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hours they caught the light of fantasy and were translated into the bewildering phantasmagoria of “A Midsummer Night's Dream," or were carried through vicissitudes that were often ominous of calamity to the happiest issues. The free hand of the great artist, who deals with his materials with little regard for traditions but with profound feeling for their essential dramatic values, is everywhere at work in the comedies, and in none of them more conspicuously than in "Much Ado About Nothing." The play is perilously full of tragic forces and runs dangerously near the verge of catastrophe; but Shakespeare's grasp of his materials is so firm and his skill so magical that the movement of the comedy, introducing the baser and the gayer elements, the gloom of the most hopeless potential tragedy and the gaiety of the most audacious wit, is never for an instant uncertain or wandering, but bears steadfastly on to an issue which gains its deepest interest from the background of villainy and treachery against which it is accomplished. It was a piece of Shakespeare's audacity to fasten upon a plot which in more than one version had a tragic ending and in every version involved the blackest elements of character, and snatch from the peril inherent in his material the most moving element in a happy ending of the basest plot.
Much Ado About Nothing" is neither a play of character nor of manners; it is a drama of wit; everything is subordinate and accessory to the flash and counter-flash of the minds of Beatrice and Benedict. The gentle Hero, the credulous Claudio, the villainous Don John, and the inimitably muddle-headed Dogberry and Verges play
their parts in order that the verbal interchange between Beatrice and Benedict may be effectively staged. But no drama of wit, however brilliantly constructed, can have deep rootage or dilate the imagination; such a drama must inevitably seem cold and artificial. "Much Ado About Nothing" does not move us because it subordinates the interest of character to the interest of brilliant verbal dexterity. It is the finest product of the verbal ingenuity and audacity of Shakespeare's time; a legitimate and brilliant example of a love of paradox, conceit, and hair-splitting juggling with words affected by the man of wit and fashion in that time and effectively satirised in "Love's Labour's Lost."
While it is true that we never at any moment fear a tragic issue in "Much Ado About Nothing" we are constantly in the presence of tragic motives and possibilities, and some of the material which may have entered into the play was distinctly tragical in its earlier use and association. It is by no means certain that Shakespeare went to Ariosto for one incident in his comedy, the personation of Hero by her maid and the imposition practised on the too easily convinced lover; but in Carrington's translation of the "Orlando Furioso" he had ready access to the pathetic story of Rinaldo and Ginevra. The differences between Ariosto's story and the story of Hero and Claudio as Shakespeare tells it are, however, far more numerous and important than the similarities. Ariosto takes Scotland, Shakespeare Messina, as a background; in the story of Ginevra the motive for the villainy is Polynesso's love; in "Much Ado About Nothing" it is
the love of evil for its own sake in the soul of Don John. To a wide divergence of incident between the two versions must be added an entire change of the names of the dramatis personæ. In fact, there is nothing in common between Ariosto and Shakespeare, save the appearance at the window of a lady-in-waiting in the dress of her mistress and the consequent poisoning of an unsuspecting lover's mind; incidents which may have had a place in the gossip of Shakespeare's time.
The resemblances between "Much Ado About Noth- ́ ing" and the twenty-second novella of Bandello, which had been retold in French by Belleforest in his "Histoires Tragiques," are much more noticeable. The probabilities are that Shakespeare, like many men of his vocation and opportunities, had a reading knowledge of Italian; it is more than probable that he knew French; he may have found Bandello's story either in its original form or in Belleforest's very free rendering. That he had some acquaintance with it seems highly probable in view of the important similarities between the story of Hero and that of Fenecia. Messina is the scene of both stories, and in Bandello we find the personation of the heroine by her maid, the reluctant acceptance of the fact of unchastity by the despairing lover, the rejection of the victim of the conspiracy, her apparent death and secret restoration to life, her seclusion, the sham funeral and epitaph, the repentance of the villain, and his endeavour to persuade the despairing lover to kill him at the tomb of his victim, the generous forgiveness of the lover and the common grief of the two men over the tragic fate in
which they are involved, the one through his villainy and the other through his credulity. This ending of the story is more moving and dramatic than that which Shakespeare adopted, but if he had used it he would have changed a comedy of wit into an impressive melodrama.
The players of Shakespeare's time were as nomadic in instinct as their successors on the stage of to-day and, taking into consideration the conditions under which they lived, travelled almost as arduously. They visited Germany and the Low Countries, as they visited the English provincial towns and Scotland, and there is ground for believing that they went as far as Italy. During this period certain plays appeared in Germany which present resemblances in title or plots to contemporary plays by English writers, and certain similarities, interesting rather than important, have been pointed out between Jakob Ayrer's "Die Schoene Sidea" and "The Tempest," and some students think they have found resemblances between Ayrer's play with the appalling title of "A Mirror of Womanly Virtue and Honour. The Comedy of the Fair Phoenicia and Count Tymbri of Golison from Arragon, How it fared with them in their honourable love until they were united in marriage" and "Much Ado About Nothing."
Ayrer was a poor boy who found work in Nuremberg as an ironmonger, and after various experiments elsewhere became a person of some consequence and attained to official position in the old city, dying there in 1605. He took up playwriting as an avocation late in life and
wrote a great number of tragedies, comedies, and farces. These plays were probably written at the very time when Shakespeare was giving the world in rapid succession the series of plays which preceded the tragedies. A comparison of "The Fair Phoenicia" and "Much Ado About Nothing" shows only such similarities as might be expected to appear in two works which drew to a certain extent upon common material. There is ground for the inference that Jakob Ayrer was under English influence; there is practically no evidence that Shakespeare was under German influence. His debt in later years to German scholarship became great, but he owed very little to German suggestion and inspiration. Many signs point to the indebtedness of Ayrer to Belleforest; there is no evidence of any indebtedness of Shakespeare to Ayrer.
There is one other possible source of some of the incidents and characters in "Much Ado About Nothing." In certain accounts of moneys received and paid out by the Lord Treasurer Stanhope in 1612-1613 mention is made of a play entitled "Benedicte and Betteris.” Shakespeare sometimes uses alliterative titles, and it has been assumed by some commentators that " Benedicte and Betteris" and "Much Ado About Nothing" were titles of the same play. Dr. Furness gives good ground for believing that there were two plays on the same subject, and several allusions in the play to events which took place before the opening scene support this conclusion and suggest the very reasonable supposition that while Bandello's novel was a principal source of "Much Ado About