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Act II, Scene 3
This scene opens with Benedick alone, declaring again that he will never marry. He hears voices and hides in the bushes. The voices turn out to be those of Don Pedro, Leonato, and Claudio. Unbeknownst to Benedick, they have seen him hiding and know that he can hear them. Don Pedro uses this opportunity to put into action his matchmaking between Benedick and Beatrice. The three men talk amongst themselves about Beatrice's strong feelings for Benedick. They say they will not tell Benedick, since he will only mock poor Beatrice. They proceed to praise Beatrice for all her virtues, then leave to lay a similar trap for Beatrice.
From his 'hiding' place, Benedick falls prey to the scheme. He is convinced of Beatrice's passion and is persuaded by the praises of the men that she is an excellent woman. He decides he loves her in return.
As he is about to leave, Beatrice comes to ask him to dinner, a task that Hero has sent her to do. She tells Benedick the invitation is offered against her will. Thinking this is just her way of protecting her vulnerable feelings, Benedick accepts graciously. He goes off with Beatrice, having imagined himself in love with her and she with him, having not yet been tricked into falling in love.
The trio of Claudio, Leonato, and Don Pedro are extremely ingenious in executing their plan, originally conceived by Don Pedro. Benedick automatically falls into the trap because of his great respect and trust for Leonato, whom he cannot believe guilty of such deception. Don Pedro's conversation with his friends appeals greatly to Benedick's self-love. That a lady of such an excellent nature as Beatrice should be attracted to him boosts his pride greatly. It increases his opinion of himself. His soliloquy gives ample proof of his thoughts and is one of the best examples of comic irony in the play. His views on marriage have all of a sudden undergone a drastic change. "The world must be peopled," he emphasizes.
There is a great deal of audience participation in this scene. The supposed plot gives an additional role to the audience in that its members share in the inside story--the fooling of Benedick. The irony lies in the fact that the plotters know that Benedick is listening to them. Benedick does not 'note' that the conspirators know his hiding place while the audience 'notes' both deceptions.