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1 88 i.

Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1878, by


In the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washingtoa


THIS edition of Much Ado About Nothing, having been prepared on
the same plan as its ten predecessors in the series, needs no lengthy
preface. The text is mainly that of the quarto of 1600, which (see p,
10) is generally to be preferred to that of the folio of 1623 where the
two do not agree. For the readings of the quarto and the other early
editions, I have depended in most cases on the collation in the " Cam-
bridge " edition.

In the Notes, as a rule, credit is given to the authorities followed.
The apparent exceptions to the rule are only apparent. A good part
of my material is prepared before consulting other editions (except a
few of the standard ones) ; and when I come to examine these I often
find, as might be expected, that some of my illustrations have already
been used.

References and quotations taken from other editions have been veri-
fied whenever this was possible, and sundry typographical and other
errors have thus been detected. I fear that my own work may not be
wholly free from such slips, and I shall be very grateful to any reader
who will help me to correct them.

Cambridge, Oct. 15, 1878.





I. THE HISTORY OF THE PLAY ........................... 9

II. THE SOURCES OF THE PLOT ............. ............... 10

III. CRITICAL COMMENTS ON THE PLAY ..................... 13

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING ........................... 27

ACT 1 ..................................................... 29

" II ..................................................... 42

"III ........................... .......................... 63

" IV ..................................................... 81

..................................................... 95

NOTES ............. . ........ . ..... [";.'., ....................... 115






THE first edition of Much Ado About Nothing was a quarto,
published in 1600 with the following title-page:

Much adoe about Nothing. | As it hath been sundrie times
publikely \ acted by the right honourable, the Lord | Cham-
berlaine his seruants. | Written by William Shakespeare. \
London | Printed by V. S. for Andrew Wise, and [ William
Aspley. | 1600.

The earliest known reference to the play is in the Regis-
ters of the Stationers' Company, among some miscellaneous
memoranda at the beginning of Volume C.* The memo-
randum follows one dated May 27th, 1600, and is thus given
by Arber :

* See our cd. of As You Like It, p. 10.



As you like yt / a booke
HENRY the FFIFT / a booke

to be staiecl.

Euery man in his humour / a booke
The commedie of * muche a Doo about nothing' 1
a booke /

The year is not given, but there can be little doubt that it
was 1600.

In the same volume, among the regular entries of the year
1600, we find the following :

23 gugustf

Andrew Wyse Entred for their copies vnder the handes of the wardens Two

William Aspley bookes. the one called Muche a Doo about nothinge. Tb/e] other

the second parte of the history of kinge HENRY the IIIJ th ivith

the humours of Sir JOHN FFA LLSTA FF : Wrytten by master


This, by the way, is the first occurrence of the poet's name
in these Registers.

The quarto of 1600 was, on the whole, well printed ; and
no other edition of the play is known to have been issued
previous to the publication of the Folio of 1623. The
printers of the latter appear to have used a copy of the
quarto belonging to the library of the theatre and corrected
for the purposes of the stage ; but the changes are for the
most part very slight and seldom for the better, as will be
seen by our Notes below.

As the play is not mentioned in Meres's list of 1598 (see
our ed. of A. Y. L. p. io), while it had been " sundrie times "
acted before its publication in August, 1600, it was probably
written in 1599.


The earlier incidents of the serious portion of the plot may
have been taken from the story of Ariodante and Ginevra in
Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, canto v. ; where Polinesso, in or-
der to revenge himself on the princess Ginevra (who has
rejected his suit and pledged her troth to Ariodante) induces


her attendant Dalinda to personate the princess and to ap-
pear at night at a balcony to which he ascends by a rope-
ladder in sight of Ariodante, whom he has stationed there to
witness the infidelity of Ginevra. A translation of this story
by Peter Beverley was entered on the Stationers' Registers
in 1565-6, and was doubtless printed soon afterwards ; and
in 1582-3 "A History of Ariodante and Geneuora" was
" shewed before her Ma tie on Shrovetuesdaie at night, enact-
ed by Mr. Mulcasters children." According to Sir John
Harrington, the same story had been "written in English
verse" by George Turbervile, before the publication of his
own translation of the Orlando in 1591. Spenser had also
introduced the tale, with some variations, in the Faerie
Queene (ii. 4. 17 fol.), and this part of the poem was pub-
lished in 1590.

