Much Ado About Nothing Much Ado about Nothing (Vol. 31) - Essay

William Shakespeare


(Shakespearean Criticism)

Much Ado about Nothing

Much Ado about Nothing has been described by critics as an enjoyable but problematic play. Attempts to categorize it have yielded varied assessments: C. L. Barber (1967) called it a festive comedy because it ends in a celebration; Northrop Frye (1965) identified it as a "green-world" comedy, focusing on Hero's death and rebirth; and Leo Salingar (1974) cited the broken nuptials when labeling Much Ado about Nothing a problem comedy. Scholars have also argued about the structure of the play; Ralph Berry (1971) observed that critics "do not agree on the number of plots, on the identity of the 'main' plot, or on the relevance of the Dogberry scenes." Although commentators have presented contrasting viewpoints on many aspects of Much Ado about Nothing, they have consistently analyzed the relationship of the Beatrice-Benedick subplot to the Hero-Claudio story, the importance of gender roles in the society of Messina, and the theme of appearance versus reality.

Most critics concur that Shakespeare's depiction of the relationship between Beatrice and Benedick far surpasses that of Hero and Claudio in depth and interest. Larry S. Champion (1970) has praised the characters of Beatrice and Benedick, stating that they "are presented as realistic human characters, who with credible motivation develop in their attitude toward love during the course of the play." Scholars have often emphasized the fact that Shakespeare deliberately introduces the theme of the sparring mockers (Beatrice and Benedick) before the theme of the pallid romantics (Hero and Claudio), and that, when all of the principal characters are on stage together, the major interest of the audience is not the love-at-first-sight which develops between Hero and Claudio, but rather the "merry war" occuring between Beatrice and Benedick. Commentators have also noted that while the romance of Hero and Claudio is based on the outer senses, Beatrice and Benedick place more value in each other's inner attributes. B. K. Lewalski (1968) has observed that Beatrice and Benedick act out the pattern of rational lovers, "attracted by physical beauty but regarding the inner qualities of the soul more highly, basing love on genuine knowledge, and accepting it not in terms of mad passion but by conscious choice," which results in a heightened perception of reality. However, John Dover Wilson (1962), while acknowledging that Beatrice and Benedick "are actually the outstanding figures of the play," has contended that "the Hero-Claudio plot, on the whole, is quite as effective as the Beatrice-Benedick one, which is to some extent cumbered with dead wood in the sets-of-wit between the two mockers."

The importance of gender roles in the society of Messina has also attracted significant critical attention. Commentators have explored the role of bawdy language in Much Ado about Nothing in establishing sexuality as a central component of marriage and in emphasizing male power and female weakness. Many critics agree with Carol Thomas Neely's assessment (1985) that while women fear submission to men's aggressive sexual power, men, likewise perceiving sexuality as power over women, fear its loss through female betrayal. Scholars have consistently noted the emphasis on cuckoldry and the imagery of horns and wounds in cuckold jokes told by the men in the play, as well as its importance in establishing sexual and social power. Carol Cook (1986) has observed that the men of Messina fear cuckolding because they believe that in becoming a cuckold, a man relinquishes his dominant role and falls instead to the woman's position as the object of jokes; by telling cuckold jokes, the men retain their power and return the women to silence.

The theme of appearance versus reality has been deemed central to the play's structure and tone. Reflecting on the numerous instances of deception in Much Ado about Nothing, Lewalski has observed, "mistake, pretense, and misapprehension are of the very substance of life in Messina," and Dover Wilson has asserted, "Eavesdropping and misinterpretation, disguise and deceit—sometimes for evil ends, but generally in fun and with a comic upshot—such are the designs in the dramatic pattern of Much Ado." All of the main characters deceive or are deceived by others at some point during the play. The first instances occur at Leonato's party, as Don Pedro woos Hero in Claudio's name and Don John, pretending to take Claudio for Benedick, convinces Claudio that Don Pedro has won Hero for himself. In Act 2, scene 3, Benedick overhears his friends discussing Beatrice's undying love for him; shortly after, Beatrice eavesdrops on a similar conversation and eventually each professes true love for the other. In Act 3, scene 3, Borachio tells Conrade that Claudio, Don Pedro, and Don John observed him and Margaret in Hero's chamber, and that Claudio, mistaking Margaret for Hero, believes that he has been betrayed. The next day, at the wedding, Claudio denounces Hero for her alleged infidelity, then is later told that Hero died from embarrassment. Claudio, seeking forgiveness, agrees to marry Hero's cousin, and Leonato, introducing his own deception, presents a masked Hero as the bride. While critics have often noted that the theme of appearance versus reality is articulated in most of Shakespeare's plays either by an external force imposing some incorrect perception of reality on the characters which is rectified as the plot proceeds, or by some characters voluntarily creating deceptions that impel the plot and demonstrate the importance of distinguishing appearance from reality, Elliot Krieger (1979) has maintained, "Much Ado about Nothing fits neither pattern, for the series of deceptions that compose the plot, although created by the characters, are lived through en route to other deceptions, and are not overcome; false perception characterizes rather than disrupts the norm of the society depicted in the play."


(Shakespearean Criticism)

John Dover Wilson (essay date 1962)

SOURCE: "Much Ado about Nothing," in Shakespeare's Happy Comedies, Northwestern University Press, 1962, pp. 120-40.

[In the following essay, Dover Wilson explores structure and characterization in Much Ado about Nothing, defending the merit of the Hero-Claudio plot, detailing the "hide and seek" pattern of the play, and praising the characters Beatrice, Benedick, and Dogberry.]

