William Shakespeare’s reputation as a dramatist is distinct. While few facts of his personal life are available, he was a prolific writer. During his lifetime (1564–1616), Shakespeare wrote dozens of tragedies, comedies, and historical plays, as well as sonnets and poetry. While his poetry was published before his plays were, it was his plays that met with great commercial success and critical acclaim, making him the favorite of two separate monarchs, Elizabeth I and James I. It was King James who gave Shakespeare the Globe Theatre, where his plays are still performed today.
The central plot in Much Ado About Nothing concerns the love between Hero and Claudio, with the relationship between Beatrice and Benedick forming a subplot. The two storylines are unified through the character of Leonato, Hero’s father and Beatrice’s uncle. The action of the play centers on the wedding to take place between Hero and Claudio and the attempt to get Beatrice and Benedick to admit that they love each other. Villainous Don John, however, wants to disrupt everyone’s happiness; he makes it appear that Hero is disloyal to Claudio, deliberately deceiving him and others, which divides allegiances and prompts Claudio to leave Hero at the altar. By the end of the play, however, Hero is redeemed, there is a double marriage, and all ends well.
Shakespeare often borrowed stories from other writers. Much Ado About Nothing was influenced by a collection of tales entitled La Prima Parte de le Nouelle (1554) written by the Italian writer Matteo Bandello. The twenty-second story in the collection gave Shakespeare the setting in Messina and contributed to the wedding plot involving Hero, Claudio, and Don John. The poem Orlando Furioso (1532) by Ludovico Aristo gave Shakespeare the idea for Don John’s trick to prevent the marriage. The title for the play is a pun borrowed from the time in which Shakespeare wrote. During the Elizabethan era, “nothing” was pronounced as “noting.” The pun in the title and its use throughout the play is intended to indicate the importance of “noting”—through observation, eavesdropping, and spying on the action. When a character in the play “notes” something and interprets it in the wrong way, the misunderstanding complicates the plot. When the misinterpretation is deliberate, the theme of deception emerges.
Much Ado About Nothing is a comedy, but it develops some serious themes, as well. Besides the theme of deception, the play addresses honor vs. shame, love, gender expectations, and personal transformation. The crisis at the center of the play evokes anger, betrayal, and grief. Despite these thoughtful themes and motifs, however, the circumstances and events of the play are superficial and humorous. A romantic comedy, Much Ado About Nothing continues to captivate readers and audiences four hundred years after it was written because it is so amusing.
At the heart of the comedy are two duos that are humorous in different ways: one duo is sophisticatedly funny, whereas the other is farcical. Beatrice and Benedick employ droll wit and verbal sparring, whereas Dogberry and Verges struggle humorously just to articulate their thoughts. Language contributes to the fun, too, because the wordplay highlights the various characters and their relationships to one another. Throughout the play, Shakespeare uses puns, antitheses, malapropisms, double entendres, and innuendos in a remarkable display of literary prowess.
Students should not be intimidated, however, by Shakespeare’s literary skills, as Much Ado About Nothing is not an overly daunting exercise for the intellect. The play is written primarily in prose and blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter), making the language easier to understand than rhymed verse. And, the plot is a relatively simple rendition of the classic boy-meets-girl story, intended to entertain, rather than to vex, its readers.
By the end of the unit the student will be able to:
1. Identify characters and describe the plot and subplot of Much Ado About Nothing.
2. Describe the central conflict.
3. Identify the primary themes and motifs.
4. Identify the various representations of love presented in the text and explain how they contribute to character and to plot development.
5. Define and explain the role of women and their sense of honor as it relates to men and to society as presented in the play.
6. Recognize literary devices, such as dramatic irony, foreshadowing, suspension of disbelief, metaphor, and puns.
7. Identify examples of blank verse and prose. Discuss the differences between prose and blank verse and their utilization as a means to reinforce character, meaning, or tone.
8. Explain how Shakespeare addresses the possibility for social redemption and rebirth.
9. Understand both an individual’s and a society’s different modes of deception.
10. Understand what elements make Much Ado About Nothing one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays.
This eNotes lesson plan is designed so that it may be used in numerous ways to accommodate ESL students and to differentiate instruction in the classroom.
