Some soldiers return from a battle where few were injured. They are met by Leonato who has a daughter Hero. His niece is Beatrice.
Don Pedro, a high ranking nobleman. He is essentiallly a Prince – his friends of Claudio and Benedick. He is the moral center of the play. He will be fooled later. By establishing what a good person he is, when he testifies to something later, it becomes believable.
Benedick – very witty, good soldier. He claims to hate all women and has a verbal sparring partner with Beatrice. They seem to hate each other, but you can see that they enjoy the interplay. Early on you can tell that they have to have some feelings for each other which explains why they are so passionate about their fighting. You may have trouble understanding what they say to each other, but in Shakespeare's time it would have been clear. They use many figures of speech to get across the insults.
Don John – he is Don Pedro’s brother. He is always angry. He and Don Pedro had just come to a truce. But Don John still is grouchy and plots to make his brother’s life more difficult. He knows that he is in a town that loves Don Pedro. He cannot directly attack Don Pedro. If anything happens to Don Pedro he will be suspected. He must be very sneaky because of that. When he discovers that he can hurt Don Pedro by attacking his good friend Claudio, he does it.
Leonato - Governor of
Hero – She is shy and very sweet. She likes Claudio, but doesn’t know that Claudio likes her. She is very smart, but very innocent. She has never really had a boy friend.
Beatrice – She is very witty and she and Benedick go at each other. Again, they like the interplay even if there is some animosity. They may have had a relationship before. This is discussed early in Act 2.
Benedick tells Don Pedro about Claudio's love for Hero. Don Pedro realizes that Claudio is too shy to directly propose to Hero so Don Pedro at some point decides to disguise himself as Claudio to woo Hero and while still disguised talk to Leonato into allowing Claudio and Hero to marry. This is a common thing for Shakespeare's plays. Remember, the women were played by men, so disguises are a common occurrence in his plays.
Antonio – Leonato’s brother - One of Antonio’s servants heard Don Pedro talking about the plot and thought that Don Pedro is in love with Hero. Antonio tells his brother. Leonato wants to tell Hero to be open to a proposal from the Prince.
Don John – has properly heard the information about his brother, Don Pedro, wooing Hero for Claudio. Don John hates Claudio because he is loved, happy and liked. Don John refuses to be happy, but plots with his sidekicks Conrad and Borachio to mess up Claudio’s happiness. Remember this is his way to make Don Pedro unhappy. That is his ultimate goal. He wants to make sure he is not caught doing it though.
While you may not get the nuances of the language, you can understand the main ideas that are expressed.
We will go over this line by line if we have to. Be specific when you say you do not understand something.