It is more probable, however, that the source from which
Shakespeare drew this part of his materials was the 22d
Novel of Bandello, which had been translated into French
by Belleforest in his Histoires Tragiques {see our ed. of Ham-
let, p. 13), and probably also rendered into English, though
the version has not come down to our day. In Bandello's
story, as in the play, the scene is laid at Messina; the father
of the slandered maiden is Lionato ; and the friend of her
lover is Don Piero, or Pedro. How closely the poet has
followed the novel will be seen from the outline of the latter
given by Staunton : " Don Piero of Arragon returns from a
victorious campaign, and, with the gallant cavalier Timbreo
cli Cardona, is at Messina. Timbreo falls in love with Feni-
cia, the daughter of Lionato di Lionati, a gentleman of Mes-
sina, and, like Claudio in the play, courts her by proxy. He
is successful in his suit, and the lovers are betrothed ; but
the course of true love is impeded by one Girondo, a disap-
pointed admirer of the lady, who determines to prevent the
marriage. In pursuance of this object, he insinuates to
Timbreo that Fenicia is false, and offers to show him a


stranger scaling her chamber window. The unhappy lover
consents to watch ; and at the appointed hour Girondo and
a servant in the plot pass him disguised, and the latter is
seen to ascend a ladder and enter the house of Lionato. In
an agony of rage and jealousy, Timbreo in the morning ac-
cuses the lady of disloyalty, and rejects the alliance. Fenicia
falls into a swoon ; a dangerous illness supervenes; and the
father, to stifle all rumours hurtful to her fame, removes her
to a retired house of his brother, proclaims her death, and
solemnly performs her funeral obsequies. Girondo is now
struck with remorse at having ' slandered to death ' a creat-
ure so innocent and beautiful. He confesses his treachery
to Timbreo, and both determine to restore the reputation
of the lost one, and undergo any penance her family may
impose. Lionato is merciful, and requires only from Timbreo
that he shall wed a lady whom he recommends, and whose
face shall be concealed till the marriage ceremony is over.
The denouement is obvious. Timbreo espouses the mysteri-
ous-fair one, and finds in her his injured, loving, and beloved

The comic portion of the play is Shakespeare's own, as
indeed is everything else in it "except this mere skeleton of
tragic incident. Claudio and Hero, Don Pedro and Don
John, are as really his own creations as Benedick and Bea-
trice, Dogberry and Verges, who have no part in Bandello's
novel or Ariosto's poem. As Knight remarks, " Ariosto
made this story a tale of chivalry, Spenser a lesson of high
and solemn morality, Bandello an interesting love-romance ;
it was for Shakspere to surround the main incident with
those accessories which lie could nowhere borrow, and to
make of it such a comedy as no other man has made a
comedy, not of manners or of sentiment, but of life viewed
under its profoundest aspects, whether of the grave or the



[From SchlegeVs "Dramatic Literature"*]

The manner in which the innocent Hero before the altar
at the moment of the wedding, and in the presence of her
family and many witnesses, is put to shame by a most de-
grading charge, false indeed, yet clothed with every appear-
ance of truth, is a grand piece of theatrical effect in the true
and justifiable sense. The impression would have been too
tragical had not Shakspeare carefully softened it, in order to
prepare for a fortunate catastrophe. The discovery of the
plot against Hero has been already partly made, though not
by the persons interested ; and the poet has contrived, by
means of the blundering simplicity of a couple of constables
and watchmen, to convert the arrest and the examination
of the guilty individuals into scenes full of the most delight-
ful amusement. There is also a second piece of theatrical
effect not inferior to the first, where Claudio, now convinced
of his error, and in obedience to the penance laid on his
fault, thinking to give his hand to a relation of his injured
bride, whom he supposes dead, discovers, on her unmasking,
Hero herself. The extraordinary success of this play in
Shakspeare's own day, and even since in England, is, how-
ever, to be ascribed more particularly to the parts of Bene-
dick and Beatrice, two humorous beings, who incessantly
attack each other with all the resources of raillery. Avow-
edly rebels to love, they are both entangled in its net by a
merry plot of their friends to make them believe that each
is the object of the secret passion of the other. Some one
or other, not overstocked with penetration, has objected to
the same artifice being twice used in entrapping them the
drollery, however, lies in the very symmetry of the deception.
Their friends attribute the whole effect to their own device,

* Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature, by A. W. Schlegel ; Black's
translation, revised by Morrison (London, 1846), p. 386.


but the exclusive direction of their raillery against each oth-
er is in itself a proof of a growing inclination. Their witty
vivacity does not even abandon them in the avowal of love ;
and their behaviour only assumes a serious appearance for
the purpose of defending the slandered Hero. This is ex-
ceedingly well imagined; the lovers of jesting must fix a
point beyond which they are not to indulge in their humour,
if they would not be mistaken for buffoons by trade.

[From Gervinus's " Shakespeare Commentaries"*]
Banclello's tale did not afford the poet even a hint of any
moral view of the story; it is a bald narrative, containing
nothing which could assist in the understanding of the
Shakespearian piece. In As You Like It he had to conceal
the vast moralizing of the source from which he drew his
material ; here, on the other hand, he had to strike the latent
spark within the material. The story of Claudio and Hero
was transferred by Shakespeare from the shallow novel into
life;, he dived into the nature of the incidents; he investi-
gated the probable character of the beings among whom it
was imaginable ; he found the key-note by means of which
he could bring the whole into harmony. The subject ex-
panded in his hands ; the main action received an explana-
tory prelude; the principal characters (Hero and Claudio)
obtained an important counterpart in the connection between
Benedick and Beatrice, which is entirely Shakespeare's prop-
erty ; these characters gained an importance even beyond
the principal ones ; the plot, as is ever the case with our
poet, and as Coleridgef has especially pointed out in this

* Shakespeare Commentaries, by Dr. G. G. Gervinus, translated by F.
E. Bunnett ; revised ed. (London, 1875), P- 46 fol. A few slight verbal
changes have been made by the editor.

t Coleridge remarks : " The interest in the plot is always on account
of the characters, not vice versa, as in almost all other writers ; the plot
is a mere canvas and no more. Hence arises the true justification of the


play, gave place to the characterization ; the question seems
almost what manner of men made the much ado about noth-
ing, rather than the nothing about which ado was made. The
whole stress seems to lie, not in the plot, not in the outward
interest of the catastrophe, but in the moral significance
which the disturbance caused by Don John exercises upon
the two engagements which are concluded and prepared,
and again dissolved and left unconfirmed, or rather upon
the beings who have entered into these engagements. . . .

The poet has with extraordinary skill so arranged and
introduced the tragic incident that the painful impression
which is perhaps too sensible in the reading is lost in the
acting. He omitted upon the stage the scene of Claudio's
agitation on overhearing Hero, in order that he might thus
avoid the gloom, and not weaken the comic scene in which
a trap is laid for the listening Beatrice. The burlesque
scenes of the constables are introduced with the impending
tragic events, that they may afford a counterbalance to them
and prevent them from having too lively an effect on the
spectator. But, above all, we are already aware that the
authors of th deception are in custody before Hero's dis-
grace in the church takes place ; we know, therefore, that all
the ado about her crime and death is for nothing. This tact
of the poet in the construction of his comedy corresponds
with that in the design of Claudio's character, and in the
unusually happy contrast which he has presented to him
in Benedick. Shakespeare has so blended the elements in

same stratagem being used in regard to Benedick and Beatrice the van-
ity in each being alike. Take away from Much Ado About Nothing all
that which is not indispensable to the plot, . . . take away Benedick,
Beatrice, Dogberry, and the reaction of the former on the character of
I lero, and what will remain ? In other writers the main agent of the
plot is always the prominent character ; in Shakspeare it is so, or is not
so, as the character is in itself calculated, or not calculated, to form the
plot. Don John is the mainspring of the plot of this play ; but he is
niere'y shown and then withdrawn."


