Benedick is the first to be tricked by the other characters (Act 2 Sc 3). He hides from Don Pedro, Leonato and Claudio, these characters know that Benedick is hiding and so they start to lay the plot. They feel that Benedick and Beatrice would be right for eachother. The reason behind the trick is to bring Beatrice and Benedick together. At first, Benedick considers whether what he is hearing is true, “Is’t possible?.. I should think this a gull..”. Benedick is gullible and believes what he is hearing is true because “the white bearded fellow speaks it”. This shows Benedick’s great respect and trust for Leonato, whom he cannot believe to ever be guilty of such deception. By this time, the audience is aware that Benedick is meant to hear the conversation. The way that the scene would be performed on stage, and the way it would be laid out, with a convenient hiding place for Benedick would indicate this. This scene is very effective, as there is a great deal of audience participation. It makes the audience feel like a part of the play, as they too know about the fooling of Benedick, along with the other characters. Eavesdropping makes the scene comic because of the dramatic irony produced. Benedick thinks he is hearing a conversation which he isn’t supposed to be hearing. The audience will laugh at the fact that Benedick is making a fool of himself on stage, by thinking that the other characters do not know that he is eavesdropping. The way that he hides so that he can eavesdrop attentively instead of walking off will show how curious and nosy he is. This will be extremely humorous. Dramatic irony in this scene would give the audience a close bond with the plot, as well as being a comic device. At the beginning of this scene, Benedick talks about how he is going to love only when “all graces be in one woman”. For all graces to be in one woman, is something that will never happen because nobody is perfect. So by saying this Benedick is trying to say that he will never fall in love. The men talk about how much Beatrice loves Benedick, and at the same time compliment her. “she loves him with an enraged affection…she’s an excellent sweet Lady”. The eavesdropping on this conversation leads Benedick to a change of heart. He reveals his true feelings in his soliloquy, “I will be horribly in love with her.. she’s a fair Lady”. A stubborn and foolish Benedick at the start of this scene, turns into a more affectionate and loving one by the end. This is all due to the eavesdropping. In terms of plot development, eavesdropping is very powerful.
In Act 3 Sc 1, Hero and Ursula do their part of the plan, to encourage Beatrice to fall in love with Benedick. Just like the previous scene with Benedick and the three men, this is the female version, and the other half of the plan. Benedick has been taken care of, and now it is Beatrice’s turn. They speak highly of Benedick and “praise him more than ever man did merit”. Beatrice is shocked at what she hears, “what fire is in mine ears?” However, like Benedick, Beatrice too quickly requires her love for him, regardless of her previous attitude towards him. Beatrice expresses how she is willing for her and Benedick to be together. In her soliloquy she says, “And Benedick, love on I will requite thee, Taming my wild heart to thy loving hand”. This shows us that Beatrice has subconscious wantings to be in love, as well as Benedick, even though she and Benedick aren’t willing to admit it. Again, in this scene there is dramatic irony present as well, making the scene comic. The audience has seen Benedick been fooled, and now get another chance to laugh at Beatrice as the plan has turned out to be a complete success. The deceivers have achieved what they wanted, and the rest is left to Benedick and Beatrice at a positive position. The two characters will now naturally want to make things work, having had this chance to think deeply about their feelings for each other.
During the eavesdropping, Benedick and Beatrice are both told indirectly that they should modify their behaviour in order to win the other person over. Benedick is told that “he would make a sport of it, and torment the lady worse”, and Beatrice is told that “she is too self-endeared... she is too disdainful”. The eavesdropping is useful because they will think that the other characters don’t know they are listening, and so will take what they hear seriously and try to improve themselves. Don Pedro and Hero are both important people, and are seen as trustworthy people who wouldn’t lie, so their opinion would be counted greatly. Benedick hears compliments about Beatrice, and Beatrice about Benedick. Don Pedro etc talk about how “wise”, “virtuous” and “sweet” Beatrice is. Similarly, Hero and Ursula talk about Benedick saying he is “so rare a gentlemen”, “wise” and “indeed he hath an excellent good name”. The eavesdropping helps in this to convince the people they are gulling that they shouldn’t feel ashamed to like each other as they are so highly regarded by everyone. The gulling of Benedick and Beatrice creates a lot of comedy, and leads them being together as the play progresses. They wouldn’t have got together if it wasn’t for the gulling and eavesdropping. This is because both of their characters are rather stubborn, and even though they liked each other, they wouldn’t have given in to their feelings. The plan, specifically the eavesdropping, was the perfect solution in getting the two together.
Other characters in Shakespeare plays accidentally overhear conversations which contain important information which is relevant to the serious going ons of the play. Generally, these people are supposed to be the lower classes. In Much Ado, Act 3 Sc 3, the Watch overhears the discussion of the plot against Hero. Borachio is drunk and is with his companion Conrade. Neither of them are aware that the Watch is eavesdropping. This is what makes this scene different to the ones of Benedick and Beatrice. Even though the Watch do not fully understand the context of the conversation, they arrest the two men as they suspect foul play. The Watch feels important and proud from what he makes of what he has eavesdropped on. We can see this when he says, “We have here recover’d the most dangerous piece of lechery, that ever was known in the commonwealth.”
It is common in Shakespeare plays for dramatic tension to proceed or to be followed by moments of comedy. In this case it is Dogberry'’ attempts to speak in a non-colloquial style. In "Macbeth”, Shakespeare uses the interruption of the gatekeeper before Duncan’s murder. Shakespeare in “Much Ado About Nothing” uses malapropisms constantly. Dogberry says “Vagrom” when he means “Vagrant”. This creates a short relief from dramatic tension, until the eavesdropping takes place.
This eavesdrop is quite humorous as the Watch are listening to Borachio boasting about something he shouldn’t have been doing, and then getting caught. This is a classic Shakespearean comic device, also in “Midsummer Nights Dream”. This could be seen as a sigh of relief for the audience, because we are now able to relax and know that the situation concerning Don John’s evil plan is being dealt with.
If the watch had not eavesdropped on Borachio’s and Conrade, Claudio and Hero would have been torn apart forever. Therefore it was indeed vital that this eavesdropping took place. This scene causes dramatic tension towards the end, when Borachio and Conrade are arrested. The tension is created because we do not know whether Hero’s innocence will be revealed to Claudio just in time of the wedding, so that she does not get shamed but instead weds normally. The audience will be in suspense and excitement of what is going to happen next. If the eavesdropping in this scene didn’t happen, Don John the villain would have got away, escaping from being revealed to everyone and escaping from his punishment. In the end, his plan fails because of the eavesdropping in this scene.
All Shakespeare comedies end with one or more marriages. Shakespeare uses eavesdropping to bring the two couples together in the play. If this did not happen there would have been no marriages in this Shakespeare comedy, which would be breaking tradition. Without the use of eavesdropping, Much Ado couldn’t have worked so well as a play. Eavesdropping determined plot development, dramatic irony, dramatic tension and comic devices. All of which make Much Ado a very effective and successful play.