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Much Ado About Nothing: Protagonist & Antagonist

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing tells the story of two couples, where we meet the protagonists, and their adversary, the antagonist. In this lesson, you'll meet five characters and find out more about them.

It's Much Ado About Nothing

In this comedic play, Shakespeare tells the tale of post-war relationships between Claudio and Hero and Beatrice and Benedick. Through a series of tricks and schemes, the first couple is driven apart but later reunited. Their comic counterparts, the second couple, are tricked into falling in love and eventually agree to marry.

The play, published in 1600, is believed to have first taken the stage one to two years prior to its official publication. More than 400 years later, it is still one of Shakespeare's best-loved works and mimics the ebb and flow of many modern romantic comedies in theaters across the country.

In any work, the reader is presented with a protagonist and, conversely, an antagonist. The protagonist is the person or persons the story is primarily about, while the antagonist is a character or characters who opposes the protagonist in some way, such as fighting or competing against them. Think of it like your home football or baseball team and their upcoming opponent. To you, your home team is the protagonist and that visiting rival is the antagonist. That's a good general way to describe those roles in literature like Shakespeare's tale.

Armed with those basic definitions, let's take a closer look at who, in Much Ado About Nothing, fills those roles.

The Protagonist

So who is the protagonist? In this romantic comedy, there are three male protagonists and two female protagonists. The first of the men is Claudio. Claudio is a war hero and a romantic. Of all the returning soldiers, he is the most honored for bravery. He also falls in love with Hero at first sight. The second is Benedick. Also a war hero, he's most well-known for his self-proclaimed bachelorhood. He's tricked into falling in love and giving up his much-touted single life. The third is Don Pedro. He's the only hero without a heroine.

Hero and Beatrice are the heroines. They are paired with Claudio and Benedick, respectively. Hero is sweet-tempered and demure. Beatrice is bold and fiery. They are total opposites in temperament, but the best and most loyal of friends.

All hail the good guy (or gal), or guys or gals. In this work, Shakespeare gives us more than one protagonist; in fact, he gives us four. Let's look briefly at each.

1. Claudio: Claudio is the young soldier who falls in love with Hero after battle. He's friends with Benedick, who we'll discuss a bit later. Claudio temperament is one of youth and, sometimes, immaturity. He has a suspicious nature, which accounts for part of the drama in Shakespeare's tale. He falls for the rumors being spun against his love, Hero, and uses them to seek revenge and be hateful. He is, without a doubt, passionate and enthusiastic, but also emotional. He jokes throughout the play with his Benedick, almost to a level one might consider cruel or mocking. Claudio also proves through his susceptibility to believe rumors that he's easily manipulated by folks who don't mean him well. Though he apologized for his rush to judgment late in the play, the reader isn't left with much hope that Claudio will change his ways.

2. Hero: With a name like 'Hero,' you have to be a protagonist, right? Hero is the young, beautiful daughter of Leonato and also Beatrice's cousin and friend. Throughout the work, she is portrayed as sweet and kind, and she serves as Claudio's love interest once he returns from war. She's one-half of an arranged marriage, a traditional courtship of the time, 'arranged' typically by the bride's parents. She's falsely accused of having a relationship with another man during the story, which causes tension between she and Claudio. At the wedding, when accused, she faints and later pretends to be someone else set to marry Claudio.

A 19th century painting depicting Hero swooning in a church.
The swooning of Hero

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