Student Lesson Guide
• The Lesson Guide is organized for an act-by-act study of the play. Lesson Guide pages may be assigned individually and completed at a student’s own pace.
• Lesson Guide pages may be used as pre-reading activities to preview for students the vocabulary words they will encounter in reading each act and to acquaint them generally with its content.
• Before Lesson Guide pages are assigned, questions may be selected from them to use as short quizzes to assess reading comprehension.
• Lesson Guide...
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1. Compare and contrast the types of love depicted in this play. What can modern readers learn from the various examples and definitions of love? Is Shakespeare promoting romantic love or making fun of it?
2. What are the indications that Beatrice and Benedick will end up together? Are Beatrice and Benedick’s friends maliciously tricking them? Why or why not? What does Beatrice and Benedick’s response to the trick reflect about each of them, and what does it predict about their subsequent marriage? In what ways does this subplot require a suspension of disbelief from the reader or audience? (The suspension of disbelief is a formula for justifying the use of fantastic or non-realistic elements in...
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alas: an expression of grief, pity, or concern
baldrick: a strap supporting a holster, worn over the right shoulder and resting on the left hip; also could be used to carry a horn (see Historical References below)
dost: archaic does
ere: before (in time)
flouting Jack: slang an Elizabethan term for a mocking rascal
foresworn: rejected under oath
haply: by chance, luck, or accident
hath: archaic have
heretic: a person believing something at odds with what is generally accepted
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accordant: agreeing, compatible
arras: a wall hanging, a tapestry
betroths: enters into a formal agreement to marry
canker: a fungal disease on various plants
curst: archaic cursed
how now: archaic “How are you?”
man of mine: a servant, a paid assistant
peradventure: archaic perhaps, in case
sufferance: absence of objection; toleration
thither: to, or toward, that place
withal: archaic with
yonder: over there
canker: Shakespeare uses “canker” to mean a blight on a wild rose, hence Don John’s...
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ancientry: ancientness, antiquity
beseech: to implore, to beg
blazon: to depict, to describe
brethren: people who belong to a particular group (in context)
cinque pace: a sixteenth-century dance with steps regulated by the number five
drovier: a cattle dealer
enamoured (enamored): marked by foolish, unreasonable longing
fain: archaic willingly, gladly
harpy: a grasping, unscrupulous woman
hence: as a consequence
jester: a professional joker or fool in medieval times
kindred: of a similar nature or character
libertines: free thinkers unrestrained by convention or morality
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abhor: to regard with distrust and hatred
athwart: across from side to side, transversely
blithe: happy, joyful
bode: to foretell, to indicate
bonny: pretty, handsome
censured: expressed severe disapproval of
Christian-like fear: piety
cozened: tricked or deceived
daffed: archaic thrown aside
daw withal: archaic as much as can be taken on a knife’s point to eat without choking to death
dotage: the period of life in which a person is old and weak
ducats: archaic European gold coins
gull: to trick
half-pence: archaic British monetary unit...
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carping: complaining; finding fault continually, usually regarding trivial matters
civet: a strong, musky perfume
disparage: to regard as being of little worth
gallants: dashing men of fashion
haps: luck, fortune
hereafter: from now on
lapwing: a type of bird
limed: trapped, ensnared
Nature: the phenomena of the physical world collectively; capitalized here as though it is the name of an entity
office: place, purpose
purchaseth: archaic to purchase
requite: make appropriate return
thrice: three times, as in “once, twice, thrice”
thwarting: obstructing, inhibiting...
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constable: a person within the ranks of law enforcement
five shillings: archaic British monetary unit
giddy: dizzy, thrilled
deformed: From the sixteenth century to the twentieth century, a literary tradition developed from “The Tudor Myth,” a representation of England’s fifteenth century as having been an age of darkness, violence, and bloodshed. Part of the myth, which was promoted by the English monarchy in the sixteenth century for self-serving purposes, was depicting Richard III as a despicable villain. Since King Richard’s back was deformed, physical deformity became equated with an evil nature or evil...
