Returning victorious from battle, the forces of Don Pedro of Sicily visit the estate of Leonato, his daughter Hero, and her cousin Beatrice. Hero loves Claudio, one of Don Pedro’s soldiers; Beatrice hates all men, but especially Benedict, Claudio’s misogynistic best friend and another of Don Pedro’s soldiers. Hero is overjoyed by Claudio’s return, while Beatrice and Benedict immediately resume their ‘merry war of words.’
A wedding is arranged between Claudio and Hero, and Claudio suggests that Benedict, too, should get married. But Benedict tells his friends he’d rather die. Don Pedro and Claudio conspire to make Benedict fall in love; arranging a situation in which Benedict can eavesdrop on them, they discuss with Leonato how sad it is that Beatrice loves Benedict, the woman-hater. Benedict, amazed by what he has overheard, vows he will return Beatrice’s love.
Hero and her friend Ursula, meanwhile, play the same trick on Beatrice. On the eve of her wedding to Claudio, Hero and Ursula muse about the nature of love.
At the wedding of Hero and Claudio, all are happy (and tipsy) except Beatrice, who is confused by her feelings about Benedict. She remembers how she had nightmares about him coming to harm when he was away at war, and admits to herself that she loves him.
Benedict and Beatrice are arguing about their feelings, and their future, when the others interrupt them. Claudio and Hero reveal love poems that Beatrice and Benedict have written about each other, and in the end both admit their love and agree to a truce—until tomorrow.