Chris Adcock
English Language Arts, Reading Literature
Material Type:
Lesson Plan
High School
  • Grade 11 ELA
  • Humor
  • Iambic Pentameter
  • Prose
  • Shakespeare
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial

    Character Interpretation

    Character Interpretation


    In this lesson, students will take a closer look at the villain of this play. Is Don John really so evil? Has evil been done to him? Then they’ll learn about Dogberryisms and see whether they can interpret some of them themselves.


    • Read the lesson and student content.
    • Anticipate student difficulties and identify the differentiation options you will choose for working with your students.
    • Watch the video. Choose and prepare the clips featuring Don John (1.3 and 2.2) that you will use. Decide whether you will pause for note taking, show clips twice, or make other modifications.

    Class Check-In

    • Facilitate a Whole Group Discussion to make sure all students understand the action so far. This is a critical point in the play, so if more review is required, do that before moving forward with the reading.
    • SWD: For any students who may have difficulties following a plot that turns on what people believe they see and what they actually see, consider taking a little more time to prepare them for the upcoming scene. These students may benefit from knowing a little more about the plot in advance, so that they can keep up with the deception and misunderstanding.


    Before you continue reading, discuss the play so far as a class. Be sure to bring up any questions or points of confusion that you still have and see whether you can help clarify things for your classmates.

    Here are some questions to get you started.

    • What changes do Don Pedro and Claudio say that they see in Benedick? What reasons for them do they, and Benedick, give?
    • What does Don John promise Claudio that he will see that evening outside Hero’s window?
    • What does Claudio say he will do if Don John is right?
    • What do you think will happen next?

    Don John Analysis

    • Show snippets from the two scenes that show the true feelings of Don John in 1.3 and 2.2.
    • Tell students that as they watch them, they should consider why Don John is so intent on ruining the lives of other people, people who have done nothing to hurt him.

    Work Time

    What do you think is wrong with Don John? Take a look at two excerpts from the two scenes that show the true feelings of Don John, from 1.3 and 2.2.

    As you watch, consider these questions.

    • Why is Don John so set upon wrecking everyone else’s lives?
    • How might his background have contributed to who he is and what he does?
    • Why is he so unhappy?
    • Why is he so willing to ruin Claudio’s life?
    • Once you’ve watched these film clips, write down your thoughts.

    Open Notebook

    Don John, a Villain?

    • Allow students a few minutes to discuss the concept of villainy and villains. Remind them if they stall that there are many other terms for this kind of character, such as antagonist and bad guy.
    • As you facilitate the class discussion, be sure to bring up the concept of the bastard son in Elizabethan times. Relate this to how people inherited property. Let them know that the audience in Shakespeare’s day would be expecting villainy from a bastard son, in the same way we might expect that a character with a dark cloak and mustache is up to no good.
    • You can find further information on Elizabethan inheritance customs and the position of bastards at the website Life in Elizabethan England.

    Work Time

    What do we mean when we say that someone is a villain? With a partner, discuss what you think the requirements of a being a villain are.

    • When you’re watching a movie or a TV show, for example, what character traits might make you suspect someone will turn out to be a villain?
    • In Much Ado About Nothing , is Don John a villain? Can there really be a villain in a comedy?
    • Be sure to use quotes from the play to support your ideas, and don’t forget to record the act, scene, and line numbers.

    Open Notebook

    When you’ve finished, discuss your thoughts with the class.

    Character Chart, Don John

    • Allow students time to get into more detail with regard to Don John’s character.
    • Check for understanding as students work on their Character Charts.

    Work Time

    • Now that you’ve learned more about Don John, add to your evaluation of his character in your Much Ado About Nothing Character Chart.


    • Explain the examples if necessary.
      • ELL: Students who struggle with English vocabulary may have some sensitivity about this type of humor and feel that they are being made the object of ridicule. Discuss the difference between laughing at someone and laughing with someone. Also explain that the humor derived from the character Dogberry is funny primarily because of his misuse of words that he, as a native English speaker, should be expected to know.

    Work Time

    A malapropism is an error that occurs when someone uses the wrong word because it sounds almost exactly like another word. Although the words sound similar, the meanings are usually completely different, creating a ridiculous effect.

    In this next section of the play, you will meet Dogberry. Much of his humor is derived from malapropisms. In fact, sometimes malapropisms are also called Dogberryisms , since this character is so famous for them.

    Read the list of malapropism examples. Have you ever made this kind of mistake yourself? Have you heard someone else make it?

    Malapropisms Interpretation

    • Have students work in pairs to “translate” the malapropisms they are given.
    • Circulate as students work and make sure they’re understanding both the concept and the actual malapropisms.
    • Students can annotate directly on the text if they wish.
    • SWD: Students who have difficulty with reading may find this exercise particularly challenging as it requires them to differentiate words that appear to be very similar. Consider having them work with a student who has a stronger reading proficiency or an adult who can read the malapropisms out loud


    Work with a partner.

    • Interpret the intended meanings of the malapropisms given to you.
    • Can you identify the mistakes in the malapropisms?

    Act 3, Scene 3

    • Introduce act 3, scene 3 before students begin reading at home. If you are using synopses, share this with them now.
    • Have students read and annotate act 3, scene 3 for homework and continue with their Dialectical Journal entries. This scene will present some real problems for the students, since Dogberry speaks in malapropisms and the words he uses may be completely confusing to them.
    • Tell students to take note of particular problems so that you can go over all of this in class during the next lesson.
    • It is important that they understand the fun in playing with words to get the humor here.
    • Ask students if they are familiar with other writers or artists who play with words. Snoop Dogg’s “Fo’ shizzle” is a kind of wordplay that might be familiar to them, or LOLspeak, in which cats use terrible grammar to say everyday things.
      • ELL: This can be a place for ELLs who are comfortable to share with the class some linguistic play that they have in their primary language. If you have multiple students who share a non-English language, you can allow them to work on a modified homework assignment together to identify and share non-English examples.
    • Remind students about their performances and Prompt Book project. As soon as they know which scene their lines will come from, they should begin considering how they want to stage the complete scene in their own Prompt Book.
    • Encourage them to sign up for their desired lines as soon as possible.


    Your teacher will introduce act 3, scene 3.

    • Read and annotate this scene, and complete your Much Ado About Nothing Dialectical Journal entries.
    • There will be much that is confusing in this section of the play. Make a list of questions and things that are confusing or problematic so you can go over it in class during the next lesson.

    Your teacher will remind you about the performances and line memorization as well as your Prompt Book. Keep on top of this. If you have already chosen your lines, make sure to let your teacher know!