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MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.'
SCENE I.-Grounds adjoining the house of
Enter LEONATO, HERO, and BEATRICE, with a Messenger.2
Leon. I learn in this letter, that Don Pedro of Arragon comes this night to Messina.
Mess. He is very near by this: he was not three leagues off when I left him.
Leon. How many gentlemen have you lost in this action?
Mess. But few of any sort, and none of
Leon. A victory is twice itself, when the achiever brings home full numbers. I find here, that Don Pedro hath bestowed much honour on a young Florentine, called Claudio.
Mess. Much deserved on his part, and equally remembered by Don Pedro. He hath borne himself beyond the promise of his age; doing, in the figure of a lamb, the feats of a lion: he hath, indeed, better bettered expectation, than you must expect of me to tell you how.
1. Before its appearance in the Folio, 1623, a Quarto copy of "MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING" was printed in 1600. Of the serious portion of the plot, there are traces to be found in Ariosto's "Orlando Furioso," Book V., and in Spenser's "Faery Queen," Book II., Canto 4; while still more palpable ones exist in an Italian novel by Bandello. But, for the playful device to draw the pair of wits, Benedick and Beatrice, together; for the existence of those delightful characters themselves; for the invention of that immortal night-constable, and his choice companions in the night-watch; for the entire, and most rich comic portion of this play, we are wholly indebted to Shakespeare's brain. It must have been in an especially happy mood, to have so felicitously blended the two plots, producing a result the most enjoyable. Hardly a better remedy for a fit of the spleen than to read through this drama, racy, pleasant, gloriously humorous, and thoroughly good-humoured.
2. Enter Leonato, &c. In the Folio, after "Enter Leonato, Governor of Messina," is inserted "Imogen, his wife;" but as no such character takes part in the play, she is omitted in modern editions. Shakespeare, probably feeling that the mother of Hero could be no silent witnesser of her daughter's injuries, and yet that the dramatic effect was fully wrought by means of
the father's grief and indignation, in all likelihood left her out himself; although by some inadvertence her appearance among the entrances in the first stage-direction may have remained in the copy from which the Folio was printed.
3. Any sort. Though Shakespeare and other writers of his time employ "sort" to express 'rank,' 'distinction,' 'select order or station,' yet here, on account of the sequent "none of name," "of any sort" seems to mean of any kind or description.' So, a little farther on, the messenger uses the same expression:-"There was none such in the army of any sort ;" meaning of any condition.'
4. Signior Montanto. Beatrice nicknames Benedick thus, to infer that he rather figures in the fencing-school than in the field of battle; "Montanto" being a term borrowed from the Italian masters in the art of defence. See Note 56, Act ii., "Merry Wives.
5. Set up his bills. In allusion to the custom of putting up printed notices in public places as an advertisement. Wrestlers, archers, fencers, &c., thus gave notice of their proposed matches, wherein they challenged contest and invited antagonists.
6. Challenged Cupid at the flight. A "flight" was a sharp, slender arrow used for flying long distances; and Beatrice pre
fool, reading the challenge, subscribed for Cupid, and challenged him at the bird-bolt.—I pray you, how many hath he killed and eaten in these wars? But how many hath he killed? for, indeed, I promised to eat all of his killing.
Leon. Faith, niece, you tax Signior Benedick too much; but he'll be meet with you, I doubt it
Beat. Very easily possible: he wears his faith 14 but as the fashion of his hat; it ever changes with the next block.15
Mess. I see, lady, the gentleman is not in your
Beat. No; an he were, I would burn my study. But, I pray you, who is his companion? Is there no young squarer" now, that will make a voyage
Mess. He hath done good service, lady, in these with him to the devil?
Beat. You had musty victual, and he hath holp' | to eat it: he's a very valiant trencher-man; he hath an excellent stomach.
Mess. And a good soldier too, lady.
Beat. And a good soldier to a lady ;—but what is he to a lord?
Mess. A lord to a lord, a man to a man; stuffed with all honourable virtues.10
Beat. It is so, indeed; he is no less than a stuffed man: but for the stuffing,-well, we are all mortal. Leon. You must not, sir, mistake my niece. There is a kind of merry war betwixt Signior Benedick and her they never meet, but there's a skirmish of wit between them.
Beat. Alas! he gets nothing by that. In our last conflict four of his five wits" went halting off, and now is the whole man governed with one: so that if he have wit enough to keep himself warm, let him bear it for a difference 12 between himself and his horse; for it is all the wealth that he hath left, to be known a reasonable creature.-Who is his companion now? He hath every month a new sworn brother.13
Mess. Is't possible?
tends that Benedick is so vain of his power in transfixing ladies' hearts, as to believe it surpasses that of Cupid himself.
