Benedick: Young, funny and locked into a love-hate relationship with Beatrice. He has been away fighting under Don Pedro, and upon his return to Messina, he vows never to marry. This slowly changes throughout the play – by the time he agrees to kill Claudio at the request of Beatrice, we know that he is committed to her. His sharpest weapon is his wit, but he meets his match with Beatrice.
Beatrice: In many ways, she is very similar to her lover, Benedick; she is locked into the same love-hate relationship, is quick witted and never wants to marry. The events of the play soon reveal the vulnerable side beneath her “hardened” exterior. Once she is tricked into thinking that Benedick is in love with her, she soon reveals her sweet, sensitive side. However, it is hinted throughout the play that Beatrice was once in love with Benedick, but their relationship went sour: “I know you of old,” she scorns.
Claudio: One of Don Pedro’s men and a young lord of Florence. Although commended for his bravery in battle, Claudio is presented as young and naive. He is a difficult character to sympathize with because he is led purely by his courtly sense of honor. Throughout the play he swings from love to despair to revenge too easily. In the first scene, he falls hopelessly in love with Hero (without even speaking to her!), and quickly takes revenge when he thinks he has been wronged by her. It is this character trait that enables the play’s central plot.
Hero: As the beautiful daughter of Leonato, she soon attracts the attention of Claudio, who instantly falls in love with her. She is the innocent victim in the play when she is slandered by Don John as part of his plan to crush Claudio. Her sweet, gentle nature highlights her piety and contrasts nicely with Beatrice.
Don Pedro: As the Prince of Aragon, Don Pedro is the most powerful character in the play, and he is happy to use his power to manipulate events – but only for the good of his soldiers and friends. Don Pedro takes it upon himself to get Benedick and Beatrice together and set up the marriage between Claudio and Hero. Although he is a force for good in the play, he is too quick to believe his villainous brother about Hero’s infidelity and is too quick to help Claudio to seek revenge. Interestingly, Don Pedro makes half-advances on both Hero and Beatrice in the play – perhaps this explains his sadness in the final scene when he is the only nobleman without a wife.
Don John: Referred to as “the bastard,” Don John is the illegitimate half-brother of Don Pedro. He is the villain of the play and needs little motivation to ruin the marriage of Claudio and Hero – in his own words, “I cannot be said to be a flattering honest man, it must not be denied but I am a plain-dealing villain.” Before the play begins, Don John had been leading a rebellion against his brother – which is the battle Don Pedro and his men return triumphant from in the opening scene of the play. Although he claims to be “reconciled” to his brother, he secretly wants revenge for his defeat.
Leonato: He is the governor of Messina, father to Hero, uncle to Beatrice and host to Don Pedro and his men. His long friendship with Don Pedro doesn’t stop him from lambasting him when he sides with Claudio over his claims on Hero’s infidelity – he is probably the only character in the play with enough authority to give Don Pedro a piece of his mind. The honor of his family is very important to him, and he suffers greatly when Don John’s plan destroys this.
Antonio: Leonato’s brother and father to Beatrice. Although elderly, he is loyal to his brother no matter what the cost.
Margaret and Ursula: Attendants on Hero.
Balthasar: An attendant on Don Pedro.
Borachio and Conrad: Don John’s henchmen.
Friar Francis: Devises the plan to redeem Hero’s reputation.
Dogberry: a bumbling constable.
Verges: Dogberry’s second in command.
The Watch: They overhear Borachio and Conrad and discover Don John’s plot.
The Sexton: Leads the trial against Borachio and Conrad.