[Much Ado about Nothing] has two main plots: (i) the Hero-Claudio plot, belonging to the tragi-comedy type of The Merchant; and (ii) the Beatrice-Benedick plot, belonging to the comedy of wit, exemplified in Love's Labour's Lost. The dramatic dovetailing is carried out with Shakespeare's usual tact in such matters, but most critics appear to agree that, as we find them declaring in the case of the casket-plot and the bond-plot of The Merchant, there is to their thinking some dissonance of tone. Sir Edmund Chambers, for example, premising that Beatrice and Benedick are creatures of 'pure comedy', while the story of Hero, Claudio and Don John is 'melodrama', writes [in his Shakespeare: A Survey]:

Benedick and Beatrice may be structurally subordinate to Claudio and Hero. This does not prevent them from being a very living man and a very living woman, and as such infinitely more interesting than the rather colourless lay figures of the melodrama.… The plane of comedy … is far nearer to real life than is the plane of melodrama. The triumph of comedy in Much Ado about Nothing means therefore that the things which happen between Claudio and Hero have to stand the test of a much closer comparison with the standard of reality than they were designed to bear.… Before Beatrice's fiery-souled espousal of her cousin's cause, the conventions of melodrama crumble and Claudio stands revealed as the worm that he is, and that it should have been the dramatist's main business to prevent the audience from discovering him to be. The whole of the serious matter of the last Act fails to convince. Don Pedro and Claudio could not, outside the plane of melodrama, have been guilty of the insult of staying on in Leonato's house and entering into recriminations with him. Claudio could not have complacently accepted the proposal to substitute a cousin for the bride he had wronged. Hero could not have been willing to be resumed by the man who had thrown her off on the unconfirmed suggestion of a fault. Such proceedings belong to the chiaroscuro of melodrama; in the honest daylight which Benedick and Beatrice bring with them, they are garish.

Here indeed is much ado! And, since Sir Edmund is only the spokesman of many, scarcely about nothing.

It would take too long in this [essay] to answer all his points, though I think a reply might be found for every one. I must deal with them in general terms only, thus:

(i) I do not think that the 'garishness' which Sir Edmund sees in reading the play in his study is visible on the stage. On the contrary, Much Ado, when I first saw it acted, took me almost as much by surprise as Guthrie's Love's Labour's Lost had done. And, having seen it now several times and played by companies of very different calibre—amateur, first-rate companies, and second-rate ones—I have come to the conclusion (a) that Much Ado is a capital stage-play, indeed a better one than either As You Like It or Twelfth Night; and (b) that the Hero-Claudio plot, on the whole, is quite as effective as the Beatrice-Benedick one, which is to some extent cumbered with dead wood in the sets-of-wit between the two mockers.

But these are only personal impressions, and carry no weight. Speaking, then, by the book, the criticisms of the Hero-Claudio story appear to be based partly upon misapprehension, partly upon forgetfulness of different social customs which reigned in Shakespeare's day, and partly upon failure to observe the pattern of the play.

Let me take up these matters in order. Surely, Shakespeare never intended Claudio to be a hero, any more than he does Bertram in All's Well, who is in many ways Claudio over again, or that other Claudio in Measure for Measure, who is also cast in the same mould. All three are young noblemen, with plenty of physical courage (at least two of them have), an attractive presence, and very little judgment or experience, Claudio's youth is much insisted upon—'he hath borne himself beyond the promise of his age, doing in the figure of a lamb the feats of a lion'; to Don John he is 'a proper squire' and a 'very forward March-chick'; Leonato speaks of

His May of youth and bloom of lustihood

and his inexperience of the ways of woman is surely proved by the fact that Don Pedro no sooner hears that his mind is on Hero, than he offers to do the courtship for him. He is no 'worm', only a rather foolish boy.

As for his belief in Borachio's story of Hero's infidelity, there are several things about it which are generally overlooked:

  1. Claudio is not only very youthful but of an abnormally jealous disposition. A youthful Leontes, he gratefully accepts the Prince's offer to woo Hero in his name; but the suggestion is no sooner put to him that Don Pedro is really trying to steal the young lady for himself than he believes it and goes off and sulks. 'Alas, poor hurt fowl,' exclaims Benedick, 'now will he creep into sedges.' It is true that Benedick also thinks Don Pedro has been courting Hero on his own account; but he knows nothing of his offer to act as Claudio's proxy. Claudio's suspicions of his Prince are unpardonable—and having doubted the good faith of a friend well known to him, he will hardly continue to believe in that of a girl, whom he scarcely knows at all, and this in the face of what seems to be ocular proof of her treachery.
  2. Shakespeare deals a little carelessly with the incident of Borachio and Margaret at Hero's window, which was probably more consistent and clearer at some earlier stage of the play's history. But both Claudio and Don Pedro watch a strange man climbing into Hero's bedroom and received lovingly by a woman dressed in Hero's clothes. They could not see her features in the dark, but they had every excuse for assuming her to be that which she pretended.
  3. If Leonato, Hero's father, is at Claudio's revelation in the church ready at first to believe her guilty, is it surprising that Don Pedro and Claudio have done so? Women were easier of access in those days, and morals generally were looser. Critics have been too ready to assume that the household of Leonato was a Victorian one.

A fairly recent editor of Ado [G. Sampson] has declared:

There is scarcely a rag of credibility in a story that causes a king and a count to conduct themselves like a pair of ill-bred and overstimulated brawlers.

Surely this is the very ecstasy of misinterpretation.

Sir Edmund Chambers is at once more subtle and more cautious. But his objection to the proceedings of the last Act seems to me no less misguided. Don Pedro is a king; he has done Governor Leonato, who is not even of noble birth, the signal honour of accepting his hospitality. Is he to move into meaner quarters because the old man's daughter is not as honest as she might be? Would any monarch of the period have done so? So far from regarding the continuance of his stay as an 'insult' he would think of it as a favour. And if he stayed on, Claudio would have to do likewise. Shakespeare does not say all this; he didn't need to, for it would never have occurred to him that his spectators might question it.

Similarly, Claudio had done Leonato honour by asking the hand of his daughter; he, a count, was a great match for a gentleman's house. The least he can do, then, in restitution, when he discovers that his suspicions are baseless, is to agree to marry the cousin of the supposedly dead girl, in order that Leonato may not lose his match. Marriage in those days was first a matter of business, and only secondarily (if at all) a matter of love. The mood in which Claudio goes to this second marriage is evident in V, iv, 38: 'I'll hold my mind,' he declares, 'were she an Ethiope.' He is sacrificing himself for the old man's sake. The story of Hero and Claudio is no more melodrama than that of Ophelia and Hamlet, to which as a matter of fact it bears some resemblance.

Finally, a word may be said in defence of Don John, not as a man but as a dramatic character. Here again there may be some obscurity owing to revision. But his villainy is surely not of the melodramatic kind of Richard Crookback, who was a villain only because, as he says,

I am determinéd to prove a villain.

Nor does the melancholy of the bastard suffice to account for it. The matter is not, I say, as clear as it might be, but he tells us that Claudio, 'that young start-up, hath all the glory of my overthrow' (I, iii, 62), and when we remember the glory that Claudio had won in the late 'action', of which we hear at the opening of the play, is it not at least plausible to suppose that Don John had been fighting against his brother, Don Pedro, in that action, and being overthrown had perforce become 'reconciled to the prince' (I, i, 148)? To suppose so would, at any rate, go far to explain his actions, and make a man of him, instead of the 'thorough-paced villain of the deliberate Machiavellian type dear to the Elizabethan imagination' as Sir Edmund Chambers labels him.

