At the start of Ado, a small group of soldiers arrives in Messina under the leadership of a Spanish prince, Don Pedro (Sicily is under Spanish imperial control at the time). Pedro and his men have just had a small, successful military “action” (we never hear much about it, except that not too many people died, and nobody noble). Now the soldiers are ready to kick back, relax, have a good time, and . . . socialize. The governor of the city is happy to throw a masked ball to facilitate.
One of Pedro’s favorite young soldiers, named Claudio, has been nursing a crush on Hero, the daughter of Messina’s governor, and when he sees her now, the crush intensifies, such that the only solution is . . . immediate marriage (it is the 16th century). Pedro uses his princely powers to bring this about, and all is going well—except that his bastard brother John can’t stand to see anyone happier than he is (and he’s never very happy). John hatches a wicked plot, and the fate of the wedding hangs in the balance.
Meanwhile, another companion of Pedro’s, one Benedick, looks upon his friend Claudio with pity and perplexity. Why any nobleman, young, lusty, free, would confine himself to the captivity of a marriage on behalf of any woman, he cannot understand. Especially, for example, Hero’s friend Beatrice—a woman with a tongue so sharp, he finds that even he Benedick, known for his quick wit, must flee her if he doesn’t want to be cut into shreds.
Beatrice, for her part, is unimpressed by the life of a wife in Renaissance Europe. Better to be single (as long as you have a wealthy uncle to support you), to avoid the madness of love, the capriciousness of husbands, the likelihood of the whole thing going sour over time—who needs it?
Beatrice and Benedick’s companions listen to their witty rants against love and marriage, and decide that only one course of action is reasonable—match them together. Thus begins the non-wicked plot to trick them into it.