Leonato, Benedick, Antonio and the Friar wait at the church for Claudio and Don Pedro. Everyone is happy that the slanders against Hero have been discredited, and that Don John has fled from Messina. Benedick takes the opportunity to ask Leonato if he can marry Beatrice. Leonato immediately gives his permission, and slyly hints that he may have something to do with Benedick’s love, and Hero with Beatrice’s: “That eye my daughter lent her.” (5.4.23)
Here, the play suggests another answer to Claudio’s earlier question: “Are our eyes our own?” Leonato hints that Benedick and Beatrice perceive one another a certain way because they have been given “eyes,” by him and the others. Their senses have been affected by those who have tricked them.
Claudio and Don Pedro arrive, and two masked women—Beatrice and Hero—are brought forward. Claudio, noticing that Benedick is nervous, teases him about becoming a married man, but promises that he shall have gold-tipped horns like Jove (Zeus). As Claudio prepares to marry the masked woman, presented to him as Antonio’s daughter, he promises to go through with it even if she is an “Ethiope.” (5.4.38) When he discovers the niece is really Hero he is overjoyed to find her still alive.
The image of the horned (cuckolded) and yoked beast has been happily transformed. Now, Benedick is compared to Zeus, a god known for his power and sexual appetite, who once disguised himself as a bull to seduce Europa. Dark-skinned women were considered unattractive in the Europe of Shakespeare’s time.The unmasking of Hero at the end of the play suggests that everything that happened up to this point has been a kind of dream or masquerade: the hurt, outrage and threatened violence can all be forgotten.
Benedick unmasks Beatrice and asks if she loves him. She says that she loves him “no more than reason,” (5.4.74) and when asked the same question, he says the same. They discover that they have been set up by their friends and relatives, and did not initially love each other after all. At the last minute, Claudio and Hero bring out two love poems: one written by Benedick for Beatrice, and one written by Beatrice for Benedick. Benedick cries out “A miracle! Here’s our own hands against our hearts.” (5.4.91) Joyous, Benedick kisses Beatrice and calls for dancing, even though the Friar objects that it should wait until after the wedding. Defying the others to mock him, Benedick concludes in favor of marriage, saying “there is no staff more reverend than the one tipped with horn.” (5.4.122-123)
In the very end, the theme of love as a kind of game or ritual—with a set of rules and a sequence of steps—becomes clear. Though Beatrice and Benedick learn that they have been set up, they marry anyway—tricked or not, they have already gone through all the motions of the dance, and they now truly do love each other. The use of the poems as a marriage contract emphasizes the importance of language to the perception of reality in the play. Benedick insists that dancing happen before the wedding. This reinforces the comparison between love and dancing that Beatrice makes earlier in the play. Marriage must come after, because it puts an end to the frantic and youthful of love.