But though I think the tone and significance of the Hero-plot have been badly misjudged by modern criticism, I am not claiming it as more important than Beatrice and Benedick. Their plot is simple, so simple as hardly to be a plot at all, while the story of Hero is an intricate one. But in dramatic perspective there is no doubt which is the more prominent. From the very outset Beatrice and Benedick take the centre of the stage, and though 'structurally subordinate to Claudio and Hero' in the sense that the story of the latter determines their actions and explains their movements, they are actually the outstanding figures of the play.

And they are more interesting and more alive than the younger lovers, not because they belong to 'pure comedy' and the others to 'melodrama', but because Shakespeare intended them so to be and gave them far more to say. Apart from the scene where Beatrice lies hid in the pleached arbour, a scene in which Hero of necessity leads the dialogue, the latter has less than fifty lines to speak in the whole play. She does not even speak a word when she is formally betrothed to Claudio in Act 2—it is Beatrice who covers her natural shyness with 'Speak, cousin, or if you cannot, stop his mouth with a kiss, and let him not speak neither.' (II, i, 290-1.) Similarly, though Claudio has of course more to say than Hero, because the action demands that he should, he does not even play second fiddle to Benedick. For between the two stands Don Pedro, who woos for his young favourite; and so leads him by the hand throughout the play, that we cannot overlook the latter's subordinate position.

All this is, without question, quite deliberate on Shakespeare's part. In The Merchant he had two plots, a love-story and a revenge-story, of almost equal weight. They were cleverly linked together, but he only just kept the balance, and so saved the play. In Much Ado, the comedy that followed, he ran no such risks. Once again, he had two plots—this time combining love and revenge into one, and reverting to Love's Labour's Lost for the other. But he kept the former in strict subordination to the latter, and so created what was, in my opinion, structurally a more shapely play.

Furthermore, he imposed, as I have said, his own pattern, a special pattern peculiar to Much Ado, upon the texture of plot and character. The Merchant of Venice, for all its excitement and its beauty, does not really hang well together, and, apart from the grey thread of the melancholy Antonio, no pattern runs through it.

Much Ado, on the other hand, possesses a very definite pattern of its own, at once pretty and amusing; and though no modern critic, I believe, has ever noticed it, that does not prove that generations of spectators have not unconsciously derived much pleasure from it. Indeed, in my view, it contributes very materially to the life and interest of the play, though it does so more certainly in the theatre than in the study.

When one watches Much Ado on the stage, does one not feel somehow as if one were looking on at an elaborate game of Hide and Seek? Shakespeare himself suggests it at one point, when he makes Claudio describe Benedick lurking in the arbour as 'the hidfox'. Whether the children's game of 'Hide-fox' in Shakespeare's day was exactly the same as the modern Hide and Seek, I do not know. In any case, he is thinking in Much Ado of it rather from the point of view of the hidden person than of those who seek. The hid-fox lurks unseen and listens to the other children as they move about and talk—sometimes of him.

In a word, the pattern is partly made by eavesdropping, of which there are no fewer than half a dozen instances in the play.

  1. A serving-man in a 'thick-pleached alley' of the orchard overhears the Prince and Claudio talking of the intended courtship of Hero, and misapprehending what he has heard, reports to Antonio, the brother of Leonato, that Don Pedro proposes to win her for himself.
  2. Next Borachio, Don John's spy, from behind the arras in a room overhears the Prince and Claudio still discussing the same project and reports likewise to his master, this time however getting the facts correctly.

These two eavesdroppings we are told of but do not see on the stage—they introduce the theme as it were, to use a musical term. The next two are enacted before our eyes, viz.:

  • and Benedick and Beatrice are in turn lured into the pleached arbour in the orchard in order that they may overhear their friends in talk and so come to imagine that each is in love with the other.
  • This time not seen on the stage, Claudio and Don Pedro are similarly led to believe Hero unfaithful by eavesdropping outside her bedroom window.
  • Lastly, the Watch overhear the scoundrels Conrade and Borachio talking under a penthouse, and after much misunderstanding and delay, this leads to the discovery of the plot against Hero's honour.

Closely connected with this eavesdropping motif, though not identical with it, is a subsidiary design of the familiar disguise variety. Thus Borachio gains access to the room in which he spies upon the Prince and Claudio, disguised as a fumigator. There is a masked dance in Act II, very similar to that in Love's Labour's Lost, in the course of which Don Pedro, pretending to be Claudio, woos Hero, and after which Don John, addressing Claudio as if he were Benedick, persuades him that the Prince is acting treacherously. Margaret again disguises herself as Hero for the scene at the bedroom window. And finally Hero herself, masked once more, poses as Leonato's niece in the last scene.

Eavesdropping and misinterpretation, disguise and deceit—sometimes for evil ends, but generally in fun and with a comic upshot—such are the designs in the dramatic pattern of Much Ado. It is simple enough, once the matter is explained: it is dependent upon stage-effects rather than upon poetic construction, and Shakespeare was to improve in subtlety upon it later. But this spying and hoodwinking give the play its special atmosphere, an atmosphere which is reproduced for tragic purposes, though by similar devices, in Hamlet.

In Much Ado about Nothing, however, it is all a game. The children skip in and out of their pleached alleys and arbours, and the hid-fox is fitted with his penny-worth. Shy little Hero gets put into the corner unjustly for a while; jealous young Claudio misdoubts her, insults her, repents and hangs his little verses upon her empty monument; the melancholy Don John does his worst and then flees.

But our main interest lies neither in this background nor in the patterned framework; what we remember when the play is done are three figures which stand out in front of it all, and for the exhibition of whom most of what I have been hitherto speaking of was designed by the dramatist—I mean Beatrice, Benedick and the immortal constable, Master Dogberry. The rest of this [essay] belongs to them by right.

