Act Five, Scene One
Antonio is trying to comfort Leonato who is still grief-sticken over what happened in the church. Antonio tells Leonato to make the men suffer that have caused him pain. He says he will.
Don Pedro and Claudio enter. Leonato challenges Claudio to a duel on the grounds that he killed Hero through his accusation and wrongly harmed Leonato's reputation. Antonio steps forward and supports Leonato by challenging Claudio as well. Leonato tries to stop him, but Antonio continues hurling insults at Claudio and Don Pedro for the way they treated Hero. Don Pedro refuses to accept the challenge, telling them that Hero, "was charged with nothing / But what was true and very full of proof" (5.1.106-107). Antonio and Leonato leave in a rage, furious with the condescending way Don Pedro is treating them.
Benedick arrives and is greeted warmly by both Don Pedro and Claudio. They tell him he missed watching Leonato and Antonio challenge Claudio to a duel. Benedick challenges Claudio, but he thinks it is a joke. Both men make fun of Benedick for looking so angry and for seemingly having lost his ability to wittily reply to their jests. Benedick finally thanks Don Pedro and informs him that Don John has fled Messina. He then turns to Claudio and tells him they will meet soon in order to fight.
Don Pedro remarks that Benedick is serious about his challenge. Claudio caustically replies that it must be for the love of Beatrice. Dogberry and Verges enter with Conrad and Borachio as their prisoners. Only then does Don Pedro realize that Benedick told him Don John had fled. He approaches the prisoners and demands to know why they have been arrested. Borachio tells him the entire story, causing Don Pedro to exclaim, "Runs not his speech like iron through your blood?" (5.1.227-228).
Leonato arrives with the Sexton, who has informed him of what happened. Furiously Leonato accuses Borachio, Don Pedro and Claudio of killing his daughter. Claudio and Don Pedro plead their innocence but, realizing they are guilty of mistakenly accusing Hero, promise to inform the city that she was innocent. Claudio further promises to marry Leonato's niece, whom he tells Claudio is his sole heir.
Leonato then turns back to Borachio and demands to know Margaret's role in the scheme. He tells Leonato that Margaret is innocent and did not know what she was doing. Leonato orders the watchmen to bring Borachio and Conrad with them and leaves to question Margaret.
Act Five, Scene Two
Benedick has written a sonnet to Beatrice that Margaret is helping him with. He then sends her to fetch Beatrice for him. She enters the room and plays word games with Benedick. He finally states, "Thou and I are too wise to woo peaceably" (5.2.61), indicating that they are too aware of what love and marriage entails to be overemotional about it. Ursula arrives and tells them to quickly come since they proved that Hero has been falsely accused.
Act Five, Scene Three
Claudio, Don Pedro and several other men visit Hero's gravesite and perform a short memorial service. Claudio has written an epitaph for Hero, after which he sings a song and then promises to perform the same ritual every year. Don Pedro bids the other men good night and takes Claudio with him to Leonato's house.
Act Five, Scene Four
Leonato sends the woman into their chambers and orders them to come out masked when they are called for. Antonio has promised to pretend that Hero is his daughter so Claudio will believe he is marrying Hero's cousin. Benedick then asks Leonato for permission to marry Beatrice at the same wedding ceremony. Leonato agrees to the marriage.
Claudio and Don Pedro arrive and are greeted. The women then come out wearing masks to hide their identities. Claudio asks which lady he shall marry, and Antonio gives him Hero. She unmasks herself, causing Claudio to cry out, "Another Hero!" She replies, "Nothing certainer" (5.4.62-63).
At the wedding Benedick calls for Beatrice to reveal herself. She does, and he asks her if she loves him. Beatrice gives the surprisingly cold answer, "Why no, no more than reason" (5.4.74). Benedick admits the same thing, and they both realize that they were set up by their friends. Watching this extraordinary exchange, Claudio and Hero pull out sonnets that Benedick and Beatrice wrote to each other and show them as proof that they really do love each other. Benedick states, "A miracle! Here's our own hands against our hearts" (5.4.91).
Benedick and Claudio reconcile their friendship and tell Don Pedro to find himself a wife so he is not alone. A messenger arrives at the very end and informs them that Don John has been captured and brought back to Messina. Benedick tells them, "Think not on him till tomorrow, I'll devise thee brave punishments for him. Strike up, pipers" (5.4.121-122).
The fact that there is truth through writing, first seen when Dogberry demands that everything be recorded, is made abundantly clear in this act. Beatrice and Benedick write sonnets to each other, and the sonnets are taken to be more meaningful than even their words. When they are at the point of nullifying their declared love for one another, Claudio and Hero produce the sonnets, thereby "proving" that they are lying to each other. Claudio earlier in the act writes his epitaph to Hero, a way of declaring his love for her real. Dogberry also has the written statement of his watchman, thus securing Hero's innocence.
An interesting line is that of Don Pedro: "But on my honour she was charged with nothing / But what was true and very full of proof" (5.1.106-107). This is a challenge to the audience to "note" the words of the actors. The second line reverses the meaning of the first line, turning Hero's initial innocence to guilt.
A fundamental question that haunts the plot is whether Benedick and Beatrice really love each other. Many audiences have simply assumed that they harbor a deep-seated love that neither will admit. However, if we take them at their word then the likely answer is no. They are mature lovers who have been pushed together by a social conspiracy to make them marry. Benedick: "Thou and I are too wise to woo peaceably" (5.2.61). Later they both realize that their friends were plotting against them. "Do not you love me?" "Why no, no more than reason" (5.4.73-74). We expect tender words at this point but we get the opposite. The fact that we still think love wins out is because we willingly join the conspiracy against them both. The audience roots for them to fall in love and get married; the actual feelings of the two characters are irrelevant at the end.
Friar Francis, unlike his Romeo and Juliet counterpart, succeeds in his resurrection of Hero. She comes out masked and reveals herself to Claudio. He cries out, "Another Hero!" She replies, "Nothing certainer" (5.4.62-63). If we take her pronunciation literally, "noting certainer", we can see that this is really the first time that Claudio has noted her as a person. Only through a feigned death could she force Claudio to really pay attention to her and "notice" who he was marrying.
The question of whether there is any love between Hero and Claudio is almost certainly answered with a resounding no. Hero is mostly a young girl who obeys her father regardless of his demands. Indeed, Beatrice mocks this expected obedience in the opening act, causing Leonato to hush her. Hero willingly switches from Don Pedro to Claudio as if it makes no difference who her husband is. Later we see the same ability in Claudio, who readily agrees to marry Hero's "cousin" without ever having seen he girl. This lack of dedication compromises their credibility as a pair of lovers.
An interesting question is why does it takes so long for Claudio to learn Hero is alive? The answer is that Claudio must learn something first. Initially he and Don Pedro stick to their beliefs and refuse to see the truth. Claudio must have a penance for his sins against Hero; he must agree to marry her cousin instead. In fact, Hero has become a nothing by this point in the play, her very existence wiped out. Claudio is marrying someone he has never seen, and it is his trust will be what brings Hero back to life in the end.
As in many Shakespearian comedies, we are left with a sense that everything is not perfect at the end. In Much Ado About Nothing the ending is tarnished by the return of Don John. He is returned to Messina in chains and Benedick promises to punish him the next day. This casts a shadow hangs over an otherwise mostly happy ending.