investigate the earlier versions of the Hero-Claudio plot that Shakespeare adapted from Spenser and Ariosto. How does Shakespeare make use of that material? What does he borrow and what does he change?

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In Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, there is an episode in which Polinesso seeks vengeance upon a princess named Ginevra by tarnishing her reputation. He has her attendant dress in the princess's clothes and then be present on her balcony as he enters from below. This charade is enacted in full view of Ginevra's fiance Ariodante, so he will believe she is unfaithful to him. In despair, Ariodante attempts to kill himself but fails.

This same revenge plot is enacted almost exactly in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, however, the motivation behind the plot is different. In Much Ado, Don John has no interest in taking Hero for himself; he only wants to destroy her impending marriage because of his bitterness at anyone else's joy. Also, unlike Ariodante, Claudio does not attempt suicide but rather plays an active role in trying to shame Hero for allegedly betraying him when he humiliates her at the wedding ceremony. Ariodante generally cuts a more heroic figure, eventually rescuing Ginevra from unlawful execution after he learns of her innocence.

Spenser also included a variation on this narrative in his epic poem The Faerie Queene, in which Phedon has his mind poisoned against his beloved Calribell when Philemon uses the same trick to fool him into believing she has been cheating on him. Unlike Ariosto or Shakespeare, this version does not end with the misunderstanding being cleared: Phedon murders Claribell before learning she is innocent.

Shakespeare only takes the basic scenario from both versions. He is not interested in staging a spectacular rescue like in Ariosto's chivalric text nor is he interested in moralistic tragedy as in Spenser. He takes the situation and translates it into comedy: Hero is publicly shamed, "dies," then is reborn when her innocence is made known. Indeed, Shakespeare does not even make this plot the focus of his play: there is far more attention paid to the bickering couple Benedick and Beatrice, who are motivated into acting when Son John plays his hand against Hero and Claudio.

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