Initially, Shakespeare tells us what has just happened, previous to the beginning of the play. By doing this he throws us straight in to the story and immediately the audience or reader is in the heart of it. The use of the messenger character tells us straight away that there has been a battle and no one of importance died. He introduces certain characters such as Don Pedro and Claudio and immediately sets the nature of their relationship in that Don Pedro “hath bestowed much honour” on the “young Florentine” because he did well in battle. The pace of language between Leonato and the messenger is quick, but tells a lot and is an introduction common to Shakespeare in that the story is immediately told.
Shakespeare also sets the scene without delay by having his characters called “Don” and “Signor”. The audience and reader can determine that it is set in Spain or thereabouts. We in fact already know that it is set in Sicily, now an Italian island, but at the time that Shakespeare set the play in, was a Spanish island.
Many characters are introduced and at once the reader or audience can establish their personalities. For example, Hero does not say much at all, and this use of silence in her character not only creates an almost mysterious feel, but she also comes across as a very shy character who doesn’t have much to say for herself. One gets the impression that her cousin, Beatrice, over-shadows her. One can instantaneously see that Beatrice is very forthright and bold, despite being a woman, whereas Hero is almost accustomed to the fact that women were inferior. There is also an impression that Hero is slightly reserved and a bit uninteresting. Beatrice is very sharp and intelligent, especially shown by her confrontational conflict with Benedick. She is not afraid to stand up for herself and give as good as she gets. This is contradictory to Hero’s character. Beatrice is quite abrupt with Benedick in her language, with a teasing tone. This is especially revealed when she retaliates to his taunts with words he has used in his arguments.
This not only keeps the flow of the dialogue going, but it also is very witty, showing her intelligence. Benedick also uses this use of language, showing that both he and Beatrice are on the same sort of level of aptitude. He calls her “Lady Disdain”, meaning someone who thinks they are superior to everything else, and she counters this with saying that disdain can’t die as long as it has such “food to feed it” when he is around and that “courtesy must convert to disdain” as soon as he is around. Benedick then uses this by retaliating with ” Then courtesy is a turncoat” basically saying that it is hypocritical. This highlights each other’s wit and ability to argue with each other but also shows what little respect they appear to have for each other.
All of this establishes the nature of their relationship, by the use of their words and attitudes towards each other, one can see that they have a very tumultuous relationship. Of course the deception that Shakespeare uses here is that of denial by both characters. They both are persistent about how they loathe each other and are nothing like each other, but in fact they find things that they have in common in that they will “love none”. Also Beatrice admits she knows Benedick “of old”, suggesting she knows him very well. The way the dialogue carries on, implies that there could be a possibility of romance in this relationship, although this is purely speculation at this point in the play.
Don John is Don Pedro’s bastard brother and in this scene the first introduction to him is also not very descriptive or suggestive of what his character is like. Leonato acknowledges him by being welcomed and glad he is “reconciled to the Prince” his brother. He speaks only a few words, but in that time, the reader or audience can establish that perhaps he is still slightly resentful for whatever reason they had fallen out and not entirely satisfied. Also in Shakespeare’s plays, the bastard is generally the villain, so this character has already been given a stereotypical label.
Claudio is very silent in the presence of people superior to him, for example Leonato and Don Pedro, but as they leave he immediately asks, “Benedick, didst thou note the daughter of Signor Leonato?” This immediately shows the respect he has for people he considers senior to him. He also leads the audience or reader to believe that he is very wary of what people may think of him, but asking Benedick what he thinks of Hero in his “sober judgement”. Benedick establishes that he is quite brash and arrogant by commenting quite rudely that she is “too low for high praise” and comments similar to that. This does also show that Hero is quite a short person, which is a comment that comes up quite a bit. The reader slowly creates a picture of Hero throughout this scene. Claudio creates the impression that he considers Hero to be a “jewel” that is too precious to be able to buy, therefore very pretty and he cherished her. But Benedick deflates the romantic nature of Claudio’s words, by saying that he could buy her (referring to the jewel comment) and “a case to put it into”. This establishes that it is most likely that she isn’t overly attractive.
As Don Pedro re-enters in to the scene, Claudio is immediately silenced again, emphasising this respect he has for people of higher status again. Benedick admits to Don Pedro of Claudio’s newfound love and Don Pedro calls Hero “worthy”. This again implies she isn’t anything particularly special, but not a terrible match for Claudio. Benedick expresses his views in that a married man is just putting himself in the position to be humiliated by the infidelity of a woman and that he would never fall for such a thing. This again indicates that Benedick is very set on the fact that he will not marry. Don Pedro mocks this, with the comment that he is sure he will one day see Benedick “pale with love”. But Benedick is adamant that if Don Pedro were to see him pale it would be with anything, but “not with love”. The quick witted conversation between these two men leaves out Claudio which suggests that he perhaps is not as astute as them, and so could not contribute in the banter between them. It also establishes that Don Pedro is quite intellectual too.
It is all written in prose up until when Benedick exits, then the conversation picked up between Claudio and Don Pedro goes in to verse. This shows that the conversation is now more serious and less of a joking repartee. Claudio instantly recognises his lower standing to Don Pedro by calling him “my liege, your highness” and asking him for help. Don Pedro indicates that he loves Claudio and will do anything he can to help him. We then establish ulterior motives that Claudio has for Hero as he asks if Leonato “hath…any son”. This introduces the fact that Claudio wants a wealthy life-style and realises he could probably have it if he marries Hero. Don Pedro assures that she is the “only heir”, but asks if Claudio cares for hero too. Claudio says that before he went to war, he saw her and liked her, but he was pre-occupied with military thoughts, but now there is room to consider his affections. This establishes that Claudio has good intentions too. Don Pedro said that he would try and help out Claudio, by perhaps speaking to Hero, but he shies away from this idea. The plot then thickens as Don Pedro offers to go in disguise to the party that night and “unclasp” his heart to her and win her affections. It is then established the story of the romantic trail this would take, in that Hero would love Claudio by the words Don Pedro uses, but in fact it would be Don Pedro there.
The pace of the scene is quite constant with a bantering nature written mainly in prose until the final part when it takes the more serious tone between Claudio and Don Pedro.