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She loves him; she loves him not; she loves him ...
He loves her; he loves her not; he loves her ...

Returning from a war against each other, Prince Don Pedro and his bastard brother Don John stop on their way home in Messina, Italy. In Don Pedro's service are the lords, Claudio and Benedick. Claudio has fallen in love with Hero, daughter to the governor of Messina, Leonato. Benedick “has a history” with Leonato's niece, Beatrice, for which she feels wronged; thus their relationship is now one of witty, but bitter, words. Speaking on Claudio's behalf at a masked ball, the Prince woos Hero successfully. Don John in his jealousy of Claudio for his having supplanted him in his brother's favour, is determined to undermine Claudio whenever possible. He tells Claudio that the Prince has wooed her for himself. After this misconception is rectified, Leonato gives his consent for Hero to marry Claudio.

Wanting Beatrice and Benedick to be together, their friends pretend not to notice them listening as they speak to how each loves the other but cannot confess their love. Benedick and Beatrice, believing what they hear, find themselves falling in love.

Don John's follower, Borachio, sets up an encounter with Margaret, attendant on Hero and seeming to be Hero, in sight of Claudio and the Prince to fool them into believing that Hero is unfaithful. Believing this to be so, Claudio renounces Hero at their wedding.

The Friar offers the solution of pretending Hero to be dead, so that Claudio comes to realize his error and his true love. Meanwhile, Dogberry the constable and his watchmen, overhear Borachio and Conrade talk of their deception, arrest them, and bring them to Leonato for justice.

Claudio, still believing Hero to be dead and realizing his error, penitently agrees to Leonato's terms of reconciliation: marrying the “daughter” of Leonator's brother Antonio. At the “wedding”, Hero is revealed. As news of Don John's arrest is heard, the two sets of lovers prepare for to be wed.