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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. T'imbreo 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 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 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 over. 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.
Enter LEONATO, HERO, BEATRICE, and others, / Mess. He is very near by this: he was not with a Messenger.
three leagues off when I left him. Leon. I learn in this letter, that don Pedro * LEON. How many gentlemen have you lost in of Arragon comes this night to Messina.
this action ? (*) Old text, Peter.
wife of Leonato takes no part in the action, and neither speaks
nor is spoken to throughout the play, she was probably no more a Enter Leonato, &c.) The stage-direction in the old copies is,
than a character the poet had designed in his first sketch of the "Enter Leonato governour of Messina, Innogen his wife, Hero
plot, and which he found reason to ornit afterwards. his daughter, and Beatrice his Neece, with a Messenger." As the
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 * hath 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 you must stuffed man, but for the stuffing,–Well, we are expect of me to tell you how.
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. In our without a badge of bitterness.
last conflict, four of his five wits' 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?
Mess. 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.
but as the fashion of his hat, it ever changes with LEON. What is he that you ask for, niece? the next block.
HERO. My cousin means signior Benedick of Mess. I see, lady, the gentleman is not in your Padua.
books. MES. 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 squarers now, 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.
usually so called :-"Certes delites been after the appetites of
the five willis ; as sight, hereing, smelling, savouring, and toucha But few of any sort, and none of name.] It may be question- ing."--The Persones Tale of CHAUCER. able whether any sort, in this instance, is to be understood in the
" I am callyd Sensuall Apetyte, ordinary sense we attach to it, of any kind, or description, or
All craturs in me delyte; whether it means any of rank, or distinction; but every one
I comforte the wyttys fyve, acquainted with our early literature is aware that sort was com
The tastyng, smellyng, and herynge; monly used-as in a subsequent speech of the same character,
I refresh the syght and selynge " there was none such in the army of any sort" - to imply stamp,
To all creaturs alyve." degree, quality, &c. Thus, in Ben Jonson's "Every Man out of his Humour," Act II. Sc. 6:-"Look you, sir, you presume
Interlude of The Pour Elements. to be a gentleman of sort." Again, in the same author's “Every Bear it for a difference-) That is, heraldically, for a distincMan in his Humour," Act 1. Sc. 2.-"A gentleman of your | tion. So poor Ophelia, in “Hamlet,” Act IV. Sc. 5:sort, parts," &c. And in “Ram Alley," Act IV. Sc. 1:-"Her husband is a gentleman of sort." “A gentleman of sort! why,
“You may wear your rue with a difference." what care IP"
f The next block.] The block was the mould on which the felt b Montanto-) A term borrowed from the Italian schools of hats of our ancestors were shaped; and, as the mutability of fence :-" your punto, your reverso, your stoccata, your fashion was shown in nothing so much as in the head-dresses of imbrocata, your passada, your Montanlo."-Erery Man in his both sexes, these blocks must have been perpetually changing Humour.
their form, c of any sort.] See note (a).
& Squarer-) Squarer may perhaps mean quarreller, as to square d His five wits-) With our early writers the five senses were is to dispute.