The first thing to note about them is that they all talk prose; in this dramatic composition poetry belongs to the romance which forms the background, prose to the foreground. The Constables would talk prose in any case; it is their element as it is that of Bottom and Lancelot Gobbo. It is a new thing however in Shakespearian comedy for characters who sit above the salt, as it were, to speak anything but verse. But Shakespeare had been at school since he wrote The Merchant of Venice, he had learnt to write the raciest, supplest, most delicately articulate prose in English dramatic literature, a prose that speaks itself and is so constructed that it is as easily committed to memory as blank verse, and is therefore perfectly adapted to the theatre, I mean, of course, the prose of Falstaff, and the Falstaff scenes. For an example of the rhythm of it, take part of his Apologia pro vita sua:

If sack and sugar be a fault, God help the wicked! if to be old and merry be a sin, then many an old host that I know is damned; if to be fat be to be hated, then Pharaoh's lean kine are to be loved. No, my good lord; banish Peto, banish Bardolph, banish Poins; but for sweet Jack Falstaff, kind Jack Falstaff, true Jack Falstaff, valiant Jack Falstaff, and therefore more valiant, being, as he is, old Jack Falstaff, banish not him thy Harry's company; banish plump Jack, and banish all the world.

(I Henry IV, II, iv, 461-70)

Having forged a steel of that temper, Shakespeare was not the man to lay it lightly aside. He fashioned a couple of bright rapiers from it and placed them in the hands of Benedick and Beatrice for the duel of sex.

There can be little doubt that Benedick was played by Richard Burbadge, the leading actor in Shakespeare's company. We may see him also in Berowne, the Bastard of King John, Petruchio the shrew-tamer, Mercutio, the taciturn Bolingbroke, and probably Henry V. To judge from the description of Cœur-de-Lion's bastard son, Burbadge possessed a large frame and a roistering manner; and we have records of his taking vigorous action in private life. In any case, all these characters possess much in common and were clearly modelled upon the same actor. They are bluff soldiermen, rough wooers or whimsical rudesbies in turn, or two of these combined.

There is nothing, therefore, very new in the character of Benedick, who may be described, I have said, as a Berowne with a touch of Petruchio about him. What is new is his speech, to which I have just referred, and the fact that his love civilizes him, for when he comes to the business of courting he does it with a grace far beyond anything within the scope of Berowne, or even Henry V.

The case of Beatrice is different. We have found a shadowy foretaste of her in the mocking wenches of Love's Labour's Lost, and at times we may be reminded of Petruchio's shrew, but to all intents and purposes she is a new creation, something Shakespeare had never before dreamt of, but a something that was to be imitated time and again down the centuries. There is no one in the Histories in the least like her, not even Lady Hotspur, and which character in the Comedies so far written can be set beside her? None except Portia, and Portia, though not lacking in a sprightly wit, is of a different cast—at once tenderer and wiser, and yet less completely realized.

Beatrice is the first woman in our literature, perhaps in the literature of Europe, who not only has a brain but delights in the constant employment of it. She is not without beauty; if Benedick in his scornful days is to be believed, she exceeded Hero 'as much in beauty, as the first of May doth the last day of December'. But it never occurs to her to use that in her dealings with men. On the contrary: 'I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me.' She does not want to catch men at all; what interests her in them is not their person but their intelligence, of which she generally holds a poor opinion. She knows enough about marriage to dread it.

For hear me, Hero—wooing, wedding, and repenting, is as a Scotch jig, a measure, and a cinque-pace; the first suit is hot and hasty like a Scotch jig, and full as fantastical; the wedding mannerly-modest, as a measure, full of state and ancientry; and then comes Repentance, and with his bad legs falls into the cinque-pace faster and faster, till he sink into his grave.

It is a sorry sequence—though many a twentieth-century Marriage Guidance Council would endorse it—and so she is at God upon her knees every morning and evening for the blessing of having no husband, and 'will even take sixpence in earnest of the bearward, and lead his apes into hell' (II, i, 36-7)—the fate of old maids who could not lead children into heaven.

'Well, then,' asks her uncle ironically, 'go you into hell?' 'No,' retorts Beatrice,

'but to the gate, and there will the devil meet me like an old cuckold, with horns on his head, and say, "Get you to heaven, Beatrice, get you to heaven—here's no place for you maids." So deliver I up my apes, and away to St. Peter: for the heavens, he shows me where the bachelors sit, and there live we as merry as the day is long.'

How Sir Thomas More would have delighted in that speech!

Her heaven is with the bachelors, because she sets her wits against theirs and beats them at their own game. 'In our last conflict' she reports of Benedick before he appears,

four of his five wits went halting off, and now is the whole man governed with one. (I, i, 61-3)

This is not intended, of course, to be taken seriously, and is only uttered that it may be reported to Benedick again; but it shows that her chief delight in life was—not hunting men for capture, but shooting at them her barbed arrows and watching them quiver, as she smites between the joints of the harness.

And she delights especially in Benedick, because he is as impatient as she is with all this sex-business, and in their wit-skirmishes can give as good as he gets, or rather as good as 'a piece of valiant dust … a clod of wayward marl' can be expected to give.

For note that Benedick, brave face as he puts upon it, always comes a little halting off from one of their encounters. The trouble is that his male vanity cannot quite concede to her the equal rights which the conditions of the game demand and so he never wounds her and she always gets past his guard. 'She told me', he complains,

that I was the prince's jester, that I was duller than a great thaw—huddling jest upon jest with such impossible conveyance upon me, that I stood like a man at a mark, with a whole army shooting at me.… She speaks poniards, and every word stabs.

And he acknowledges his defeat in what follows:

Don Pedro. Look, here she comes. Enter Beatrice.

Benedick. Will your grace command me to any service to the world's end? I will go on the slightest errand now to the Antipodes that you can devise to send me on: I will fetch you a toothpicker now from the furthest inch of Asia: bring you the length of Prester John's foot: fetch you a hair off the great Cham's beard: do you any embassage to the Pigmies—rather than hold three words' conference with this harpy. You have no employment for me?

Don Pedro. None, but to desire your good company.

Benedick. O God, sir, here's a dish I love not—I cannot endure my Lady Tongue. Exit.

This is not all banter; it conceals a real wound. The hurt fowl creeps into his sedges. His vanity is touched to the quick partly because his heart is already engaged without knowing it.

The Prince, who is too high a mark for shooting at, and whose heart is free, sees her more clearly than Benedick does. He offers to find a husband for her.

Beatrice. I would rather have one of your father's getting; hath your grace ne'er a brother like you? Your father got excellent husbands if a maid could come by them.

Don Pedro. Will you have me, lady?

Beatrice. No, my lord, unless I might have another for working-days—your grace is too costly to wear every day.… But I beseech your grace pardon me, I was born to speak all mirth and no matter.

