« AnteriorContinuar »
I have a motion much imports your good;
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.
THE earliest notice that has reached us of Much ADO ABOUT Nothing is an entry in the books of the Stationers' Company, bearing date August 4, 1600, and running thus :
“ As You Like It, a book. “ Henry the Fifth, a book.
To be stayed.” “Every Man in his Humour, a book.
“ Much Ado about Nothing, a book. Why these plays were thus entered and the publication stayed, cannot be certainly determined: probably it was to protect the authorized publishers and the public against those « stolen and surreptitious copies” which the editors of the folio allege to have been put forth. In the same Register, under the date of August 23, 1600, the following entry was made by Andrew Wise and William Apsley : “ T'wo books, the one called Much Ado about Nothing, and the other The Second Part of the History of King Henry the IV., with the Humours of Sir John Falstaff : Written by Mr. Shakespeare.” This entry was for publication; which may infer that the stay of August 4 had been revoked by the 23d of the same month. In the course of the same year a quarto pamphlet of thirty-six leaves was published, with a title-page reading as follows : “ Much Ado about Nothing : As it hath been sundry times publicly acted by the right honourable, the Lord Chamberlain his servants. Writien by William Shakespeare. — London : Printed by V. S. for Andrew Wise and William Apsley. 1600.” The frequent use of the play on the public stage, and the need of a stay to prevent a stolen issue, may doubtless be taken as evidence of a pretty good run. There is one more contemporary reference to this play, which should not be omitted. Mr. Steevens ascertained from one of Vertue's manuscripts that Much Ado about Nothing once passed under the title of Benedick and Beatrice ;
and that Heminge the player received on the 20th of May, 1613, the sum of 40 pounds, and 20 pounds more as his Majesty's gratuity, for exhibiting six plays at Hainpton Court, among which was this comedy.
Except the quarto of 1600, tbere was no other edition of Much Ado about Nothing, that we know of, till the folio of 1623, where it stands the sixth in the division of Comedies. In the first edition neither the scenes nor the acts, in the second only the latter, are marked. Some question has been made whether the folio were a reprint of the quarto, or from another manuscript. Considerable might be urged on either side of the question : but the arguments would hardly pay for the stating; the differences between the two copies being so few and slight as to make it of little consequence whether they were printed from several manuscripts, or the one from the other. And the superior authority of the quarto is sufficiently established in that it came out during the author's life, and when he was at hand to correct the proof: besides, nearly every case of difference the reading of the quarto seems better in itself. There is one point, however, bearing rather in favor of several manuscripts, which ought perhaps to be stated. In Act ii. sc. 3, one of the stage directions in the folio is,
, -—“ Enter Prince, Leonato, Claudio, and Jack Wilson," thus substituting the name of the actor for that of the character; which looks very much as if the whole came fresh from the prompter's book. Wilson was a celebrated stage singer of that time; and we thus learn that he performed the part of Balthazar. Again, in Act iv. sc. 2, both quarto and folio set the names of Kemp and Cowley before the speeches of Dogberry and Verges; thus showing what actors originally played the parts of those immortal magistrates. So far as the question of several manuscripts is concerned, perhaps the agreement of the two editions in this latter case may be fairly regarded as offsetting their difference in the former, as Kemp had been dead some years when the folio appeared. It may be worth the while to add, that the folio omits some passages that are found in the quarto, two of which, besides being quite at home where they stand, are too good to be lost. One is the following part of Don Pedro's speech in Act iii. sc. 2: “ Or in the shape of two countries at once; as a German from the waist downward, all slops, and a Spaniard from the hip upward, no doublet :" which Mr. Collier thinks may have been left out in consequence of some change of fashion between 1600 and 1623. The other passage includes a part of Dogberry's speech in Act iv. sc. 2 : “Write down — that they hope they serve God:- and write God first; for God defend but God should go before such villains :" which, as Blackstone suggests, may have been thrown out in 1623, on account of a law made in the third year of James I. against the irreverent use of the sacred Name.
What with the copies of 1600 and 1623, the text of Much Ado