Claudio's nature, he has given such a good foundation of
honour and self-reliance to his unstable mind and fickle
youth, that we cannot, with all our disapprobation of his
conduct, be doubtful as to his character. Changeable as
he is, he continues stable in no choice of friends and loved
ones, since he had never continuously tested them ; at the
slightest convulsion of events he is overpowered by first im-
pressions, and he is without the strength of will to search to
the bottom of things. This would be an odious and despica-
ble character, if the changeableness were not tempered by
the sensitiveness of a tender feeling of honour. Our interest
in Claudio is secured by this blending of the moral elements
in his nature ; but the foundation for a comic character does
not appear to lie either in him or in the whole action in
which he is implicated. If we separate it from the rest, we
shall retain a painful and not a cheerful impression. The
poet has thus added the connection between Benedick and
Beatrice, in order to produce a merry counterbalance to the
more serious and primary element of the play, and to make
the former predominate. The same self-love and the same
spoiling by prosperity fall to the lot of these two characters
as to that of Claudio ; but, instead of his changeableness,
we see in them only what, with a fine distinction, we should
(with Benedick) call giddiness. We connect the idea of
changeableness with a continual wavering after resolutions
taken ; that of giddiness with unstable opinions and inclina-
tions before the same : changeableness manifests itself in
actions, it is productive of pernicious consequences, and for
this reason causes contempt and hatred; giddiness manifests
itself only in contrary processes of the mind, which are by
nature harmless, and this is the reason why it offers excel-
lent material for comedy. Few characters, therefore, on the
stage have such truly comic character as Benedick and Bea-
trice, and they have not lost their popularity in England even
to the present day. Shakespeare's contemporary, Leonard


Digges, speaks of them together with Falstaff and Malvolio
as the favourites of the public of that day ; as characters
which filled pit, gallery, and boxes in a moment, while Ben
Jonson's comedies frequently did not pay for fire and door-
keeper. . . .

It would have been difficult for Benedick and Beatrice in
the midst of their hostile raillery to come to a serious ex-
planation ; the concluding scene itself proves this, after
events have led to this explanation. This is brought about
by the heartless scene which Claudio prepares for Hero in
the church. The better nature of Beatrice bursts forth to
light amid this base ill-treatment. Her true love for Hero,
her deep conviction of her innocence, her anger at the de-
liberate malice of her public dishonour, stir up her whole
soul and make it a perfect contrast to what we have seen in
her hitherto. . . . Sorrow for Hero and for the honour of her
house makes Beatrice gentle, tender, and weakened into
tears; this "happy hour' 7 facilitates to both their serious
confession. But at the same time this hour of misfortune
tests these beings, accustomed as they are only to jest and
raillery, by a heavy trial, in the sustaining of which we are
convinced that these gifted natures are not devoid of that
seriousness which regards no earnest situation with frivolity.
We should more readily have imputed this gift to Claudio,
but we find it existing far more in the humorous couple who
had not taken life so lightly, and who had at last accustomed
themselves to truth. Beatrice places before Benedick the
cruel choice between her esteem and love and his connec-
tion with his friend. His great confidence in her, and in
her unshaken confidence in Hero, led him to make his diffi-
cult decision, in which he acts with vigour and prudence,
very differently from Claudio in his difficulties. Beatrice,
the untamed colt, learns at the same time how the most
masculine woman cannot dispense with assistance in certain
cases ; she has moreover seen her Benedick in a position in



which he responds to her ideal of a man, in whom mirth and
seriousness should be justly blended. . . . Benedick goes off
the stage with a confession of his giddiness, but it is a giddi-
ness overcome, and we have no reason to be anxious either
for the constancy or for the peaceableness of this pair. The
poet has bestowed upon them two names of happy augury. . . .