Don Pedro. Your silence most offends me, and to be merry best becomes you, for out o'question you were born in a merry hour.

Beatrice. No, sure, my lord, my mother cried—but then, there was a star danced, and under that was I born.

And presently, after she goes out, the Prince remarks to her uncle:

Don Pedro. By my troth, a pleasant-spirited [i.e. jocose] lady.

Leonato. There's little of the melancholy element in her, my lord. She is never sad [i.e. serious] but when she sleeps, and not even sad then: for I have heard my daughter say, she hath often dreamt of unhappiness and waked herself with laughing.

This light-hearted merriment, this apparent indifference to suitors, might be qualities of a coquette. And if that be not too hard a word for Rosalind, we find them again in her, and even more so in Cleopatra, and Congreve's delightful transformation of Cleopatra, Millament. But for Beatrice's intellectual gifts, for her sheer pleasure in talking men's talk on terms of equality, and without the undertones of sentiment, we have to wait until modern times for parallels—for the women of George Meredith, and George Bernard Shaw.

Her merriment is without a spark of malice, and she is quite unconscious of the depth of the wounds she inflicts—

Deals she an unkindness, 'tis but her rapid
Even as in a dance.

She notes, and rejoices in, Benedick's wincings; but she thinks it is only annoyance at being worsted in word-play.

He'll but break a comparison or two on me, which peradventure, not marked or not laughed at, strikes him into melancholy—and then there's a partridge wing saved, for the fool will eat no supper that might.

Yet, though without malice, she in her turn has her little vanities. Her very blindness to the pain she gives is proof of them. When, therefore, she hears herself taxed by Hero in these terms:

But nature never framed a woman's heart
Of prouder stuff than that of Beatrice:
Disdain and scorn ride sparkling in her eyes,
Misprizing what they look on, and her wit
Values itself so highly, that to her
All matter else seems weak: she cannot love,
Nor take no shape nor project of affection,
She is so self-endeared—

there is just enough truth in the calumny, deliberate caricature though it be, to make her feel mighty uncomfortable. Intellectual pride might easily have been her undoing, but for the revelation of the 'pleached arbour'. And no woman on earth, however much she may profess to scorn love, will endure being told she is incapable of it.

Benedick is also accused of pride by his orchard critics, but what touches him is not that, so much as the salve to his wounded vanity when he learns that she has been half-dying for love of him all the time. And so, both are brought to realize the love which had been implicit in their intellectual attraction from the beginning.

The garden-scenes are first-rate sport, of the kind Shakespeare excelled in. But the device, after all, is simple enough; and far more skill is shown in the dramatic setting of the declaration which follows. It was indeed a master-stroke to combine this with the defamation of Hero, so that the two plots intersect, as it were, at their most crucial points. The situation calls out the full manhood and womanhood of each: we feel, for the first time in the play, that they are deeply serious; and Beatrice's sudden appeal to him to avenge her cousin's honour comes upon us with an almost overwhelming force, after the previous scenes of gaiety; with an effect indeed not unlike that produced by the news of the French King's death towards the end of Love's Labour's Lost.

Benedick. Lady Beatrice, have you wept all
this while?
Beatrice. Yea, and I will weep a while longer.
Benedick. I will not desire that.
Beatrice. You have no reason, I do it freely.
Benedick. Surely I do believe your fair cousin
is wronged.
Beatrice. Ah, how much might the man
deserve of me that would right her!
Benedick. Is there any way to show such
Beatrice. A very even way, but no such
Benedick. May a man do it?
Beatrice. It is a man's office, but not yours.
Benedick. I do love nothing in the world so
well as you—is not that strange?
Beatrice. As strange as the thing I know not.
It were as possible for me to say I loved
nothing so well as you—but believe me
not—and yet I lie not—I confess nothing,
nor I deny nothing—I am sorry for my
Benedick. By my sword Beatrice, thou lovest

Beatrice. Do not swear and eat it.
Benedick. I will swear by it that you love me,
and I will make him eat it that says I love
not you.
Beatrice. Will you not eat your word?
Benedick. With no sauce that can be devised
to it—I protest I love thee.
Beatrice. Why then God forgive me—
Benedick. What offence sweet Beatrice?
Beatrice. You have stayed me in a happy
hour, I was about to protest I loved you.
Benedick. And do it with all thy heart.
Beatrice. I love you with so much of my
heart, that none is left to protest.
Benedick. Come bid me do anything for thee.
Beatrice. Kill Claudio.
Benedick. Ha! not for the wide world.
Beatrice. You kill me to deny it—farewell.
Benedick. Tarry sweet Beatrice.
He stays her.

… Here we have the leading lady bidding her lover kill his 'sworn brother' in order to vindicate the honour of her cousin. We have travelled a long way from the finale of The Two Gentlemen in which the leading man is prepared to hand over his lady to the friend who has just attempted to violate her before his eyes, in order to prove his unselfish devotion to friendship. The journey has been from Convention to Life, from an attempt to give dramatic form to an ideal accepted from others to one which succeeds in combining dramatic illusion with a situation which is felt by dramatist and audience to be real.

How long did Shakespeare take over Ado? If The Merry Wives occupied two weeks, Ado can hardly have taken two months. The source of the plot, the main Hero-Claudio plot, is well known, viz. a novella by Bandello probably read in the French version by Belleforest in his Histoires Tragiques which also contained the Hamlet story. But clearly, I think, Shakespeare was not concerned with this in 1598. He was working over an old play, his own or some other's. There are a number of little clues in the text pointing to revision which it is unnecessary to speak of here. It is enough perhaps to note two points:

  1. In the stage-directions of the 1600 Q, but not elsewhere in the text, Hero is provided with a mother called Innogen, a name which crops up again in Cymbeline in the form of Imogen.
  2. I find it impossible to read III, i (the scene in which Hero persuades the hidden Beatrice that Benedick is in love with her) without being convinced that the verse is older than that of most of the rest of the verse in the play. And what a strange Beatrice it is who emerges from the arbour at the end of the scene:

What fire is in mine ears? Can this be true?
Stand I condemned for pride and scorn so
Contempt, farewell! and maiden pride, adieu!
No glory lives behind the back of such.…
And Benedick, love on, I will requite thee,
Taming my wild heart to thy loving hand:
If thou dost love, my kindness shall incite
To bind our loves up in a holy band:
For others say thou dost deserve, and I
Believe it better than reportingly.

