This play is sometimes categorized not as a comedy, but as something called “problem play.” The play involves two main threads of story, namely Benedick/Beatrice match and Claudio/Hero love tale.
It all started when Leonato and his family heard about the coming of Don Pedro, who had just come back from war against his half-brother Don John. Don Pedro forgave his brother and brought him also to Leonato, who received them very well. In his war, Don Pedro was accompanied by his courtiers and friends, Benedick and Claudio. Claudio, although young and inexperienced, had don “in the likeness of a lamb, the feats of a lion” and was given so much honour.
It turned out that Claudio and Hero, Leonato's daughter shared a mutual love while there was a “merry war” between Benedick and the disdainful Beatrice (Leonato's niece). Both Benedick and Beatrice swore never to marry and it seemed that they were serious about it. However, after quite a major though funny argument between them, Don Pedro swore to be their matchmaker, and asked Leonato, Hero and Claudio for assistance in accomplishing his plans.
Don John had another plan. He was determined to take his revenge upon Don Pedro and Claudio. So after Borachio's advice, Don John and his men set a plan to slander the young lady Hero and made as if she had an affair with Borachio and thus unfit for marriage.
|David Tennant as Benedick|
After several awkward moments in Benedick/Beatirce relationship, the cancellation of Claudio/Hero's marriage finally urged those two to confess their love to each other – still in an awkward way. Beatrice forced Benedick into breaking his friendship both with the Prince and Claudio and even challenged “Mr. Lackbeard” to a duel.
But even though the play is a problem play, well, it's still a comedy, so everything ended up fine. How? I guess it's our privilege to check it ourselves.
This play is so much more interesting on stage than on pages. Really. If Claudio and Hero along with all the Don John I-am-bad drama give a little bit of darkness to the play, once you see Benedick/Beatrice on stage, everything becomes light and fun again. And who can miss the watchmen's innocent folly? It's just so interesting.
There are so many interesting things in the play that I love. The lines and phrases are truly witty and smart. Some phrases like “better better'd expectations” and “he's all mirth” and the menacing “eat his heart in the market-place” just stick in my mind. (I actually told some of my friends about the heart-eating in the market-place part and now they remember Shakespeare by that phrase. My bad.) Overall, this comedy is so good that it has become maybe my favourite Shakespeare comedy of fun.