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MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.
The only edition of this comedy known before the folio 1623, is a quarto printed in 1600, entitled :-“ Much adoe about Nothing, as it hath been sundrie times publikely acted by the right honourable the Lord Chamberlaine his seruants. Written by William Shakespeare. London Printed by V. S. for Andrew Wise and William Aspley, 1600.” It is supposed originally to have been acted under the title of “ Benedick and Beatrix,” and, from being unnoticed by Meres, to have been written not earlier than 1598.
The serious incidents of his plot, some writers conjecture, Shakespeare derived from the story of Ariodante and Geneura, in Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, which, in 1582-3, was made the subject of dramatic representation, and played before Queen Elizabeth by “ Mulcaster's children," that is, the children of St. Paul's school, and of which an English translation by Sir John Harrington, Elizabeth's “ merry poet,” and godson, was published in 1591. Others, with more probability, believe the source from whence he took them was some now extinct version of Bandello's twenty-second novel, “ Como il S. Timbreo di Cardona, essendo col Re Piero d'Aragona in Messina, s'innamora, di Fenicia Leonata : e i varii fortunevoli accidenti, che avvennero prima che per moglie la prendesse.” In Bandello's story the scene, like that of the comedy, is laid at Messina; the name of the slandered lady's father is the same, Lionato, or Leonato ; and the friend of her lover is Don Piero, or Pedro. These coincidences alone are sufficient to establish some near or remote connexion between the novel and the play, but a brief sketch of the romance will place their affinity almost beyond doubt. Don Piero of Arragon returns from a victorious campaign, and, with the gallant cavalier Timbreo di Cardona, is at Messina. Timbreo falls in love with Fenicia, the daughter of Lionato di Leonati, a gentleman of Messina, 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 disappointed 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 accuses the lady of disloyalty, and rejects the alliance. Fenicia falls into a swoon; a dangerous illness su pervenes ; 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 creature 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
The dénouement is obvious. Timbreo espouses the mysterious fair one, and finds in her his injured, loving, and beloved Fenicia.
The comic portion of “ Much Ado about Nothing,” involving the pleasant stratagems by which the principal characters are decoyed into matrimony with each other, is Shakespeare's own design, and the amalgamation of the two plots is managed with so much felicity, that no one, perhaps, who read the comedy for entertainment only, ever thought them separable.
(*) Old text, Peter. a Enter Leonato, &c.) The stage-direction in the old copies is, "Enter Leonato governour of Messina, Innogen his wife, Hero his daughter, and Beatrice his Neece, with a Messenger.” As the
wife of Leonato takes no part in the action, and neither speaks nor is spoken to throughout the play, she was probably no more than a character the poet had designed in his first sketch of the plot, and which he found reason to omit afterwards.
Mess. But few of any sort,* and none of name. Beat. You had musty victual, and he hath
LEON. A victory is twice itself, when the holp to eat it: he is a very valiant trencher-man, achiever brings home full numbers. I find here, he hath an excellent stomach. that don Pedro * bath bestowed much honour on Mess. And a good soldier too, lady. a young Florentine, called Claudio.
Beat. And a good soldier to a lady !-But Mess. Much deserved on his part, and equally what is he to a lord ? remembered by don Pedro : he hath borne him- MESS. A lord to a lord, a man to a man; self beyond the promise of his age, doing, in the stuffed with all honourable virtues. figure of a lamb, the feats of a lion: he hath, Beat. It is so, indeed, he is no less than a indeed, better bettered expectation, than
stuffed man, but for the stuffing,–Well, we are expect of me to tell
all mortal. Leon. He hath an uncle here in Messina will LEON. You must not, sir, mistake my niece: be very much glad of it.
there is a kind of merry war betwixt signior Mess. I have already delivered him letters, and Benedick and her: they never meet, but there is there appears much joy in him ; even so much, a skirmish of wit between them. that joy could not show itself modest enough, BEAT. Alas! he gets nothing by that. without a badge of bitterness.
last conflict, four of his five witsd went halting off, LEON. Did he break out into tears?
and now is the whole man governed with one: so Mess. In great measure.
that if he have wit enough to keep himself warm, LEON. A kind overflow of kindness: there are let him bear it for a difference between himself no faces truer than those that are so washed. How and his horse: for it is all the wealth that he much better is it to weep at joy, than to joy at hath left, to be known a reasonable creature.weeping !
Who is his companion now ? he hath every month BEAT. I pray you, is signior Montanto re- a new sworn brother. turned from the wars, or no?
M:ss. Is it possible? Mess. I know none of that name, lady; there Beat. Very easily possible: he wears his faith was none such in the army of any sort.°
bit as the fashion of his hat, it ever changes wiih Leon. What is be that you ask for, niece? the next block.f
Hero. My cousin means signior Benedick of Mess. I sce, lady, the gentleman is not in your Padua.
books. Mess. O, he is returned; and as pleasant as Beat. No: an he were, I would burn my ever he was.
study. But, I pray you, who is his companion? Beat. He set up his bills (1) here in Messina, Is there no young squarer8 pow, that will make a and challenged Cupid at the flight: and my voyage
with him to the devil ? uncle's fool, reading the challenge, subscribed for Mess. He is most in the company of the right Cupid, and challenged him at the bird-bolt (2)—I noble Claudio. pray you, how many hath he killed and eaten in BEAT. O Lord! he will hang upon him like a these wars? But how many hath he killed ? for, disease: he is sooner caught than the pestilence, indeed, I promised to eat all of his killing. and the taker runs presently mad. God help the
Leon. Faith, niece, you tax signior Benedick too noble Claudio ! if he have caught the Benedick, much; but he'll be meet with you, I doubt it not. it will cost him a thousand pound ere he be cured.
Mess. He hath done good service, lady, in Mess. I will hold friends with you, lady. these wars.
BEAT. Do, good friend.
(*) Old text, Peter.
a But few of any sort, and none of name.) It may be questionable whether any sort, in this instance, is to be understood in the ordinary sense we attach to it, of any kind, or description, or whether it means any of rank, or distinction; but every one acquainted with our early literature is aware that sort was cominonly used-as in a subsequent speech of the same character, “there was none such in the army of any sort" - to imply stamp, degree, quality, &c. Thus, in Ben Jonson's “Every Man out of his Humour," Act II. Sc. 6:-"Look you, sir, you presume to be a gentleman of sort." Again, in the same author's " Every Man in his Humour," Act I. Sc. 2.-"A gertleman of your sort, parts," &c. And in “Ram Alley," Act IV. Sc. 1:-"Her husband is a gentleman of sort." “A gentleman of sort! why, what care I ?"
b Montanto-) A term horrowed from the Italian schools of fence :-" your punto, your reverso, your stoccata, your imbrocata, your passada, your Montanto,"- Every Man in his Ilumour.
c of any sort.) See note (a).
usually so called :-"Certes delites been after the appetites of
“ I am callyd Sensuall Apetyte, .
All craturs in me delyte;
Interlude of The Four Elements. e Bear it for a difference-) That is, heraldically, for a distinction. So poor Ophelia, in “Hamlet,” Act IV. Sc. 5
"You may wear your rue with a difference." f The next block.) The block was the mould on which the felt hats of our ancestors were shaped; and, as the mutatility of fashion was shown in nothing so much as in the head-dresses of both sexes, these blocks must have been perpetually changing their form.
& Squarer-) Syuarer may perhaps mean quarreller, as to square is to dispute.