'Taming my wild heart to thy loving hand'! The Beatrice we know is incapable of such a thought even in soliloquy: it is some primitive puppet who speaks, perhaps a sister to the Shrew Katherine after her taming. And—'No glory lives behind the back of such'! What a line! It is inconceivable for Shakespeare in 1598. Indeed, I find it hard to believe he can ever have been capable of it. The speech is patently from a drama of the early nineties; what Shakespeare did in 1597 therefore was to revise an old play. And in his rehandling he tightened up and abbreviated the original Hero-Claudio story so as to push it into the background in order to bring forward Beatrice and Benedick, rewriting and greatly expanding their dialogue or almost all of it. It is possible that he rewrote and expanded the Dogberry scenes at the same time, for it is at least conceivable that the original Dogberry was a small part, one corresponding with the part of Constable Dull in Love's Labour's Lost. But this contingency is connected with the theory that the unrevised Ado can be equated with Love's Labour's Won.

But however long the reshaping may have taken, Shakespeare produced an excellent theatre piece in the process which gave something for everyone at the Globe.

  1. It provided excellent parts for the leading men—Dogberry for Kempe, Benedick for Burbadge, and Beatrice for the leading boy:
  2. it had a good story with strong situations, which all parts of the audience could appreciate;
  3. the Beatrice and Benedick scenes would appeal to the noble patrons in the 'lords' room, the gentlemen and the critics:
  4. and Dogberry would fit the groundlings with far more than their pennyworth.

I once tried Dogberry upon a typical Elizabethan audience: I had been asked to lecture on Shakespeare to 288 male prisoners in Lincoln gaol, but learning from the chaplain that 60 per cent of them were illiterate, instead of a lecture I read them the Dogberry scenes, and at once had the whole prison roaring with laughter over the antics of the constable. The medieval crowd had likewise roared over the antics of the Devil—that universal constable. They knew the Devil might (many of them knew he must) get them in the end; but it was some satisfaction to be able to watch him bamboozled in play. Shakespeare knew that his rascals on the floor of the Globe would get the same kind of satisfaction from Dogberry, Verges and the rest.

'O, that I had been writ down an ass!' (IV, ii, 84-5). How the pothouses after the play must have rung with the laughter over that jest!

But Shakespeare did not write only for Burbadge, the gallants, and the groundlings; he wrote for himself and his artistic conscience. For he had a conscience, though Ben Jonson didn't think so, because it was so different from his own. Shakespeare's conscience was not of the kind that set up before it an ideal of artistic perfection, derived from previous masterpieces, or what students thought were the laws previous masters had observed, and strove to attain it. Shakespeare's was of a more adventurous type. He was always trying new things, new forms, new possibilities, and having once begun on a new line, to better his experiment. And when he felt he had gone as far as he could in a certain direction, he tried a new tack. Romeo and Juliet marks a final stage—he never tried to better that, though Antony and Cleopatra was in a sense (a maturer sense) a return; Richard II marks another stage; and Falstaff (in Henry IV) was yet a third, though his creator had to fake a spurious image of him in The Merry Wives and kill him definitely off in Henry V before he could escape from him.

Was his artistic conscience satisfied with Ado? He was surely pleased with one thing—the Beatrice-Benedick business, and that he had succeeded in fitting it into his romantic pattern. But the rest—it is not good enough!

I fancy he underlined Nothing in the title. He felt there was an emptiness in the play. He could do better than this, much better. As an afternoon's entertainment Ado makes, I said, a shapelier stage-play than As You Like It, but As You Like It is in every way riper and more golden; the harvest was still to come.

William G. McCollom (essay date 1968)

SOURCE: "The Role of Wit in Much Ado about Nothing," in Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. XIX, No. 2, Spring, 1968, pp. 165-74.

[Here, McCollom studies the role of wit in Much Ado about Nothing in terms of its influence on characterization and its contribution to the theme of the "triumph of true wit over false wisdom."]

Much Ado About Nothing is very popular with audiences but somewhat less so with critics. Although it is conceded to be very witty, it is felt to be lacking in that profounder quibbling that characterizes Shakespeare's later work. In her book Shakespeare's Wordplay, M. M. Mahood gives a chapter to The Winter's Tale but not to Much Ado About Nothing. One may feel too that the play is less serious than Shakespeare's witty sonnets—for example, in its exploration of love. So far as the verse is concerned, it does not lead one to think of the play as a poem. It has a good deal of rather elementary rhetoric, as in Leonato's lamentations, and, although there are passages of charm and delicacy, perhaps no one would maintain that as poetry the writing ever equals the opening of Twelfth Night or Viola's "Make me a willow cabin". In fact, one of the most successful verse passages in the play—Hero's satire on the "lapwing" Beatrice—has the salience of wit rather than the ambience of poetry. The main plot of the play is certainly not the chief interest, and the central characters in this plot would never stimulate an A. C. Bradley. Moreover, the three main strands of action do not at first seem very well joined. The sudden appearance of Dogberry and his men in Act III, for example, comes as quite a jolt on the path of the action. The role of Margaret is mysterious, to say the least; only by straining can we think of her various activities as congruent.

William Empson once remarked that the greatness of English drama did not survive the double plot. Partially under Empson's influence, recent Shakespearian criticism is in general looking for Shakespeare's unities not in plot or character, or even characteristic action, but in theme. Actually, the theme of a play, if dramatically significant, is worked out in action, and conversely a particular action can be translated into theme. If you say, as does John Russell Brown [in Shakespeare and His Comedies, second edition, 1962], that the theme of Much Ado is love's truth, the governing action (the activity guiding the characters) could be formulated as the search in love for the truth about love—though where this would leave Dogberry is a bit hard to say. In a keen study of the comedy ["Much Ado About Nothing", Scanning, XIII, 1946], James Smith found pride or comic hybris the binding agent in an action presenting a shallow society whose superficiality is finally transcended by Benedick and Beatrice. The analysis is illuminating, but I believe it pushes the comedy too far in the direction of satire and understates the role of wit, which in both its main senses drives the play.

During a performance of a Shakespearian comedy one sometimes notices that his neighbors are laughing at a line before the point has been made, or in ignorance of the exact meaning of the sentence, unless they have been studying footnotes. (This assumes that witticisms and jokes have exact meanings—not always a safe assumption.) One may feel a slightly superior sympathy for such an audience—they are so eager to enjoy what their piety has brought them to witness.