7. Bird-bolt. A short, thick, blunt arrow; the use of which was permitted to fools and jesters, and is here employed in contradistinction to the long, sharp "flight"-arrow previously mentioned.
8. He'll be meet with you. He'll meet you on equal terms;' in familiar parlance, he'll be even with you.'
9. Holp. Old form of helped.'
10. Stuffed with all honourable virtues. The word "stuffed" is here used by Shakespeare, and by other writers formerly, in a commendatory sense, to express 'supplied,' 'provided, endowed' but Beatrice's quick wit catches at it, and converts it into a ridiculous epithet. By “a stuffed man," she means a mere semblance of a man, a wadded-out figure; just as Prince Hal calls Falstaff, "My sweet creature of bombast," which was a species of stuffing used for lining and padding clothes. To this very "bombast" Beatrice probably alludes in her punning way, when she exclaims," But for the stuffing," and breaks off with this insinuation that Benedick's valour is all boast and sham.
11. Five wits. In old writers we find that the "wits" are reckoned "five," as corresponding in number with the five senses; and that these latter were even sometimes called "the five wits." By "wit" was frequently meant the intellectual faculty generally; and here Beatrice uses it to express 'sense' or' wisdom.'
12. Bear it for a difference. An heraldic term; a difference" signifying 'a distinction.'
Mess. He is most in the company of the right noble Claudio.
Beat. Oh, lord! he will hang upon him like a disease: he is sooner caught than the pestilence, and the taker runs presently mad. Heaven help the noble Claudio! if he have caught the Benedick, it will cost him a thousand pound ere he be cured. Mess. I will hold friends with you, lady. Beat. Do, good friend.
Leon. You will never run mad, niece.18
Enter DON PEDRO, DON JOHN, CLAUDIO, BENEDICK, and BALTHAZAR,
D. Pedro. Good Signior Leonato, you are come to meet your trouble: the fashion of the world is to avoid cost, and you encounter it.
Leon. Never came trouble to my house in the likeness of your grace: for trouble being gone, comfort should remain; but when you depart from me, sorrow abides, and happiness takes his leave.
D. Pedro. You embrace your charge 19 too wil lingly. I think this is your daughter.
Leon. Her mother hath many times told me so.
13. Sworn brother. In times of chivalry it was customary for knightly friends to ally themselves as 'companions in arms,' or sworn brothers;" but afterwards the term came to be used more widely, and meant associates in amity or fellowship; favourite friends.
14. His faith. Here used for trust in his friend, and for fidelity to his friend.
15. The next block. The "block" was the mould on which the soft felt hats formerly worn were shaped; and as the style frequently varied, and the form of the hat was capable of being changed by re-blocking, there is to be found in other writers besides Shakespeare, allusion to this practice of altering the fashion of hat-shapes as a type of mutability.
16. In your books. To be in any one's books is a familiar phrase for being in her or his favour. It originated in the custom of entering the names of retainers in the household books of those to whose service they were attached; and perhaps also in the fashion of keeping tablets or books, for lists of special acquaintances, selected visitors, &c.-all persons more or less favoured by the keeper of the book.
17. Squarer. As Shakespeare elsewhere uses "square" for 'quarrel,' 'contest,' 'differ,' he probably means by “squarer' a 'quarreller,' a 'brawler.' To square' is still a term among boxers for putting themselves in a position to begin fighting.
Bene. Were vou in doubt, sir, that you asked Signior Claudio, and Signior Benedick,—my dear friend Leonato hath invited you all. I tell him we Leon. Signior Benedick, no; for then were you shall stay here at the least a month; and he heartily a child.
D. Pedro. You have it full, Benedick: we may guess by this what you are, being a man.-Truly, the lady fathers herself."-Be happy, lady; for you are like an honourable father.
Bene. If Signior Leonato be her father, she would not have his head on her shoulders for all Messina, as like him as she is.
prays some occasion may detain us longer: I dare swear he is no hypocrite, but prays from his heart.
Leon. If you swear, my lord, you shall not be forsworn.-Let me bid you welcome, my lord: being reconciled to the prince your brother, I owe you all duty.
D. John. Ithank you: I am not of many words,
Beat. I wonder that you will still be talking, but I thank you. Signior Benedick: nobody marks you. 21
Bene. What, my dear Lady Disdain! are you yet living?
Beat. Is it possible disdain should die, while she hath such meet food to feed it, as Signior Benedick? Courtesy itself must convert to disdain, if you come in her presence.