[From Mrs. Jameson's " Characteristics of Women"*}
Shakspeare has exhibited in Beatrice a spirited and faithful
portrait of the fine lady of his own time. The deportment,
language, manners, and allusions are those of a particular
class in a particular age ; but the individual and dramatic
character which forms the groundwork is strongly discrim-
inated, and being taken from general nature, belongs to ev-
ery age. In Beatrice, high intellect and high animal spir-
its meet, and excite each other like fire and air. In her wit
(which is brilliant without being imaginative) there is a
touch of insolence, not unfrequent in women when the wit
predominates over reflection and imagination. In her tem-
per, too, there is a slight infusion of the termagant ; and her
satirical humour plays with such an unrespective levity over
all subjects alike that it required a profound knowledge of
women to bring such a character within the pale of our sym-
pathy. But Beatrice, though wilful, is not wayward ; she is
volatile, not unfeeling. She has not only an exuberance of
wit and gayety, but of heart and soul and energy of spirit ;
and is no more like the fine ladies of modern comedy
whose wit consists in a temporary allusion, or a play upon
words, and whose petulance is displayed in a toss of the head,
a flirt of the fan, or a flourish of the pocket-handkerchief
than one of our modern dandies is like Sir Philip Sidney.

In Beatrice, Shakspeare has contrived that the poetry of
the character shall not only soften, but heighten its comic
effect. We are not only inclined to forgive Beatrice all her
* American ed. (Boston, 1857), p. 99 fol.


scornful airs, all her biting jests, all her assumption of supe-
riority ; but they amuse and delight us the more when we
find her, with all the headlong simplicity of a child, falling
at once into the snare laid for her affections ; when we see
her who thought a man of God's making not good enough
for her, who disdained to be o'ermastered by " a piece of
valiant dust," stooping like the rest of her sex, vailing her
proud spirit and taming her wild heart to the loving hand
of him whom she had scorned, flouted, and misused " past
the endurance of a block." And we are yet more completely
won by her generous enthusiastic attachment to her cousin.
When the father of Hero believes the tale of her guilt ; when
Claudio, her lover, without remorse or a lingering doubt,
consigns her to shame ; when the Friar remains silent, and
the generous Benedick himself knows not what to say, Bea-
trice, confident in her affections, and guided only by the
impulses of her own feminine heart, sees through the incon-
sistency, the impossibility of the charge, and exclaims, without
a moment's hesitation,

" O, on my soul, my cousin is belied !"

Schlegel, in his remarks on the play, has given us an
amusing instance of that sense of reality with which we are
impressed by Shakspeare's characters. He says of Bene-
dick and Beatrice, as if he had known them personally, that
the exclusive direction of their pointed raillery against each
other " is a proof of a growing inclination." This is not
unlikely; and the same inference would lead us to suppose
that this mutual inclination had commenced before the
opening of the play. The very first words uttered by Bea-
trice are an inquiry after Benedick, though expressed with
her usual arch impertinence :

" I pray you, is Signior Montanto returned from the wars, or no ?"

"I pray you, how many hath he killed and eaten in these wars? But
how many hath he killed ? for indeed I promised to eat all of his



And in the unprovoked hostility with which she falls upon
him in his absence, in the pertinacity and bitterness of her
satire, there is certainly great argument that he occupies
much more of her thoughts than she would have been will-
ing to confess, even to herself. In the same manner Bene-
dick betrays a lurking partiality for his fascinating enemy ;
he shows that he has looked upon her with no careless eye
when he says,

"There 's her cousin [meaning Beatrice], an she were not possessed
with a fury, excels her as much in beauty as the first of May does the
last of December."

Infinite skill, as well as humour, is shown in making this
pair of airy beings the exact counterpart of each other ; but
of the two portraits, that of Benedick is by far the most
pleasing, because the independence and gay indifference of
temper, the laughing defiance of love and marriage, the
satirical freedom of expression, common to both, are more
becoming to the masculine than to the feminine character.
Any woman might love such a cavalier as Benedick, and be
proud of his affection ; his valour, his wit, and his gayety sit
so gracefully upon him ! and his light scoffs against the pow-

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Online LibraryWilliam ShakespeareShakespeare's comedy of Much ado about nothing → online text (page 1 of 14)