Yet this solicitude may be misplaced. For a witticism may be delightful and funny even if understood in a sense slightly different from that advanced by Kittredge or Dover Wilson. When Beatrice says that Benedick "wears his faith but as the fashion of his hat; it ever changes with the next block", the audience laughs though it may not know whether "block" is a hat-block, a fashionable hat-shape, a blockhead, or some combination of these. Secondly, if the actor has been advised to "throw away" the line as highly obscure and to create instead a visual and musical impression of wit, the audience can hardly be expected to laugh for the "right" reason. And finally, if Susanne Langer is right, the point of the line is not primary anyway; for Mrs. Langer advances the interesting idea that when an audience laughs, it does so not at a particular joke or witticism but at the play. In Much Ado, at any rate, wit is organic.

The wit of Shakespeare's play informs the words spoken by the characters, places the characters themselves as truly witty and intelligent, inappropriately facetious, or ingeniously witless, suggests the lines of action these characters will take, and, as intelligence, plays a fundamental role in the thematic action: the triumphing of true wit (or wise folly) in alliance with harmless folly over false or pretentious wisdom. I will further suggest that the comedy itself is a kind of witticism in the tripartite form often taken by the jests.

As language, the wit has a variety of functions. From the first it creates the tone of "merry war" which will resound through so much of the comedy, though the timbre will change as the scenes or speakers change. The merry was is primarily between Benedick and Beatrice, but in the opening scenes Leonato, Don Pedro, Claudio, and even Hero participate in the skirmishing. Even before Don Pedro arrives with his party, we find Leonato experimenting with word-play. Hearing that Claudio's uncle has wept at the news of the young man's martial exploits, Leonato remarks: "a kind overflow of kindness.… How much better it is to weep at joy than to joy at weeping" (I.i.27-28). It is as if he knew that some witty friends were coming to visit and he had better try out a pun and an antimetabole—a rhetorical figure popular in the earlier nineties. Since there has been no question of taking pleasure in tears, one tends to downgrade the speaker for this verbal flourish. But he may be more shrewd than this when, a bit later, he chides Beatrice for ridiculing Benedick: "Faith, niece, you tax Signior Benedick too much; but he'll be meet with you, I doubt it not" (11. 44-45). Since "meet" and "mate" were pronounced alike, Leonato is not only referring to Benedick's powers of retaliation, but predicting the happy and voluble ending.

After establishing his fundamentally witty tone in the first three acts, Shakespeare almost destroys it in the church scene. But notice the language in which Claudio rejects Hero and Leonato responds to the scandal. There is the outburst of Claudio—

O what men dare do! What men may do!
What men daily do, not knowing what they
(IV. i. 18-19)

—a rhetorical display so hollow as to bring on this burlesque from Benedick: "How now? Interejections? Why then, some be of laughing, as, ah, ha, he!" As the scene progresses, Claudio's speeches rely more and more on the verbal tricks recorded in the rhetorical texts of the time. His half-ridiculous, half-pathetic pun "O Hero! What a Hero hadst thou been" is a parody of the wit crowding the early scenes. When he says:

… fare thee well, most foul, most fair,
Thou pure impiety and impious purity.…
(IV. i. 102-103)

the idiom is of the kind that Shakespeare will overtly ridicule at the turn of the century. Leonato's response to the rejection is equally conventional:

But mine, and mine I loved, and mine I
And mine that I was proud on, mine so much
That I myself was to myself not mine.…
(IV. i. 135-137)

The tone is precariously balanced between seriousness and levity. I believe that the scene has to be played for what it is worth and should not be deliberately distanced; otherwise the grief and anger of Beatrice will be unfounded; but if the dialogue is recognized as a distortion of wit, the scene becomes a grim sequel to the opening scenes and not an absolute break with them.

It is often difficult to separate style for tonal effect from style for characterization. But to put the matter in Renaissance terms, the decorum of the genre will sometimes take precedence over the decorum of the speaker. Critics like Stoll and Bradbrook have shown that the Elizabethans were frequently ready to drop consistency of characterization for tonal or other reasons. Margaret seems to illustrate the point. She is a witty lady-in-waiting, on excellent terms with both Hero and Beatrice, but the plot demands that she play her foolish part in the famous window scene that almost destroys Hero. After the rejection of her mistress, we see Margaret enjoying herself in a bawdy dialogue with Benedick, for all the world as if we were still in Act I. It is true that Hero has just been exonerated, but presumably Margaret does not yet know this. At the end of the preceding scene (V. i), Borachio has assured Leonato of Margaret's innocence of treachery to her mistress, but Leonato wants to know more. The men leave the stage, whereupon Benedick and Margaret enter for a set of wit. It is well played. But if we are trying to make sense of Margaret, we are puzzled. As she must be aware, her foolishness has been a main cause of all the distress, and she supposedly does not know of the happy solution brought about by Dogberry's men; if she does know, she also realizes that her role at the window is now revealed. Is she so indifferent to what has happened? Apparently we are not supposed to raise this question. Margaret asks Benedick if he will write a sonnet to her beauty.

Benedick. In so high a style, Margaret, that no
man living shall come over it; for in most
comely truth thou deservest it.

Margaret. To have no man come over me!
Why, shall I always keep below-stairs?

Margaret is here a representative of wit from the lady-in-waiting, and her quibble is related to her earlier wit but not to her earlier substantive behavior. Her wit at this moment is a bit crude. When Beatrice comes in a minute later, she will reveal a continuing concern for Hero along with a continuing mental agility. We can say that the two women represent two varieties of wit, though Beatrice is also clear as a character.

One has to distinguish between the seemingly ill-timed roguishness of Margaret and the really insensitive banter of the Prince and Claudio in Act V. Margaret makes no reference whatever to Hero, Leonato, or the painful episode of Act IV. But in V. i, after Leonato and his brother Antonio have quarreled with Claudio and Don Pedro over Hero and left the stage, Benedick enters, whereupon Claudio remarks, "We had liked to have had our two noses snapped off with two old men without teeth" (11. 115-116). This is bad enough. Then, in view of Hero's supposed death, his cheery "What though care killed a cat" is one of his worst gaffes. When Benedick challenge his friend and tells him he has killed Hero, Claudio promises that in the duel he will "carve a capon". As the scene continues he and the Prince struggle to revive the tone of Act I. As word-play, their language is much the same as ever, but neither Benedick nor the reader is in the mood for jocose references to "the old man's daughter", as if Hero were still happy. Stage directors and audiences seem ready to go along with the struggling wits at this point, but the reader's judgment is the right one: the scene makes a sardonic comment on the Prince and his young friend and gives supporting evidence of the ineptitude previously manifested. The wit in this context downgrades the two lords.