Bene. Then is courtesy a turncoat.—But it is certain I am loved of all ladies,23 only you excepted: and I would I could find in my heart that I had not a hard heart; for, truly, I love none.
Beat. A dear happiness to women: they would else have been troubled with a pernicious suitor. I thank Heaven and my cold blood, I am of your humour for that: I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow, than a man swear he loves me.
Bene. Heaven keep your ladyship still in that mind! so some gentleman or other shall 'scape a predestinate scratched face.
Beat. Scratching could not make it worse, an 'twere such a face as yours were.
Bene. Well, you are a rare parrot-teacher.24 Beat. A bird of my tongue is better than a beast of yours.
Bene. I would my horse had the speed of your tongue, and so good a continuer.25 But keep your way, in Heaven's name; I have done.
Beat. You always end with a jade's trick: I know you of old.
D. Pedro. This is the sum of all: Leonato,
20. The lady fathers herself. The lady herself proclaims who is her father, resembling him so much. The phrase 'fathers himself,' is said to be used in Dorsetshire, to signify 'like his father.'
21. Nobody marks you. By these three words, sly master Shakespeare lets us into the secret of Beatrice's lurking preference for Benedick. She first attacks him (which no woman does who cares naught for a man); and, in telling him that nobody notices him, shows that she herself does. In fact, she has been observing him from the moment of his entrance, and watching for an opportunity for assailing him with raillery, besides having inquired concerning him (though in her own saucy way) before he came on the scene.
22. Meet. Fit, proper.
23. I am loved of all ladies. It is evident that Benedick's playful vaunts on this subject have given Beatrice some warrant for her fleer at him as a lady-killer and piercer of hearts in the speech commented on in Note 6.
24. You are a rare parrot-teacher. From the mode in which
Leon. Please it your grace lead on?
D. Pedro. Your hand, Leonato; we will go together.
[Exeunt all except BENEDICK and CLAUDIO. Claud. Benedick, didst thou note the daughter of Signior Leonato ?
Bene. I noted her not; but I looked on her. Claud. Is she not a modest young lady? Bene. Do you question me, as an honest man should do, for my simple true judgment? or would you have me speak after my custom, as being a professed tyrant to their sex ?
Claud. No; I pray thee, speak in sober judg
Bene. Why, i'faith, methinks she's too low for a high praise, too brown for a fair praise, and too little for a great praise: only this commendation I can afford her, that were she other than she is, she were unhandsome; and being no other but as she is, I do not like her.
Claud. Thou thinkest I am in sport: I pray thee tell me truly how thou likest her.
Bene. Would you buy her, that you inquire
Claud. Can the world buy such a jewel?
Bene. Yea, and a case to put it into. But speak you this with a sad brow ?23 or do you play the flouting Jack," to tell us Cupid is a good harefinder, and Vulcan a rare carpenter 29 Come, in what key shall a man take you, to go in the song? 29
keepers of parrots often taught their birds (see Note 45, Act iv., "Comedy of Errors"), we may here understand Benedick's fling at Beatrice's aptitude for making rude retorts.
25. And so good a continuer. We must understand 'were' between "and" and "so." Shakespeare frequently has these ellipses in current dialogue.
26. With a sad brow? Seriously, in earnest, with a grave face. "Sad was often formerly used for sedate, serious, grave, sober; without any significance of sorrowfulness.
27. Flouting Jack. Jeering, flippant fellow. "Jack" was often used as a term of contempt to signify a pert chap,-what we might now call a jackanapes.
28. To tell us Cupid is a good hare-finder, and Vulcan a rare carpenter? Benedick here gives a specimen of the sort of jokes which the "flouting Jacks" of that time dealt in; asking palpable absurdities, such as whether the blind god be a quick seer, and the blacksmith god a good carpenter.
29. In what key shali a man take you, to go in the song? A musical phrase, signifying 'in what key are you singing, that I
Claud. In mine eye she is the sweetest lady that ever I looked on.
Bene. I can see yet without spectacles, and I see no such matter; there's her cousin, an she were not possessed with a fury, exceeds her as much in beauty, as the first of May doth the last of December. But I hope you have no intent to turn husband, have you?
Claud. I would scarce trust myself, though I had sworn the contrary, if Hero would be my wife.
Bene. Is't come to this, in faith? Hath not the world one man, but he will wear his cap with suspicion? Shall I never see a bachelor of threescore again? Go to, i'faith; an thou wilt needs thrust thy neck into a yoke, wear the print of it, and sigh away Sundays.32 Look; Don Pedro is returned to seek you.