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Carduus Benedictus: a common healing herb of the Elizabethan era
“fie upon thee”: “shame on you”
perchance: by some chance, perhaps
qualm: an uneasy feeling of doubt, distrust, foreboding
rabato: a starched collar of intricate lace
“Turk, there’s no more sailing by the star”: Shakespeare is alluding to an event in history and the idea of fortune directing one’s fate. There was a series of naval battles in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries between the Republic of Venice and the Ottoman Empire. The Turks were successful in the war, suggesting good for-tune, or fortuitous...
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apparitions: ghosts or ghostlike images of a person
belied: failed to give a true notion or appearance of something
catechising (catechizing): questioning
(a) common stale: archaic a prostitute
conjecture: a conclusion deduced by surmise or guesswork
conjoined: joined, combined
epitaph: a phrase or statement written in memory of a person
extenuate: to make guilt or offense less serious because of circumstances
Fate: the development of events outside a person’s control, regarded as determined by a supernatural power
habit: a style of dress, clothes
infamy: a state of extreme...
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coxcomb: a vain and conceited man
malefactor: a person who commits a crime or some other wrong
piety: the quality of being religious or reverent
sexton: an officer in a church or congregation charged with the maintenance of its buildings and the parish graveyard
1. How is the truth uncovered in this scene? What are the results?
Constable Dogberry, his deputy Verges, and the sexton question Borachio and Conrade. By doing so, they uncover Don John’s plot to dishonor Hero, to ruin Claudio and Hero’s wedding, and to make Don Pedro look foolish for encouraging Claudio and Hero’s relationship. Don John has...
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beshrew: archaic to curse
braggart: a person who boasts about accomplishments or possessions
capon: a castrated rooster fattened for eating; a man who looks foolish (in context)
daff: archaic to turn or thrust aside
dotard: a weak-minded, foolish old person
fetter: to confine, to restrain
incensed: made very angry
lewd: crude, offensive in a sexual way
lineament: a distinctive feature or characteristic
minstrels: musical entertainers; singers of verses who are accompanied by a harp
preceptial: of or relating to the ability to become aware of something through the...
(The entire section is 972 words.)
buckler: a small, round shield
clamour (clamor): a long and confused noise
guerdon: a reward, a recompense
pander: to gratify, to indulge
pikes: infantry weapons with a pointed steel or iron head on a long wooden shaft
quondam: that once was, formerly was
rite: a solemn ceremony or act
slew: a large number or quantity of something
weeds: garments, clothes
“die in thy lap”: In the Elizabethan period, this was a reference to having an orgasm. Dirty jokes and puns (see Margaret’s lines) were very popular in Shakespeare’s time, even as censors of the day were...
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countenance: a person’s facial expression
cudgelled (cudgeled): beaten by a short, thick, stick
entreat: to implore, to ask someone anxiously
enigmatical: puzzling, mysterious
epigram: a short poem
requite: make appropriate return for
consumption: A reference to pulmonary tuberculosis (TB). During the Elizabethan era, many people died of TB because living conditions were close and squalid for most, and it is a highly contagious disease. Classic symptoms include weight loss, which gave rise to the ironic term “consumption.”
1. Does Leonato hold Don Pedro...
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1. Who are Claudio and Benedick?
A. fellow soldiers, adversaries, and central characters in the play
B. fellow soldiers, great friends, and central characters in the play
C. fellow soldiers, rivals in love, and minor characters in the play
D. fellow soldiers, enemies, and central characters in the play
E. fellow soldiers, great friends, and minor characters in the play
2. Why is Beatrice rude to Benedick at the beginning of the play?
A. She is hurt by his behavior.
B. He is a horrible philanderer.
C. He double-crossed her uncle.
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1. Explain the significance and give examples of “noting” throughout the play (eavesdropping, observing, taking special notice). How do these incidents advance or complicate the plot? Support your discussion with evidence from the text.
The word “nothing” was pronounced “noting” in Shakespeare’s time; Much Ado About Nothing is really about the fuss created when characters notice and misinterpret, either innocently or deliberately, the actions and words of other characters. When a character in the play “notes” something and interprets it in the wrong way, the misunderstanding complicates the plot. In addition to complicating and advancing the plot, “noting” involves the reader (or audience)...
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