Apart from placing the characters, the play of wit indicates in advance the way the action will go. Where the repartee is not clearly out of place, the wittier speakers will prefigure in language the wit or intelligence of their acts. Benedick and Beatrice are the shrewdest in speech and with the Friar are the first to reject the rejection of Hero. What of Claudio's jests? At first they seem technically equal to Benedick's, but, on closer inspection, we notice that Claudio tends to repeat in somewhat different words the jests of the Prince. If Don Pedro heckles the amorous Benedick with "Nay, 'a rubs himself with civet. Can you smell him out by that?", Claudio will add, "That's as much as to say the sweet youth's in love" (III. ii. 48-51). There may be a groundswell of laughter in the second line, but its point hardly differs from the other. If Don Pedro says that Beatrice has been ridiculing Benedick and then sighing for him, Claudio will chime in: "For the which she wept heartily and said she cared not" (V. i. 172-173). This echolalia illustrates the lack of independence which will cause him to swallow the slander of Don John and mirror the response made by the Prince. "O day untowardly turned!" says Don Pedro; and Claudio: "O mischief strangely thwarting!" (III. ii. 127-128). Language is here the perfect expression of action, or rather of action descending toward comic automatism.

When Shakespeare was writing Much Ado, wit as mental agility or liveliness of fancy had rather recently come to supplement wit as intelligence. (A passage from Lyly is the first listing in N.E.D. of the newer use.) Both senses occur frequently in the play, and there are examples of overlapping. It seems clear, for example, that in the following dialogue,

Dogberry.… We are now to examination
these men.
Verges. And we must do it wisely.
Dogberry. We will spare for no wit, I warrant
you; here's that shall drive some of them to
a non-come.
(III. v. 57-60)

Dogberry is preening himself not only on his intelligence but on a handling of language so ingenious that it will drive the accused out of their minds. Benedick and Beatrice are witty and are described as witty and wise by their peers, and again both ideas are comprehenced in the word "witty".

The word wit (or witty) occurs over twenty times, and one-third of these examples cluster in V. i, the scene in which Don Pedro and Claudio are flogging the dialogue. According to Benedick the wit does no more than amble in spite of the whip. As the scene progresses, one becomes weary of the verbal effort. After Benedick leaves, the Prince comments on his uncooperativeness: "What a pretty thing is man when he goes in his doublet and hose and leaves off his wit" (V. i. 198-199). Here the word suggests that for the idle nobility wit is a fashionable accessory you put on for lack of something else to do. In no other scene does this sub-sense (or Mood of wit, in Empson's terminology [in The Structure of Complex Words, 1951]) make itself felt.

In the drama, a particular witticism has three dimensions: the character's motivation for the speech, the technique, and the effect in context. A full criticism of a particular mot would have to consider all three. As Freud points out in his study of wit, a joke may be far more powerful than an examination of its technique would reveal: it may be poor in technique but strong in motive or "tendency". In a play, if a character's motive is strong, it may justify, in dramatic terms, what would be merely crude. Or if we share his animus, we will give way to hard laughter. In Act I Beatrice sometimes attacks Benedick in terms so unsubtle as to amaze—unless we realize that the insults express a half-conscious anger over his past treatment of her. At such moments we see the "wild" spirit of the "haggard of the rock" (III. i. 35-36), in Hero's phrase for her. The effect of a joke emerges in part from motive and technique but may extend far beyond these. After Beatrice has given a satiric picture of marriage, we have this:

Leonato. Cousin, you apprehend passing
Beatrice. I have a good eye, uncle; I can see
a church by daylight.
(II. i. 80-82)


(The entire section is 22971 words.)

Appearance Vs. Reality

(Shakespearean Criticism)

Peter G. Phialas (essay date 1966)

SOURCE: "Much Ado about Nothing," in Shakespeare's Romantic Comedies: The Development of Their Form and Meaning, University of North Carolina Press, 1966, pp. 172-208.

[In the following essay, Phialas explores the use of deceptive appearances in Much Ado about Nothing to advance the romantic action of the two plots and unify the overall structure, theme, and tone of the play, and also assesses the play's attempt to elicit complex reactions from its audience.]

Of the three "joyous" comedies Much Ado About Nothing has been called the least perfect by reason of its alleged failure to...

(The entire section is 16831 words.)

Beatrice And Benedick

(Shakespearean Criticism)

Larry S. Champion (essay date 1970)

SOURCE: "The Comedies of Identity," in The Evolution of Shakespeare's Comedy: A Study in Dramatic Perspective, Harvard University Press, 1970, pp. 60-95.

[In the following essay, Champion asserts that the "merry war" between Beatrice and Benedick is the central action of Much Ado about Nothing, contending that "the Hero-Claudio affair functions as a veil of fiction which maintains the clarity of the viewer's comic perspective on Benedick and Beatrice."]

In Much Ado about Nothing, Benedick, Beatrice, and Don John are depicted on the level of identity. The personality of Don John … does not...

(The entire section is 11083 words.)

Gender Issues

(Shakespearean Criticism)

James Smith

SOURCE: "Much Ado about Nothing: Notes from a Book in Preparation," in Scrutiny, Vol. XIII, No. 4, Spring, 1946, pp. 242-57.

[In the following excerpt, Smith discusses the characterization of relationships between the citizens of Messina.]

It will be remembered that Coleridge chose Much Ado as an illustration of his famous 'fourth distinguishing characteristic' of Shakespeare, in accordance with which 'the interest in the plot' in the latter's plays 'is always in fact on account of the characters, not viceversa … the plot is a mere canvass and no more'. And he went on to exemplify: 'Take away from...

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Further Reading

(Shakespearean Criticism)

Allen, John A. "Dogberry." Shakespeare Quarterly XXIV, No. 1 (Winter 1973): 35-53.

Argues that Dogberry, in his absurd pomposity and "splendid lunacy," functions as a comic parody of the egotistical self-love "which is endemic" to Messina.

Bryant, J. A., Jr. "Much Ado about Nothing." In Shakespeare and the Uses of Comedy, pp. 125-45. Lexington: The University of Kentucky Press, 1986.

Identifies the battle of the sexes, the difficulties of disposing of a marriageable young daughter, and the plight of an "ugly duckling" bachelor or spinster who is alienated from the community as three major concerns of Much Ado about Nothing.


(The entire section is 1046 words.)