Act Four of Much Ado About Nothing begins with the start of the wedding… you know, the one that’s not going to end well.
Heck, it doesn’t even start off that well, when in the second speech of the act, the Friar asks if Claudio has come to marry Hero, and Claudio simply says, “No” (IV.i.5). Of course, Leonato tries to play it off, saying Claudio’s response was one of syntax; Claudio coming to be married to her, and the Friar to marry them to each other. But as the ceremony continues, both Claudio and Don Pedro make good on their promises to Don John to “shame” and “disgrace” (III.ii.113, 115) Hero, first by baiting both bride and father, then by accusing Hero of being “an approved wanton” (IV.i.43). Leonato responds by saying that if Claudio has seduced Hero… well, he doesn’t even get to say “all is forgiven” before he is interrupted by a self-righteous groom saying that he only showed “as a brother to a sister… bashful sincerity and comely love” (IV.i.52-3).
When Hero tries to defend herself and question Claudio, he berates her further, Don Pedro accosts her father, and Benedick sums up the proceedings: “This looks not like a nuptial” (IV.i.67).
And it only gets worse. The two dons and Claudio, like sharks with blood in the water, increase their attacks so intensely that Hero faints, and for all intents and purposes appears “dead” (IV.i.113). Their mission accomplished, the three prosecutors leave. In their wake? Desolation. Leonato desires Hero to “quickly die” (IV.i.124), then goes on a two dozen-line rant on her evil. Benedick tries to interrupt:
For my part, I am so attired in wonder,
I know not what to say.
Neither does anyone else, as no one can complete his shortened verse line.
When Beatrice says that she was not with Hero the night before, Leonato sees this as proof of the accusations. The Friar tries to work through the situation, asking all the right questions. Of course, there are no logical answers, which leads Benedick to believe that the evil here “lives in John the Bastard” (IV.i.188). Leonato only knows that if the accusations are true, he will “tear her” (IV.i.191) himself, and if not, then he will go after the men who wronged her. But what to do? How to discover this? Luckily, the Friar (like Lawrence in Romeo and Juliet) has a plan, and the plan is similar: fake Hero’s death, and Claudio will feel guilty. If it turns out that she was falsely accused, then “the supposition of the lady’s death // Will quench the wonder of her infamy” (IV.i.238-9). And if not? then they can
As best befits her wounded reputation,
In some reclusive and religious life,
Out of all eyes, tongues, minds and injuries.
Let’s hope this friar’s plan works better than Lawrence’s.
When Benedick and Beatrice are left alone onstage, he tries to comfort her, even admitting that he “love(s) nothing in the world so well as” Beatrice (IV.i.267-8). Beatrice has less than love on her mind, and she, like the friar, has a plan, one that Benedick can carry out: “Kill Claudio” (IV.i.288). At first Benedick refuses, but Beatrice convinces him to challenge the callow youth.
After the intensity of Act Four, Scene One, a little lightness is called for, and so we next get Dogberry’s interrogation of Conrad and Barachio. Again, the garbled words. Again, the silliness. We learn that “Prince John is this morning secretly stolen away” (IV.ii.59) and that Hero is dead (allegedly). Conrad sums up the scene by calling the constable an “ass”… on which Dogberry dwells for the remainder of the scene and the act.