Re-enter DON PEDRO.
D. Pedro. What secret hath held you here, that you followed not to Leonato's ?
Bene. I would your grace would constrain me to tell.
D. Pedro. 1 charge thee on thy allegiance.
Bene. You hear, Count Claudio: I can be secret as a dumb man, I would have you think so; but on my allegiance,—mark you this, on my allegiance. He is in love. With whom?-now that is your grace's part.-Mark how short his answer is;-With Hero, Leonato's short daughter.
Claud. If this were so, so were it uttered. Bene. Like the old tale,33 my lord: it is not so, nor 'twas not so; but, indeed, Heaven forbid it should be so.
Claud. You speak this to fetch me in, my lord.
D. Pedro. By my troth, I speak my thought. Claud. And, in faith, my lord, I spoke mine. Bene. And, by my two faiths and troths, my lord, I spoke mine.
Claud. That I love her, I feel.
D. Pedro. That she is worthy, I know.
Bene. That I neither feel how she should be loved, nor know how she should be worthy, is the opinion that fire cannot melt out of me: I will die in it at the stake.
D. Pedro. Thou wast ever an obstinate heretic in the despite of beauty.
Claud. And never could maintain his part, but in the force of his will.
Bene. That a woman conceived me, I thank her; that she brought me up, I likewise give her most humble thanks: but that I will have a recheat winded in my forehead, or hang my bugle in an invisible baldrick, all women shall pardon Because I will not do them the wrong to mistrust any, I will do myself the right to trust none; and the fine 36 is (for the which I may go the finer), I will live a bachelor.
D. Pedro. I shall see thee, ere I die, look pale with love.
Bene. With anger, with sickness, or with hunger, my lord; not with love: prove that ever I lose more blood with love than I will get again with drinking, pick out mine eyes with a ballad-maker's pen, and hang me up for the sign of blind | Cupid.
D. Pedro. Well, if ever thou dost fall from this Claud. If my passion change not shortly, Heaven faith, thou wilt prove a notable argument.37 forbid it should be otherwise.
Bene. If I do, hang me in a bottle like a cat, 39
Amen, if you love her; for the lady and shoot at me; and he that hits me, let him be clapped on the shoulder, and called Adam.39
is very well worthy.
may sing correctly with you?' Here used figuratively to express 'Are you speaking seriously or jestingly, that I may speak in the same tune?'
30. Exceeds her as much in beauty, &c. Here our friend Benedick betrays that he has noted Beatrice quite as closely as she has observed him; and notwithstanding his profession of indifference, with an appreciative and approving eye.
31. Wear his cap with suspicion? Put his head in a case to be troubled with jealousy.'
32. Sigh away Sundays. Pass even the day of rest in un
33. Like the old tale, &c. This passage refers to an ancient story, told at length by Mr. Blakeway in one of the Variorum Editions of Shakespeare; wherein a young lady goes to the house of a certain Mr. Fox, witnesses some horrors of the Bluebeard description, and afterwards, when Mr. Fox comes to dine with her and her brothers, relates the circumstances she has witnessed, chorusing each incident with the words-"It is not so, nor it was not so. At length, when the young lady reaches the climax of the horrors, Mr. Fox takes up the burden-sentence, and says "It is not so, nor it was not so, and God forbid it should be so." Whereupon the young lady produces a ghastly proof in the shape of a victim-damsel's braceleted hand, which, from her hiding-place, she had seen Mr. Fox strike off; and
then the brothers and their guests fall upon Bluebeard Fox with their swords, and cut him to pieces.
34. In the force of his will. This is said to allude to the definition of a heretic in the schools.
35. Recheat. A note sounded on a hunting-horn to call back the hounds when they pursued a wrong scent; from the old French recet, used for retraite. A " baldrick" is the belt in which the hunting-horn or bugle was slung. The meaning of the whole passage seems to be, But that I will run the risk of having a proclaimed shame or a hiddenly-borne one, all women
must excuse me.'
36. The fine. The end, the conclusion.
37. A notable argument. A conspicuous subject for raillery. 38. Hang me in a bottle like a cat. It was one of the cruel practices of ignorant times to sling up a cat in a kind of wooden bottle, or keg, or cage, and shoot at it with arrows till the poor creature was killed.
39. Called Adam. Adam Bell was so famous an archer, that his name passed into proverbial renown as the type of a good marksman. He is celebrated in an old ballad to be found in Percy's "Reliques," together with his companions, Clym of the Clough and William of Cloudesly; the three being as noted outlaw-heroes of the northern counties as Robin Hood was of the midland district of England.