Antony and Cleopatra condensed

The setting for the play is Messina, a port city in Sicily.  Don Pedro, generally referred to as the Prince, has arrived and was warmly greeted by Leonato, Messina’s governor.  Benedick and Claudio, two soldiers, arrived with the Prince, Benedick being the experienced man, Claudio being younger and naïve.  Leonato has a daughter, Hero, and a niece, Beatrice. Beatrice is a little defensive, having an edge.  Hero is sweet, cute and innocent. 

Act 1. As the men disembark, Claudio notices Hero, there on the dock with her father.  He immediately falls for her.  Benedick notices Beatrice, but pretty much ignores her, the two of them having known each other for some time, each having claimed in times past to have a neutral interest in each other; both claiming marriage is the last thought on their minds. Benedick, however, notes Claudio’s keen interest in Hero, commenting on it to the Prince. The well-meaning Prince tells Claudio that he’ll put in a good word for him that very evening at the masquerade party Leonato has planned.  The Prince tells Claudio that he will go disguised as Claudio, giving him the opportunity to whisper sweet love lines to Hero on Claudio’s behalf. The Prince’s brother, Don John, a mischief maker, overhears the Prince wooing Hero. Don John sees this as a beautiful opportunity to get some people in real trouble.  

Act 2. A disguised Benedick also attends the masquerade party. He dances with Beatrice, but she sees through his disguise and teases him with little mercy, saying “Benedick is the prince’s jester, a very dull fool, and men laugh at him.”  Don John tells Claudio that the Prince was wooing Hero on his own behalf, saying “I heard him swear his affection.”  Innocent Claudio on faith accepts what he hears. The Prince tells a confused Claudio of the success he had wooing Hero on Claudio’s behalf.  Having been given a head’s up by the Prince, Leonato makes wedding plans for his daughter. Don John instructs his aide, Borachio, to disrupt Leonato’s plans.  Separately, the Prince, Leonato and Claudio have an opportunity to tease Benedick, making him think Hero has said that “Beatrice will surely die if he loves her not, and she will die before she makes her love known.”  Benedick takes the bait. 

Act 3. Leonato tells the other men that Hero and one of her friends needs to trick Beatrice, just as they have tricked Benedick.  They do, letting her overhear them say, among other things, that Beatrice should treat Benedick more kindly.  Beatrice also takes the bait.  To herself, Beatrice says “Benedick, love on; I will requite thee, taming my wild heart to thy loving hand.”  That night behind thin curtains in Hero’s bedroom, Margaret is scheduled to impersonate Hero, with plans to tell Borachio that she loves him, he calling her Hero.  This is Borachio’s plan. Don John supports the plan, totally. Margaret happens to be Borachio’s girlfriend and Hero’s gentlewoman.  Overplaying his hand, Don John tells Claudio “your lady is disloyal.” Claudio doesn’t believe him. Don John tells Claudio to stand below Hero’s bedroom window that night and see for himself. Claudio invites the Prince to join him below the window. Borachio’s plan works just as planned. 

Act 4. With friends assembled at the church, Leonato, eager to get on with the ceremony, tells the priest “Come, Friar Francis, be brief.” In front of everyone Claudio disturbs events when he asks Hero “What man talked with you at your window yesternight betwixt twelve and one?”  She’s mystified with the question. The Prince supports the story Claudio tells.  Hero faints. Claudio, the Prince and Don John quickly exit. An angry Leonato shouts “Let her die.”  Friar Francis has a plan: get the word out that she has died, saying “Come, lady, die to live.” Alone in the church, in a tender moment, Benedick says to Beatrice “I protest I love thee.”  Beatrice responds “I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest.”

Act 5. Anthony, Leonato’s brother, suggests Leonato back off the harsh criticism of his daughter, for the sake of his own health.  Leonato rejects the advice.  Concerned with the way things have unraveled, Borachio acknowledges his role in what was really a cruel hoax.  Learning of the hoax, Leonato lets Claudio and the Prince know what they have to do to get back in his good graces. He lays down certain requirements. They follow them. As part of the penance deal struck, Claudio must marry Anthony’s daughter, Leonato telling him she is “almost a copy of my child.”  Claudio accepts the requirement. A second wedding ceremony is held. The bride enters, masked. Claudio marries her. Hero unmasks. Claudio is ecstatic. Benedick and Beatrice marry, each still a little snappy.  Both seem to be as happy as they’ve ever been.