill Claudio?

7. How does the confusion in the speech of Dogberry fit the theme of appearance versus reality?

Act V

1. What does Antonio say that gets Leonato to think again about his passionate denunciation of Hero?

2. Does Leonato think Hero is guilty of being unvirtuous? Why? Why not?

3. Do you think Claudio makes a move to draw his sword against Leonato? Why or why not?

4. What is the purpose of this scene in which Leonato and his brother Antonio challenge Claudio for slandering Hero?

5. What is Claudio's attitude? What does this show about his character? Does it fit with your sense of his character?

6. How does Don Pedro act when Benedick meets them? What is your reaction to the exchange of the three men? Why do you think they are acting as they do?

7. To what extent is the punishment Leonato places on Claudio fitting? Why does he want Claudio to believe that he has killed Hero?

8. Why do Beatrice and Benedick talk about loving each other only according to "reason"? How do they really feel about each other?

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