Leonato, Hero’s father, falls into a state of deep grief and shock. Torn by his worries about whether Hero is indeed chaste as she claims and his questions about what actually occurred, he cannot function. His brother Antonio tries to cheer him, telling him to have patience. But Leonato answers that although people can easily give advice when they are themselves not unhappy, people in great pain cannot follow the advice so easily. Don Pedro and Claudio enter, see Leonato and Antonio, and quickly try to leave. But Leonato follows them and accuses Claudio of having lied about Hero and having caused her death. Leonato announces that, despite his great age, he challenges Claudio to a duel for the crime Claudio has committed against Hero by ruining her good name; Leonato states that he is not too old to kill or die for honor and for the love of his child. The embarrassed Claudio and Don Pedro pretend to ignore their challengers. Finally, Leonato and Antonio leave, vowing that they will have their revenge.
After Leonato and Antonio depart, Benedick enters. Claudio and Don Pedro welcome him, asking Benedick to employ his famous wit to cheer them up. But Benedick is in no mood to be funny. He tells Claudio that he believes Claudio has slandered Hero, and he quietly challenges him to a duel. When the other two keep on trying to joke with him, Benedick finally discloses that he can no longer be their companion since their slanderous accusations have murdered an innocent woman. Benedick informs Don Pedro that Don John has fled the city and leaves. At first, Claudio and Don Pedro take in this change in Benedick’s behavior and the information of Don John’s flight with shock and confusion. Slowly they begin to realize Benedick’s serious intent—and they rightly guess that his love for Beatrice must be the only thing that could have motivated him to challenge his dearest friend to a fight to the death.
Dogberry and Verges suddenly enter, accompanied by the other men of the Watch, dragging behind them the captured villains Conrad and Borachio. Dogberry tells Claudio and Don Pedro that Borachio has confessed to treachery and lying, and Borachio admits his crime again. Shocked and horrified, Claudio and Don Pedro realize that this information supports Hero’s true innocence and that she has died (so they think) because they have wrongly accused her, tarnished her reputation forever, and ruined her family.
Leonato and Antonio return. Claudio and Don Pedro beg Leonato’s forgiveness, offering themselves up to any punishment Leonato thinks fit for killing his daughter with wrongful accusations. Leonato orders Claudio to clear Hero’s name by telling the entire city that she was innocent and to write her an epitaph—that is, a poem honoring her in death—and to read and sing it at her tomb. He also tells Claudio that Antonio has a daughter who is very much like Hero, and he asks Claudio to marry his niece in Hero’s place in order to make up for the lost Hero. Claudio, weeping at Leonato’s generosity, accepts these terms. Leonato orders that Borachio be carted away for further interrogation.
Meanwhile, near Leonato’s estate, Benedick asks Margaret to bring Beatrice to speak to him. Alone, he laments his inability to write poetry. He has unsuccessfully attempted to write Beatrice a love sonnet according to the flowery and ornamental conventions of Renaissance love poetry. Ironically, despite his great skill at improvising in conversation, he is no good at all at writing. Beatrice arrives, and the two lovers flirt and tease each other with gentle insults but also with great affection—as they now seem always to have done. Benedick tells Beatrice he has challenged Claudio to a duel according to her wishes and that Claudio must respond to his challenge soon. Suddenly, the maid Ursula arrives in great haste to tell them that the scheme against Hero has come to light. Benedick pledges his love to Beatrice once again, and the two follow Ursula to Leonato and the rest of the house, which is in an uproar.
By showing Leonato’s grief and anger to the audience, Shakespeare drives home the intensity of the pain and distress that Claudio’s accusation against Hero has caused Hero and her family. Although Hero is not really dead, Leonato grieves as if she were, because she has lost her reputation. He has come to her side, believing that Claudio must have been wrong about her—“My soul doth tell me Hero is belied,” he confesses to Antonio (V.i.
The revelation of Borachio’s crime to Claudio and the rest marks another turning point in the play. Don John’s deception has led inexorably to Claudio’s rejection of Hero, darkening the play’s atmosphere of lighthearted comedy. Dogberry and the Watch’s accusation of Borachio and Conrad seems to open the way to understanding and resolution. Claudio’s reaction to the information mirrors what the wise friar predicts in Act IV, scene i: he begins to remember Hero’s good qualities. “Sweet Hero, now thy image doth appear / In the rare semblance that I loved it first,” he says to himself (V.i.
Act V, scene ii, which develops the growing relationship between Benedick and Beatrice, is one of the funniest and most touching courtship scenes in Shakespeare’s works. It gives the audience a chance to laugh at Benedick and Beatrice as they grapple with the apparent folly of their love for one another, and also to see that their relationship is developing into one that is both affectionate and mature. Moreover, somehow they manage to speak sweetly to each other without losing their biting wit. Benedick, in fact, laughs at himself when he laments his inability to write love poetry. “No,” Benedick concludes, “I was not born under a rhyming planet, nor I cannot woo in festival terms” (V.ii.
Beatrice and Benedick interlace their conversation with news about developments in the main plot of the play, but, throughout, they tease one another with gentle affection—and, of course, with never-ending insults. Benedick sums up their situation by saying, “Thou and I are too wise to woo peaceably” (V.ii.