While Beatrice was thus powerfully pleading with Benedick, and working his gallant temper by the spirit of her angry words, to engage in the cause of Hero, and fight even with his dear friend Claudio, Leonato was challenging the prince and Claudio to answer with their swords the injury they had done his child, who, he affirmed, had died for grief. But they respected his age and his sorrow, and they said, “Nay, do not quarrel with us, good old man.” And now came Benedick, and he also challenged Claudio to answer with his sword the injury he had done to Hero: and Claudio and the prince said to each other, “Beatrice has set him on to do this.” Claudio nevertheless must have accepted this challenge of Benedick, had not the justice of Heaven at the moment brought to pass a better proof of the innocence of Hero than the uncertain fortune of a duel.
While the prince and Claudio were yet talking of the challenge of Benedick, a magistrate brought Borachio as a prisoner before the prince. Borachio had been overheard talking with one of his companions of the mischief he had been employed by Don John to do.
Borachio made a full confession to the prince in Claudio’s hearing, that it was Margaret dressed in her lady’s clothes that he had talked with from the window, whom they had mistaken for the lady Hero herself; and no doubt continued on the minds of Claudio and the prince of the innocence of Hero. If a suspicion had remained, it must have been removed by the flight of Don John, who, finding his villanies were detected, fled from Messina to avoid the just anger of his brother.
The heart of Claudio was sorely grieved, when he found he had falsely accused Hero, who, he thought, died upon hearing his cruel words; and the memory of his beloved Hero’s image came over him, in the rare semblance that he loved it first: and the prince asking him if what he heard did not run like iron through his soul, he answered, that he felt as if he had taken poison while Borachio was speaking.
And the repentant Claudio implored forgiveness of the old man Leonato for the injury he had done his child; and promised, that whatever penance Leonato would lay upon him for his fault in believing the false accusation against his betrothed wife, for her dear sake he would endure it.
The penance Leonato enjoined him was, to marry the next morning a cousin of Hero’s who, he said, was now his heir, and in person very like Hero. Claudio, regarding the solemn promise he had made to Leonato, said, he would marry this unknown lady, even though she were an Ethiop: but his heart was very sorrowful, and he passed that night in tears, and in remorseful grief, at the tomb which Leonato had erected for Hero.