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“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.” 4to. 36 leaves.
It is also printed in the division of “Comedies" in the folio 1623, where it occupies twenty-one pages, viz., from p. 101, to p. 121, inclusive. It was reprinted in the other folios.
We have no information respecting “Much Ado about Nothing" anterior to the appearance of the 4to. edition in 1600: it was entered for publication on the books of the Stationers' Company, on the 23rd of August in that year, in the following manner :
“23 Aug. 1600. And. Wise Wm. Aspley) Two books, the one called Muche adoe
about Nothinge, and the other The Second Parte of the History of King Henry the üith, with the Humors of Sir
John Fallstaff: wrytten by Mr. Shakespeare.” There is another memorandum in the same register, bearing date on the “4th August,” without the year, which runs in these terms :
_“As you like yt, a book. Henry the ffift, a book. Every man in his humor, a book. The Comedie of Much Adoe about nothinge, a book.” Opposite the titles of these plays are added the words, “to be staied.” This last entry, there is little doubt, belongs to the year 1600, for such is the date immediately preceding it; and, as Malone observes, the clerk, seeing 1600 just above his pen, when he inserted the notice for staying the publication of “ Much Ado about Nothing" and the two other plays, did not think it necessary to repeat the figures. The caveat of the 4th August against the publication had no doubt been withdrawn by the 23rd of the same month, and the object of the “stay” probably was to prevent the publication of “Henry V.,” “Every Man in his Humour,” and “Much Ado about Nothing,” by any other stationers than Wise and Aspley.
The 4to. of “Much Ado about Nothing,” which came out in 1600, (and we know of no other impression in that form,) is a wellprinted work for the time, and the type (that of V[alentine) S[yms]) is unusually good. It contains no hint from which we can at all distinctly infer the date of its composition', but Malone supposed that it was written early in the year in which it came from the press. Considering, however, that the comedy would have to be got up, acted, and become popular, before it was published, or probably entered for publication, the time of its composition by Shakespeare may reasonably be carried back as far as the autumn of 1599. That it was popular, we cannot doubt; and the extracts from the Stationers' Registers seem to show that apprehensions were felt, lest rival booksellers should procure it to be printed.
| Chalmers (Suppl. Apol. 381.) conjectures that when Beatrice says, “ Yes, you had musty victuals, and he hath holp to eat it," Shakespeare meant a sarcasm upon the manner in which the army under the Earl of Essex had been supplied with bad provisions during the Irish campaign. Most readers will consider this an overstrained speculation, although, in point of date, it accords pretty accurately with the time when “Much Ado about Nothing" may have been written,
It is not included by Meres in the list he furnishes in his Pal. ladis Tamia, 1598; and “England's Parnassus,” 1600, contains no quotation from it. If any conclusion could be drawn from these facts, it might be, that it was written subsequent to the appearance of one work, and prior to the publication of the other. Respecting an early performance of it at Court, Steevens supplies us with the subsequent information :-“Much Ado about Nothing' (as I understand from one of Mr. Vertue's MSS.) formerly passed under the title of “Benedick and Beatrix.' Heminge, the player, received on the 20th May, 1613, the sum of £40, and £20 more as his Majesty's gratuity, for exhibiting six plays at Hampton Court, among which was this comedy.” The change of title, if indeed it were made, could only have been temporary. The divisions of Acts (Scenes are not marked) were first made in the folio of 1623. The adaptation of “Much Ado about Nothing,” coupled with the chief incidents of another of Shakespeare's dramas, (see the “Introduction” to “Measure for Measure,"') by Sir William Davenant, was first printed in the edition of his works in 1673.
The serious portion of the plot of “Much Ado about Nothing," which relates to Hero, Claudio, and “ John the Bastard,” is extremely similar to the story of Ariodante and Geneura, in Ariosto’s “ Orlando Furioso,” Canto v. It was separately versified in English by Peter Beverley, in imitation of Arthur Brooke's “ Romeus and Juliet,” 1562, and of Bernard Garter's "Two English Lovers,” 1563; and it was printed by Thomas East, without date, two or three years after those poems had appeared.. It was licensed for the press in 156.5; and Warton informs us (Hist. Engl. Poetry, iv. 310, edit. 1824) that it was reprinted in 1600, the year in which “ Much Ado about Nothing" came from the press. This fact is important, because either Shakespeare's attention might be directed to the story by the circumstance, or (which seems more probable) Beverley's poem might then be republished, in consequence of its connexion in point of story with Shakespeare's comedy.